BIKING IN THE ROCKIES-
The end of August beginning of September is a beautiful time in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Our trip took us to the town of Edwards where the Vail Valley slopes down to about 7200 feet above sea level. My sister and brother-in-law Hope and Ed Tudanger live here for seven months of the year. Their home sits on a lush golf course overlooking the thickly forested mountains of Vail and the jagged peaks of the Sawatch Range. You have a postcard view from their deck and if you’re an Eastern visitor like me, it seems as though you are sitting in the middle of a happy fairy tale.
Busy giant Magpies hop about squawking and claiming their territory. Magpies are really noisy. They strut puffing out their snow white chests, suddenly darting into the air spreading their amazingly large glistening black and blue wings flying from aspen tree to aspen tree. Dark little humming birds and red finches are darting around the bird feeder that Hope fills with sugar water. The air is cool and crisp, although the sky is a little hazy because of the wild fires burning in California. Wildflowers still bloom brilliant yellows, purples and sharp whites and the hot pink, and red, purple, and yellow annuals in planted gardens are still perky and bright.
Hope and Ed enjoy all of this, and live a summer camp life. My husband Nick and I came out to play with them, and to improve our cycling skills. Ed is a serious bicycle rider and so is Hope. Nick is a stronger rider than I am, but I’m determined to try to get better.
AN EASY RIDE
For our first ride they were kind. I had my Cannondale shipped out here because I’m only 5 feet tall and it is hard to rent a good bike that fits me. Hope and Ed picked out a white Colnago for Nick to rent and he fell in love instantly. We picked up both bikes from the Colorado Bike Service shop between Edwards and Vail where Jeff and Dominique run a great operation. From there we rode up Vail Mountain to and past the town of Vail. Nick and Ed rode off and Hope led me slowly up the road leading to the bike path. Once on the path through the woods we wound our way up the mountain. It was about an 8 mile ride, and it wasn’t especially taxing. Ed took Nick on a longer ride and we all met at a Mexican restaurant at the foot of the ski lift for lunch.
It was a fast ride down. I tried to sit back and enjoy it, but I battled myself trying to release the death grip on the brakes. My bike’s computer read 26 miles an hour. That’s not really fast. My sister zooms down at 32 miles and hour, and Ed can add 10 miles an hour to that easily. The ride was pleasant and a good way to get acclimated to the altitude.
RIDING ALONG THE RED ROCKS
Ed and Hope ride almost every day. Both are strong riders, but Ed is legendary here for his grit and ability to push hard, riding fast and long. We started out late for our second ride because it looked as though it was going to rain. We were restless and when the predicted showers didn’t materialize, we decided to go for it. We sped down the hills from their home a mile into the town of Edwards and then set out along Highway 6, which runs along the Eagle River. The first couple of miles are not particularly interesting but once you get out beyond Cordillera, the vista opens up. Pale green Sage and Scotch Broom bushes with brilliant, yellow, and Black-Eyed Susans edge the road and carpet the hills.
The ride takes you out of the alpine resort and ski area, and jagged peaks of the Gore range into a rugged Western landscape. I wish that I knew more about geology because there is a riot of stunning rock and mineral formations. I bought a book called, “The Rocks Above The Clouds,” by Jack Reed and Gene Ellis, and that helped. But I think it would be fascinating to ramble around the mountains with someone who really knows their stuff.
The landscape changes quickly. The semi-arid hills of Edwards give way to jagged, deep grey, sandstone mesas and buttes. A little farther down the road, hills are soft beige streaked by black which my reading tells me is biotite. Suddenly you look to your left and there are layers of brilliant red rock twisted with totem-like shapes, and dotted with sweet smelling Sage bushes and Pinon trees. Hope points out that on this stretch of road, “The mountain formations change every quarter of a mile.” The highway that we are on is lightly traveled but you still have to be alert for cars and trucks. Mountains loom up ahead and if you weren’t conscious of pedaling hard and strong up the hills, you might want to pedal for the horizon and the sunset.
The ride is distractingly beautiful. It was difficult to keep my eyes on the road ahead. Ed and Nick were out of sight. I followed Hope who had a good lead on me. We had ridden this road all the way into Eagle and back last year in a charity ride. I knew what to expect, although I knew it wasn’t easy. Hope insisted it was a downhill ride. But I found there were plenty of uphill patches and the climbs made me slower than slow.
We didn’t go all the way to Eagle this time. Ed and Nick rode farther than we did. But Hope and I turned around after about 15 miles. We climbed back up toward Wolcott and a restaurant called the Yacht Club. While it is close enough to the Eagle River to take a boating name, the only water sport seemed to be fly-fishing and there were plenty of fly fisherman—no women.
Lunch was good. I had Eggs Benedict without the sauce. When I reminded the waitress that I didn’t want any sauce she said, “I know what no sauce means.”
Nick had a club sandwich and Hope and Ed had hamburgers and fries.
The crackle of thunder made us wince collectively as we finished our lunch. With thunder comes lightning and it is not a good idea to ride your bike in a lightning storm. So we huddle down in the restaurant waiting for it to pass.
Nothing happened and after a bit we got restless and decided to brave the thunder we heard rumbling in the distance. We took off and made the climb back to Edwards. Slow and steady is my mantra. I’m not an exciting rider, but I used the death grip on the brakes less often.
Back in Edwards we felt strong and exhilarated. Hope and I clocked 30 miles Nick and Ed almost 40. We were healthy and happy.
RIDING IN GLENWOOD CANYON
Hope planned a graduated but easy ride for the third day. We biked in the Glenwood Canyon two years ago. It was one of my first rides and as I remembered it, it wasn’t too hard, although I had a stunning crash on the return leg of the journey. Oncoming riders spooked me, and I crashed into a fence thinking that I might fall into the river if I bunped into the guys riding toward me. I have a big jagged, white scar on my arm to show for it.
Yet I remembered the ride as fairly flat. On this ride, almost from the outset, the winding hills caught me by surprise. I found that I was pushing myself although slowly to keep going. My body was tense, and my hands were gripping the handlebars and the brakes. I was holding so tight that my left pinky got numb. I tried to shake it off.
The ride in this part of the White River National Forest is beautiful. The path meanders along the Colorado River, and at the beginning of the ride the river appears gentle and slow. But about four miles in there’s a dam where the white water kicks up. It’s a spot where rafters put in and occasionally the wind catches the river water sending a cooling spray to the bike path. The trail is set deep in the forbidding, brown and grey carved granite mesas and buttes. Layers upon layers of jagged, rock shoot up from the riverbed. My book tells me the granite has been here over 1 billion years. The façade is so windswept that carved faces seemed to peer down into the canyon. Occasionally a freight train rounds a bend chugging toward a tunnel. You half-expect to look up and see bank robbers on horseback waiting on the next ridge.
I didn’t remember that the toughest part of the ride begins when you leave the White River National Forest. A steep, breath-stealing winding hill takes you up out of the canyon to the end of the bike path. “You can do it. You can do it. Don’t stop,” I said out loud to myself as I downshifted my way up.
I didn’t stop, and was rewarded at the top with a moment to refill my lungs. We were headed to lunch in Glenwood Springs. We had a long downhill ride through a community of houses to a rough, broad bike path that led to a bridge over I-70.
We took another path that follows I-70 into Glenwood Springs. Our welcome was the terrific stench of rotten eggs. People come here to lounge in the therapeutic waters of the sulfur springs that gave the town half of its name. But it appears that the springs are on the edge of town, and as you ride on the air sweetens.
Glenwood Springs is a railroad stop and it’s the town where the gunfighter Doc Holliday chose to spend his last days.
We ate lunch at Juicy Lucy’s Steakhouse, which was terrific. Hope and I had delicious wild salmon sandwiches with Caesar salads, and Nick and Ed had elk burger sandwiches. All during the lunch I dreaded that long climb up the hill. But when the moment arrived and we came to the bottom, I rode slowly all the way up keeping my eyes on the pavement just in front of me.
The downhill into the canyon was fun. Remember I’m slow, and I followed Hope. She was frequently far ahead of me even after the chain came off her custom made Seven bike. She fiddled it back on, and we kept going. It was a much tougher ride than I remembered and I remained pretty tense during it—maybe because I crashed here. Nevertheless back at the trailhead in Dotsero when it was over, I felt great and so did everyone else.
RIDING IN COWBOY COUNTRY
We took a day off to rest because Ed and Hope warned that our next ride was tough. I worried whether I could do it. But I tried to keep my cool. My knee hurt and I had a pain in my lower back and I began to obsess to myself about whether I was strong and fit enough. My legs have been a problem. I’ve had persistent tendonitis, and my left Illiotibial band has ached and been very stiff. I’ve followed a quad-strengthening regimen laid out by Greg, a physical therapist at Hospital for Special Surgery. I’ve had acupuncture with Kathy Yocum in Manhattan, and I’ve been doing a Yoga routine every morning. There has been an improvement but I’m still occasionally sore, and I try to be careful.
