Tuesday, June 26, 2007

"got jesus?"

I was cut off in traffic the other day by somebody with a "got jesus?" sticker on their bumper. It made me wonder how a person like that can justify their bad driving, whether they think that speeding, not using turn signals and rolling through stop signs are not actual sins so they don't count in God's ledger, or maybe that God is on their side so they can drive with reckless abandon. Either way, it scares the shit out of me.

Apparently, I'm not the only one. It's gotten so bad that the Pope had to issue the Ten Commandments for Drivers last week. I read them online and it comes down to this: "Drive nice." Hear that? Don't treat freeways like your personal NASCAR race. Don't pass on the right in merge lanes. Don't pretend that your desire to arrive at work on time is more important than other people's. Don't think that tailgating will cause the drivers in front of you to speed up or get out of your way. Don't drive while talking on your cell phone, eating an ice cream cone and steering with your elbows. And if someone lets you pull in ahead of them, wave and smile to acknowledge their courtesy. 'Nuff said.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Better the Second Time Around

John and Nan at the helmIn some of my first Whispering Jesse blog postings, the "Where's the Dinghy?" series, I detailed our ill-fated May 2004 sailing trip in the British Virgin Islands. We endured a lifetime's worth of sailing misfortunes in a single week, everything from dangerous weather to almost losing our dinghy.

I'm happy to report that things do indeed go better the second time around. What we learned from the first time's disasters prepared us well for the trip we took last month. It went so well that Nan said it was our best vacation ever. That's a far cry from last time, when in the middle of some particularly bad weather Nan said she hated sailing and would never do it again.

Vicky and MonicaHere's what we did differently this time:

Instead of sailing with only the two of us, we recruited Nan's sister Monica and her friend Vicky to join us. Neither had ever sailed before but they were quick learners and excellent shipmates.

Instead of scheduling our flights with no room for error, we took the time to find flights that would give us options and get us from Denver to the British Virgin Islands in just one day, with time to spare in case of problems.

The British phone booth Web cam at Marina Cay's fuel dock. Thanks, Pusser's!Instead of assuming our luggage would arrive when we did, we packed some toiletries and clothes in our carry-ons.

Instead of using a smaller, less expensive charter company, we went with the biggest and best, the Moorings, out of Road Town harbor on Tortola.

Smooth sailing!Instead of going with a smaller boat, we went with a forty-foot Beneteau, the 403 Club. It made for a smoother ride and much more cabin room, plus it included such niceties as an auto-pilot and an electric anchor windlass.

Instead of staying at an expensive hotel the night before our charter began, we stayed on the boat and got well-acquainted with its systems before heading out the next day.

Nan trimming the jib in rainy weatherInstead of sailing around Tortola clockwise, which is somewhat contrary to the prevailing easterly Trade Winds, especially on the north side of the island, we sailed counter-clockwise and enjoyed the benefits of never having to use the engine to make headway.

Instead of assuming the boat would have adequate water and fuel, and that every mooring area would have a water and fuel dock, we planned our itinerary to include strategic refueling stops at Marina Cay and Sopers Hole.

Vicky bringing down the sail in bad weatherInstead of assuming that we would be able to get a day mooring at the Baths--no anchoring allowed!--we spent the previous night at the closest overnight spot, Manchioneel Bay on Cooper Island. We were underway by 6:15 the next morning and were the first boat to arrive at the Baths that day.

Instead of thinking I knew where I was going as we tried to enter North Gorda Sound and almost heading out to open sea by mistake, I checked and rechecked the chart, and entered the sound safely through the Mosquito Island channel.

Instead of using a long line to attach our dinghy to our Marina Cay mooring while we refueled, and then running over it and fouling our propeller on the return, we tied the dinghy up close to the buoy and motored up to it extra-cautiously.

Monica and Vicky swimming at the BathsInstead of thinking there would be plenty of moorings available at Jost Van Dyke, we sailed early from Tortola's Cane Garden Bay to White Bay and tied off our dinghy to an open mooring buoy, then made a side trip to Sandy Cay. When we returned all the other moorings were taken.

Instead of arriving late to the Sopers Hole and Norman Island mooring areas and ending up with windy, noisy moorings, we made a point of sailing early in the day and were rewarded with quiet, protected moorings, the one at Norman Island being the best of the trip, with excellent snorkeling right next to the boat.

Sunset over the Bight at Norman IslandInstead of suffering twenty-plus knot winds, four to six foot swells and frequent squalls, we were lucky to have fifteen to twenty knot winds, minimal swells and partly cloudy skies--perfect weather almost the entire week.

As good as it was, the trip was not without incident:

Monica took a bad fall going down the steps into the cabin, cracking two ribs and bruising a wrist. She had taken off her sandy shoes in the cockpit before descending, and her wet feet slipped out from under her at the bottom, causing her to fall back hard against the steps. She was a trouper, only complaining when we made her laugh.

Back to base, safe and sound!We failed to notice an approaching boat as we were casting off the water dock at Sopers Hole and had to take evasive action, which resulted in us being pinned by the wind to the windward side of an adjacent dock. Fortunately, we didn't cause any damage to the boat, but I think I swore myself hoarse. We would have been forced to wait for the wind to die in order to make our escape, but a smart bystander directed a man in a dinghy to come under the dock from the leeward side and push our bow out into the wind while I gunned the engine and steered us out of there. It worked like a charm.

Nan on the beach at Smuggler's CoveHey, if everything went perfectly, it wouldn't be an adventure now, would it?

Here was our itinerary for the week:

Day 1, Saturday, May 5: Moorings Charter Base in Road Town, Tortola to Manchioneel Bay at Cooper Island.

Day 2, Sunday, May 6: Cooper Island to the Bitter End Yacht Club at North Gorda Sound, Virgin Gorda, with a four-hour stop at the Baths.

Day 3, Monday, May 7: Virgin Gorda to Marina Cay.

Mothers' Day luncheon at the Rhymers'Day 4, Tuesday, May 8: Marina Cay to Cane Garden Bay on the north coast of Tortola.

Day 5, Wednesday, May 9: Tortola to White Bay at Jost Van Dyke, with a side trip to Sandy Cay.

Day 6, Thursday, May 10: Jost Van Dyke to Sopers Hole at Tortola's west end.

Sisters and cousinsDay 7, Friday, May 11: Tortola to the Bight at Norman Island, with an unsuccessful snorkeling stop at the Indians. This time, all the day moorings were already taken.

Day 8, Saturday, May 12: Norman Island to Moorings Charter Base.

Monica and Vicky flew home the next day, but Nan and I spent an extra week at a villa on Cane Garden Bay owned and operated by our friends, Allan and Joycelyn Rhymer. They invited us to a festive Mothers' Day luncheon and made the second half of our vacation a joy with their boundless hospitality.

Next time, north to Anegada!