Showing posts with label BVIs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label BVIs. Show all posts

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Cruising and Reading

Put me on a boat (a ship in this case) and give me a book and I am a happy man. And that about describes last week's cruise to places we've been before, San Juan, St. Thomas, and St. Maarten, the ship, Celebrity's Solstice, being a destination onto itself. We planned this trip with our good friends, Art and Sydelle, a couple we met on our very first cruise out of Ft. Lauderdale in 2000 on the Century. They are retired NYC teachers. If it were not for meeting them, becoming good friends, it is unlikely we would have taken last week's trip.

Travelling with them is an endless feast of chance meetings of acquaintances from their childhood, or from their days as teachers. They both grew up in Brooklyn, became engaged while at Brooklyn College, and Brooklyn folks from those days are like a tribe. Many have now migrated to South Florida, the starting point of the cruise. It's like radar; they can look at another couple and identify them almost instantly and, then, chances are they either know them or someone in common. ("Hey, I went to New Utrecht HS in Bensonhurst. We beat your school, DeWitt Clinton for the 1953 Championship at Madison Square Garden in overtime!")

Contrast that with us. I like to say I'm from NYC, but I grew up in Queens which any true New Yorker will tell you was a place where people lived who aspired to move to Long Island. Ann grew up in Atlanta although she moved to Manhattan sooner than I did. We rarely encounter people from our past.

And, if it were not for the fact that we celebrated out 40th wedding anniversary on board the Solstice two years ago, which, for us, lived like a small ship as we were in their "Aqua Class" category and loved the experience, we also would not have gone on this cruise: the ship and category being the main reason.

I like to joke that the main benefit of "Aqua Class" is being able to swim alongside the ship (rimshot, please, ba-dum-TSH), but we normally like to travel on smaller ships, and although the Solstice is 122,000 tons, accommodating 2,850 passengers and a crew of 1,500, it "lives" like a smaller ship. One of the reasons is their "Blu" dining room, available only to Aqua Class (about 150 staterooms so designated). Therefore, Blu is less frenetic than the Main Dining Room which serves the remaining passengers - with the exception of several specialty restaurants which all have an extra charge. The food in Blu was uniformly excellent, geared to a more healthy life style, smaller portions but beautifully presented. The dining room itself becalms the occupants, large windows, with the sea rolling by, uniquely shaped plates, and the signature white rose sculpture on the wall. Breakfast is served there too with the same relaxing ambiance.

Another desirable feature of the ship is the solarium, with pan flute music in the background, spa like cuisine offered for breakfast and lunch, dancing waters display, it's own pool and Jacuzzi, with very comfortable lounge chairs for relaxing or reading, and although this section is available to all, no children allowed! We're always amazed that more people do not seek out this section of the ship, but I suppose most booking a Caribbean cruise are seeking the sun and the tumult of the main outside pool. We're glad they do.

Another nice feature of Aqua Class is the availability of the heated tile beds, a perfect place to lie down and absorb the heat on tired muscles and listen to the soft, unobtrusive music. An easy place to fall asleep, as Ann did on several occasions. My own routine was to start the day at the gym as the sun rose, trying to get in at least a half hour on the treadmill at jogging speed, something to challenge my new unobstructed arteries and to neutralize the diet which, although "healthy" is far richer than I'm accustomed to.

So much of the days at sea, and even some of those in port, were spent in the solarium where I could dig into a good book. Reading preparation is a fun part of the trip for me as I can get a lot read on board, more so than I can at home. I was eagerly looking forward to making my main read Sondheim's second installment of his composing life, Look, I Made a Hat. I had read his Finishing the Hat, remarking that it was "one of the most remarkable documents of the theater that I've ever read."

However, when I picked up Look, I Made a Hat, its sheer heft of almost three pounds acted as a deterrent, not wanting to lug it around on such a trip. Also, it is a beautiful book and the thought of reading it in a wet bathing suit was abhorrent. If I haven't succumbed to a Kindle, I'm not going to desecrate an exquisite book as well.

If the Sondheim book was not to be my main read, I needed another from the stack of books I sequester for future reading. Or, to use a baseball analogy, I went to the bench and called up another heavy hitter, Jane Leavy's The Last Boy; Mickey Mantle and the End of America's Childhood. I had been introduced to Leavy's other biographical work on Sandy Koufax by our traveling companion, Artie. Leavy's biography of Koufax was excellent; The Last Boy is a work of great passion and meticulous scholarship.

