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Women on the Water

“Speeding and singing, I shall seek the place
Where all the shining threads of water race”
−Aldous Huxley, “The Reef”

While reporting on Reef Check last spring, I met skipper Trish Baily. I was aboard Dive Tortola’s Virgin Sun, and I’d just had a meditative morning boat ride from Prospect Reef, Tortola to Soldier Bay, Norman Island. But my relaxation ended when we pulled alongside the eco-sailing charter boat Serendipity, and the dynamic Tasmanian captain boarded in a whirlwind of curly blonde hair, wetsuits, masks, fins and data collection equipment. She corralled the other divers and prepared them for the day’s work.


Skipper Trish Baily sailing Serendipity. Photo by Tom Zydler.

This morning, though, Trish exudes a more calming presence while seated on a couch in the aLookingGlass offices.  She’s exchanged her wetsuit and pirate-themed rash vest for a white linen top and brick-red capris, and instead of delegating tasks to a team of volunteer tourists (voluntourists?), she’s happily recounting her adventures in and on the water.

Her face lights up when she talks about the wildlife encounters she’s had in the sea. One experience involved a day of swimming with spinner dolphins in Fernando de Noronha’s Baya Golfinhos. “The first time we went into this bay,” she says, “we walked across the island and clamoured down the cliff face, and there were hundreds of dolphins. Six dolphins came up to the rocks, leaping around, asking us to come in, so we put on our snorkel gear and went in, and they swam with us for hours. My dog was with me, and they were swimming through her legs.” Trish was fortunate to have had this experience at the time because swimming is now prohibited at Baya Golfinhos.

In addition to swimming with dolphins in Brazil, Trish has snorkelled all the way around Beef Island and visited almost every reef in the BVI, so she knows the best spots to take her charter guests. “In terms of anchorages and good snorkelling, I really love Norman Island, the Indians and that whole area. There are a lot of pelagic fish running along that shoreline which is fun, and the walk up to the old Spyglass Hill is beautiful.” Trish mentions the northern beaches of Anegada as another must-visit locale. “When it’s sunny and blue skies, just typical weather for here, that sense of infinity clears your soul.” But she states that the snorkelling has diminished in Anegada’s northern beaches after the 2005 bleaching event when Caribbean reefs lost approximately 40% of their corals. “It’s a disaster up there,” she says but then alludes to several thriving snorkelling sites in the BVI where she takes her guests. She wants to ensure that the reefs of the BVI not only remain intact but flourish for the sake of her charter business and for the sake of the many species of underwater plants and animals that call the reefs home.



Photo by David Hildred.

I tell Trish that she sounds more passionate about snorkelling than sailing, but she disagrees. “I love sailing. I love getting the boat kicking up her heels and going. Here, it’s the perfect place—you do a couple hours sailing then you get off and you come to a beautiful bay and you go snorkelling or you walk ashore to explore or you go off photographing or bird-watching. Everything comes together.”

When she speaks about sharing her passion with others, Trish glows. “I had a French family—just a father and his two sons—on board a couple of years ago. When you see these two boys, by the end of the week, they’re putting up the sails and trimming them and steering the boat, and they’ve taken it all on. And they’re taking underwater videos of their diving and snorkelling, and basically, they’re sailing the boat. It’s really wonderful,” she says. “I also like doing all-female charters. That’s really nice to have a bunch of professional, go-getter women on the boat. It inspires me. It’s empowering.”

Trish herself is inspiring. She’s trademarked the term “eco-sailing,” but it’s more than just a catchy slogan. She can be found at public meetings speaking out against irresponsible development, she coordinates Reef Check in the BVI and she passes on her love of sailing and marine life to her guests. Trish ensures not only a fun and educational experience but also an ecologically responsible vacation.  

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