- June 30th, 2008
- in Yachting
Letters to the Editor – When I came to the islands a short 10 years ago our favourite anchorage, that we always thought we were the first people on earth to discover, was Money Bay on Norman Island. It would be some grand adventure that we would build up with our guests, that we would go to the outside of Norman Island, weather depending, and anchor so we could tie our stern onto shore with no people, no other boats as it only fit one good sized boat, no anchor lights, no street lights and stars everywhere. We could make out the glow of St. Croix in the distance. We had no cell service, no Internet, and would spend the time diving for sand dollars, combing the beach for shells, and often having a bonfire on the beach. There was one perfect little beach that was just right in the corner, and we would surf the swell if it came around the point on kayaks that would deposit us right up on the shore.
There was a little salt pond in the back and you could climb to the top if you had on good shoes, long pants and did not mind a few prickles along the way! I think I cried the day that I saw the orange survey pegs on the land there and found out that there would be high-end houses going in. Our peaceful out-of-the-way place was shattered next by the sight of bulldozers cutting roads around the island and levelling out the ground. Next it was a rock-landing barge over the perfect small white sandy beach in the corner. Now, they were not satisfied with ruining the sandy beach, they have also made a much larger landing platform, and a breakwater on the other side, where the boats used to stern-to along the rocks, right over where we collected our sand dollars and watched the pipe fish.
The day I knew I had to sadly say good-bye in my heart to my favourite "deserted" anchorage was the day we pulled in and there were no boats, BUT there was a group of 6-8 people standing on the beach who had walked over the hill on the road! A sad memory. Never again will we find Spanish bibles on the ground there when the illegal immigrants that had paid someone a lot of money in St. Martin to take them to the USVI would be dropped off on these beaches being told that it was the US, as it was so much easier for them to avoid the US Coast Guard by NOT taking them to St. John. We will not tell the tales of the policemen hunting goats for meat and shooting practice back there, or the tales around the campfire at night, with no lights in sight.
Privateer Bay on Norman Island was (and is) the only place that I have seen seahorses in the Virgin Islands. We would always anchor in Privateer Bay, of course, all the bare-boats would head for the Bight even then with all the mooring balls. The reef at the Caves was still a great snorkel, and a favourite night dive. Yes, the fish were hand fed even back then. It was a standing joke that when you needed the bottom of your boat cleaned that you would stay there for awhile and let the Blue Tangs do the job! You could see one of the best sunsets around over St. John. Yes, it was busy during the day, and even then I used to say that it was "our sacrificial reef" for the cruise ships. I did not know what I was talking about. I would love to go back 10 years there.
The reef there eventually became known to us as "toilet paper reef" as all the day boats flushed their heads constantly, and if we were going for a dive, the most you could do is count how many old masks and fins that you could pick up that the boats had lost! Right down in the corner, where boats used to anchor, mooring balls arrived….and the beauty of that bay was maybe lost a little more for us when we had a commercial mooring operator give us a hard time because we preferred to anchor as opposed to picking up his mooring ball and paying $20 (the fee then!)
Guests brought me down video footage of them taking out White Squall for a week-long charter back in the late 60s. The video showed them the only boat in the Bight! Down in the south-west corner there used to be a careenage from many days gone by. Now, you better not try to go through the mooring field in a stiff wind, as you will have a hard time dodging all the boats. I would not swim in the Bight any longer. Maybe right out on the point.
10 years ago, Willy T's was there, and was about the hottest place for nightlife in the BVI! I remember when anyone who was anyone went over there on Sunday afternoons for lunch and then a party. No self-respecting expat would miss it and I swear they came by dinghy, kayak, or paddleboard from Tortola or St. Thomas to get here. Of course, that was in the days, that although it was certainly illegal to go back and forth between the USVI and the BVI without checking in, you were occasionally tempted to do it by "changing the courtesy flag on the boat" and knowing that if you got caught they would tell you not to do it again and let you go! I honest to goodness told a Customs agent once that I "forgot" to check in and I was admonished not to do it again. Do not try that now.
You could walk up behind the careenage to the top of the hill and see the ruins of an old lookout. You may still be able to see the old ruins, but you will also see the helicopter landing pad as well that will be bringing in the well-heeled owners and guests to Norman Island.
The tales of Treasure Island and finding treasure chests back in the caves just don't have the same ring to them any more on Norman Island. There had been a rumour at one time that boaters' access to these bays and the caves would be cut off once it was developed. We have heard and told stories about buried treasure on the island for many years and it will surely be found by the developers with their backhoes digging ground for the villas going in.
We have taken away a lot of the "mystery" that the BVI has had over the centuries. Our tales of finding chests of coins in the far reaches of the caves at Treasure Point, the rumours of many a chest buried on the island, do not have the same ring. When we would spin our pirate tales to our guests, it became a magical place to them as well.
I used to look around me and marvel that I had the good fortune to live on the water in the British Virgin Islands. Even after doing years of charters, the sense of awe and beauty I felt when I looked around at the islands while cooking yet another charter meal for 12 guests in a hot galley was without parallel. Ever. In my entire life. No other place has hit me like the British Virgin Islands had. It quietened my soul.
I was never tired of the milk run around the islands. I could never understand why I read everywhere that "there are no longer any deserted anchorages in the BVI." We could always find them. We tended to go anywhere but where the mooring balls were, as to us it was like being in a Wal-Mart parking lot. We thrilled in pelicans, sought out the out-of-the-way-dives and snorkel places that most others would not even think about, or be bothered to take the extra steps to make sure their guests saw the best we had to offer. At a conservative guess, I have personally done close to 300 week-long circles here.
Every year, there was another development going up, another marina going in, another favourite spot that either was "off limits" or under construction. A few years ago, I started wondering just where exactly we were supposed to cruise TO now that we had built all these marinas? Certainly our guests, and we have been a BVI active charter yacht for almost thirty years, did not come down here to see marinas. Picture what I said above, about ONE island, and we have over 60 islands and cays, and you will know why I have become involved in my small way.
Kerry Hucul is an owner of a long-term charter business who plays an active role in the environmental community.