Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Where's the Dinghy? Day 6

or, How We Learned Most of Cruising's Lessons in Just One Week

Day 6 (Thursday, May 6, 2004)

Sailing to The Baths
We wanted to get an early start for the Baths that Thursday morning because we had heard that the day moorings filled up quickly and that anchoring was not allowed. We motored over to the Salty Kat catamaran at about 8:00 to pick up Shannon, who told us that with four gung-ho guys on board her boat, she wasn’t getting any real sailing time. We changed that quickly, having Shannon jump around on top of the cabin and down in the cockpit to rig the mainsail with a single reef while I steered us into the wind. We were well protected from the high wind and swells by the mass of Virgin Gorda to our east, so it was finally time to sail! We bore off to port and watched with delight as the mainsail filled with wind for the first time this trip. We put out the jib as well and soon were flying along at a respectable six knots. With easy teamwork, we smoothly came about and were now on a starboard tack. Shannon snapped a picture of Nan and me sitting together at the helm, and Nan was actually smiling. This was the most fun we had had all week. The Salty Kat soon motored past us mid-tack, on a straight run to the Baths. Those guys don’t know what they’re missing, we commented. Several tacks later we arrived at the Baths ourselves to find that all the day moorings were already filled. We dropped the sails and motored in lazy loops, enjoying the rock formations and waiting for something to open up, but nothing ever did. Shannon decided she should rejoin her group instead of staying with us all the way to the Bitter End Yacht Club, where we planned to spend the night. So as we passed the bow of the moored Salty Kat, Shannon heaved her backpack onto the trampoline and then jumped into the water. We waved good-bye and promised to meet up with her later.

In the shelter of shore, we put the sails back up and headed north in an effortless beam reach past Spanish Town and Collision Point to starboard and then the Dogs islands to port. In almost no time, we passed an inlet where other boats were pulling in. It’s too soon, I thought. The inlet we want is the next one. As we rounded to the east, following the contour of shore, we saw nothing ahead of us but a massive reef, open ocean and big swells. This can’t be right, I thought. I checked the chart and saw that we were north and east of where I had thought we were, in Virgin Sound between Necker Island and Prickly Pear Island. Add “lost” to our list of problems for the week. We dropped the sails and steered for what appeared to be a break between the reef and shore, then watched as the water went from dark blue to the brilliant aquamarine of shallow water. The depth finder indicated that we were in about only six feet of water. Nan thought for sure that we would run aground at any moment. But I suggested that as long as we were in the sheltered water behind the reef and could clearly see the bottom and any obstacles, we might as well go exploring. The water was so beautiful she couldn’t help but agree. We followed a line of small buoys to a tiny bay at the easternmost end of Virgin Gorda. This could have been a private island paradise for the night but there were already a couple of boats anchored there and we really had our hearts set on spending the night at the Bitter End. We turned around and headed toward Saba Rock, which marks the northeastern entrance to Gorda Sound.

We rounded east after entering the sound and there was the Bitter End Yacht Club, perhaps the most famous sailing destination in the Caribbean. It looked like a country club set at water’s edge. We moored about a hundred yards from the dinghy dock and then piloted Squishy over to it. We explored the little theme park-like village and then ducked into the bar to escape the heat and drink a cold beer. Everything was pretty expensive, like the $50 per person prix fixe dinner (wine extra) advertised outside the restaurant, so we decided to buy some steaks at the grocery store and try out the little stern rail barbecue grill that came with the boat. I installed the grill and got the coals going while Nan worked her magic on some salads, vegetables and garlic bread down in the galley. As dusk turned to twilight, we ate like royalty in the cockpit while gazing across the water at the series of pyramid-roofed huts that are the primary land-based accommodation at the Bitter End. I was able to pick out the original three that Robin Graham, of Dove fame, had helped to build when he sailed through the area in the late 1960s, near the end of his epic solo, around-the-world sailing adventure. A couple of glasses of wine later, it was time for bed. Nan roused me just a few hours later. A boatload of drunks from the bar was having difficulty locating their boat. They were in the process of boarding ours when Nan yelled out, “Wrong boat!” Slurred apologies and the sound of an outboard motor disappearing into the distance lulled us back to sleep.

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