THE FLATTOP MOUNTAINS
So when we set out early in the morning, I was wondering how I was going to end up. We drove from Edwards to a trailhead at Dotsero above where the Eagle River joins the Colorado.
This is one of Ed and Hope’s favorite rides. Ed warned, “There’s nothing out here but ranches and open land,” and he urged us to take extra water and energy bars.
You ride out of the parking lot and up a hill into the country that was home to the Ute Tribe. The two-lane road follows the curves of the Colorado River. The left side of my left knee began to click as I pedaled. I decided to ignore it and enjoy the ride. Ed and Nick passed me quickly. I was rewarded for being slow. A family of deer came up from the Colorado River and stood in the road looking down at us quizzically. To a doe and her four fawns two women in brightly colored bike shirts and helmets on bicycles must have looked weird. The deer bolted for the wooded hillside and stood still again looking down at us as though they were trying to understand what we were up to?
The winding road leads you up and down a series of moderately steep hills. Mica sparkles in the sunlight along the wall of brown and yellow granite mountain to your left. Below the river runs slowly with only the occasional swirl of white. Three men in a small zodiac cast their fishing lines looking very much like three men in a tub from the nursery rhyme, and I yelled to Hope, “Rub-a-dub-dub.”
The soft marsh along the river rose into meadow and the surrounding countryside was surprisingly green and lush. After a few miles a sign warned, “Leaving Public Lands.” Although we were riding on a public road the vast open space around us was now private ranch land. After maybe the third steep climb and descent, the scenery changed dramatically. Suddenly it seemed as though we entered the real West. It was also the West of legend and imagination that created the cowboy movies that I loved as a kid. The landscape is starkly beautiful. Undulating grey volcanic mountains, mesas and buttes surround the deep broad valley. While there are few trees, big tufts of green Sage bush spread across the land and yellow bursts of Scotch Broom bordered the road. The Colorado River disappears behind the huge ranches. In the distance horses grazed on one ranch. On another a farmer worked a tractor. A few pickups passed us on the road, but for the most part we were alone with the sounds of the wind and the river. It was utterly peaceful. I found that I was talking to myself again offering encouragement and congratulations. Yet I was slow in part because the scenery begged to be ogled. First I was caught up with the light on the water and the beauty of the slow moving Colorado River. Then the shadows of light on the hills, and the subtle coloration in the mountains made me take my eyes off of the road. Wherever I looked there was something wonderful.
Hope was waiting for me at about ten miles into the ride. “There is a steep curvy descent on this mountain, and that means you have climb back up. If you want to go farther we have to climb up. Or we can turn around now. We’ve already ridden ten miles,” she said.
The beauty was exhilerating. It was so still out here that it was possible for a rider like me to feel the Zen of the oneness with my bike and the landscape. I wasn’t ready to go back. “I’m fine,” I said. Hope seemed happy that we were riding on.
We glided down and around the corkscrew curves on the much-touted steep hill. At the bottom I looked beyond the road and saw that the landscape was changing again. In the distance the grey mountains turned to red as sandstone hills appeared before us. We biked past larger ranches including the Rio de Luna Ranch, which was for sale. I fell in love with the idea of the big house near the Colorado River in the vastness of the valley. In another lifetime I thought, I’d be happy here at least for a few months a year. I imagine it is tough in the wintertime, and too tough for someone like me who hates the snow and cold.
I was completely happy during this ride. After another three miles or so, we bumped into Nick and Ed making the return trip. He had just climbed another steep hill. He said it was one of the steepest in the ride. Nick was still making his way up. We stood at the edge of a ranch where workers were building fences, took pictures and regrouped.
Amazingly I wasn’t tired and made the return trip without a problem. I climbed every hill slowly. Several times, I looked down at the computer and found that I wasn’t going faster than 4 miles an hour. The others were far ahead of me. Even on the downhill I was much slower than everyone else. I think my fastest time was 24 miles an hour. Hope’s computer read 33 miles per hour. Ed said he was about the same, but Nick topped 40 miles an hour careening down the hills. I didn’t care. I enjoyed every leisurely minute of my ride. On the return trip Ed and Hope pushed hard ahead. Nick returned several times to make sure that I was okay, and I was. Finally he rode on ahead of me to the finish.
As I coasted down the last hill into the Dotsero parking lot I stretched out over my bike. The others had already changed their clothes and I was happy to be back with them.
We rewarded ourselves with lunch at the Broadway Café in Eagle. Hope and I had BLATs-BLT’s with avocado. Nick had a turkey and ham club sandwich and Ed had a turkey panini. It was all good.
At the end of our fourth ride Hope and I had ridden over 105 miles. Nick and Ed had ridden about 115 miles.
BIKING TO BRECKINRIDGE
Ride five took us to Frisco at the bottom of Copper Mountain. Hope and Ed’s friends Charlene and George Straight who are both strong riders and part of their club The Vail 50 joined us. George was recovering from a few injuries so the plan was that he’d ride with Hope and me. Ed, Nick, and Charlene, who is amazingly strong, rode up Copper Mountain. It is hilly and tough. Nick and I made the ride last year, and I stopped frequently.
This time Hope and I were going to keep things simple. We headed to Breckinridge on the path through the woods and George rode with us. The first thing that I noticed was that my breathing was shallow. The air was a lot thinner because we were higher than we’d been. We were riding at about 8,000 feet above sea level. There were also more wild flowers in bloom here than we had seen on other rides. White daisies, purple asters, red and orange firecracker plants and what looked like tiny purple orchids peeked out from the edge of the forest.
The ride was moderately hilly and fun. Coming out of the forest a curvy hill shoots you down to the road that leads into Breckinridge. Across the way Lake Dillon sparkled in the sunlight. We didn’t cross over. We remained on the bike path climbing through the meadow along a stream at the lower end of the jagged peaks of Ten Mile Range. The snow-streaked caps of Breckinridge Mountain loomed ahead. Masses of white daisies sprouted in the meadow and along the road. It was a pretty, alpine ride very different from the ride through the Flat Tops.
The plan was that once we reached “Breck,” as the local bikers call it, George would turn around and ride back until he met up with Ed, Nick, and Charlene coming up the mountain. Hope and I stopped at the meeting place and watched dark rain clouds roll over the mountains toward Breckinridge. We didn’t want to get wet and Hope, who is exceedingly practical, suggested that when the others came we turn around instead of lunching in Breckinridge as we had planned.
A few minutes later we were back on the path headed to Frisco. I made it up the steep winding hill near the bottom and was incredibly proud of myself. Hope waited for me and then took off. When we were close to the meeting point Nick called Hope to say he was at the parking lot but the cars were gone. She rode ahead to see what was going on, but Nick had overlooked the adjoining lot where the cars were, with Ed, George and Charlene already changed and the bikes on the racks. Meanwhile, I missed the turn off to the lot so I kept going until I realized that I was headed up Copper Mountain.
One of the nicest things about riding is the après meal. The lunch in Frisco was nothing special. But it didn’t detract from the great feeling of accomplishment of riding seriously, although slowly, for over 130 miles in 5 days.
Great biking. I’m looking forward to next year.
EULOGY FOR MY MOTHER JULIET SEGAL
She died August 25, 2012
My sister Hope and I can tell you that if Julie were here physically, she’d be of two minds about it all. First-she would have been flattered at the attention, because she always said, “I’m a person too. I’m important too, you know.” And then another part of her would say, “Why are they all looking at me? Did I do something wrong?”
At her 95th birthday party a musician played and sang the songs from the forties she loved. She sang along and tapped her feet, but as he looked over his keyboard directly at her as though singing it all for her alone, she turned to me and asked, “Why is he picking on me?”
Julie was complicated.
During the past few days, memories flooded my brain and stirred every emotion imaginable. “What’s new in the world of sports and adventure,” she’d ask me when we got together every week for lunch. Although her memory was shot, she wanted to have an interesting conversation.
Moments flit by in small video snapshots. Julie loved celebrities. She loved the movies and TV. In the ‘90’s, Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, and Jerry Seinfeld were her favorites. Jerry especially because, she said, “he has a lot of the same phobias as me.” I remember we were in a Ft. Lauderdale restaurant. She pushed aside the shoe-string potatoes that she loved and stared over my shoulder. She said, “Behind you there’s a woman with big hands -- man hands. It’s just like on Seinfeld.” For a long time, life was one Seinfeld episode after another.
