The flight from Seattle to Dallas was about 3.5 hours. I’ve always enjoyed this airport because it has many shops to see, in while waiting for your flight. It also has a circular maze of glass walls that you can meander through. Every few feet is a glass disc set in the floor. As you walk over a disc, a musical tone sounds. If you walk quickly, taking varying routes through the maze, you can create a tune. It’s very spiritual and serene inside the maze.
Before I could play in the maze, we grabbed a quick bite – bagel and cream cheese for me and pulled pork sandwich for Rich. We then boarded a four-hour flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico. Squished like sardines and limited to talking to each other and reading, Rich and I dozed for some of the flight and were happy to see twinkling lights after several hours of flying over the ocean.
From high above, Puerto Rico appears to be a hodge-podge of houses, buildings, and industrial sites. There are no tidy tracts of houses and tree-lined neighborhoods. Puerto Rico may be a U.S. territory, but it doesn’t appear to have evolved from being a second world country with a per capita income of less than $20,000 per year.
The small island is home to around four million people. In recent years, it’s become the permanent home of over 100,000 legal residents who immigrated from Spain, Argentina, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Colombia and Venezuela. In spite of the island being shoulder-to-shoulder people, both Rich and I would love to spend a day or two exploring the island by car or sailboat.
After a short lay-over with just enough time to buy an overpriced, dry submarine roll with two slices of rubbery American cheese, and greenish non-descript meat (it was disguised as a sandwich) we boarded a small plane for the final hop to Tortola, the largest of the British Virgin Islands.
We landed around 8:30 and spent an hour or so going through customs and waiting for our luggage to arrive. The plane was full, including a couple and their parents who were going to get married the next day. The rest of the people were either residents or heading for resorts or charter companies.
We were directed to a taxi van with another couple who were going to a resort at the far end of Tortola. They chattered about needing a drink, which is good advice for the faint of heart for the taxi driver immediately accelerated to forty or so miles per hour, even though the speed limit was considerably lower on the narrow, unlit, two-lane road. Although BVI drivers are supposed to drive on the left-hand side of the road, they continually cross the line, playing a constant game of chicken to see who will flitch first as they scramble around corners and cut each other off at intersections and wide sections in the roads.
As I wrote seven years ago, it’s Disneyland’s Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride with taxis, cars, vans, small trucks, and motorcycles racing each other on narrow roads, lined with parked cars and pedestrians who don’t have the protection of formal sidewalks. It is a recipe for disaster. Sure enough, we read in one of the papers that a 22-year old girl was struck and killed by a speeding car several weeks earlier.
We arrived at the Conch Charter Marina in Road Town lickety-split and unloaded our two huge army duffle bags, Rich’s backpack, a sports bag of sailing equipment, my Eddie Bauer tote full of magazines, foods, and necessities, and finally my beloved netbook, Sputnik, on which I documented much of this trip, and Rich nightly downloaded information from his GPS and programmed way points for the following day’s sailing route.
We were pleasantly surprised by Eftihia, the 33.2 foot Beneteau sailboat we chartered. It has a large v-berth, white vinyl seats (better than upholstery when you’re wearing bathing suits most of the time), and a spacious kitchen with a large refrigerator.
Because we’d provisioned (i.e. ordered food, water, drinks, and ice) two weeks earlier, there was no need to rush to the big supermarket in town, Bobby’s (right), to buy what we needed for nine days of sailing. While there are small markets at various marinas, you never know what you’ll find and what’ll cost. Therefore, the best approach is to get what you need before you leave Road Town.
In spite of having gotten up at 3:30 a.m. and hardly slept during the eighteen or so hours we’d been traveling, we were fully awake – especially since BVI is on east coast time and our west coast bodies were telling us it was only 7:30 p.m. After making up the v-berth with the linens we’d brought and stashing our clothing and gear in the boat, we grabbed three canvas grocery bags and walked a mile or so to Bobby’s.
Because the town has grown up considerably since we visited seven years ago, it took us a while to find the store, mainly because it doesn’t have a prominent sign and looks like a warehouse. Fortunately, it closed at midnight.
