Sailing the British Virgin Islands
by Kurt Weissenfels

Delfino Bianco docked at Road HarbourThis is the unofficial log of the Delfino Bianco, a 40 foot Jeanneau located in Road Harbour, Road Town, Tortola, BVI, for the week of February 20-27, 2008. It is written as my personal experience as a student in the Basic Coastal Cruising and Bareboat Chartering course given by Northern Breezes Sailing School.

Day 1: February 20

Flying out of Minneapolis in the morning of Feb. 20, and after layovers in Detroit and San Juan, PR, I finally arrived on Beef Island, BVI around 10:15 PM. After clearing Customs and Immigration, and a short taxi ride, I was finally onboard around midnight and prepared for my first night aboard. I didn’t know what to expect as I had never slept aboard a boat before. It didn’t take long, and I was asleep, aided by the gentle rocking motion in the harbor I’m sure. Each morning, we arose at 7 AM for breakfast and to prepare to get underway by 9. Each evening, it was lights out by around 10 PM. This was mostly due to the abundance of sun, fresh air, and work during the day, and peaceful nights.

Day 2: February 21

Our Captain and Cook finished provisioning the Jeanneau this morning. We ran through our checklist, PFD’s, fire extinguishers, etc. to ensure that all was in place in case needed. Better to find out now if something is missing! We also did a visual check of the engine, and oil level, as a reference for later checks to notice if something was leaking, etc. Listening to the weather forecast for the day on VHF, we expected 20 knot winds and seas to 5 feet. There was also a small craft advisory for today. We left Road Harbour around 11 AM, pointed into the wind and hoisted the Mainsail. Given the weather predictions for today, we decided to avoid full sail and opted for 1st reefing so as not to over-power the boat. We also did not fully unfurl the Genoa for this reason. Our first destination was Cooper Island for lunch but no mooring buoy was available. We decided to eat lunch underway toward Marina Cay (pronounced “key”) for our night mooring. The seas in the Sir Francis Drake Kurt Weissenfels at the wheelChannel were a little rough, and going below made me feel a little nauseous. Coming back on deck and looking off to the horizon made me feel better after a while. We arrived in Marina Cay after 3 PM, and the mooring field was full. The Captain anchored the boat as we had not learned or practiced this yet. I operated the anchor windlass during this operation, and it jammed. The Captain was able to hold the boat until repairs could be made and the anchor could be dropped. In popular mooring areas, it is difficult to get a mooring buoy if you do not get there early. That evening, we went by dinghy to Pusser’s Marina Cay restaurant. They have a good wine list and varied menu. The sea was a little rough this evening, but I slept well anyway.

Day 3: February 22

We sailed from Marina Cay to “The Dogs” this morning for some snorkeling. Picked up our mooring buoy on the first try! Marina CayAnother Student was at the helm while I caught the mooring buoy with a boat hook. The cook was going to light the grill to make burgers, but it was too windy. Snorkeled for a while, then had lunch. We left Great Dog on a heading of 015M and headed North out to sea, bearing away from Virgin Gorda. We tacked toward Virgin Gorda and followed the narrow channel into Gorda Sound. We decided this would be shorter and take less time than heading directly toward Virgin Gorda with many short tacks. Rented a slip at Leverick Bay Marina. Had a shower, first one in two days. Not very good, but great considering the alternative. Went to Jumbies restaurant for an all-you-can-eat buffet and barbeque. Food was pretty good. They had a band and entertainers dancing on 6 foot tall stilts.

Day 4: February 23

This morning, we took a taxi from Leverick Bay to “The Baths”, a collection of boulders creating caves and “rooms” along the sea. It was fun to climb on, through, and under The Bathsthem ending up at a secluded beach, Devil’s Bay. After returning to the parking area up the hill from the baths, we lunched at the baths restaurant. The jerked chicken sandwich was excellent, and spicy! We returned to the boat at 1 PM to begin an afternoon of drills in the bay. We practiced picking up a mooring buoy, backing up, docking procedures, and man-overboard (Figure 8 and Quick Stop). In the evening, after another shower, we got a shuttle launch to Saba Rock restaurant. We ate from the pub menu, burgers, sandwiches, salads, and tacos. The full menu was pricey, starting at $32 for the buffet, up to $40 for a steak. The pub food was good, about what you would expect.