We were at a theater on Broadway when she spotted JFK Junior in the audience. We had to wait outside after the show, to get a close look at him because she thought he was the handsomest man she’d ever seen.
She loved handsome men and flirted with them even in her very latest years. The Valbrook Diner was our go-to restaurant every week and the owner Bill Tsemplis was always sweet to her. So she flirted with him, and he flirted back. “He’s handsome, isn’t he?” she asked me more than once. “Do I look nice?”
Our mom didn’t want to be pushed around, or taken advantage of. And this was odd to me, because she was never a pushover. At her core, she was extremely strong.
She was a Jewish tiger mom before tiger mom was an expression. She loved her daughters fiercely and protected us with all her might. We had very little money growing up after our father left to pursue another life. She went back to work as a bookkeeper, paid off his clothing bills, fixed the hole in the roof and made sure we had almost everything that all the other kids in the neighborhood had. We went to Hebrew school, had dancing lessons and the rest of it. She wanted us to be normal above all.
That’s where things didn’t quite work out. I wasn’t normal and did a lot of crazy things and got into a lot of trouble. She stood by me always, and helped me work out some very considerable problems. When my life “straightened out” as she described it, she still worried. She called often to make sure that I was all right.
In these later years, I admired her struggle to retain her personhood. She fought to hold on to her dignity and her memory. It was a difficult and losing battle. When the dementia began to take hold, she’d ask, “What’s the matter with me? Why can’t I remember.” I’d say, “You have a whole in your memory.” She’d shake her head and laugh. “I like that. A whole in my memory.” But she pushed herself to think, to remember, to be present and I loved that about her.
A couple of weeks ago we were driving back from lunch at the diner, and I understood she was confused about who I was. Was I her sister, or Hope, or who? ”I’m Barbara. See my eyes,” I said. “Barbara,” she said to herself and shook her head. “That’s amazing. Barbara’s difficult. You’re Barbara? Incredible.”
I said. “That’s me, and I’m still difficult,” just in other ways.” We both laughed.
I see my mother when I was a very little girl and she was magical. I see her at a big birthday party she made for me in our back yard when I was three or four. All the neighborhood kids were there, and she patiently explained over and over that I could not win the prizes. They were for the guests.
We were part of a playgroup where moms took turns creating activities. Hers were always the best. At one, I remember she created a red, orange and blue pinwheel. She tried to teach the rest of us to follow her. Her hands worked in a way that mine cannot. She taught me how to read, jump rope, ride a bike and throw a ball. Her hand-eye coordination was incredible. She was always agile, even as she got older and frail, she’d get up to dance at the holiday parties at Atria Tanglewood, the assisted living facility in Lynbrook, Long Island where she lived for the last seven years of her life. At the annual summer Luau’s we’d wiggle our way under the limbo stick. Laughing.
Recently, she fell and banged her head. An ambulance took her to the hospital. I found her in the emergency room sitting up in bed wearing a gown, pearls with ribbons, and a pearl bracelet with ribbons that my sister Hope had bought for her. Her eyes brightened when she saw me. “Ooh thank God. Bob get me out of her,” she said.
A band-aid covered a gash in her forehead. The doctor told me he closed it with eight stitches and insisted she stay the night. Not a good idea, I said. But he persisted and she was wheeled up to the floor and parked outside a room. A well-meaning nurse peered into the gurney and leaned on the rail. My mother raised her hand warding her off as though she were Dracula. My mom said, “Please.” She collected her thoughts and said, “I don’t bother anyone. I’m a nice person. I’m nice to everyone. Please, just leave me alone.” It went down hill from there. The nurse and a male aide tried to transfer her to a bed. “No. No. No. No.” She sounded like a two-year-old. But she was 94 ½ and combative, and it was slightly scary. “Get me out of here Bob. Get me out of here. Get me my shoes.”
Her agitation upset me, and I helped her put on her shoes. I thought she’d calm down. We sat outside the room for awhile and then she popped up. “Let’s go.”
Without a walker, with her hospital gown flapping open in the back, and her diaper showing, she walked around the U shaped floor looking for the exit. “I have to get out of here,” she insisted. She refused to stand still. The nurse trailed with a sedative-filled needle. But she couldn’t get close to Julie who repeated over and over again. “I have to get out of here. Let me out of here.”
And then I heard a voice on the loud speaker. “CODE RED. CODE RED.” I knew it was for us. “Okay mom. Now we’re in trouble,” I said. Sure enough tall men in uniform descended on the floor. It looked like the janitor was there too. They herded her into the room, and it was overwhelming and too crazy for me. “That’s it mom. You’re right. We’re leaving. We’re going home.”
As I gathered up her things, a voice called “I’m the floor administrator. You have to sign the AMA form.” “What?” I asked. “Against Medical Advice.” I signed happily.
A few minutes later, when we drove into the Atria Tanglewood entrance and pulled up under the columned portico, she was calm and eager to get out of the car. It was as though it never happened. I walked her in to the reception area that looked like someone’s beautiful living room. She couldn’t get away fast enough. “Okay. Call me when you get home,” she said.
I understood. It was dinnertime and she craved her routine. She wanted me to go. But before I left she said, “You’re a good daughter Bob,” and kissed me on the cheek.
Often, we wrote notes to each other because she couldn’t hear. She also wrote notes to herself, and these notes were stashed everywhere in her apartment. I kept a few because the were both instantly maddening, often made me laugh and seemed too precious to throw away. One evening when she was furious at me for some transgression, she wrote. “Bob has not been nice to me at all. I’ll remember that.” But the note, I like the best said, “I have a delightful daughter. We go to the beach together. We go to restaurants together and we are happy together. We are pals.”
*Juliet Segal was a divorced single mom in the fifties. After she returned to work, she also returned to college. She graduated Cum Laude with a B.A. from Queens College and earned a Masters of Science in Education from Queens College. She was a master teacher in the New York City public schools and taught in South Jamaica, Queens at P.S. 48 during the height of the crack-epidemic. She was repeatedly promoted with her entire class from one grade to the next because the children did so well.
Sailing in the B.V.I. 2007-2008
Recently my husband Nick Taylor and I took a ten day sailing trip alone aboard a 40 foot Beneteau in the British Virgin Islands. We began when the moon he was almost full and we vowed to proceed with caution. We’ve learned from scary experience it’s best to be humble when you are in the water with boats. During this trip there was plenty to be concerned about. Small craft advisories were a regular feature of the daily weather report, and as the forecasters predicted, we experienced high seas, howling Christmas winds, at least one blinding rainstorm, a series of beautiful rainbows, and pastel sunsets. We were plagued with a weird toilet flushing system, a cranky dinghy motor that beached us on a night when Nick was dressed up in a white linen suit and orange espadrilles. And of course we had our share of anchor and mooring escapades. Through it all we had a terrific time. We hope you enjoy our story, which is on my blog page. And if you are sailor looking for a place to go, we hope this offers useful insight.
The small plane from San Juan lands on Beef Island in the B.V.I., and it’s instantly magical. Palm trees sway in the trade winds. The hilly islands of Little Camanoe, Great Camanoe and Beef Island rise from the sea in front of you. The green water of the Caribbean laps at the end of the runway, the white sails on the sea are tantalizingly close, and masts of sailboats moored in Trellis Bay are bobbing. The bay is just is a short walk from the airport, and you could pick up your boat there.
We’ve been returning to the B.V.I. for five years because everything is easy, the people are nice and tourist friendly and the sailing is great. We’ve sailed from St. Maarten to St. Barts to Anguila and back around St. Maarten. It was lovely. We’ve sailed around the islands of Guadeloupe and Dominica and we enjoyed it tremendously. We’ve sailed in the states in the north and southeast Atlantic. Nick has sailed from Daytona, Florida to Bermuda, and, on second trip, from Bermuda to the Azores, in Portugal. He’s sailed during race week around Cowes, in England, but for cruising as a couple we love the B.V.I.
In 1492 Columbus “discovered” the islands, which are east of Puerto Rico, for Europeans and supposedly proclaimed them “The Virgins,” after St. Irsula and the ten thousand virgins who followed her. Those who do the inventory say there are 16 inhabited islands and more than 20 uninhabited islands in the archipelago that straddles the Atlantic and the Caribbean.
Once on Beef Island we were so excited to be back that we were among the first on line out of customs. We hopped in a taxi and arrived at B.V.I. Yacht Charters in Port Purcell not far from Roadtown, and we discovered that we left our passports at the airport. Cary from B.V.I Yacht Charters called customs and found that they had already sent the passports with a taxi driver. We would have them in just a few minutes. This is the kind of thing that makes us love Tortola and the people who live here.
