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Sailing to Shovelling

Standing in the airport waiting to go through Canadian customs, I turn to my wife and ask, “Are you rocking back and forth, too?” Seems it takes a while to get used to walking on dry land when you have been sailing the ocean for the past seven days. I went from sailing in the British Virgin Islands to shovelling snow in less than 24 hours and boy, does it suck!

Me, my wife Jocelyne, my business partner Rob, his wife Tina and their daughter Danielle had chartered a 44'-ft catamaran named Mustang Sally (www.sailmustangsally.com ) to sail around the BVI this past January. The catamaran was crewed by Captain Douglas Moody, with first mate Wendy Bette and their two dogs, Willis and Rollie. We met Doug and Wendy in Tortola and began our sailing vacation with dark clouds and heavy rain. It really didn’t bother me at this time, as I was excited just to be on a boat, on the ocean, in the sun, and free of snow. We quickly learned that it was going to rain from time to time but that it wasn’t going to be an all-day thing, just some occasional squalls (as the sailing folk call it).

 

Our catamaran was equipped with everything we needed—food, drinks, snorkelling equipment, fishing rods, kayaks, beds and heads. Oh yes, the heads… (toilettes for the non sailing folk). These evil little things need some fine-tuned instructions placed right on the inside of the lid. I mean FINE TUNED!!!!! There is nothing scarier than thinking you have permanently clogged the toilette for the whole trip within the first 15 minutes of meeting your hosts. Luckily, the captain came to the plunging rescue and saved us all from toilette doom.

We immediately pulled anchor and headed off to Norman Island to do some snorkelling. Armed with my trusty Canon A75 point-and-shoot camera (with underwater housing) I immediately jumped into the blue ocean with delight (it was, like, -30 degrees Celsius back home), and was amazed at the sea life and activity beneath the surface. Wow, not even on the catamaran for two hours and already we were at our first spot and in the water exploring.

 

After we quenched our swimming thirst, we headed off to overnight at Peter Island. We anchored in a calm spot along with several other catamarans, monohulls and a few very large yachts. My first night sleeping on the water was very relaxing. I am not sure if it was the easy swaying of the boat or the fresh air coming into our room from our port hatch, but sleeping on our catamaran was refreshing. Our room was also equipped with two small fans, so if it did get hot we were easily cooled off.

On Monday we sailed to the “Baths” and quickly found a mooring ball after racing another catamaran for the last one. The Baths are filled with giant boulders along a sandy beach. You can walk in between these rocks as they are piled on top of each other creating small caverns and caves. This was a great place, as it had everything for a great excursion—terrific snorkelling and swimming, sandy beaches, adventurous exploring, and much more. This is one spot that is a must-stop when exploring the BVI. Later that evening, we headed off to Saba Rock to catch an amazing sunset, snag a cool beverage and capture some amazing images.

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The next day we were off to the Marina Cay for some much-needed water. Seems that us Northern folk drink A LOT of coffee. Hey, when there is no Tim Hortons around, we take what we can get. We decided to overnight at the Cay and catch Michael Beans’ “HAPPY ARRRR” show. Rum was a’ slinging, tunes were a’ singing, and good times were had by all. This one-man band is one for the entertainment books. From playing the guitar to stomping on his milk crate, Michael’s charisma and enthusiasm had the bar a shaking. Don’t forget to come up with your own toast for a free shot of rum, or practise your conch-blowing skills for the evening contest.

The morning arrived with its usual pattern: Wake up, have a coffee or 12, jump in the lake—I mean ocean—and go snorkelling. Get out, shower off, visit the evil head and have some breakfast. (Aside: The food on Mustang Sally is something that cannot be described in text; although I will try, it still does not do it justice. Wendy created some outstanding and tantalizing dishes that left us wanting more than our bellies could afford. Every meal we had while on board was perfection. We would joke to her about writing her own cookbook for catamaran sailors and she would laugh, but we were serious).