Day 5: February 24

A lot of rain this morning. One crew member that was sick from the start of the trip, and getting worse, was let out on Virgin Gorda to get transportation back to Beef Island for a flight home. This delayed our departure this morning. By the time we left, the rain had really picked up so that all crew were wearing rain gear. I was at the Helm leavLeverick Bay Marinaing Leverick Bay under sail, when we were hit by a squall with high winds. The main sail was still at first reefing, but it was quite a ride! We made it through the channel into open water, and about an hour later the rain had stopped. We practiced jibing on the way to Monkey Point on Guana Island for lunch. Along the way, we were joined by 3 Dolphins! They came along the port side and spent a few minutes near the bow before moving on. Due to the late start, we made it to Monkey Point by 2 PM and had grilled hamburgers at a mooring buoy. We left Monkey Point for Little Harbour on Jost Van Dyke Island, practicing wing-on-wing and more jibing along the way. We also released the reefing and hoisted the full sail and Genoa as the winds were lower than in the past 2 days. We made it to port in Little Harbour by 6 PM. A little late, but fortunately before nightfall. I docked the boat for the first time, besides practice. A little scary as I had to bring her around and into an “L” shaped dock in shallow water, but performed flawlessly to everyone’s amazement! We ate dinner at a little restaurant with good atmosphere called Harris’ Place. The food was OK. Cynthia, the owner, was very welcoming and polite. I bought a skullMonkey Point, Guana Island and cross bones bandana at a T-shirt shop on the beach.

Day 6: February 25

Left Little Harbour in the morning and motored to Sandy Cay for anchoring practice. It went well, and everyone got a chance to set the anchor before the windlass jammed again. The Captain and other crew members worked on deck to repair it while I motored to our next destination, Sopers Hole. Sailing to Sopers Hole was not possible, as with all crew on the foredeck, the sails would have been hazardous. Sopers Hole is a picturesque little village located on the Southwest end of Tortola, perfect for re-provisioning and stretching your legs. We picked up a mooring buoy, my first one that counted, and we went ashore to borrow some tools to get the windlass repair completed. We then quickly ate lunch and made way for our night mooring in The Bight on Norman Island. We had a swim and then dinner at Pirates Bight restaurant. The Chicken Roti was excellent!

Devil's BayDay 7: February 26

Engine trouble this morning. I had checked the engine the previous day to see that everything looked OK, oil level, etc. This morning, after starting the engine, we noticed a high pitched noise which was not typical. Opening the engine compartment, I noticed black dust from a belt rubbing on the engine. We immediately shut down the engine and began temporary repairs. Borrowing tools from a neighboring boat, we were able to tighten the belt so it no longer rubbed on the engine. We radioed the charter company and asked them to dispatch a chase boat and mechanic to meet us later in the day at our expected night anchoring location. After returning the borrowed tools, we left The Bight and set sail for Salt Island on a close haul. The chart shows day moorings at Salt Island, but it is really just an anchorage. After setting the anchor, we had lunch. After lunch, we left for our night anchorage in Little Harbor on Peter Island. For this destination, we had to sail on a Run towards Beef Island then Jibe to a Beam Reach straight to the entrance of Little Harbor. At one point on the Beam Reach, we logged a speed of 7 knots. We noticed a downpour in front of us, but given its location, the wind direction, and our speed, we determined that it posed no threat to us so we held our course and speed, rest assured it would pass prior to our arrival. It did. As this was to be our last night onboard, we met up with our sister ship Milina, in Little Harbor and rafted together for the night. This was a tricky maneuver, but with the right approach, using the wind to assist us, we dropped anchor and paid out enough rode so that we drifted gently beside her. Once rafted together, we set a stern line ashore to keep from swinging in the wind. After an hour or so of swimming, snorkeling, some people explored ashore, we opened a bottle of champagne and toasted our successful accomplishments of the week, our Captain and crew, and our new friendships. Our cook prepared dinner onboard this evening, tabouli and lasagna. It was great! We shared with Milina and there were no leftovers. As far as we could tell, this part of Peter Island was unpopulated, so the stargazing was fantastic as there was no electric light interference. We spent the evening listening to music, chatting with others and pointing out constellations.

Day 8: February 27

We slept a little later, until about 7:30 AM. Had breakfast and started packing our things. We left our anchorage, and as it is only a short distance across the channel to Road Town, we elected to sail only under jib. This was plenty of power for the journey and saved the extra effort of raising and lowering the mainsail for this short trip. Once in Road Town harbor, after stowing the jib and negotiating the channel and cruise ships, Capt. Tom Embertson, Lou Culbert, Kurt Weissenfels and Lyn Culbertwe tied up at the fuel dock. They were out. No fuel and no idea when more might be coming in. Fortunately our fuel was not critically low and we were in our home harbor, but it was a valuable lesson to not let the fuel tank run low. Tonight will be spent in a hotel, preparing for the flight home tomorrow.

Day 9: February 28

Today was a travel day back to Minnesota where two inches of fresh snow were falling!

This was a great learning experience and is highly recommended. And, what better place to practice your sailing skills in February than in the Caribbean?

Kurt did some small boat sailing as a teenager, with no formal sailing education. He had his first course with Northern Breezes in June 2007 for Basic Keelboat. He took Coastal Navigation in November 2007. And, he accomplished his Basic Coastal Cruising and Bareboat Chartering in February 2008. He is planning to go back to BVI with Northern Breezes in 2009 just for fun, as he’s met so many great people on the last trip.