B.V.I. YACHT CHARTERS
After reading the blog about our 2006-2007 trip, readers asked if we would chose B.V.I. Yacht charters again. There are a lot of charter companies here. The Moorings and SunSail are the largest. We’ve chartered with the Moorings in the past and liked their boats and their service. But this year we compared prices, and B.V.I Yacht charters was significantly less expensive. Things might go wrong, but the staff has always been responsive and come out immediately to fix whatever was broken. This year there were two new boats to chose from and that made them attractive. The two cabin, one head 40 foot Beneteau that we chose wasn’t going to be delivered on time, so they offered us a three cabin 40 foot Beneteau with two heads. It turns out that this was Cruising World’s “Med Size Cruiser" of the year.
Although they named her Shiraz, they press her into service without painting her name on the hull. Shiraz isn’t a name we’d choose, so as we got to know her we called her Roz.
She looked formidable with a big wide stern and two leather-covered wheels. I was frightened about whether I could handle this with Nick. She seems much larger than she is. The cockpit is spacious and the main cabin below is also fairly large. The berths were adequate, but I can’t imagine two couples on this boat. It might be good for a family with small children. We quickly discovered that there is limited stowage space. The galley has a microwave above the refrigerator, and that takes up a cupboard. The navigation station is on the galley side of the salon and a cupboard is taken up with the electronics for the communications system, and another for the stuff that you might need if you get in trouble.
There is a tiny cutlery drawer with a narrow cabinet for pots and pans below. The big spoons, knives and other cooking implements were stuffed into a shallow locker above. You have to crawl across the benches, or the settee, surrounding the table to stow, and retrieve foodstuffs. No one who cooks on a boat could possibly have laid out this galley.
Nevertheless we went shopping for our provisions because we like to cook, and eat well on our trips. We discovered that the best deal for wines and liquors seem to be at Caribbean Cellars in Port Purcell right near the B.V.I Yacht Charters base. That was our first stop where we bought a couple of bottles of Vodka, white wines, and Zinfandel and a case of short Red Stripes for Nick.
At the nearby RiteWay Supermarket, if you get there on the right day, there is wonderful, fresh local pork and the butcher might even specially cut you what you need. The supermarket has a wide selection of things. But we have found that to get everything you need, you have to shop at all three local supermarkets including Bobby’s in Roadtown, which has the best Christmas displays outside, and The One Mart in Port Purcell not far from the Riteway. If you’re not too particular about the foodstuffs you have on board there are people who can provision for you, and if you know exactly what you want they can gather it so that you don’t waste time in the supermarkets. But call me crazy. I like the process of shopping and selecting food.
Once I figured out how to stow everything in the strange and limited space.
Chris, one of B.V.I. technicians, a big bear of a Guyanese man, gently and patiently walked us through everything we had to know about the boat.
There is the matter of the toilet. It’s a contraption designed by a maniac. It requires you to pump in fresh water, and then pump out the bad stuff. The pump handle has to catch in just the right way so you have suction to release. It doesn’t always work. I’d like to meet the designer in a dark alley.
We freshened up and went for dinner at Brandywine Bay a taxi ride away. This is our favorite restaurant in Tortola. Davide Pugliese is a native of Northern Italy who cooked in New York for quite awhile before settling in Tortola. He has an inventive menu that makes the most of Caribbean fruits and vegetables and he also stays current with what’s cooking around the world. For example I had a pork belly starter, made with fresh local pork, and swordfish with parsley pesto. Nick had a chickpea pancake with prosciutto and melon from Guadaloupe and a Northern Italian beefy dish.
While we were having drinks on the terrace, we met the Fredkins. They are a couple from Boston who owned Mosquito Island until they sold it recently to Richard Branson. Joyce Fredkin is a Wheatley whose family owns a good deal of property in the East End of Tortola and they were here for the holidays and to pick out a piece of property to build a new house. Ed Fredkin is a physicist who was part of a group that successfully challenged the license of a Boston TV station in the 1980’s. It was an odd coincidence because the TV station I work for, the station group that lost its license as a result of Ed’s challenge owned WWOR. After that our station was licensed in New Jersey, sold to another group and moved to the Garden State. Recently Senator Frank Lautenberg speared-headed a license challenge to my current employer Fox Television Stations accusing us of not covering enough New Jersey news. He’s flat out wrong. Our general assignment reporters cover New Jersey, and last year I won four Emmy Awards for investigative reporting. Two of those reports focused on New Jersey stories. Anyway, a Google search revealed that Ed is a leading digital physicist and inventor. So it was interesting to meet them, and we look forward to seeing them again.
Saturday December 22nd.
It’s a beautiful morning in the B.V.I. although we are up before everyone else in the marina we are moving slowly today. I’m still trying to find places to put our personal things. Because this boat is new, we don’t yet have a dinghy so we are waiting for the crew to come in to get us one. As soon as they do we scoot across Road Harbor to Marina Cay for breakfast. This is one of my favorite places. You sit dockside and feel as though you are in Brigadoon with the green volcanic mountains of Tortola before you and boats bobbing at the dock in the green water.
We had one more briefing with Chris, because Nick wanted to be completely familiar with the unfamiliar boat, and finally around noon we motored out. Although I was a little edgy, and afraid of my ability to sail well, as soon as they threw the dock lines on bow, and I unknotted the fenders and threw them into the cabin I was working, happy and knew everything would be okay.
I took the helm and steered into the wind as Nick hoisted the main sail. But he was cranking away trying to get the sail up as he groaned with effort in a horrible baptism of work in the first few minutes of the sail. The main wouldn’t go above a certain point. He cursed as he realized that someone had reefed the sails, and failed to take out the reefs. He did it, and voila. We had a raised main. The Jenny went up without trouble and because we got a late start we headed for the Bight across the Sir Francis Drake Channel sailing first toward Peter Island and then jibing to sail in past Pelican Island, the Indians and into the beautiful cut in Norman Island that forms the Bight. I steer the boat into the wind, and Nick begins to drop main. Suddenly he climbs the ladder on the mast, and his helping the sail down. It doesn’t have automatic furling and this is the only way to get the sail down and in the bag. It’s harrowing to watch perched high above the deck as I try to hold the boat steady. But we do it, and furl the Jenny.
The Bight is a terrific anchorage and is very popular but worth the stop. There’s a permanently anchored party boat called the William Thornton, or the Willie T. People have a rowdy time on it, and we’ve enjoyed it too. But in this life we try to stay away on the northeast side of the Bight at the back where it’s quiet. There’s also a restaurant on the beach and that too can be fun.
Our fun is swimming off the boat, lounging cooking and fooling around and the Bight with the cliffs of Norman Island surrounding you, the clear green water and the excellent snorkeling offers us exactly what we are looking for.
Norman Island by the way was a favorite of the pirate Blackbeard or Edward Teach. There are fantastic caves on the edge of beautiful reefs, and legend has it he often stored his treasure here. The other story is that someone told Robert Louis Stevenson about the island, and although he had never visited it, he used it as a model for “Treasure Island.”
Recently Dr Henry Jarecki, a psychiatrist, investment banker, former trader in metals, and owner of Guana Island bought the uninhabited Norman Island. Jarecki’s resume lists him, as a member of the Botanic Society of the British Virgin Islands so there is hope that the island won’t be ruined. A local realtor told us that there are plans to turn it into eco development. Something to keep an eye on.
The B.V.I. seems to have become a hot spot. We noticed an increased number of private planes at the airport, and the price of real estate, and houses has jumped dramatically. There are also new developments planned, and we noticed at least in one case in Brewers Bay on the north side of Tortola there’s a petition drive to stop development.
Anyway at dusk on our first night out Deliverance appears. The boat is a business that cleverly delivers ice, and deserts and things you may have forgotten to yachts in the Bight, anchorages around Cooper and Peter Islands. We wave her down, and Nick orders his favorite thing-Deliverance brownies.
For dinner we grill steaks, and tin foil packets of potatoes, thyme and olive oil, and share a bottle of rose. The stars are brilliant, the moon is almost full and we are blissfully happy.
Sunday December 23rd
We are alone in Lee Bay and all is right with the world. Our boat is at anchor in 16 feet of green water, and the Pelicans are diving from the rocks to scoop up the tiny fish swimming in the reef close to the north side of Great Caminoe Island. The gentle rocking of the boat makes me sleepy.
The wind was disappointing today. It was blowing at 6 to 10 knots, and that wasn’t enough for the kind of sail we like. We did put the sails up when we left the Bight and got to the middle of the Sir Francis Drake Channel. But after a frustrating 3-knot crawl Nick suggested we drop the Jenny and motor in to have a look at Little Harbor and Great Harbor on Peter Island because we’d never been there.
