Cutter Loose is on familiar footing today, plowing east in Sir Francis Drake Channel with moderate easterlies on the bow. The first order of business in the New Year involves a stop in Road Town. Anchoring is difficult in this harbor due to its exposure to the easterly trade winds. However, Road Town is the place in the BVIs to gain access to essential services.
Our first destination is the local pharmacy to purchase additional medication for Pat’s rash, which is healing quite nicely. The next stop is at Scotia Bank to withdraw cash. A sign on the ATM machine states that there is a $3 fee to withdraw cash, which is customary. Then it is on to Rite Way, the largest and most modern food store on Tortola. Virtually any type of canned food or bottled beverage can be found here at 1.5 to 2 times the cost of comparable products in the U.S. Since there are no locally grown fruits or vegetables, the produce leaves a lot to be desired in terms of freshness. In the meat department, there is a good supply of beef, ox tail and pig’s feet. But chicken parts and fish are available only in frozen packages. Nearby, there is a tiny French charcuterie/patisserie which offers a nice selection of cheeses, lunchmeats and freshly baked bread. Footnote: as it turns out, the advertised $3 ATM fee applies to local debit card transactions. A review of our bank statement reveals that Scotia’s ATM fee for foreign debit cards is actually $14.
By mid-afternoon, Cutter Loose is again motoring east, this time from Road Town to East End. The purpose of this destination is to attend to laundry, which has been accumulating since before Christmas. Our course takes us past Buck Island, then north into the broad waters of Fat Hogs Bay. Once past a large outcropping on the edge of the reef known as Red Rock, we drop the anchor in East End Bay just as the sun disappears below the horizon. The laundry can wait until morning. It is time to relax.
Laundry is postponed for a few hours on Thursday morning while a passing rain shower cleans the topsides of Cutter Loose. Our patience is rewarded with a double rainbow in East End Bay, the clarity of which is as vivid as we’ve ever seen. Ashore, the Laundromat is the best we have found since leaving home in October. There are a dozen new washers and a dozen new dryers, all of which are in good operating condition. This is the perfect facility for accomplishing five loads of dirty laundry. Beyond accomplishing laundry, however, the town of East End offers few amenities to the cruising sailor. By noon, the anchor is up in East End Bay. Cutter Loose is bound for North Sound, Virgin Gorda, the site of a 60th birthday celebration for our friend Tom of Dragon’s Toy.
The pre-birthday celebration begins at happy hour on Friday afternoon at Saba Rock. In addition to Tom and Cary of Dragon’s Toy, we are joined by Judy and Torbin on Tivoli. On Friday evening, we are joined by two other cruising couples for a lively birthday barbeque on the beach at Leverick Bay complete with a live band.
One of the delights of a visit to North Sound is the opportunity to see some incredible world class yachts up close and personal. One such vessel is the 289 foot Maltese Falcon, a modern square rigger. She was built by the reknown Perini Navi yard in 2005 for venture capitalist Tom Perkins. This incredible sailing yacht is available for charter at a cost of $550,000 per week.
The so-called Christmas winds have finally arrived in BVI. High pressure in the North Atlantic is creating a tight gradient, delivering sustained trade winds of 25 knots with gusts to 30 in occasional squalls. Caribbean marine forecaster Chris Parker suggests that robust easterlies will continue for several weeks. In anticipation of strong winds, Cutter Loose is anchored in Biras Creek, just beyond the mooring field at Bitter End. While the water here is quite calm, the downdrafts from the surrounding hills create periodic bursts of strong wind. We will remain here on Saturday night and re-evaluate the forecast and our options on Sunday.
The absence of a north swell is an invitation to visit some places we have not yet seen here in the BVIs. Submitting to the urge to explore, Cutter Loose is underway on Sunday, leaving the relative protection of North Sound en route to Lee Bay on the west side of Great Camanoe Island. This 13 mile journey is a spirited downwind romp in wind speeds of 20 to 25 knots with occasional gusts to 30. Because we are sailing downwind, the ride is relatively smooth and fast. For a period of time, we are accompanied by airborne dolphins performing their acrobatic leaps about 30 yards off the port bow. We are accustomed to dolphin swimming alongside the boat, repeatedly surfacing and diving. Today’s dolphins are feeding on smaller bait fish which requires them to surface rapidly, catching both dinner and air in the process.
A turn to the south places Cutter Loose in the lee of Great Camanoe Island. To our delight, Lee Bay is empty. We are afforded the opportunity to enjoy this protected circular bay all to ourselves. To the east is a saddle in the center of the island which allows 15 knots of wind to enter Lee Bay. The water here is flat calm and the breeze provides a welcome source of ventilation. Soon, the aroma of freshly baked bread fills the cabin. Pat has certainly become an accomplished baker.
One of the rewards of anchoring in Lee Bay is the amazing sunset views of Guana Channel and the north coast of Tortola. This picture-perfect story comes to an end overnight when a series of squalls move through the anchorage, bringing sustained winds of 20 knots with gusts to 25. We are awakened by the sound of the wind. Despite the strong gusts, the water in Lee Bay remains calm.
On Monday, the downwind saga of Cutter Loose resumes with a visit to Cane Garden Bay on the north coast of Tortola. The easterlies are calmer today with winds in the 14 to 18 knot range. Cane Garden is a photogenic harbor with a semi-circular white sand beach dotted with an assortment of bars and restaurants. By early afternoon, we are enjoying lunch on the beach at Rhymer’s. Tourists from the cruise boats docked in Road Town arrive by taxi to enjoy the view and a swim before being escorted back to their boat in time for a late-afternoon departure. By 4 PM, the beach is free of cruise boat visitors and the bars and musicians are gearing up for happy hour. The sunset views from the beach are spectacular, which attracts a second wave of visitors to Cane Garden Bay. Just after sunset, we return to Cutter Loose for a restful evening.