Today’s 16 mile mid-morning sail from Anegada to Tortola is a delightful broad reach in 20 knots of easterly trade winds. The winter weather patterns here are very predictable and conducive to sailing in any direction except east. In the Bahamas last winter, we were constantly focused on the passage of cold fronts from the east coast of the U.S. These fronts create strong northerly winds. They dictated every movement of Cutter Loose.
Winter cold fronts normally stall in the southern Bahamas or Turks and Caicos, rarely reaching the Virgin Islands. The winter weather maker here is the clockwise circulation of wind around the North Atlantic high, which consistently generates easterly trade winds. However, stormy conditions hundreds of miles to our north often create northerly swells here in the Virgin Islands. The swell direction often dictates our selection of anchorage. Northerly swells have the unique knack of finding their way into even the most protected anchorages, creating uncomfortable, rolly conditions. When the swells become wind-driven rather than storm-driven, almost every anchorage protected from the east is calm and comfortable.
Our destination today is Marina Cay, an interim stop en route to Jost Van Dyke. Our course is roughly a re-enactment of our initial arrival in BVI, leaving the Dog Islands to port as we approach Tortola. Surprisingly, Marina Cay is crowded with anchored boats. We are accustomed to seeing the moorings in this harbor filled with charter boats. But it is unusual for boats to anchor here. Just a few days ago, Cutter Loose was the only boat at anchor to the east of the mooring field. Today, we are one of eight boats at anchor between Marina Cay and Scrub Island. It dawns on us that this week is the peak of holiday sailing vacations in the BVI. Perhaps more significantly, tonight is the December full moon party at nearby Trellis Bay. In light of the fact that the harbor in Trellis Bay fills up rapidly for this event, Marina Cay serves as a convenient spillover anchorage for full moon parties.
After lunch, we take a short dinghy ride to Tortola’s newest marina and condominium community at Scrub Island. The docks, swimming pools, restaurants and deli/grocery store are first class. To our disappointment, however, there are no public laundry facilities at this marina. Once back on board Cutter Loose, it is a brief swim to the reef on Great Camanoe Island, which offers many varieties of coral as well as a vibrant community of colorful reef fish.
Saturday provides an excellent opportunity to sail west from Marina Cay. Instead of choosing the south coast of Tortola, we opt instead to explore new territory on the north coast of Tortola. Once past the Beef Island Airport and Little Camanoe Island, Cutter Loose enters Guana Sound and subsequently through Guana Channel. Monkey Point and White Bay are filled with anchored boats this morning. We make a mental note to return to these attractive anchorages once the holiday crowd subsides.
Easterlies are blowing 15 to 20 knots today with 3 to 4 foot seas. We execute a series of alternating broad reaches, jibing repeatedly as we sail west along the north coast of Tortola. The ride is smooth on starboard tack when the swell is directly astern. However, when the waves are on our quarter, the barrel-rolling motion aboard Cutter Loose becomes somewhat uncomfortable.
Our destination today is the island of Jost Van Dyke. Sailing past the white beach at Sandy Cay, we jibe the genoa one final time and set a course to Great Harbor. This is the site of the popular NewYear’s eve party at Foxy’s. We have agreed to meet Cary and Tom of Dragon’s Toy here for a New Year’s Eve celebration. For weeks, we have seen promotional posters and heard stories about the overwhelming crowds at Foxy’s New Year’s Eve celebration. Under normal circumstances, we would steer clear of such a crowded venue. But in the interest of camaraderie and exposure to new experiences, we decide to give it a go.
Already, Great Harbor is nearly filled with pleasure boats that have secured an early mooring or anchorage in anticipation of the celebration. Keeping our distance from the mooring field, there is an open spot in 10 feet of water on the west side of the harbor near the ferry dock. We try to select a spot populated by responsible neighbors, seeking out a space next to fellow-cruisers and avoiding charter boats. For better or worse, the anchor is down in Great Harbor. Let the party begin!
Ashore, the townspeople of Great Harbor are preparing for a major event. A series of open-air restaurants, beach bars and shops line the beachfront. Vendors are selling take-out food from their beachside stalls and counters. Young men are openly smoking pot on the beach. Having completed the initial reconnaissance, we return to Cutter Loose to settle in for a quiet evening.
On Saturday night, the live band at Foxy’s begins at 10 PM which just happens to coincide with lights out aboard Cutter Loose. This concert is a precursor to the New Year’s Eve party at Foxy’s, but as it turns out, it is a major event unto itself. Sleep is definitely out of the question given the volume of the music wafting across the harbor. There is no alternative but to take in the audio element of the concert from the cockpit. Although we cannot see the performers, we can hear their every word as if our stereo was blaring at high volume. This is not just an average reggae band. The arrangements have a distinct R&B influence. The musicians are quite accomplished with excellent keyboard work and harmony courtesy of back-up singers. The lead singer explains that the band arrived in BVI from Jamaica earlier today. He reassures the crowd that the ferry will not leave the dock until the performance has ended. Obviously, people have arrived by ferry from Red Hook to participate in the party. We regret that we are not in attendance at this concert.