Little Harbor is an idyllic, tiny crescent facing the Channel. There must have been a fort here because we saw the crenulated stone remains of something down near the shore. There were half a dozen boats at anchor and most had stern lines out tied to rock, or a tree at shore. I guess the idea is to keep the boat stable. They weren’t swinging around as they might have if the were attached to a mooring. Great Harbor is the next bay and it’s as pretty as its neighbor. There’s a small restaurant called Ocean’s 7 with beach chairs set up at the water’s edge There are moorings directly in front of the restaurant but it was so early in the day that the restaurant wasn’t open, and there were no boats at the moorings. Farther west boats and catamarans were anchored and it looked like a nice place to be. We tried to sail again, but again found the lack of wind too frustrating, and so we motored to Trellils Bay to moor and pick up coffee, which we forgot to buy in Roadtown. We managed to stop and start without incident, which is better than we’ve done before. From Trellis we motored to Lee Bay and were surprised and delighted to find that we were alone or at least the first here.
We sailed into the bay headed slightly to the port side with our eye on the big cactus on the stony beach. It was our first anchoring spectacular this trip. I had the helm and Nick dropped the anchor. I reversed at 2500 RPM’s 3 times and the boat held. So here we are.
We put on snorkel masks and dove into the water to check the anchor, which was snug in the sand between several rocks. After a brief swim, we made sandwiches, rested for a bit and then went snorkeling searching for what the pelicans saw. It didn’t take long to find them. Tiny fish enveloped us. There were millions of silvery fish no longer than a pinky finger. At times the water was so murky with fish it was hard to see. But when they cleared we saw their blue and purple iridescent cousins swimming along the reef in an out of the sea fans nibbling at the growth on the coral.
By sunset three other large boats sailed into the bay and anchored. We thought one could have anchored farther away from us, but there was still enough distance for privacy. I made a spicey marinade of hot sauce, ginger, soy sauce and grapefruit juice for our B.V.I. pork chops,and NIck grilled them while cooked up some local squash with thyme, honey and lemon.
We drank a delicious bottle of Wente Zinfandel and enjoyed the soft night under a giant full moon that hung low in the sky surrounded by brilliant stars.
For some reason the boats were swinging round and round. But we felt snug and secure and it was a night for early and easy sleep. Nick has a new dream. He’d like to buy Lee Bay.
December 24, 2007
The wind is howling like crazy. It suddenly blows up and pushes and pulls at the boat. It feels and sounds like the dry Harmatten West African Northeasterly winds. The difference is that is dry and brings lot of dust. But locals in the B.V.I. call their easterlies the Christmas winds. Roz and the other boats were swinging around so much making it impossible to the Yoga routine on the foredeck. But it was sunny and bright and you could see clear to the bottom of the green sea. It was amazing when back and yellow tiger fish swarmed around our stern like bumble bees.
Nick made coffee, and burrowed into an Alan Furst book called “Night Soliders” that put him in Eastern Europe during World War II.
After a breakfast of poached eggs on English muffins and Yoghurt Nick lifts the anchor and we say goodbye to Lee Bay. I hope we return this trip.
The wind is suddenly still and too wimpy for a good strong sail. Nick hoists the Jenny and we make a slow trip across the Camanoe Passage between Guana Island and Little Camanoe out into the Atlantic. We are before the wind and the Roz is bobbing along at maybe three knots. I’m at the helm and having trouble holding a course of three hundred degrees. It’s like driving a sloppy American car. The wheel is all over the place. She won’t hold under me. It’s not Roz’s fault. The slurping sea is bumping her around. Nick keeps reminding me to correct. “You’re at 290 now. You’re at 310,” he says. How he knows exactly always amazes me.
Just off Green Cay before we reach Diamond Cay, Nick calls for a tack to lower the Jenny. I don’t make the turn fast or full enough and the sail won’t change sides. Nick is angry with me. “You’re an experienced sailor. You should know to turn into the wind,” he says. And he’s right. We try again, and get it right. Motoring in to Little Jost bay is easy. There are plenty of moorings and we pick one up in far corner of the bay. This is a big difference from our first trip in here last year when we tried to drop anchor too close to other boats and found ourselves rafted with another completely tangled. A nice guy and his son from the San Juan Islands off of Washington State had to board our boat and help us straighten the mess out. Then he gave us an anchoring lesson and led us to a safe place to anchor away from everyone else.
But we’re good today. We dinghy in to Foxy’s Taboo a tiny restaurant at the foot of the mountain to pay the $25.00 mooring fee, and to leave some garbage.
When we return to the boat we have lunch and kick back. We hear the goats braying on Little Jost. It sounds as though a passel of babies is crying in the woods. It would be nice to have herd of goats and make Chevre here. Is it possible? Something to think about.
Before we lose the light at about 4:15 I coax Nick into the water and we snorkel toward the reef at the edge of Little Jost.
To our delight we again are caught in carpet of the tiny silver fish. We’re in the middle of them, but you don’t feel them against your skin. It’s very weird. There are neon blue fish, larger silvery white fish, and then suddenly a fish as big me, about five feet, swims buy. I’m totally freaked out. I pull on Nick. We bob to the surface. “What was that?” I ask. He shrugs. “Who knows.” I’m ready to go back but he keeps swimming. So I keep up. And then we spot a giant turtle resting on the bottom of the sea. His prehistoric looking legs are out. His head is moving from side to side. His big eyes are watching us float above him. He looked as though he might fly up to the surface at any moment. Can these sea turtles move as quickly as I imagine?
After showers on the deck we have Christmas Eve cocktails. I’ve boiled up a pot of sorrel berries that produce a red liquor that’s a local holiday treat to mix with drinks. Nick puts two spoonfuls of the juice over vodka and ice with a little lime. It’s delicious.
Catamarans and monohulls come in late looking for moorings. Two catamarans raft up and you know that it is going to be a noisy night near them. Sure enough just as the sun fades, a sailboat slips his mooring, and heads deeper into the harbor in search of Christmas peace.
There are fewer pirate flags on the boats this year, but there are more families, and family groups sharing big catamarans and even sailboats.
It’s nice. A few boats away children are marching around their boat with alternating red and green lights putting on a little Christmas pageant for those of us near buy. It is so much fun that I’m laughing and applauding with others on boats around us.
I marinade chicken in grapefruit juice, garlic and ginger, a little Puerto Rican hot sauce and Soy Sauce. We peel local eggplant slice it and prepare it in foil packs with oregano that I’ve brought from home.
It’s raining slightly so we opt to eat below. The food is good, the Chardonnay is nice and we are happy again to have a lovely meal in a beautiful place.
December 25, 2007
There is a rainbow hanging over Little Jost Van Dyke. We’re drinking coffee and enjoying the neon lights. It’s early. All the boats around us are bobbing, the occupants asleep or enjoying a lazy Christmas morning below. Fish are splashing around off of our stern.
There is a small craft advisory today. So the wind has definitely picked up.
The marine forecast said there will be 19 knots of wind. We are going to have to be very careful as we cross the Atlantic channel back in to Soper’s Hole at the West End of Tortola where we aim to spend the night.
As we head out in the direction of Green Cay, Nick decides to raise only the Jenny. It is blowing up. We put up the sail and instantly we realize that we are too close to the beach. The water is dropping off quickly and we’re in 15 feet. Nick calls for a jibe and we swing around. It’s a pretty sloppy jibe again because of me. I’m having trouble coordinating the turning and the releasing of the Jenny line while I’m steering. Nick isn’t happy with my sailing. He calms down, and I suggest sail along the coast of Jost Van Dyke and take a look at White Bay toward the west. We pass Little Harbor where a few motor yachts are anchored. Great Harbor comes next and that looks like it’s quiet as well, but full up. Around the bend we see the pretty white sand beach that gives White Bay it’s name. There are a few sailboats, and catamarans inside the green water and a lot of people on the beach. It looks like it’s a pretty place to stop until we notice that the sailboats are rolling. Rolling is not fun. Swinging is okay. Rolling is not. So maybe this isn’t someplace we should put on our agenda. We’ll have to check out what the conditions are generally.
We jibed and tightened the sails to beat up the channel in the direction in which came from. Once we got far enough up, we tacked and headed for the cut between Great Thatch and Soper’s Hole. The wind was spectacular blowing at 19 to 20 knots, and even though we just had one sail up we were sailing at almost 6 knots with Nicky at the helm. It was a beautiful ride.
As we approached the cut, we tacked and furled the Jenny, and motored in to Soper’s Hole to pick up a mooring. We found one on the east side of the harbor near a hillside where the braying of the goats made us again think of cheese.
