Sunday morning we zipped over to Soper’s Hole, a picturesque marina on the west end of Tortolla, the main island. Even from a distance, Soper’s Hole is inviting with quaint buildings in Caribbean colors – pink, purple, coral, aqua, pale and green – nestled at the base of a green mountain dotted with palm trees. Without a doubt, it is one of my favorite places in BVI. Even though it’s ritzy and picture-perfect, it’s laidback and welcoming.
I suspect Soper’s Hole’s appearance is tied to two facts. First, it’s across from the U.S. Virgin Island, where tourists from around the world take fast ferries over to BVI for a day of sightseeing or to be shuttled to a snazzy resort or luxury yacht. Soper’s Hole has an immigration office, resort-quality shops, and amenities for ships up to 180 feet in length.
Voyage Charters is also located at the marina. This upscale charter company offers 40- to 58-foot luxury catamarans (cats) for bareboat and crewed charters.
Rich asked whether we could tour one of these behemoth and they pointed us to two boats that were being cleaned. A cat has two pontoons with a large, flat area in between. This flat area is where the cockpit is located; although, on a large cat it’s more like a gathering spot with ample seating, and depending on the size of the boat, a mini kitchen with a sink and built-in barbeque. The lines for hoisting and lowering the sails are easy to reach and usually an arms-length away from the seating. Off to one side are a few steps, leading up to the helm, where you steer the boat.
A sliding glass door, off the cockpit, opens into a spacious, air-conditioned area that has a kitchen akin to a luxury apartment with full-sized oven and stove, large sink, and sizable refrigerator (with an ice-maker) and freezer beneath the counters. Along with a breakfast bar with padded stools, there was a circular setting area with a low table, bookshelves, ornamental pillows, and other amenities you’d find in a designer living room, including pictures on the wall!
On this part of the boat is a spacious navigation area with a desk and full-sized, padded captain’s chair.
The pontoons are located on opposite sides of the kitchen/saloon area. You step down into them; each has two roomy cabins with a queen sized bed, large head (toilet, sink, shower), and cupboards for storage. The larger cats have a fifth cabin that is accessible from the deck. And several models have one-person v-berths behind the forward cabins in each pontoon. According to the brochure, up to twelve people can sleep in a 58-foot cat.
Check out this ten-year old, $450,000, 50-foot cat in the BVI, which sleeps ten, has five bathrooms, five states rooms, and luxuries that are unimaginable on a smaller monohull like Efithia, the 32-foot Beneteau we chartered. A monohull, however, is much more fun and responsive to sail than a beamy catamaran.
When we were in BVI seven years ago, there was an occasional cat. Now, there are two to three times as many cats – from various charter companies – on the water than monohulls. Because cats are so wide they look like something from Star Wars, especially when they have louvers on the front windows that make them look like menacing war machines.
The main reason why we went to Soper’s Hole was to get gas for our dinghy along with ice for the refrigerator. Even though we ran the refrigerator during the day, it needed bags of ice to stay cold. In nine days, we went through one block of ice and five bags of cubes. By the time we turned in the boat, only a quarter bag of cubes was left… everything else had melted or be sacrificed for nightly mojitos.
While at Soper’s Hole, we decided to visit the local grocery store, which had a surprisingly large selection of gourmet and specialty foods, mainly because it’s used by people with bucka-bucks to provision large cats and mega yachts. I was happy just standing the doorway, relishing the air conditioned. It felt so good on my overcooked skin. The clerk would probably disagree; she was wearing a heavy winter coat.
We walked up every aisle, enjoying the cool air while we picked out a chunk of frozen fish ($11), a red pepper, loaf of artisan whole grain bread, can of bug spray, and a Haagen Daz dark chocolate ice cream bar ($4.50). The latter we shared, greedily eyeing each other to make sure one didn’t get more than the other.
When we returned to Soper’s Hole a few days later, Rich hightailed it back to the grocery store for another Haagen Daz bar, which we inhaled while talking to a couple who lived in Bellingham, Washington and often sailed in the Puget Sound.
The picture above is an old duplex, which was located behind the fancy shops at Soper’s Hole. The quality of this building is very representative of what many of the houses and buildings look like in un-touristy BVI. It’s amazing how many buildings are in disrepair. It’s a two-class economy in BVI with the very rich and the poor, barely getting by.
After our shore adventure at Soper’s Hole, we had a lengthy sail to Norman Island and picked up a mooring ball at Privateer Bay. Before dinner, we snorkeled twice then went ashore to beach comb for shells and coral. We saw the large cruise above during our sail.
For the past few days, my skin was hinting at a revolt, which came to fruition on Monday morning. My arms, hands, face, and parts of my legs were covered with festering, itchy bumps… dreaded prickly heat!
