There can be no stronger way to bond with your children than sailing in a bareboat on an unfamiliar sea.
Living on Cape Cod without learning to sail, is like living in Montreal without skating or Malibu without surfing.
We bought our first sailboat, a 16-foot O'Day Daysailer, the first year we moved to Cape Cod and moved up to a Marshall Catboat which we sailed for thirty years.
But sailing on Pleasant Bay or Nantucket Sound is really "day-sailing", and we yearned to sail a "real" boat in the Caribbean, a dream we realized during our son Jay's senior year at Harwich High School when we took him on a two week bareboat charter in the British Virgin Islands.
The British Virgin Islands are the perfect place to learn to sail a larger boat. The Sir Francis Drake Channel between the main island of Tortola and the half dozen smaller islands a couple miles south form a safe calm sea in the very middle of the Caribbean, see map here.
These islands have a tropical climate, moderated by trade winds, and temperatures vary little throughout the year. In the capital, Road Town, typical daily temperatures are around 89° in the summer and 84° in the winter, but it's always cooler at sea.
Picking your charter
Since we have chartered often in the Caribbean, Maine and Massachusetts, we try to save as much as possible given the cost.
We chose Caribbean Yacht Charters B.V.I. this time, and for good reason; they were the most competitive, and the staff from owner Chandi Singh, captain Julian and mechanic VJ were beyond helpful.
The 46-foot Beneteau we rented costs from $2,800 to $3,500 depending on the season. We needed no instructions, having sailed these waters several times, but if you feel the need, they offer one or two day, refresher courses where the skipper gets off after the agreed upon time, and the bareboat charter continues.
This program is quite flexible in that the guest can ask the skipper to stay longer if needed.
At this charter company the follow through, boat condition and support was impeccable, and a local cellphone was provided if we needed their help while at sea.
Where to sail
Caribbean Yacht Charters BVI is almost in the middle of Road Town where you'll need to buy food for your voyage.
Our son Jay researched the available sources, and we happily decided on Bobby's Supermarket which was the equal of any stateside.
For the basic staples you can walk a block to the local mini mart.
After a vigorous afternoon, we headed to our first overnight mooring at Cooper's Island to the east dropping our anchor in Hallover Bay in the southwest, leeward shoreline.
Never having visited this section, we were delighted to find huge rock formations along the beach which were the equal of those at the famous Baths on Virgin Gorda, see the photo above on right.
We found the Cruising Guide to the Virgin Islands was still an indispensable tool.
Final destination: Virgin Gorda Sound
But we were anxious to get to our favorite spot in these tropical islands - Virgin Gorda Sound in the easternmost part of this chain.
Our first visit ashore was to the world renown Bitter End Yacht Club which we had first visited in its second year of operation back in 1979. And wow how this place has grown, but still manages to retain its island charm and uniqueness.
A lunch or two here, snorkeling in Estatia Sound east of Prickly Pear Island, a look at Richard Branson's private Necker Island next door, and a superb Thanksgiving feast at Saba Rock Resort next to Bitter End where we had all-you-can-eat turkey, roast beef, Mahi Mahi etc. for $30 a head.
As the sun slowly sank in the west...
Well, it didn't really sink, but our spirits did as we visited The Baths again on our final leg of this week long voyage and sailed to a marina in Road Town to gas up where we got a final surprise.
There, docked alongside us was the Provincetown III ferry boat which we had last seen three months earlier in Boston getting ready for a scheduled trip to Provincetown.
But Provincetown III doesn't rest in winter, she sails to Charlotte Amalie in St. Thomas five miles west of Tortola in the United States Virgin Islands and becomes the "Tortolla Fast Ferry."
Dining at Brisani's in our marina
Not the least of the advantages of chartering from Caribbean Charters BVI is its location in downtown Road Town at the Prospect Reef Marina with a really impressive new restaurant, Brisani's.
We ate there the evening before and following our charter.
I had one of the best vegetarian dishes ever the first time and a knockout Pork the second.The Thai Tofu Vegetarian Delight was $18.50, and I couldn't finish the large portion of a medley of island vegetables, topped with breaded tofu infused with Thai curry in coconut sauce.
The Pork Tenderloin at $21 was big enough for me to have it again for my lunch the next day. It was pan seared pork medallions with shallots in a tamarind jus, served with thyme infused polenta and warm red cabbage salad.
Julie and Will had the Roasted Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo with steamed veggies and roasted chicken, $22, and Pat had the Steamed Snapper $24.50. It was Snapper wrapped in banana leaf, served with coconut rice, island sofrito, pineapple and sweet plantain chips garnishes. Jay had the BRI-KA-BOB which were succulent chunks of beef or chicken grilled on stick accompanied by peppers, mushrooms and onions. Beef $12.50, Chicken $10.50.
Others had the Cajun Chicken $19.50, which was tender breast of chicken, pan roasted and rubbed in a southern blend of spices, served with veggie jambalaya and Cajun cream. Marina loved her Macaroni and Cheese at only $8. See the impressive menu here.
The rest of the watery world
A poem by John Masefield...
I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face and a grey dawn breaking.
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.