We decided to go in and find out if the showers were open in the marina. Nick gets into the dinghy first to start the motor, and I’m holding the dinghy line as I try to get into it. I slip, and still holding the line end up on my back stretched out between the dinghy and the boat. With Nick’s help I work my way out of the clumsy mess without falling in the water. But I’ve got to have a better strategy for getting on and off the boat.
After showers and cocktails, we dinghy in again this time safely. We’ve called a taxi to take us to Long Bay Resort for Christmas Dinner. I had waited to long to get a reservation at the Sugar Mill restaurant where we ate last year and really enjoyed. So Long Bay was going to be a new place for us. It turns out it was missable. It was a nice restaurant but the service and food were perfunctory a little like eating in a New York diner. Oh well. It was still beautiful to be out, and on a lovely evening and we returned to the harbor relaxed and ready for a new day.
It’s Boxing Day in the British Isles, a national holiday and it’s still quiet in Soper’s Hole. We dinghy in for breakfast at the Pices Restaurant behind the dock. A guy in and a girl in their late teens are sitting at the computers for hire behind a big desk and checking their email. An attractive British family troops in, and the mother in quite a loud voice takes charge,”How many English Breakfasts? Who’s having an English breakfast? She demands. Her late teen children instantly get cranky and frosty. After they order, the conversation lightens up.
We order a traditional English breakfast and enjoy scrambled eggs, bacon and a quite good potato pancake.
In the harbor a few of the boutiques are open including the diving shop and to my delight they’ve got the superskins, the tight sunblock shirts that surfers wear. I have one, but it’s in need of a good washing. After making my purchase we load up on ice dinghy back to Roz.
It’s time to sail. The weather report promises 20 knots and as soon as we get out into the Sir Francis Drake Channel we find the report to be accurate. I steer into the wind, and Nick hoists the Jenny easily. But as he prepares to lift the main he finds that there’s a dyslexic quality to the reefing lines. Reef 1 is really reef 2. So it takes a while to sort out and with both reefs in we lift the main. Nick has done a lot of cranking and is huffing and puffing. “This is a lot of work,” he mutters. “It’s time to teach our nephew to sail. Sailing is a lot of work, and I guess there comes a time when you want other people to do it. We have a number of sailing friends who’ve switched to power yachts, and we wonder if this is our time to do that too. The problem is that we both enjoy the sailing, and I don’t know if we are ready to give it up.
The idea of our nephew Doug Tudanger crewing for us is pretty far-fetched. He’s a professional chef at a restaurant called Solstice in Columbia, South Carolina. As an adult he has shown no interest in sailing, and I don’t think he’d volunteer to do the work for his uncle.
But I am blissfully happy at the helm. The wind is powerful, and we’re sailing at almost 7 knots. Roz sails well. She handles beautifully as we glide across the channel, and back again. It is classical tacking, zigzagging one way and the back across to work our way up to our destination. It’s a great sail. Nick is smiling now. Just before the Peter Harbor Yacht basin we drop the sails and Nick steers us inside in the small perfect harbor. We are astounded because there are no moorings. A yacht that came in before us had snatched the last one. That was the end of our idea to have dinner at Peter Island Yacht Club. We headed around the bend for Great Harbor and the moorings in Buttonhook Bay in front of the restaurant. No moorings. We motored around the harbor and to the northeast end where the cruising guide suggested it is safe to anchor.
The anchor dug in easily in about 15 feet on the sandy bottom, but Nick felt we were too close to shore. So we picked it up and dropped it again. Still too close. A few boats were anchored facing a beach where local fishermen launch their boats. The guidebook recommends against this spot, but we aligned ourselves with the other yachts and dropped the anchor. Our boat was right on top of a Moorings boat and I thought it was too close. So we lifted the anchor again and tried for four. Nick found a spot along the northeast side and the anchor went down. We snorkeled over and found it neatly tucked in the sand.
Beautiful iridescent fish swam in the reef just to the side of our boat. We seemed too close for comfort to the rocks on shore. But Nick felt we were okay and he was right. Roz swung but never moved from the anchored spot.
I made an easy dinner of pasta and a tuna tomato sauce with tarragon, and we drank an inexpensive bottle of Chilean chardonnay. Deliverance had come by earlier and we scooped up brownies for desert. So we had another good meal aboard Roz.
The Christmas wind was still howling, blowing hard, and brought driving rain which woke us out of a deep sleep. But Nick was right. Our anchor held, and we were safe.
The morning air was soft, and the sky was blue with some dark clouds in the distant east, and we planned to sail in that direction. Nevertheless, we set out early for Virgin Gorda, which we knew would be a three to four hour sail. Once out of Great Harbor Nick raised the sails and we pointed our away across the Sir Francis Drake Channel. But it got so dark in the east that Virgin Gorda and the smaller islands were invisible. A rain shower caught us as we approached Tortola and quickly passed. Suddenly a perfect rainbow arched over Roadtown and a huge swath of Tortola. “Look Nick,” I said with delight. He laughed at me. “You’re like John Glenn and Sunsets,” he said. There are worse people to be compared to then the pioneering astronaut whose autobiography Nick co-authored. He always exclaims about sunsets, and I gush about rainbows. Corny. But I own up to it.
While we laughed, the winds knocked us back down toward Peter Island. We tacked again and were caught in a torrential downpour in the middle of the channel. The rain was thick, and gray and we couldn’t see in front of us. The clouds, the rain and the general murk obscured the islands. We’d been in this kind of rain before as we approached the island of Dominica from Isle de Saintes in Guadeloupe. That rain was short-lived. This didn’t want to stop. Behind us another two rainbows formed over Tortola. It was a three rainbow day, and but we weren’t making any headway.
“Hold on,” Nick shouted as we bounced around and the boat heeled dramatically. Nick put the lee rail in the water and he was standing in a giant puddle of seawater. It would have been okay, if we had some forward momentum. But we were sailing against the wind, and getting nowhere. We had made massage appointments at Biras Creek Resort on Virgin Gorda for 4 P.M., and because we kept getting knocked back down we might be very late. “Let’s lower the sails and motor,” Nick said. It was fine with me.
Entering Gorda Sound was a relief. It’s a beautiful turquoise bowl surrounded by Virgin Gorda, Mosquito Island, Saba Rock and Necker Island to the east. After the messiness of the channel the sound looked like a playground. Water skiers, sailboarders, swimmers, small sails were zooming around without thought of the choppy seas and the fickle wind we had left behind.
There was one problem, the fluid level and battery indicator wasn’t reading out. It was blank. We had already switched to a second tank of water, and we had motored for enough hours to use up a lot of fuel. Nick wanted fuel and water, just in case. But the Bitter End Yacht Club dock had no fuel. That meant we had to go back to the other end of the sound to Leverick Bay to fuel up.
When that was over, we headed back down to Biras Creek and picked up our favorite mooring set out by the private resort of Biras Creek.
After tidying up we dinghyed in to the Biras Creek dock A tall man was waiting on the dock. We later discovered that he was probably Rick Wells a Vice President of Victor International the Michigan based company that owns the resort. He was at the dock to greet several guests coming in on the private ferry from Trellis Bay. He helped me out of the dinghy and when I asked who he was he said, "I'm from the home office just helping out for the holidays." It turned out the company was holding a meeting at the resort the next day, and Mr. Victor the company chairman was out in the Creek with us in Resolute his private yacht.
At the resort, Martha Cooper one of our massage therapists greeted us. She led us to a small, pretty cottage and introduced us to Claudette. They women showed us into a small room with two massage tables covered with sea green towels. They slipped away while we undressed.
The massages were just the ticket. Martha is an experience therapist who has been working at Biras Creek for 7 years. We opted for the straight massage rather than the product massage they were pushing. It was a good, strong massage where she found all the pressure points. You could tell they were working by the numbers using the same playbook because Nick and I were turning and groaning at the same time, and we finished up feeling relaxed and happy.
They led us to another room where we showered, and I was partially able to blow my hair before another guest was scheduled for a massage.
Later that evening I packed a dress, and nice sandals. Nick packed white linen pants and a blue dress shirt and his orange espadrilles and we got back in the dinghy to have dinner at Biras Creek. We changed in the restrooms and came out looking as though we’d never been on a boat. We stashed our dinghy clothes in an alcove and Nick ordered a Martini, and Champagne for me. We danced to the sounds of a sweet voiced Reggae singer as we waited for a table for dinner.
DINNER AT BIRAS CREEK RESORT
Dinner was a delightful surprise. The food was really delicious. Chef Jermaine Georges knows what he’s doing. We both ordered a lobster and mango salad, which was sprinkled with slivers of flash-fried carrots. It was incredibly delicate and flavorful. I had perfectly cooked tiny, rare lamb chops with a round of eggplant topped with polenta stuffed with goat cheese. The tastes were scrumptious. Nick ordered duck breast with mashed potatoes, and that was terrific too. We ordered a bottle of French rose and it was perfect with both dishes. There was a cheese course for desert and Nick had something chocolatey and I had sorbet. It was delightful. After dinner we motored back to the dinghy happy and ready to sleep.