How do you write an objective biography of a legend, one who you've worshiped as a kid? That was Leavy's challenge. But by telling the truth, Mantle with all his foibles, and there were many, she actually enhanced the legend.

Mantle's career in some ways is a real life version of Bernard Malamud's The Natural, published in 1952 only a year after Mantle's rookie season. Roy Hobbs is shot by a strange woman, while Mantle has his knee blown out by a drainage ditch in Yankee Stadium chasing a fly ball and trying to avoid running into the Yankee patrician, Joe DiMaggio, playing out his last year. Mantle and DiMaggio were never friends. Unlike Hobbs, Mantle did not have a "Wonderboy" bat, but his "Wonderboy" was a surfeit of guts. He played hurt when today's ballplayers would be seeking R&R. He played with a family history of illness and early death, and battled osteomyelitis throughout his career.

The book is as much a love affair as it is a scholarly biography, successful on both counts. And for me, it conjured up my own childhood, my own worship of Mantle, and my own indebtedness to baseball. As I was always one of the smaller kids in my neighborhood, I could not hit for power so I became a pitcher, and a crafty lefty has some advantages. At first I copied Eddie Lopat, one of the "Big Three" of the Yankees' pitching staff, which included Allie Reynolds and Vic Raschi in the early 50's. Lopat was known as "the Junkman." He was small for a pitcher and did not have much of a fastball, so specialized on the slow curve, thrown at different arm angles, and the screwball, and so did I. Another lefty, Bobby Shantz, became my hero in high school, after he was traded to the NY Yankees from KC. and like Lopat he used crafty off speed pitches to his advantage. In fact Shantz was one of the Yankees interviewed for Leavy's biography, one of about one hundred. Those names brought back memories of those glory days when the Yankees, the Giants, and the Dodgers all played in NY and we argued about who was the greatest centerfielder, Mantle, Mays, or Snider. I think Leavy answers that question (read the book to find out!).

Leavy's work is more biography than a recounting of the great baseball moments of the Mick's life, although it is that too. Mantle came from a dysfunctional family, the father controlling his life (before and after his father's early death). What "Mutt," the Mick's father thought or would think became pivotal to Mantle and one of the factors of Mantle's alcoholism. And Mick was a real "good ole' boy" a carouser who felt most comfortable with the guys in the locker room and not with his family. Even after hanging them up, he spent more time on the road, frequently with other women leaving his wife at home. He paid. His family paid. But one thing about Mantle in addition to his baseball ability, he was loyal to his friends, fiercely loyal, and generous as well. Overall, you have to admire him, and hats off to Jane Leavy for a brilliant biography, walking the line between adulation and scholarly criticism. And Leavy went one step farther in analyzing her subject, by bringing in experts on the mechanics and the physics of the sport.

As a poor hitter in my brief baseball career, I always wondered how in the world anyone could hit a fast ball being thrown only sixty feet away, and downhill from a mound as well. And how could anyone hit it like Mantle. To answer that question, Leavy interviews experts, concluding that Mantle hit "with felonious intent:"

In an effort to pin down how Mantle generated such power, I asked Preston Peavy, a techno-savvy hitting coach, to analyze Mantle's form, using the visual motion-analysis system he created for his students at Peavy Baseball in Atlanta. He converted film and video clips of Mantle into a set of kinematics, moving digital stick figures that show the path of each part of the body as it moves through space...(To view the kinematics, go to or

A 90-mile-per-hour fastball doesn't leave much time for thought. Traveling at a rate of 132 feet per second, it makes the sixty-foot, six-inch journey from pitcher to batter in four-tenths of a second. The ball is a quarter of the way to home plate by the time a hitter becomes fully aware of it. Because there is a 100-millisecond delay between the time the image of the ball hits the batter's retina and when he becomes conscious of it, it is physiologically impossible to track the ball from the pitcher's hand to the catcher's glove. David Whitney, the director of the Vision and Action Lab at the University of California, Davis, explains: "A 100-millisecond delay doesn't seem very significant. But if a baseball is traveling at 90 mph, that translates to around fifteen feet. If we perceive the ball fifteen feet behind where it's actually located, the batter has to start his swing very early on in the baseball's trajectory."

