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Island-hopping by yacht in the British Virgin Islands


Wrap your arms around the tree, dig your feet into the trunk and hand over hand slowly shimmy up. This was the advice I was receiving while relaxing in a hot tub overlooking the Sir Francis Drake Channel at the Frenchman’s Marriott Resort in St. Thomas, U.S Virgin Islands. The coconut plucking instructor, a St. Croix resident, via Detroit, didn’t know how helpful his advice would be for our crew of seven in the next few days.

We came to the islands for an adult spring break in hopes of finding some rest and relaxation among the sailors and yachtsmen in the British Virgin Islands (BVI). What we found in St. Thomas was a cross between Tortuga and the LA Freeway. Our concerns about sea sickness were a distant memory after a queasy taxi ride from the Marriott to the ferry dock.

Our experience was soon to improve. We were greeted at the ferry dock in Road Town, Tortola by Aaron Ritchie, a barefoot and darkly tanned young man who announced himself as the captain of Shiwara, our sailing vessel for the week. As it turns out Shiwara, meaning swift gazelle in African dialect, was an inept name for this 63’ Herbulot Schooner. Finally out on the high seas, with the sails raised, our backs to the wind and our captain at the helm, Shiwara promptly floated along at 3 knots. That is roughly 4 miles per hour. Concerns quickly set in that our island hopping adventure would be more like a slow float down a lazy river on an inner tube. But luckily, our crew was more interested in seeing the sights of the islands than experience sailing at its purest. After a few minutes of quiet sailing we instructed the captain to pull in the sails, fire up the engines and get us to Norman Island and the Willie T as quickly as possible.

Safely moored at The Bight, a cove off Norman Island, we were reminded that spring break was in full swing. A large red yacht was pumping music with scantily clad women and curly haired bleach blond college boys dancing on the bow. This made an obvious jumping off point for our trip. Our captain instructed me to adjust the dinghy, which I thought was rather presumptuous considering my wife was standing right beside me. Turns out Shiwara comes with a motored raft called a dinghy which is bigger than many powerboats I am used to seeing. Dinghy envy runs rampant in the islands and I was happy to have one of the larger ones there. Quickly aboard the yacht we learned that it was a group from Sweden who were celebrating young yachtsmen week. Freddie, the captain of the yacht, had borrowed it from his parents and was taking liberty to celebrate the freedom that the good life brings by drinking, dancing and partying with what looked to be the Swedish bikini team. Hey, who am I to judge, I was seeking to live the life of a pirate for a week, wenching and all.

Following our pre-party, we dinghyed over to the Willie T. The Willie T is a half sunken ship that has been turned into a restaurant and bar and is world renowned for its top deck. This is the place where revelers are encouraged to jump naked into the crystal blue waters below. No one took up the challenge when we were there but I saw several fall into the water fully clothed while trying to pee off the end of the dock. I guess the pirate life still abounds in the BVI.

After a very exciting first day on the open waters, we were happy to calm things down a bit. A morning hike on Norman Island, a snorkel through the Caves and a quiet sail brought us to Trellis Bay on the West end of Tortola. Anchored just off the runway at Beef Island we enjoyed music at The Last Resort restaurant and bar where I savored juicy ribs in a sweet barbecue sauce and ordered drinks at the bar from a guy named Giggles.

The Last Resort was followed the next night by Pussers, a picture perfect setting on Marina Cay. Bright pink and teal buildings grace the palm trees and sandy beach. At the end of the dock sits a bright red phone booth plucked straight from the streets of England. While this is one of the most photographed spots in the Caribbean, we had most of the island to ourselves as we watched the sun set and sang along to the drifting cover songs of a lone guitar player.

The next morning we woke up early and motored over to Yost Van Dyke. My wife and I had traveled to this sleepy island four years ago on a day sail from St. John’s. This time we found a cruise ship anchored off shore and arrived to find crowded beaches, lines to order Painkillers, a local favorite libation, and birds diving at our heads. To make the most of it, and after one too many Painkillers, we decided to try out our hot tub friends advice and commandeer a coconut from one of the many palm trees. After several failed attempts to scale the scratchy bark as instructed, we turned to the resources at hand. MacGyver would be disappointed in our selection of a beach lounge chair which we hoisted toward the top of the tree in an attempt at knocking the coconut from its branch. This too surprisingly failed. Luckily our captain, who appeared to have done this a time or two, and fearing the eventual arrests of his crew, climbed the tree and plucked the coconut for us. On our way back to Shiwara our dinghy met a large swell and the coconut was catapulted into the sea. We jumped in after it as if we had lost a person overboard. With us now drifting in the current of the ocean our captain looked horrified at our lack of poor judgment considering coconuts float. Regardless, that night we sipped on fresh coconut milk, hoisted our pirate flag, grilled hamburgers on the bow of Shiwara and toasted to a perfect spring break getaway and the need for some rest and relaxation when we returned to land.

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