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10 Things I Learned while Sailing the BVI

Most people I meet automatically assume that because I work for a French sailboat manufacturer I must know how to sail. Well… sorry to say, that isn’t exactly true. Growing up just north of Baltimore, I was somewhat close to water but other than the occasional kayak trip,  I didn’t spend much time on the water boating or learning to sail. So when the chance presented itself to travel to the Caribbean for the 2018 Jeanneau Owner’s Rendezvous, I couldn’t say no, right?  I have to say however, that while I was excited to go, I was also a bit wary. Not being a sailor was part of it but the one time I did go sailing, I got extremely sea sick. But I was committed to make this trip a great one and besides, as the saying goes, nothing ventured, nothing gained so throwing caution to the wind, I went for it.

All loaded up and on our way to San Juan where we would catch a hopper flight to Beef Island, Tortola BVI

Our adventure began by flying first from Baltimore to San Juan and then to Tortola where we taxied to the Sunsail/ Moorings base in Road Town. Our crew of four consisted of myself, my lucky boyfriend Nick (and I do mean LUCKY), and fellow Jeanneau team members, Paul Fenn and Jeff Jorgensen.

Shortly after arriving in Road Town, we boarded a beautiful Mooring’s Jeanneau 509 and settled in with a few bottles of cold Carib beers, which brings me to the first thing I learned about sailing in the BVI:

1. You drink a lot of beer! Paul Fenn told me very matter of factly that you tend to drink a lot of beer while cruising in the Caribbean, often popping your first cap before noon. Not being a huge beer drinker, I was a little skeptical about this but he proved to be very right and by day 3 we had run dry and had to restock. What can I say, It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere!

Yours truly at the helm of our Moorings 509 for the first time!

It took us awhile to get off the dock but we finally made it and once underway, headed for Peter Island where we would anchor for the night. The wind was blowing pretty hard (I was told this is common for the Caribbean) so we sailed across Sir Francis Drake’s Passage under just our jib. We had an awesome first sail before dropping the “hook” in Deadman’s Bay. This brings me to the second thing I learned:

2. There’s a lot of crazy sailing terms that you need to learn! Like dropping the “hook.” Why can’t we just drop the anchor why does it have to be a hook? Then there is the “snubber” that is a separate nylon line attached to the anchor chain used to absorb the shock of the boat lurching around while on the “hook.” Then of course there’s a myriad of other terms like halyards, and sheets, and tacks, and clues, and cleats, and cleat hitches, and stays, and shrouds, and oh boy, a lot of other things too!! No wonder sailors drink so much!

Our Jeanneau 509 swings at anchor just off Peter Island in Deadman’s Bay

One of the truly great things about taking a sailing vacation in the BVI, is swimming in the beautiful Caribbean Sea. It’s exactly what you imagine it to be: turquoise, warm, clear and so inviting. I couldn’t wait to get in! The Jeanneau 509 features a great drop-down swim platform that makes it super easy to swim off the back of the boat. And when you get out, there’s a handy shower nozzle that you can use to rinse off with. Apparently, the acceptable way to shower when on a boat is with this outside nozzle but since I didn’t know this, I opted for a “real” shower down below in the head (another crazy boating term!). This brings me to learning point #3:

3. A cruising sailboat has a lot of strange systems that you don’t find at home! Ankle deep in shower water, assuming the drain was plugged, I had to call to Jeff for help — “hey the water’s not draining, HELP!” OK call me stupid but how was I to know that there was a little black button near the toilet that you needed to push in order for the pump to turn on and make the little drain magically work? Apparently, the French believe that you should only push the drain button twice while showering. I sure learned to conserve water!

Surprisingly, I slept really well this first night despite the anchorage being a little rolly. I woke to the smell of fresh made coffee which motivated me to get up and out of bed. Sitting in the cockpit on this first morning was a total treat and taught me yet again a valuable lesson:

4. French Press – Oui, Oui! I’ve had French Press coffee before – but on a boat it’s much better. Waking up to take in the fresh air and the beautiful surroundings — nothing is better! And plus, it’s easier and quicker, no power is used. I made a mental note to buy one the minute I got home. A big thumbs up to Paul Fenn for bringing his from home!