We primarily needed to buy fresh produce and fruit along with mint leaves, limes, and club soda to make mojitos using the bottle of rum the charter company had left on the boat.
Anything fresh in the BVI is very expensive and in limited quantities. We opted for three potatoes, two yellow onions, one red onion, a clove of garlic, a bag of lettuce, one mango, one bell pepper, three carrots, four locally grown cucumber pickles, two limes, one lemon, four cobs of frozen corn, two litters of club soda, dish soap, two cans of soda (to drink on the way back), and a bag of ice. The bill was $43.
Happily, our three bags of groceries were much lighter than the half dozen bags of food and twenty pounds of ice we’d purchased seven years earlier when we opted not to provision. At the time, we barely staggered out of Bobby’s and across the street to the taxi stand.
This trip, we leisurely walk back to the marina. Still wired after putting away the food and thoroughly unpacking and putting away our clothes, sailing gear and the little bit of food we brought, we took a shower at the marina’s facility, We then stayed up until around 2 a.m. (11 p.m. Seattle time) talking and admiring the nearly full moon from the cockpit.
The next morning, as expected, Rich was up at the crack of dawn and dragged me out of bed for another trip to Bobby’s for ground pepper (Rich puts it on everything), a roll of paper towels, and a roll of toilet paper… it’s better to be safe than sorry. Above is Rich in his spank’n new, brown All-Stars, holding a bag from Bobby’s.
We ate the bagels that we’d brought and chatted with the man in the boat next to ours as we waited for the rest of our food, cans of Dr Pepper (Rich’s) and club soda (mine), bottled water, and ice to be delivered. It was then time to start the laborious process of going over the ins-and-outs of the boat with the charter company, and pay for insurance, park and cruising permits, and a hat with the charter company’s logo.
Finally, at around, 11:30 a.m. we hit the sea. We sailed for nearly three hours before reaching Cooper Island. By then, we were both exhausted from jetlag, the heat, stress of learning the particulars of the boat, and physical exertion of running back-and-forth from the boat to the charter company office, and up-and-down from the cockpit to the galley of the boat to get everything ready and checked out!
We easily grabbed a mooring ball at Cooper Island. Two minutes later, I flung off my clothes, pulled on a bathing suit and jumped into the astonishingly clear, warm, and aquamarine water (below is me on my back). It was heavenly. Rich joined me a little while later and I coerced him into swimming ashore. Most people, with their wits about them, take a dingy. Even though the shore looked close, it was a hefty swim.
Once ashore, we walked a bit, checking out the beach bar and restaurant that is associated with the Cooper Island Beach Club, and then
swam gasped back to the boat. As if we weren’t already fully spent, we hopped in the dingy and motored over to a supposedly good snorkeling area.
It was the first time either one of us had donned fins, snorkels and masks in seven years. Rich was an old pro. I hyperventilated, gagged on sea water, fidgeted with my mask, and got very frustrated. Exacerbated, we returned to dingy then motored to the beach to pay for the use of the mooring ball ($25 per night).
Even though the lounge chairs on the beach are for resort guests, we decided to use two of them since there was hardly anyone left on the beach. We both instantly conked out under the shade of several palm trees.
Rested, we returned to the boat to cook dinner and prepare foods for the rest of the week – tuna salad (two cans of white tuna, lemon juice, slivers of lemon peel, and thinly chopped bell pepper), egg salad (eggs, chopped pickles and bell peppers, mayonnaise), and hummus (mashed canned garbanzo beans, olive oil, and Caribbean spice mix) for sandwiches. Our dinner was less dramatic, tortellini (brought from home) with olive oil and Caribbean spice mix, canned green beans (awful), and Jelly Bellys.
The end of our first day also marked sunburn phase I. I had liberally coated my legs, arms, face, and neck with Bullfrog sunscreen, which worked as expected to protect me from sunburn. I had neglected, however, to have Rich put sunscreen on my back. The hour of so swimming and snorkeling had singed my back.