Kurukulla at Englishman's Bay, Tobago

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Anguilla to the British Virgin Islands (BVI).

Dog Island anchorage, sadly not tenable.
Having enjoyed a final iced coffee at Roy's Bayside Grill, on the beach in Road Bay, Anguilla, we set off to register our departure with the local Customs and Immigration authorities. When asked for our next port of call I offered Tortola (BVI) but mentioned in passing that we might visit the deserted island of Sombrero whilst en route. Wham! I was immediately presented with a bill for another $80 for a cruising permit to allow me to visit a deserted island, with no population or facilities, 30 miles NW of Anguilla;
Virgin Gorda Boatyard
needless to say my enthusiasm for visiting Sombrero declined instantly. Thereafter, for the sake of the authorities, I declared it was to be a “direct passage” to the BVI. That said our actual plan was to anchor overnight in the anchorage on the SW side of Dog Island, 12 miles from Anguilla, and then sail on to Sombrero for a second night at anchor before finally heading to the BVI.

In the event our passage from Anguilla to the BVI went anything other than according to our plan. Our intention to anchor overnight at Dog Island became increasingly unrealistic the further we sailed North West, away from Anguilla. With every mile the swell from the west became bigger and as we arrived off Dog Island it was evident that the only anchorage was completely untenable;
Virgin Gorda marina buildings, all but destroyed
swell from anything between North East and South East is normal in these latitudes but swell from the West! Based on this experience we deduced that the anchorage at Sombrero would be equally untenable and therefore opted for Plan B, the one we had declared to the authorities, and set course for the BVI sailing through the night. By first light we were three miles off the entrance to Round Rock Passage, our chosen entry point to the BVI archipelago.

Virgin Gorda marina
Once through the passage we set course for St Thomas Bay, Virgin Gorda, where Immigration and Customs clearance can be achieved at the ferry docks, just north of the Yacht Harbour.

We picked up a buoy in the bay, (I did not trust the depths in the entrance to the yacht harbour to be sufficient), and used the dinghy to get ashore. The administration was dealt with reasonably quickly and efficiently and thus we were now officially in the BVI; from here we set off to find the “Flow” store to purchase a data SIM card. A brisk 10 minute walk brought us to the remains of the store, still trading but heavily damaged, where for $180US we bought 15Gb, three times the price in Antigua!
Gorda sound at sunset
Flow (aka Lime) have realised that by having one card covering all their islands they were failing to maximise income, they now charge “roaming rates” when the card is not purchased in the island on which it is being used. Our 10Gb purchased before leaving Antigua became 50Mb at roaming rites!

The damage in Virgin Gorda was clear to see, very many houses were completely flattened and those still standing were severely damaged, no windows, no roofs and in many cases walls gone as well. What was amazing was the spirit of the people, having had their lives all but destroyed they were all cheerful and welcoming and this was the same welcome we received in every part of the BVI that we visited. Where-ever we went the situation was more or less the same. Buildings flattened, roofs missing but life returning to normal. Businesses were trading from what they had left of their premises or were busily rebuilding ready for the return of the tourists.
Wickham's Cay, near Village Cay marina

Our first days in Virgin Gorda were spent relaxing, at anchor, in Long Bay and Virgin Gorda Sound. It was from here, two days later, that we sailed across to Road Harbour, on the main island of Tortola to pick up Stephen, a friend from London, who was joining us. We berthed in the remnants of the marina at Village Cay, once a smart marina complex and hotel but now trading from what was left after Irma. The marina was severely damaged with several sunken vessels still obstructing berths, the hotel had a very few rooms to let that were still wind and weather proof ; fortunately the least affected part seemed to be the bar/restaurant.
Wickham's Cay, Village Cay marina
The harbour at Road Harbour and the other yacht harbours in the BVI such as Nanny Cay are overflowing with damaged, dismasted boats.
A ship load already!
They are there in their hundreds. It seems there is a ship, loaded with severely damaged boats, departing Road Harbour every few days taking them who knows where for repair and this has been going on for six months already!
The lucky ones taken home for repair!

A heartbreaking sight! Many other yachts, motor boats and several ships still lie on the beaches where they foundered, awaiting salvage and/or disposal. We spoke to some people who were making a business out of buying wrecks from insurers and “turning them around”, a good profit to be made apparently!

Having successfully picked up Stephen the night before we commenced a tour of the other bays and islands.

I will not take you on a detailed day by day tour of the BVI, suffice to say the in every bay or island that we visited the damage was horrific and the people fantastic.

Pusser's Landing, Soper's Hole, not quite as I remembered it!
We went to all the usual haunts,
Pusser's Landing,
Soper's Hole (Pusser's Landing for a Painkiller Cocktail and supper), to Jost Van Dyke where we anchored overnight in Little Harbour (aka Garner Bay) where Abe's restaurant was gainly carrying on, displaying a notice declaring them open for business;
Little Harbour, Garner Bay, Jost Van Dyke
this was despite half of their premises having been demolished by Irma, most of which was currently in the course of being rebuilt.

White Bay, Guana Island.
From here we sailed to Guana island, for a quiet night at anchor in White Bay, before heading out to the spectacular but totally different island of Anegada.

