RENDEZVOUS WITH GEORGES
Sailing in the British Virgin Islands
Part 1: Getting to Tortola
After months of preparation and anticipation, we are about to embark on our very first bareboat yacht charter, with The Moorings, in the British Virgin Islands. We have traveled to the islands in September before, and though such travel poses the risks of hurricane season, the rewards are such that we are willing to undertake the risk. Aside from the reduced cost of a September trip, off-season travelers enjoy fine weather, no crowds, and an even more laid-back atmosphere. During the weeks before our trip -- on which we would be joined by Jeff Flaherty, Theresa ("T") Swiercek, and Kevin Connally -- the tropics had been generally calm, except for some action in the Gulf of Mexico. However, on the eve of departure, our attention was drawn to Hurricane Georges, which might or might not effect us.
On Friday, September 18, I woke up around 4:07 a.m., afraid that Rick had forgotten to set the alarm and we were late. Of course, we weren't -- we had until 4:30 a.m. to get up, shower, drink coffee, and meet our limo driver. But by 4:27, I heard Jeff stirring in the guest room and decided to get started. Besides, our driver was waiting for us long before the appointed 5:00 a.m. pick-up time. Those guys at Private Car really are impressive.
After a few quick but necessary cups of coffee, we were off to BWI Airport; already, we were far too awake and laughing too loudly for the hour. We picked up essentials for before and during the long flight to San Juan, and the short trip to Beef Island -- reading material, coffee, Diet Pepsi, donuts, Lifesavers (no tropical fruit!). I couldn't help but notice the older woman at the snack bar ordering a double shot of vodka for "breakfast" and admonishing her grandson not to spill it. What a way to start the day.
Our flight boarded around 7:00 a.m. An inveterate people-watcher, encouraged by the similarly observant and evil presence of Jeff and Rick, I noted all the people on our flight who looked like cruise ship passengers. The worst offenders were the ones whose carry-on luggage consisted of more stuff than we checked (we were traveling light, but still probably packed too much gear). Sure enough, the couple seated in front of me, Jeff and Rick had filled the entire overhead bin AND hogged the lavatory, as I twisted uncomfortably in my seat, full of Diet Pepsi, waiting for them to finish.
During our flight, we watched the film Deep Impact without the benefit of headphones, and I smeared the horrible cosmetic samples from the Glamour magazine I bought at the airport on my lips for Rick and Jeff's entertainment. To my dismay, I couldn't wipe the gunk off either my applicator-finger or my lips without great effort (finally, wiped it on the underside of my seat/flotation cushion). We laughed a lot, and loudly, at everything on our flight, which must have annoyed everyone around us.
We landed in San Juan on time and without incident, and took off for Tortola via American Eagle within the hour. Jeff and Rick were seated in the row in front of me, and assumed new identities. Steve Bolt (Jeff) and Lance Richards (Rick) invited me (Tonya McCoy) to join them on their sailboat charter in exchange for sexual services and cooking. Lance got paid tonight, and throughout the trip, in some pretty exotic places.
As we descended into Tortola, we saw a lot of familiar places, as well as places we had not yet explored but longed to. Soper's Hole, Smuggler's Cove, Long Bay, Road Harbour and Marina Cay were remembered from past trips, or were on our must-visit list for this charter.
After landing, we got through immigration and customs in short order. The arrivals area was hot and steamy from a recent rainfall. We met the driver with the Moorings placard, and found we were the only guests riding in the Moorings minibus to the Mariner Inn. The drive was steep, twisty and winding, and in between glimpses of standard third-world livestock, half-built houses, and decrepit retail establishments, we also caught breathtaking views of turquoise blue water and Peter, Norman and Cooper Islands across the Sir Francis Drake Channel. I noted that there was much more commercial development than I'd remembered from our last trip, 5 years ago to the day.
The sprawling Moorings/Mariner Inn complex was also bigger than I'd remembered, though when we were in the BVI 5 years ago, we spent most of our time at the other hotel -- Treasure Isle Resort -- and the crewed yacht division. We checked in at the red-tiled open air reception area, and in so doing, overheard a lot of whispers, conversations, and concerns about Hurricane Georges, which was churning away in the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean and headed right for the Virgin Islands. Maybe. Moorings was checking on the boats which were already out -- they may be called back, and we might not be able to begin our charter right away, but a final decision has not yet been made.