From Peter Island we made our way via The Baths, to North Sound and Virgin Gorda. We spent two nights here before sailing on to Anagada, a small coral island rising just above sea level, located 24 miles due North of North Sound. It was here on Anagada that I learned lessons 5, 6 and 7:

5. I am not afraid of heights. Soaring up the mast of our Jeanneau 509 in the bosun’s chair, offers the best views. Apprehensive as I was, Jeff told me the halyard could lift up to 6,500 lbs — so I was pretty sure I would survive. I strapped in and up I went. Take a look at the views from Anagada.

A view from the top of the mast taken my me, yes me, Olivia Schleicher!

6. Canned Pineapple Juice makes for a better PainKiller. Yes, I made the mistake. I bought regular Tropicana pineapple juice. When Jeff (our boat mixologist) made the first batch, it seemed a bit fresh. Canned Pineapple is definitely the way to go. Recipe is below for one serving:

  • 2 oz Dark Rum
  • 4 oz Canned Pineapple Juice
  • 1 oz Orange Juice
  • 1 oz Cream of Coconut
  • Nutmeg for garnish
Paul Fenn enjoying Painkiller # who knows! Always good to the last drop!!

7. Bring lots of Cash $$. Since the hurricanes, many of the restaurants, shops and marinas don’t have the best connection and therefore their credit card machines are down. Having cash handy is a must. And the best part is, they take US dollars everywhere; cash is King!

Normally a working credit card will get you where you need to go but cash is always King when the internet goes down.

From Anagada, we sailed back through Sir Frances Drake Channel to Norman Island. Many of our cruising companions opted to sail to Jost Van Dyke but we wanted to get some snorkeling in so decided on a shorter sail to give us more time to piddle around some of the better dive sites like The Indians and The Caves so we could discover the underwater beauty that lies just a few feet below the surface of the sea. As a kid I swam competitively so have always been comfortable in the water.  This brings me to lesson #8:

8. Snorkeling is my new favorite pastime. The only other time I have gone snorkeling was in Key West. They took us to the middle of the sea and told us to jump in. Needless to say – I was a bit petrified. However, being optimist at heart, I hopped right into the crystal, clear turquoise water and opened my eyes. The Indians were my favorite. Schools of fish swam by with different colors. All I could think of was Finding Nemo! But it was breathtaking. On one of our last mornings, while anchored in Little Harbor on Peter Island, we all hopped in the water and lo and behold, we saw sea turtles feeding on the bottom, it was great!

Sea Turtles may appear to be slow moving but with just one flip of their flippers and they are gone. Happy to have gotten this picture of this guy before he shot away.

In September of 2017 the BVI got whacked hard by Hurricane Irma. Hundreds of boats were lost along with some of the areas best resorts and restaurants like the Bitter End Yacht Club, Peter Island Resort and Spa, Pirate’s Bight and the Cooper Island Beach Club. Despite all this, I found the people of the BVI to be incredibly optimistic which brings me to my final 2 points of my week -long sailing adventure:

9. The BVI needs us! Every shop owner, marina staff, random pedestrians, restaurant staff, and other boaters thanked us for coming down. With the destruction of Irma, the damage is there. There are lots of homes and business that have been destroyed. But, ironically after talking to different members of the local communities, they have really come together. They have started the rebuilds, they are working hard to bring back the BVI we all know and love. The BVI is BVI Strong!

The crew! Members of the 2018 Jeanneau Owner’s Rendezvous and Caribbean Comeback at Leverick Bay Resort on Virgin Gorda

10. The water is still turquoise blue. That means sailing is still — INCREDIBLE. The water didn’t take on damage, it is perfect, clear and the best sailing that the Caribbean has to offer. All I can say is that I’m BVI STRONG and I’ll be back

View from Necker Island.

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