Anegada is the only low coral island in the BVI, so low in fact that it has 'Tsunami evacuation route' signs along the roads.

We anchored for the night in the anchorage just to the west of Pomato Point and not in the main Setting Point anchorage; the reason for this was that I was unsure what effect Irma had had on the depths in the main anchorage; a large part of it is charted at between 2 & 2.5m; Kurukulla draws 2.1m.
Devastation in Anegada

Here too there was plenty of evidence of the damage Irma did but again the prevailing impression was of rapid reconstruction and evident determination to get back into business.
Anegada - Pomato Point Museum
Some locals we spoke to considered themselves lucky that Irma did them less damage than on the other BVI Islands;
Pomato Beach, Anegada
I am not sure how true this is, it may just be an effect of the low population density.
Kurukulla at anchor, Pomato Beach, Anegada

From Anegada we enjoyed a downwind sail back to Virgin Gorda Sound where we spent the next two nights at anchor. First night in the lee of Prickly Pear Island and the second on a mooring near Saba Rock.
Leverick Bay, Gorda Sound

If we thought the destruction we had seen so far was devastating then Saba Rock bar/restaurant and the Bitter End Yacht Club set new standards. In the case of the latter virtually nothing was left standing!

Bitter End Yacht Club, Gorda Sound

Next morning we sailed off the mooring and set sail for Dog Island where we anchored for lunch followed by a return to Village Cay Marina (aka Wickham's Cay 1) for the night. Our reason for this was twofold, we wanted to top up on fresh victuals and secondly we needed to deliver the No2 Genoa to the sailmaker for a minor repair to the leach. Doyle Sailmakers experience of Irma was also interesting, the building had been stripped to just a frame by the 200mph winds but they had luckily managed to retrieve and store much of their machinery before the storm hit.
Saba Rock, Gorda Sound
That combined with sufficient insurance cover saw them back in business, albeit in an ad hoc way, within three months. Others in the area were not so lucky.
Sand Sharks at Gorda Sound
Very many were under-insured and as a consequence were in an impossible position where they could not afford to rebuild their homes or businesses even if they were able reach agreement on a payout from their insurance companies.

The rescue of "Willie T"
Next morning, with only 48 hours to go before Stephen's return to UK, we quickly completed all of our tasks and then set off for Norman Island, the most southerly of the BVI. In The Bight, a deep, sheltered bay on the western side, was the infamous “Willie T's”; a small topsail schooner moored in the southern end of the bay and lately used as a bar/snack-bar. Reputedly if you were prepared to dive into the sea, from her deck, naked, you were in for free beer! Sadly she is now deeply embedded in the beach with a crane barge on task to try to refloat her, whether they will manage to do so before she breaks her back is anyone's guess but it is good to know there is a chance she will return to her old position.
Norman Island sound
The Pirates Bight bar/restaurant onshore at the eastern end of the bay seemed to be functioning well, that is judging from the disco music echoing across the bay!

Stephens departure day arrived and we decided to drop him as near the airport as possible. With a NE wind the best option was on the south west shore of Beef Island itself (after which the airport is named). Anchored 100m offshore we were able to put him ashore with the dinghy, depositing him at the end of the runway and 250m from the terminal building. Not bad so far.
Sunset over Saint John, USVI
The only problem was that his flight was then delayed by two hours and he arrived for his connection in Antigua in time to see the British Airways 777 taxiing for take-off without him onboard! Fortunately a) his flights were all booked through BA and b) they got him on the following day's flight, otherwise life could have become rather more difficult!

Stephen dispatched, Christoph and I set sail for Peter Island, another of the almost unpopulated southern group of islands, where there are several south facing anchorages. Here we anchored in Key Bay, and settled for the night.
Another casualty awaiting rescue and repair
The next morning we motored across to Road Harbour, to retrieve the No2 genoa and then sailed back to the tranquillity of Peter Island for another night.

Our time in the BVI was drawing to a close and so the following day we opted for a night back in the marina at Road Town; this gave us a chance to dine ashore for a last time, re-victual and do battle with Customs and Immigration to get our departure approved.
Not quite my idea of Bliss.....

Fortunately, although it was Easter Saturday, the offices at the ferry/cruise ship jetty were functioning. By mid day we were ready to depart and set off on a 18 mile beat to windward to reach Gorda Sound again. Our preferred setting off point for a Sunday departure for Saba. Ideally we sailed into the sound and on to the anchor just in time to pour a Pina Colada for sundowners, fantastic!

Just to conclude, I would not wish to dissuade anyone from visiting the BVI at this stage. It is very quiet, probably the least crowded you will ever see it, but that makes it all the more desirable.
Kurukulla alongside one of the pontoons but no services.
Everything is available, fuel, water, food, restaurants, bars; perhaps it is not to the usual standard but the people and the atmosphere are still there. It is a great place to go and needs people to return to help them rebuild their economy, their infrastructure and through that their lives!

Some of the damaged pontoons.
More when we are back in the Dutch Antilles, Saba and Statia .........

1 comment:

Jo Fraser said...

Thanks John. As you say, they will need the income desperately. Great read, as always.