Neurologically speaking, every batter is a guess-hitter. That's where implicit memory comes in. The ability to infer the type of pitch and where it's headed with accuracy and speed is inextricably linked with stored experience-the hitter has seen that pitch before, even if he can't see it all the way. Add the reflexes to respond to that memory and a visual motor system that allows the batter to react on the fly to a change in the trajectory of a flying object, the right DNA, and Mutt and Grandpa Charlie out by the shed throwing tennis balls, and you have Mickey Mantle.

Every at-bat is a dance of double pendulums. The pitcher leads, using his body as a kinetic chain to deliver energy from his legs through his trunk into his shoulder, arm, and, finally, the ball. The batter follows, reacting in kind. The converging and opposing forces may or may not be equal, but the goal is the same-to turn potential energy into kinetic energy as efficiently as human physiology allows.

The pitcher has the inherent advantage of foreknowledge-he knows •what he's going to throw-and he has the downward slope of the mound to generate momentum. With only flat ground and muscle power at his disposal, the hitter creates force by twisting his upper and lower body in opposite directions like a rubber band. When that human rubber band is stretched taut and is ready to snap, it uncoils, propelling the bat through the strike zone.

This deceptively simple act is an intricate biomechanical task requiring the coordinated mobilization of virtually every muscle in the body in than a second. "Everything but the chewing muscles," said Dr. Benjamin Shaffer, a specialist in orthopedic sports medicine and head physician for the Washington Capitals. "Unless you grit your teeth."

Nobody gritted more than Mantle. Lefty or righty, he swung with felonious intent.

I just could not get enough of The Last Boy, and even read the Acknowledgements, Appendices, and Bibliography in detail. I did not want it to end, but it did, as did the last boy's life, riddled by cancer, and not long after he had successfully ridded himself of alcoholism. Moose Skowron, Hank Bauer, Whitey Ford, Johnny Blanchard, and Bobby Richardson (who was then a minister) were with him near the end, but he was with his son, David, and his wife Merlyn at the very end, dying on Aug. 13, 1995.

Such a downer, so I turned to a novel, How To Be Good by Nick Hornby, an English writer. I had picked this up because Jonathan Tropper is touted as "the American Hornby" and as I admire Tropper, I had to see/read for myself.

And I can see why there is the comparison: like some of Tropper's work it almost reads like a screenplay with a similar sardonic sense of humor. And like Tropper it is a fast read, a story of midlife crisis and its effect on the nuclear family. As the main character says: "We are the ideal nuclear family. We eat together, we play improving board games instead of watching television, we smile a lot. I fear that at any moment I may kill somebody." Interestingly, it is written in the first person by the female protagonist. How Hornby can do that so effectively is a mark of a good writer, although at times I had the problem of thinking to myself, is this really how a man might think about how a woman thinks?

But it is the humor, or the truth in humor that is Hornby's strong point, such as his riff on organized religion, as expressed by our heroine, Katie, who in the midst of her crisis decides to go to a church, any church, with her daughter, Molly, although she has rarely gone to church and needs to pick one randomly. She describes her experience after arriving at a nearly empty service at a local Church of England ("C of A"):

I start to drift off. I have never been to an ordinary church service before. I have been to weddings, funerals, christenings, carol services, and even harvest festivals, but I have never been to a bog-standard, nobody-there Sunday service.

It all feels a long way from God-no nearer than the bring-and-buy sale would be, and much farther away than I imagine Molly's friend Pauline is at this precise moment. It feels sad, exhausted, defeated; this may have been God's house once, you want to tell the handful of people here, but He's clearly moved, shut up shop, gone to a place where there's more of a demand for that sort of thing. And then you look around and wonder whether the sadness isn't part of the point: those who are able to drag themselves here once a week are clearly not social churchgoers, because there is nothing social happening here. This isn't a place to see and be seen, unless opera glasses are placed on the backs of the pews. You'd have to walk twenty yards to shake somebody's hand. No, these people are the hard-core, the last WASPs in Holloway, the beaten and the lonely and the bereaved, and if there is a place for them in the Kingdom of Heaven, they deserve it. I just hope that it's warmer there than here, and there is more hope, and youth, and there is no need for bring-and-buy sales, and the choir of angels isn't singing elsewhere that day, but you rather fear it might be; C of E heaven is in all probability a quarter-full of unhappy old ladies selling misshapen rock cakes and scratched Mantovani records. Every day of the week, for all eternity. And what about the nice lady reading the notices to us? Is she ever dispirited by her hobbling, careworn flock? I thought that I could detect a touch of weariness, maybe even despair, during the appeal for flower arrangers, but maybe this is because flower arranging is not her thing.