RELAXING IN GORDA SOUND
This was the day we decided to do nothing. From our vantage point at
Biros Creek we looked out on all of Gorda Sound and it seemed like everyone else had the same idea. There wasn’t a lot of movement.
A few big yachts sat in the harbor, and many sailboats were moored outside of the Bitter End Yacht Club.
We dinghyed over to the Bitter End and sat in the shade overlooking the beach used the wireless to see if we could find any houses to look at, or a realtor to show us around. We had lunch at the Pub and returned to Shiraz. We put on our masks and fins and snorkeled along the reef at the edge of the mangroves. Most of the coral was dead, although there was the occasional flash of brilliant red coral. Some green was peeking out of the dead coral and there were a few small fish. I took these sightings as encouraging signs that the reef might be regenerating.
We enjoyed each other and the afternoon and as it slipped into evening Nick made sorrel berry vodka cocktails. Our cupboard was getting very bare. I had brought dried porcini mushrooms from home and we soaked them until they were nice and soft. Then I made a ragout with onions and garlic, thyme, tarragon and mushrooms and at the end threw in some sliced hard salami. We boiled up a package of DeCecco fettuccine and we had a wonderful meal with a bottle of Hayward Chardonnay. Nick had the foresight to buy two brownies from Deliverance so we even had desert on deck.
We were entertained by the sight of staff moving aboard Resolute the yacht owned by Mr. Victor. The yacht was brightly lighted, and we watched as tan-shirted staffers worked in and out of the big main salon where a flat screen TV played. It was hard to tell what he was watching, but I thought it looked like cartoons, or at least I imagined that.
It was a nice end to another good day.
We were up early and Nick made coffee while I did Yoga on the foredeck. After listening to the weather report Nick proposed that we go to Anegada.
Even though there were small craft warnings. “It will be a great sail,” he said. And he was right. We freed Roz from the mooring and headed for the middle of the sound where we raised the main and got into the lineup between the red and green markers to leave the channel. A giant cruise ship was coming our way at the entrance of the channel, and Nick took the helm and smartly passed him without blinking.
Once outside the markers we raised the Jenny and the wind and sea whipped us around. We had a heading of 05 degrees and it was a struggle to hold the boat down. The 18 to 20 knot wind blew steadily and we took turns steering struggling to hold the boat on course. The wind would come up and the current would suddenly push the boat up and you had to wrestle it back down. It was fun, but it definitely was a workout for both of us.
As the Australian pines on the flat coral island of Anegada came into view the wind began knocking us down off course. Nick lowered the main, and we had to tack to lower the Jenny because of the way Roz is rigged.
We worked away carefully in between the markers in 15 to 20 feet of water. The depth was a big concern because this boat draws 6 feet, which means it very easy to hit bottom. The folks at B.V.I Yacht charters suggested that we pick up a mooring on the outside because that’s where it’s the deepest. But those moorings were taken. We tried one mooring that seemed like it might be okay. Too scary. We were in less than 7 feet of water and it seemed risky. We took a few turns around and found a deeper spot, 8 feet, to drop our anchor. Miraculously it held as we pulled back. But the anchor chain kept going out. There wasn’t a snubber to tie it off. Nick found a hook in the chart table and improvised a snubber tying it to a line and then to one of the bow cleats.
Satisfied that we were safe we headed off to lunch at the Anegada Reef Hotel. We were starving. But this wasn’t the place for a fast lunch. We sat at a picnic table for what seemed like forever watching the green water and the blue sky, as our lobster salad sandwiches were prepared. We devoured them when they arrived. After lunch we found that the local market was bare. The freezers of frozen chicken had been plucked clean. We were lucky that the small gift shop near the hotel had a bottle of Absolute vodka.
After a lazy afternoon, and fooling around together, we had a drink watched the sunset, and dinghyed in to the shore to have dinner at the Hotel. There were two large groups of Italians having dinner there when we arrived. One was a set of extremely stylish young families. Even the little girls had the “bella figura.” One tween had a purple scarf tied over her head pirate style as she raced around with her girlfriends who were wearing cute little dresses and skirts. Her mom was dressed in white slacks and shirt with a pink shawl draped around her. The men were dressed in expensive looking slacks and nice shirts.
We ordered the Anegada special—a spiney local lobster and with a couple of glasses of white wine, it was great. We were happy to see Loreen was still working there. Last year we met the Loreen as she served us breakfast and launched into a praise Jesus discussion with one our guests.
Barbara Taylor, an Episcopal preacher and her husband Ed who were sailing with us for a few days. When Loreen heard Barbara talking about theology she jumped right in. There was no god talk this year, just good service and good food.
The stars were out, and the wind was blowing pretty hard as we made our way back to our boat which was swinging in the anchorage. Getting on and off as the dinghy bobbed and the boat swayed was a challenge. But we managed without falling in the water.
We awoke before the sunrise and lolled in the bunk until it got light.
The sun burned off the haze, and the wind was blowing fiercely. The weather report issued a small craft advisory for the Anegada Passage, and there was a prediction of 15-20 knots. We could feel the weather because the boat was bobbing and swinging and of you can’t miss the wind.
I managed to do a Yoga workout despite the rolling boat and Nick made coffee, and then we got an early start.
We carefully worked our way out between the red and green markers. The water is shallow maybe 15 to 16 feet. Once we got far enough out Nick was ready to raise the main. He kept two reef points in and the sail went up easily. We raised the Jenny and kept a reef point in her as well.
It was an exciting and fantastic sail. The seas were high and rolling. We took turns at the helm as the waves tried to knock us around. It was a roller coaster ride and you could see the thrill coming. The waves worked there way up to boat. You could anticipate the crash and the roll. It was a little like jumping the waves at the Rockaways when I was a kid.
The sailing was a serious wrestling match. But we flew through the sea. Nick was at the helm when we were doing over 8 knots. It was exhilarating.
The wind roared as we approach Scrub Island and sailed in between Beef Island and Scrub. We dropped the sails and motored into Trellis Bay where we intended to stay for as long as it took me to get a cab, go grocery shopping and return.
To our surprise there were moorings still available. Usually the day or two before New Year’s locals scarf up available moorings for their friends reserving them with dinghies and surfboards. We headed for the first mooring that was free. It slipped off the hook as Nick tried to grab it. He waved his arms at me, trying to direct me. I saw the mooring, and I slowed the boat. He got the hook in, but he couldn’t hold it. “Stop the boat,” he yells. I’ve stopped it. But he continues to yell. We try again. I slow and stop. He grabbed the mooring and it slipped away. We’re yelling at each other. He blamed me for driving poorly. I blamed him for paying too much attention to what I was doing. “Just keep your eye on the mooring. Don’t worry about me,” I say. He got angrier and angrier. We made four passes like this. It was horrible. The wind was behind us pushing the boat. Even though I slow and stop so he could not get a purchase on the mooring. We decided to go deeper into the bay. We aim for another mooring, which mercifully Nick grabbed on the first pass. We were situated nicely in the middle of the bay. Nick was sweaty. His white shirt was soaked, and was cranky. The wind blew furiously. “Let’s stay here tonight. I’ve had enough drama,” he says. It’s fine with me. If we stay tonight, we’ll be here for the big New Year’s Eve celebration the next night.
New Year’s Eve in Trellis Bay is a big deal. Locals come from all over the island to see the fireballs created by the local artist Aragon, and the fireworks display. Bars are set up on the beach and the Last Resort, the restaurant on the island in the bay, has a themed New Year’s Eve party that the British Expats and local attends. This year it was James Bond, so the staff and guests were going to dress up like characters from a Bond film.
Nick and I dinghyed to the bay. And I found a taxi to take me around to do the grocery shopping. The driver was a Jamaican transplant who seemed stoned and started off on the wrong side of me, “You got a nice trim body. You look good,” he said. Flattering. But I wasn’t interested. “Thanks. But you be nice to me while we’re driving and don’t talk like that,” I said as politely as I could. It worked. I didn’t make eye contact with the guy. On the way back he announced that when he got married, which he hoped would be around his 40th birthday coming soon, he wanted to marry,” a white woman.” I said I couldn’t imagine why. “Caribbean women are beautiful,” I said. I was happy to leave him and his fantasies behind.