Our yacht is Braveheart, which is, coincidentally, home-ported in Annapolis. It's a large Moorings 463, with a large forward cabin, two comfortable aft cabins, a roomy cockpit and salon, and a large galley. Some of our provisions were already on board. Jeff would be staying on the boat tonight. Lance/Rick and I are staying in Room 33 of the Mariner Inn, which is a typical, basic Caribbean hotel room -- ceramic tiled floor, tropical flavored textiles (some of which I have actually used in our own home), air-conditioning, ceiling fan, a refrigerator, and a large, deep, balcony overlooking beautiful Road Harbour and the vast Moorings yacht fleet. Our room has no television.
Not having eaten since breakfast many, many hours ago, we headed for the large, open-air, plant-filled restaurant opposite the Mariner Inn reception desk. The restaurant area flows into the bar, which is adjacent to a rectangular pool and deck. All of this overlooks Road Harbour, which is surrounded on three sides by verdant hills, speckled here and there with hillside homes. Dozens of large, white Moorings yachts are tied up at several concrete docks, all bearing the familiar blue Moorings sail cover. Hungry and thirsty, we had a few Piton beers (from St. Lucia) and enjoyed conch fritters, jerk chicken, a club sandwich and fish fingers.
All the while, the sun is shining and a breeze of 10-15 knots is blowing, not suggesting what might be lurking east of us. Indeed, I caught the Tropical Update on the Weather Channel on the television at the bar, where the meteorologists were predicting that Hurricane Georges would be a Category 4 storm when it reached the Leeward Islands on Sunday morning. Yikes! But what can we do? We are here now, so we should hope for the best and make the best of what good weather we have.
After lunch, we walked to Road Town to shop. I bought some hot sauce, perfume (jasmine), and a house magnet at Sunny Caribbee. Admired the original artworks, especially the Haitian pieces (for which Rick doesn't share my enthusiasm) at the next-door gallery. My goal was to visit Colombian Emeralds. Rick and I played our usual game of spoiled wife/indulgent husband for the benefit of our amused salesman, Eddie. I tried on some gorgeous pieces for fun, but ultimately bought a stainless steel double nautical cable (halyard) bracelet with a gold knot in the middle. The price was OK, but they "cut" it by more than half, which was even better. They also gave me a freshwater pearl bracelet to sweeten the deal. Whatever. I love the cable bracelet and it looks great with my gold one.
Afterwards, we walked to Pusser's for some shopping and drinks. The intense heat had wiped us out, and we needed the cool and dark of this soothing English colonial pub. Typically, the clothing was over-priced, but the rum was priced just right. A round of Painkillers -- cool and sweet -- was just what we needed. We observed the local happy hour scene get underway, since it was about 5 p.m. on a Friday. The singles happy hour scene is the same just about the same everywhere in the Anglo world.
We walked back to the Mariner Inn to go swimming in the pool. The water was blood warm, but cooler than we were, and therefore refreshing. The sun dropped quickly and we had a few sprinkles of rain. I cleaned up a bit after our swim, rinsed out my stinky travel clothes with Dr. Bronner's famous soap (which, it turns out, is awful as a toothpaste, a little too rough on hair as a shampoo, but is an excellent, quick-rinsing body wash and even better laundry soap), then headed to Braveheart to re-work some of our provisions.
We hoped to go to C&F for dinner, but there were no cabbies and C&F was closed for the season anyway. The Lime -n- Mango (formerly The Veranda) was also closed. So we ate at the Mariner Inn again, downing lots of water and iced tea with red bean soup, conch fritters, grilled grouper, vegetarian pasta and roasted pork. After dinner, we were very sleepy, but went to the bar anyway, as the guys drank decaf with Bailey's or Frangelico. The bartender reported that Georges had turned a bit to the north and might not hit us; then again, it might. You never can tell. We finally went to bed and fell asleep quickly, as it rained overnight.