Despair in humor. You get the point. As to the rest of the novel, a worthwhile read, no sense going into more detail here as reviews are readily available on line. I'll read another Hornby book again.

I finished my trifecta of books during our seven day cruise by going from the satiric to downright despair, the path of Philip Roth's most recent, novella length works, and in this instance his The Humbling. In a sense it completes the circle, the sunshine of youth as Mantle emerges from the playing fields of Oklahoma into the big leagues, the midlife struggles of the modern family in London, to the "loss of magic," decline at the end of life of Simon Axler, a famous stage actor who suddenly loses his acting abilities, a metaphor for life, and tries to resurrect a life with a woman twenty five years his junior, the daughter of one-time friends. As Axler's agent reasons with him, trying to convince him to see an acting coach:

Look...everyone knows the feeling 'I can't do it,' everyone knows the feeling that they will be revealed to be false -- it's every actor's terror. 'They've found me out. I've been found out.' Let's face it, there's a panic that comes with age. I'm that much older than you, and I've been dealing with it for years. One, you get slower. In everything. Even in reading you get slower. If I go fast in reading now, too much goes away. My speech is slower, my memory is slower. All these things start to happen. In the process, you start to distrust yourself. You're not as quick as you used to be. And especially if you are an actor. You were a young actor and you memorized scripts one after the other after the other, and you never even thought about it. It was just easy to do. And then all of a sudden it's not as easy, and things don't happen so fast anymore....So you start to feel afraid, to feel soft, to feel that you don't have that raw live power anymore. It scares you. With the result...that you're not free anymore. There's nothing happening -- and that's terrifying.

So it is with aging and obviously a mordant fixation of Roth in his later works, something I understand. And I guess that is why I still appreciate Roth. I've "grown up" with him as I did with Updike. Roth fights desperately against the gravity of it all, Axler seeking respite in the arms of a younger woman, Pegeen, but as Roth beautifully and concisely writes: "A man's way is laid with a multitude of traps, and Pegeen had been the last. He'd stepped hungrily into it and then the bait like the most craven captive on earth." Roth remains one of the great living American writers.

I've said little about the ports we visited, as we've been to all before, but I will say that St. Thomas conjured up feelings of our visit there almost 23 years earlier to the day, when we did a bare boat charter with our friends, Ray and Sue, visiting many of the American and British Virgin Islands. So here we were again, that many years later on a cruise ship, on the one island that is better known as a shopping port. But our bare boat adventure is imprinted in my mind and remains one of my favorite trips, leaving me to wonder why we haven't done it again.

Life on a big cruise ship is highly regimented. There are lectures, discussions, games, shows, cooking demonstrations (even hot glass blowing demonstrations sponsored by Corning on this ship), etc. and that is probably why I prefer to hide out and read most of the time. One of the exceptions was the talk by the Captain, the most personable one we've met on any of our cruises, Captain Gerry Larsson-Fedde who, unlike most of Celebrity's skippers, is Norwegian, not Greek. He gave a PowerPoint presentation with a question and answer on navigation. The gorilla in the room of course was the Costa Concordia disaster,and the question was finally asked but, as expected, Capt. Larsson-Fedde deferred. The facts are still speculative.

I think after his talk, though, it is more understandable. Capt. Larsson-Fedde described the heavy reliance by large ships on Differential Global Positioning Systems which can triangulate a position within about 4 inches. Electronic charts are constantly being updated, but only for major shipping lanes. The more a ship strays from those lanes, the more likely it will have to depend on paper charts that might have been last sounded decades ago. I recall that the Captain of the Concordia said the rocks were not on his chart. That might be, but the ship had no business being where it was.

The first mate of the Solstice followed that with a talk about the construction of the ship, an outstanding engineering accomplishment. He was there during the entire construction in Germany at the Meyer Werft yards, one of the prime companies for building cruise vessels, some 22 miles from the sea up a relatively shallow river. But this was the largest vessel they've ever built. Amazingly, bridges had to be dismantled to deliver the huge vessel to the open water. There it tested its four Wartsila diesel engines that generate 92,000 horsepower, channeled into two 20.5 MW Azipods that swivel 360 degrees to act both for propulsion, rudders, and stern thrusters.