Nick was drinking beer at the Cyber Café and enjoying the sight of other people working setting up for New Year’s Eve. On the dock on the way to our dinghy we ran into a guy named Duane who was sailing his own boat called Saxonia. He was telling a horror story. He’d been across the channel at Marina Cay, and during the night a nearby sailboat and catamaran dragged their anchors. They started their engines but as they moved, the catamaran discovered he was about to ram the stern of another catamaran so he stopped. The sailboat didn’t realize the other boat had stopped and he rammed the catamaran and both boats got tangled together entangling other boats. Then another catamaran dragged anchor, let out more chain and ended up 20 dangerously close feet from Duane’s bow. He was happy to move across the channel to Trellis Bay and pick up a mooring.
That kind of story is sobering because it can happen to anyone. We dinghyed back to our boat, made crabmeat sandwiches fooled around some, and kicked back. Nick spotted a sea turtle and we spent the afternoon reading and looking out for him. We took a short dinghy ride to the far shore and swam a little, and then went back to the boat for cocktails. We grilled steaks and foil packets of tiny potatoes with thyme and olive oil. We were relaxed and happy.
The crazy wind was still blowing and we were glad that we decided to stay.
It was another pretty morning in Trellis Bay with the sun coming up slowing over the hill. I found a comfort zone doing Yoga, even with the winds and swinging boat, and I worked through my routine. As I came up from a downward dog, I looked over the forepeak and saw a woman on a power fishing boat pedaling away on a stationary bike. I guess if you spend a lot of time on a boat you have to be creative to make sure that you get the kind of exercise you need. Clearly this woman had it cleverly arranged.
Nick spotted the sea turtle again. And we watched as more boats entered the bay circling looking for the moorings that were already taken. Several dropped their anchors in places that seem too shallow, or even dangerous.
By 9:30 A.M. we were in the dinghy, which took Nick 10 minutes to start. He was furious. His shoulder aches from yanking the cord trying to get it going. We scheduled a meeting with a real estate salesperson Joanna Morris. She picked us up to take us to look at condos in a development at the Nanny Cay Marina. She showed us an older condo first. It was small and cramped feeling. It didn’t seem like it was worth the $450,000 asking price even though it faces the marina and a dock slip came with it. But that’s just us. We also looked at condos that are under construction in the Marina in a development called Drake’s Landing. These are being sold fully furnished, you get to choose from three design plans and color schemes, and they also come with dock space. The idea is that they would rent through the Nanny Cay Hotel when you are not there.
They were nice, but regimented for us. It might be a good investment, and it’s something that we are thinking about.
GOOD NEWS FOR NICK
Joanna drops us at the Village Cay marina where as we order lunch Nick checks his Blackberry. There’s a congratulatory message from our friend Rex Granum. New York Times columnist William Safire has picked Nick’s book, “American-Made,” about the Works Progress Administration during the Franklin Roosevelt administration, to be the non-fiction book to read in 2008. Nick is elated. It’s great news.
While he’s feeling so good, I encourage him to call B.V.I. Yacht Charters to trade the dinghy motor for us so we don’t have trouble in the evening.
We make the call and Chris picks us up. His brother Kirin gets another motor and drives us to Trellis Bay where he instantly starts the original
dinghy motor by opening an air filter. No one told us about that. Oh well.
Back on board we lolled around, and watched more boats trying to find places in the already backed bay. A big catamaran drop anchor awfully close to us, but it seemed okay.
We pack up our New Year’s Eve clothes in a hanging back, and take the dinghy in. People were already gathering on the beach. But we wanted to change in a dry place so we walked up to the airport slipped into our party clothes in the restrooms. I put on a yellow print chiffon dress, and Nick looks great in his white suit with his orange espadrilles. Except for my hair, which is a frizzy mess because there is no place to plug in my industrial strength hair dryer, we look like we are ready for a party anywhere.
We’d arranged for Mike the cab driver to pick us up at the airport and it was quick ride to Brandywine Bay where there was a set menu with interesting choices.
Nick ordered muscles in white wine with chorizo to start, and I picked a seafood antipasto that included a flute of caviar, an oyster shooter, a delicious bit of cervice, and a clam. We both had lobster consommé, and for the entrée Davide, the owner, recommended the wild boar chops with a spicy chocolate sauce. It was fabulous. Nick chose swordfish with tomatoes and capers. That too was very good.
Joyce and Ed Fredkin came in again, and we were happy to see them, but we were far ahead, and wanted to return to Trellis Bay before midnight, and what we thought might be a dinghy rush to the Last Resort.
We got to the bay without about 15 minutes to spare. Nick started the
motor. I freed the dinghy line from the dock, and then the motor stopped.
It was dark, and we could hear the craziness of the partying on the beach.
We’d also had a bottle of wine with dinner so it was a little scary.
Nick kicked off his orange espadrilles and jumped out of the boat into the water. “So much for my white suit,” he said. I’m trying not to laugh. But it’s impossible. He pushed us off jumps back in, started the motor and it stopped again. He jumped out into the water a second time. He pushed us off the sand, got back in the dingy, and fired up the motor. This time it was a go.
We returned to Roz with minutes to spare, and stood on the stern looking to the shore watching the fireballs burn. We heard the countdown from the Last Resort. It was Happy New Year 2008. Second later the fire works started on the beach. With dinghy troubles behind us, stars and fireworks in the sky, it was a great way to begin the year.
At 7 AM as the sun rose the party was still going on at the Last Resort.
I snuggled down into the sheets, but Nick got up and padded around.
Pretty soon the tug of the light was enough to get me out of the berth and I
was up celebrating the first day of the New Year with a cup of coffee and Yoghurt. I finished reading “The Blind Man of Seville” by Robert Wilson. I am in awe this writer. His psychological thriller set in Seville takes the reader through a horrific murder investigation, while the Inspector Jefe Javier Falcon is in the middle of a nervous breakdown and a journey of personal discovery. It is a terrific book.
After all of the partying it was very quiet in Trellis Bay. I did a short Yoga workout on the foredeck, and we slipped away from the mooring. In the channel we lifted the mainsail and continued to motor until we reached the point of Beef Island. We raised the Jenny and began making our way across the Sir Francis Drake Channel. There was a small craft advisory and while the wind wasn’t wild, the current was turbulent. The wind pushed and tugged at the boat making her difficult to control.
Once I got the feel I kept her steady as we moved in the direction of Peter Island. It was a beautiful, bright day. The clouds weren’t threatening, and it was a good sail. Nick called for a jibe and we turned back in the other direction toward Roadtown. It was vigorous sailing, and as our trip nears the end I’m enjoying the fact that I’m competent to move a boat with the wind. Once we got close enough to Tortola where it looked like we’d have a good angle on Norman Island, Nick called for a Jibe and we turned toward our destination.
Sailing into the Bight at Norman Island is easy and there were plenty of moorings. But as soon as we dropped the sails there was a sudden convergence of motorboats, catamarans, and sailboats motoring into the Bight. I steered Roz into the line and we aimed for the northeast corner. Nick picked up a mooring quickly, and it turned out to be the mooring that we had the first night we were here. The line is frayed, and as on the first night Nick pulls the mooring up a second time to put our line through the eye of the mooring ball to make sure that we hold.
I mushed up a can of tuna with a hardboiled egg, mayonnaise and celery and we devoured sandwiches for lunch. We were so groggy that we dozed on the deck and I took a nap below. At about 3:30 PM we got in the dinghy and headed for the caves on west side of the Island. In this particular spot there’s a beautiful reef with a mooring line so that you can tie up your dinghy. We put on our goggles and flippers and dove in. We were surrounded by a school of striped angelfish. We swam over an underwater ravine, and a rocky coral reef filled with spiny sea urchins. Schools of iridescent white, and pink fish swan underneath us. It was a spectacular underwater show. The sea fans waved, and schools of blue neon fish nibble near the coral formations. We swam over the reef and into the caves trying to avoid the other snorkelers. Just as there are many more families out here this year, there are also more people in the water than usual. The caves are dark and rocky, but as we swam in and of one of the caves, a school of brilliant neon purple fish appeared below us. A few hung back nibbling near the edge of the coral. It was beautiful.
We dinghyed back to the boat, read for a bit, cleaned up readied ourselves for cocktails. Nick spotted Deliverance and was thrilled. He was lusting after a brownie. Nada and Freddy the two women working this season are good-natured and genuinely seemed please to be out on the boat running about.
The sunset over St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands was a gorgeous rosy pink and blue gray. It was the last night of our beautiful trip, and we grilled B.V.I pork chops and local eggplant. I cooked up brussel sprouts with a spicey hard salami, and we had had a bottle of Prosecco. It couldn’t have been a nicer night.
We are up before the sun, and as it rises the wind howls and the rain sweeps through. We motor across the channel and are back at the dock.
It has been a terrific trip, and we’d encourage anyone who loves to sail to make the B.V.I your vacation destination.