Virgin Islands Small Boat Cruising

Virgin Islands small boat cruising has many rewards. I was skeptical when Jimmy asked me to help him launch his recently acquired sailboat. In my mind his invitation was a carefully worded plea for help. I will never know what spirit possessed this man to buy a sailboat. I have known Jimmy since school days and I have never seen him step foot on a sailboat. I remember years ago his father had a wooden launch with stick oarlocks and a big Evinrude installed on the stern. They were, understandably, into fishing. And now fast forward into the internet age. Jimmy is a retired public servant with a good pension and a wife not ideally proportioned for the narrow decks of a heeled boat.

Judith probably encouraged him to buy a boat just to get him out of the house. She is a good woman so I am also assuming that she was endorsing prolonged exercise and plenty of fresh air when she gave her blessing to the boat idea. Jimmy plunked down a cool six grand for an old, but sturdy Bristol 24 he found on the hard in an East End boatyard on St. Thomas. The previous owner was migrating back to the United States after 28 years of island life. I made arrangements for a meet-up after departing Tortola where I had been visiting with another non-sailing friend. I was in no rush to leave the Caribbean so I figured I would give Jimmy three or four days of primary sailing instruction. I knew the first two days would be work, but if he had any nautical inclinations things would fall into place going forward. As it turned out, Jimmy is a natural sailor. I can not remember anyone that got the hang of sailing a small boat so quickly. I think what helped was my friend’s lifelong exposure to boats and the elements of a saltwater environment. Wind direction, currents, water depth by color and many other aspects of being on the water he was already familiar with. It also helped that Judith bought Jimmy a video sailing course. This guy even had a leg up on the sailing nomenclature. He had done a marvelous job of memorizing the various parts of the sailboat, and most importantly, the points of sail. Another surprise was the condition of the Bristol 24. The boat was in good condition. Even the interior appointments were encouraging. It was not a complicated boat. It had a basic 12 volt system with a breaker panel, interior lights, new cushions, new interior paint, two bilge pumps, an alcohol stove, an old Horizon VHF, a fairly new long shaft 4 stroke Honda outboard that was mounted in the well, and all the basic gear you would expect on a well used sailboat.

Small boat Caribbean cruising

We spent two days sailing in circles near the outer anchorage in Benner Bay. After day number three Jimmy could even jibe his boat without mishap, even in gusting wind. I think his greatest asset was his lack of fear. Jimmy instinctively knew his heavy keel and a relatively slow motion produced safety margins planing powerboats just did not have. He was not afraid to maneuver his boat while marveling at the free energy his sails generated. He was hopelessly smitten with the magic only a wind driven craft can conjure. Judith suggested that we “do an overnight lime” to other islands, and day number four found us beating to windward through Pillsbury Sound on our way to our first overnight anchorage in Water Melon Bay on St. John’s North coast. The weather was ideal for this kind of sailing. Wind velocity never exceeded 17 knots tacking up the Narrows. The Bristol 24 proved be a capable little cruising boat. After days of sailing in confined spaces, the boat was now far more comfortable in a seaway. No doubt Jimmy was a very satisfied skipper and boat owner after picking up his first mooring ball under sail. Though small is size, adapting to the confines of the Bristol was not challenging. After breakfast and coffee we set sail for Great Harbor, Jost Van Dyke to clear into the BVI. Catching a dinghy ride to shore was easy. We enjoyed a delicious lunch of steamed grouper and coconut rice, after which we sailed over to Little Harbor to overnight. My old friend Rena in Little Harbor allowed us to use her dock. That night Jimmy joined the Jump-up with bareboat sailors that were raising hell making merry with a local fungi band.

LittleHarbor is the most protected anchorage in Jost Van Dyke. I woke up to noisy livestock walking down the hillside. Rena and her Mom cooked a fab breakfast of Johnny cakes, fish and eggs. By 10:30 AM we were broadreaching across the sound with Lovango Cay and Henley Cay on the nose. Although the wind had piped-up overnight, our return route would be that much faster. All week the weather had been more than accommodating. This mini sailing trip was a fun voyage and I could tell my friend Jimmy will have many more adventures with his sloop. He will need a new name for the hull and good company as crew. Image © ocean trader

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