But the most surprising part of Capt. Larsson-Fedde's "work" on the ship is that he is an accomplished entertainer and hopefully this brief clip captures that aspect of his role:


Saturday, May 29, 2010

Rediscovered BVI Log

Before the WWW there was The Source and then CompuServe. In the 1980’s I thought it a miracle, being able to “connect” via telephone dial-up at 300 baud on my Apple II and send messages to other users and to join moderated Forums. One such forum was devoted to boating and after my family, with friends, chartered a boat in the British Virgin Islands, I posted a log of our journey and it became one of the most downloaded files on the forum. It seems, now, so techno-archaic, but I will never forget being in awe of the possibilities of such technology and the pleasure of sharing one of my favorite boating adventures with what constituted the beginnings of the WWW.

As that “upload” has long been lost with the disappearance of CompuServe, I post it below having rediscovered it in the depths of my old files and with the help of a scanner. While the boat charter company and some of the references may be gone, the BVIs remain the ideal territory for bare boat and crewed charters. We navigated those waters before there were GPS’s, using only compass readings and printed charts. Today, it must be even less demanding.
We chartered a Grand Banks trawler in Feb. 1989 with our best friends, Ray and Sue, and the nice part of the story, is we still remain close friends to this day although we have geographically moved on in our retirement years. We now live in Florida and they live year round on a boat, visiting us on their way to their annual trip to the Bahamas.

The BVI cruise was one that had so many wonderful memories but in digitizing photographs from the past, I was dismayed to discover most of the good pictures I had taken were lost. Those that remain fail to capture the unique nature of the trip, but there is always the log…..

February 1989
BVI Cruise

So, here we are, actually on our way to the Virgin Islands to pick up a bareboat charter. We discussed this-dream for years and, finally, this past fall we decided to do it. Although we have boated together for years, Ann and I on our 37' boat, 'Swept Away', and Ray and Sue on their 38' 'Rascel', both powerboats, with some apprehension we planned this trip. It is one thing to boat together and another to do it on the same boat, especially with two 12-year old boys --their son, Ray, and ours, Jonathan --and their 16-year old daughter, Liz. However, we carefully planned the trip, choosing a highly recommended bareboat organization, La Vida in St. Thomas, and a slow, but roomy trawler, a 42' Grand Banks. Perhaps a log will reveal the outcome

Day 1 --Friday, February 10
We arrive at La Vida Marina, located at the north end of Jersey Bay on the eastern end of St. Thomas at about 11:00 am. There we pick up the yacht that will serve as our home for the next week, the 'Soft Shoalders', a 42' Grand Banks, which was commissioned in 1985. 2000 hours are on her well-maintained twin 120 Ford Lehman diesels and nearly 5000 hours on the 8 kW Westerbeke generator. At 22 tons, she can carry 600 gallons of fuel and 350 gallons of fresh water in 4 tanks. Her homeport is Boston, Ma. Given the year she was built, and the number of hours on her, we guess she may be retired from chartering at the end of the year.

Although we are scheduled to depart at 12:00 noon, a delay is necessary as the provisioning is inadequate (seven small pieces of chicken for a dinner, indeed). La Vida agrees to shop for additional food and furnish it within an hour. In the meantime, we stow our gear; Ray and Sue take the generous-size vee berth, Liz the side cabin, the boys the salon, and we the commodious aft cabin. We are impressed by the storage facilities --more than adequate for the seven of us plus provisions for the week. The 42' Grand Banks carries a top-loading freezer and refrigerator. The inconvenience of access is more than offset by their roominess and operating efficiencies.

Finally, at about 1:30 PM, we cast-off our lines and make our way to what we have decided will be our first destination, Christmas Cove. This cove is a favorite first night stop for charters out of St. Thomas as it is the first anchorage to the east, and it affords excellent protection from the prevailing easterly trade winds, accompanied by the omnipresent winter ground swells.

Due to the limited maneuvering space at the marina, one La Vida employee brings the yacht into the channel while another trails us in a dingy (to pick up our guide and to give us our dingy an 11' Zodiac with a 8 hp Mariner engine).

Once out of the marina and into the channel, we take over. The day is typical for this time of the year –partly cloudy, but with more sun than clouds. Although the sun is intense, the 15- 20-knot easterly breeze quickly cools the skin.

