2022 Early Bird Cruise in the British Virgin Islands
Cruise Leaders: Al & Liz Sutherland
The Early Bird Cruise has been the traditional first cruise of the season for the West River Sailing Club Cruiser Fleet for many years. The cruise has always been to St. Michaels with docking at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. In 2019 Early Bird’s went to St. Michaels on the weekend of 10 May. The cruise consisted of couples coming in four boats and two cars. It, unfortunately, was a rainy, cold weekend. This chilly, wet weather had been the pattern for a number of years and the cruise participants all agreed that it would be wonderful to organize a bareboat charter cruise in the Caribbean during the Early Bird timeframe. Hence the Early Bird in the British Virgin Islands (BVI’s) was conceived. The reason we picked the BVI’s was that there are always dependable trade winds from the East and there are closely located, beautiful Islands that are separated by deep ocean passages. Each Island is within a few hours sail away, thus making it easy to move from place to place. A notice was sent out to all Club Members and 12 couples responded with interest. It was decided that three large catamarans, each with accommodations for four couples would be chartered from The Moorings. Al Sutherland, Bernie Doyle and Joe Casey were to be lead charterers.
The three boats were chartered at the 2019 Annapolis Boat show in October. We were all excited to be cruising in the BVI’s in early April 2020. Then, COVID shut down everything! By April 2020 international travel was virtually stopped and places like the BVI’s were not accepting visitors. We then made arrangements with The Moorings to defer our Cruise to April 2021 – thinking that by then COVID would be over. It was not and COVID resurged. We, again, deferred the trip until April 2022. By that time, a number of our participants, for many good reasons, had decided to bow out. Four WRSC couples, Al & Liz Sutherland, Joe & Pat Casey, Bernie & Ev Doyle, and John & Kyrah von Senden decided to stick it out one more year. We were advised by The Moorings that we would be switched from a Catamaran to a 48’ monohull with four separate couple berths, each having an en-suite bathroom.
Our cruise was wonderful! We all met at the Tortola airport on Thursday 21 April and took a van ride to the Moorings Marina Hotel in Road Town. There we ate at the marina and stayed overnight in the marina hotel. The next day, Friday, was a busy provisioning day. Rite-Way, a full-service grocery (with a fine liquor selection) was within walking distance. Three trips later, we provisioned our boat, named WOMBAT. On Saturday we moved aboard WOMBAT and slept in port awaiting sign/out – departure proceedings the next day.
Sign/out was a bit problematic with things not quite ready with the boat (freezer not working, BBQ grill missing, other items -- 1 dock line, 1 life vest and a few other things that needed to be
We finally got underway o/a 1:00pm. We cleared the harbor after dodging a rather large inter-island freighter, raised sail, and headed for Norman Island and had a lovely dinner at Pirates Bight (our swim platform, the only way to get on/off the boat at sea worked but was very “wonky”). Our next morning’s destination was to Salt Island and an anchorage near the wreck of the M/V RHONE (https://divebvi.com/rms-rhone/), supposedly a great snorkeling site, but, unfortunately, after arriving at the site, our hydraulically operated swim platform did not work at all. We then called Moorings, asked for a repair, and went to a mooring field at nearby Cooper Island. That evening the Moorings maintenance crew came by and diagnosed the problem; however, they needed a part that they did not have with them. We ate dinner aboard and the next day the Moorings maintenance people came to the boat and did a wonderful job fixing the swim platform. We tested the swim platform by enjoying a beautiful snorkeling trip while being ‘observed’ by the Barracuda lurking next to the keel. By mid-day we were off again and headed to Leverick Bay in Virgin Gorda where we spent two nights. The first night we had an excellent dinner of spiny Anegada Lobster at the Leverick Bay Marina and Resort. The second day we were able to visit The Baths via taxi (https://www.bvinpt.org/the-baths).
Next, we headed for Marina Cay near Scrub Island. A low-pressure area to the North sent 4-6 foot swells our way which stayed with us for the rest of our cruise. Next was Cane Garden Bay, in Tortola where the swells wrapped around the headland making for a very rocky anchorage and some daring dingy ingress and egress at the Cane Garden Bay dock. Then on to Little Harbor in Jost Van Dyke for some snorkeling, another lobster dinner ashore at Harris’s and finally back to the Moorings Marina in Road Town Tortola where the rain caught up to us – fortunately after we had safely docked.
It was a lovely trip, with good friends that encompassed seven days on the boat sailing and 4 days travelling (except for the von Senden’s, who had airline delays which resulted in a 21-hour return trip).
One final note: Hurricane Irma, tore through the BVI’s in September 2017. It caused $3.6 billion dollars of damage. This is the same Hurricane that caused massive damage and long-term power outages in Puerto Rico. The effects of Irma can still be seen in the BVI’s with sunken and abandoned boats littering the shoreline and many homes and business’s still in disrepair. It will still take several years for the BVI’s to bounce back to their vibrant, former selves. Despite the setbacks that Irma caused, the people of the BVI’s were, without exception, friendly, welcoming, and put great effort into their work.
Upon our return were glad to hear that some of the WRSC Cruising Fleet who did not make the trip to the BVI’s were able to enjoy the traditional Early Bird trip to St. Michaels MD.