A seemingly endless series of encores ensue. The performance ends at 2 AM. The silhouettes of concert-goers gradually making their way along the beach towards the ferry dock can be seen through the early morning darkness. The ferry departs at 2:30 AM, but recorded music from the bars continues until 3 AM.
In the immortal words of Jimmy Buffet, “there’s a thin line between Saturday night and Sunday morning”. The Sunday morning worship service at the tiny beachfront Jost Van Dyke Methodist Church begins at 11 AM. When we arrive promptly at 10:55 AM, the guest speaker is seated alone in the tiny sanctuary. The pianist arrives at 11:15. The other 20 or so parishioners arrive between 11:20 and 11:30. Today’s guest speaker is not deterred in the least. She offers the benediction precisely at 1:15 PM. We are greeted warmly by members of the congregation after the service. Hunger has set in about midway through the service. A late lunch at Corsair’s restaurant on the beach hits the spot.
Boats continue to arrive in the harbor throughout Sunday afternoon. Our space has not been violated by recent arrivals, but there is a steady stream of would-be neighbors motoring alongside Cutter Loose in search of a spot to drop their anchor. Sometimes, a simple presence on the foredeck is enough to deter folks from anchoring too close. Other boaters require a convincing explanation, in which case, we converse politely about swinging patterns and the location and amount of anchor chain that we have deployed.
Monday morning brings a new breed of boaters to Great Harbor…participants in The Yachting Week. According to the Internet, a British travel agent has booked some 25 boats from various charter agencies specifically for young people in their twenties. These charter yachts descend on Great Harbor like a herd of locusts, seeking to find that last square inch of available space in the harbor to drop the hook. The twenty-something charter guests do not appear to be even remotely interested in assisting the captain with anchoring the boat. They stand on deck, gyrating to the pulsating music. Each boat is decorated with a Yachting Week burgee, as if to announce the arrival of the fleet.
Soon the harbor is in chaos. One 40 foot charter boat drops its anchor about 35 feet upwind of Cutter Loose. This calls for a trip to the foredeck in an effort to convince the skipper that his selection of space to drop the anchor is not advantageous to either of us. After a 15 minute trial period, he reluctantly moves on.
The competency of these young skippers seems questionable. When one boat is anchored, another boat rafts alongside. Then a third boat joins the raft. Curiously, the stern swim platform of the middle boat in the raft–up seems to have been designated as the men’s urinal while their crew mates swim off the stern of the boats on either side. A few boats away, a Yachting Week raft-up drags down on the smaller anchored cruising yacht with the dark-colored hull. There is a flurry of activity fending off the imminent collision. Eventually, the Yachting Week raft-up breaks apart as each boat moves to another area of the harbor to begin the process again. Contributing to the problem is the fact that the wind has been light and variable during the days leading up to New Years. Boats have been swinging 360 degrees, not always in uniform alignment. Nor are they always lying directly downwind of their anchors. Under these conditions in a crowded harbor, anchors are sometimes set on top of the anchor rodes of previously anchored boats. Our entire day is spent scrutinizing late arrivals that attempt to anchor over our rode or too close to Cutter Loose. Dinghy traffic in the harbor is constant. Many of the dinghies travel at high speeds through the anchored boats where crew members are swimming. Very few of the dinghies use show running lights after dark.
At 9:30 PM, it is time to join the festivities ashore. Foxy’s has been rated amongst the top five destination New Year’s Eve parties by an international publication. People arrive at this event by private boat, cruise ships and ferries from St. Thomas. The beach and the bars are already filled with a mass of humanity representing people of all ages and races. A cast of thousands will visit Jost Van Dyke tonight. This is a significant event for an island with a population of barely 200.
The people-watching tonight is excellent. Some of the outfits are clever. Others are outrageous. Many partiers are dressed in swimwear, ready at a moment’s notice for a moonlight swim. Sidewalk stalls and games of chance attract the attention of visitors. The crowd is having fun, dancing to the music on the beach. For many, the New Year’s Eve party is an annual mecca. People pause along the beach to greet old friends. Everyone is friendly and well-behaved. There is no loud, rowdy or crude behavior.
Later in the evening, we rendezvous with friends Cary and Tom at Foxy’s. Dragon’s Toy is anchored at Green Cay…several miles from here. They arrive at the party via taxi. At midnight, the traditional ten second countdown is announced on the public address system, followed by abundant kissing, hugging, noisemaking and more dancing. The party continues until the last ferry leaves the dock at 3:30 AM. Visiting Jost Van Dyke has had its moments of harbor-related tension given the sheer scale of this holiday event. But being here and mingling with the crowd has been a most interesting way to welcome in the New Year.
It is now New Year’s Day. Late night revelers are slow to stir this morning. Ever so gradually, human forms begin to appear on anchored boats. The charter boat raft-ups slowly break apart and move on to their next destination. Our departure is delayed while charter boat captains sort out the tangled anchor rodes at the sandy bottom of the harbor. No worries. Our primary mission for the day is to replenish our supply of fresh water. It is a sunny, windy day…perfect conditions for using the solar panels and wind generator to power the water maker. The solitude of nearby Leinster Bay is the perfect antidote to the New Year’s celebration on Jost Van Dyke.