After breakfast, Rob and I headed off to dive the wreck RMS Rhone that Doug had set up for us via Dive BVI. This was my first wreck dive and it was awesome!! There were plenty of artifacts to see including the 15-ft propeller and the massive dive shaft. Swimming through the interior of the vessel adds a whole new feeling to the dive. That afternoon it was off to the next stop, Monkey Point, and no, there are no monkeys there, much to my wife’s disappointment. If you’re looking for a different experience in snorkelling, this is the place to go. Snorkelling through a curtain of small fish only to have them part ways to reveal schools of tarpon patrolling the reef was something that took me by surprise. The coral there is vibrant, the different coloured fish abundant, and the resident sea turtles are graceful. This is a diamond in the rough, in my opinion, and I wish we would have stayed longer than one day and night, as I’m sure there was much more to explore on this tiny island.

 

The next stop was Green Cay/Sandy Cay. This is one of those small (very small) islands that you see in the comics. You can jog around the whole island in under three minutes, and the water surrounding it is the clearest I have ever seen. There are plenty of reefs to snorkel and explore, surfing if you bring your board, tanning on the white sandy beach or you can catch some zzz’s in the shade of a palm. We anchored a little bit deeper towards the sandy bottom so that we could track down some stingrays. Within two minutes of jumping in I spotted my first ray and within one minute of that, I spotted another. I quickly grabbed a few images with my Canon P&S and hurried back to the catamaran to see what I had captured. After showing my images to the rest of the party, we quickly geared up again and headed back out to spot some more, and we were not disappointed.

The next day we awoke to another beautiful day in the BVI; the sun was shining, the water was calling, and the smell of breakfast was making my stomach grumble. I quickly gobbled down the goods and headed out in one of the kayaks for an early morning paddle to talk to some people who were fishing off the shoreline by our catamaran. I discovered that they were fishing for barracuda (and anything else that might come their way). As I was talking to one gentleman, I noticed two small nurse sharks swimming underneath and around my kayak. I had never seen a nurse shark this close up before; apparently they come into the sandy area to feed.

 

After lunch, we headed to shore to stroll over to the “Bub-ly Baths”. This is a spot on the island where the waves come crashing through a crevice of rocks into a small pool where you can swim. It was fun to see how long swimmers could hold onto the rocks while the waves came crashing through them. Later that afternoon, we overnighted in White Bay where we planned to spend our last day.

Our final day had us anchored at White Bay, which is blessed with a long, white, sandy beach. It was the perfect spot to sit, relax, and soak in some sun. Populated by a few restaurants and bars like the Soggy Dollar Bar (known for their Painkiller drinks), this quaint little beachside rendezvous proved to be a popular hangout for local boaters. I managed to get out for a little crapshoot (walking around with camera in hand trying to capture anything and everything that was interesting) and was delighted to find numerous things to satisfy the photographer in me. From the local shops to the green rocks to the long beaches and boats in the bay, I quickly filled up my flashcard. If you’re planning on staying at or visiting White Bay, be sure to make reservations at the Soggy Dollar Bar for the beachside BBQ. I have never seen kabobs as large as the ones served on my plate.

Sunday morning came too soon. It’s hard to think about going back to the cold and snow after every day in BVI was so hot and sunny. Sailing back to Tortola I reflected on the past week’s activities, the new friends we made, my newfound love for sailing, and the memories I captured on film. Thanks to Captain Doug (Captain Dougy!) and Wendy, our vacation was one of the best we have ever had. The professionalism these two brought to the charter put you at ease the minute you step foot in the little dinghy in which Doug picks you up. Their attitude and demeanour quickly envelop you in an environment of friendship. I cannot say enough good things about Doug and Wendy. I know it was because of them that our vacation was so much fun. They not only serve as your crew, but also as your guides, teachers, chefs, captains, nurses, dive masters, snorkel buddies and friends. Until next time everyone… I’m off to shovel my damned driveway. See you next year Doug and Wendy! 

James Hodgins
www.hodginsphotography.com
 

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