In spite of being miserable, I was determined to forge ahead because our itinerary had us snorkeling at The Indians, considered one of the best places to snorkel and dive in the BVI. Shortly after the sun rose, we motored over to The Indians and grabbed a National Parks Trust mooring ball. After a quick breakfast, we pulled on fins, snorkels and masks and were captivated by what we saw. The Indians is a collection of rugged rocks that sprout out of the ocean. Ringing the rocks are protected reefs with an amazing variety of tropical fish and coral.
Here’s a link to many wonderful videos shot by SailQwest, who captured an octopus, nurse shark (avoid humans), turtles, mantra ray, and several of the many schools of color fish. As you snorkel, you inevitably pass through a dozen or more schools of fish, which can contains thousands of itt-bitty tetras or a fifty or less Angel , Parrot, Tang, Wrasse, Sergeant Major… or Jacks or Groupers.
We snorkeled twice around The Indians then pulled up sails and set off to what Rich thought was U.S. Virgin Island waters. An hour into the sail, we realized that we were sailing towards Road Town, Tortola and Conch Charters from which we chartered Eftihia. I asked Rich whether we could go into town and get “treatment” for my prickly heat. Yes!
Half an hour later, we bought a strong antihistamine in liquid form along with 1% hydrosome cream. Both came from Carlisle Laboratories in St. Michael, Barbados and were happily very effective at drying up my bumpy skin. For the rest of our trip, I sipped the antihistamine every few hours and liberally applied the cream along with soothing aloe vera goop.
Our trip into town was a bit of an adventure. We’d tied up our boat to a mooring ball at the Conch Marina and then used our dinghy to motor to downtown Road Town where two pharmacies were located. The night before, it rained several times, drenching the inside of the boat. The storms came rapidly in the middle of the night so several times, we had to awake from sound sleep, wiggle out of the v-berth, find our footing in the dark, and then quickly scramble around the boat closing windows and hatches. Once the rain ceased, we’d get up and open the windows and hatches again.
Rich and I were like Keystone Kops, opening and closing windows and hatches, mopping up water, slipping on the wet floor of the boat, and constantly bumping into each other as the boat pitched during the storm.
By the time we reach Road Town, the following morning, to get antihistamines, the inside of the boat had nearly dried out. It was short-lived, however, with the rain continuing unpredictably throughout the day and of course, the windows and hatches were usually open when the drops started falling!
Adding to the wet boat was our wet clothing. After visiting the pharmacy, we climbed into the dingy and I started reading the instructions on the antihistamine bottle. Within seconds, a few raindrops fell. Rich yelled, “It’s coming get ready.”
I thought Rich was out-of-his-mind as I continued reading. There was no need for me to put my medicines in the dry bag. After all, a few sprinkles couldn’t possibly turn into a torrential downpour within… minutes, our clothes were soaked through. And just a few hundred yards away, not a drop was falling!
Once we motored out of the rain shower, I took a swig of the antihistamine and immediately felt better, at least, psychologically I felt better. Within a short time, we were back on Efithia and tacking (or maybe jiving) to Privateer Bay. I was too dopey to know or care. Once there, I decided it was time for a long nap in the galley. Rich kept watch above deck, with binoculars. He frequently pulled out his fancy, high-powered, gyroscope-corrected, UV protected, twenty-pound binoculars to spy on other boats and their occupants. During this bout of espionage, he watched several people attempt to water-ski behind a dinghy.
Dinghy antics can be very amusing… and not just resting places for seagulls. During our trip, we witnesses two very obese – in the 300-pound range – men speeding around in a dinghy. From what we could ascertain, a woman on their boat, while snorkeling, lost something in the water. They called to Bubba One and Bubba Two to jump in the dinghy and help with the search.
Getting into dinghy from the swim ladder of a boat can be a bit tricky in that you need to step slowly and confidently into the dinghy – something that can be challenging if you’re grossly overweight and need to also be mindful of your swim trunks not slipping and showing too much crack.
Bubba One, the driver, got into the dinghy without too much problem, but Bubba Two had more difficulty because one end of the dinghy was barely in the water. And the other end was weighed down with 300-pounds of blubber. Both safely in the dinghy, Bubba One goosed the engine and the dinghy took off with a start.
Rich and I watched in astonishment because dinghies aren’t particularly stable, especially at fast speeds. Once they reach the woman in distressed, Bubba One cut the engine and Bubba Two rolled over the edge of the dinghy into the water like a pink hippopotamus. He dove down several times, using a mask, to try to find the missing item, but didn’t seem to meet with much success.
Meanwhile, Bubba One turn up the throttle and headed back to the boat with one side of the dinghy in the air and the other weighed down with an outboard motor and the equivalence of two people. Add a bit of manliness, crank up the speed, insert a sizable wave and you get a bit of hilarity as Bubba One flew up in the air and barely landed back in the dinghy.
After sleeping off the antihistamine buzz, and feeling less itchy, we decided to snorkel around Privateer Bay. We were thrilled to see three turtles gliding through the water, occasionally correcting their course by gently paddling. They tend to be shy, staying near the bottom of the ocean floor. During our snorkeling outings, we probably swam over many turtles because their shells blend into the sand.