The channel is narrow, and coral shoals complicate the entrance into Jersey Bay. However, as bottom can be seen even at 30', and the color of the water is a fairly clear indication of depth, there is no danger. Soon we encounter Grassy Cay, keeping it to our port. Beautiful white Egrets populate this small island, watching our departure. After passing Grassy Cay, Rotto Cay appears on our port and, after leaving this behind us and passing between Cas Cay and Coculus Rocks, we set an easterly course for St. James Island, only about a mile from Jersey Bay. Christmas Cove awaits us in the lee of Great St. James Island; at about 2:15 we arrive at our destination. Great St. James is the northern most island in a small chain lying east south east of St. Thomas. Below it are the smaller Little St James Island and Dog Island. These are mostly uninhabited.

There are two anchorages in Christmas Cove, one north of Fish Cay, a tiny island some 100 yards from shore, and the other one south. As the breeze is coming off the island, and there is no reason to expect the direction to change, we will drop our hooks close to the island. The boat 1s equipped with two types of anchors –a Danforth and a Bruce. Each has about 15' of chain, and there is a windless to handle both rope and chain. As many of the anchorages in the BVIs are coral, this redundancy is advisable. We first drop the Bruce and then the boys dinghy out the Danforth at about a 45-degree angle from the Bruce. These settle in about 25' of water (only some 100' from shore) and about 4:1 scope is let out. The boat gently settles back midway between Great St. James and Fish Cay, but slightly north of the latter.

After a fast lunch, we are ready to do our first snorkeling. Soon, we are exploring the northwestern portion of the shore, marveling at the varied fish life and the interesting coral/rock formations. Before long, we return to the boat for cocktails and, soon, dinner. The sunset is beautiful, but not as spectacular as the ones we have witnessed at our usual cruising grounds, the Long Island Sound. We speculate that as the air is devoid of pollutants here, the sun is not reflected by foreign particles. The wind gradually drops, and everyone has a restful night.

Day 2 --Saturday, February 11
After breakfast and a morning swim, Ray and I determine our itinerary for the day, a lunch stop at the famed Caneel Bay and then on to Francis Bay for the afternoon and the night. Both destinations lie on the northern coast of St. John, the last American Virgin Island in the chain of St. Croix (to the South) and St. Thomas (to the West). While Caneel Bay is a good day anchorage, the northern ground swells and the traffic in the Windward Passage can make it untenable for an overnight; thus our decision to proceed to Francis Bay for the night.

Caneel Bay is about 4 miles northeast of Christmas Cove. Leaving the cove we enter Current Cut where we have a choice of passing either east or west of Current Island sitting in the middle of the Cut. This is a heavily traveled passage, including larger pleasure vessels and high speed ferries passing between St. Thomas, St. John and Tortola. A fairly strong current swirls around the islands here. Once through the Cut we enter Pillsbury Sound that runs Southeast/Northwest between St. Thomas and St. John. Beyond islands at the northern portion of the Sound, Lovango Cay, Grass Cay, and Congo Cay, we can see the 1000' peaks of Jost Van Dyke, some 9-10 miles in the distance. Again, the prevailing easterly trade winds have picked up to 15-20 knots, with higher gusts at times. The sun, when not partially obliterated by the passing clouds, creates a constant white heat.

Although in the lee of Hawksnest Pt., which borders Caneel Bay to the East, the seas become choppier as we pass between Two Brothers and the entrance to Cruz Bay. However, while our displacement hull bobs, it easily handles these seas. As we approach Caneel Bay, two anchorages are evident. One is at the entrance to the resort at Caneel Bay where there is a ferry dock. It seems to-be more prudent to anchor around Durloe Pt., a small protrusion midway at Hawksnest Pt. where there is still protection from the easterly breeze but where we are away from the traffic. After anchoring, we pile into our dinghy to explore the magnificent Rockefeller resort at Caneel Bay. This was built where an l8th century sugar mill once had been active. It now serves as a restaurant open to yachtsmen and resort guests alike. We tie up opposite the ferry where a guide who asks us to register to enter the resort greets us. We begin to tour the grounds, and, as one of our children strays onto a lawn, we are admonished by another guide to stay on the trails. As she explains, visiting yachtsmen do not enjoy the best reputations. It turns out this guide had lived in Connecticut, maintaining a boat on the Five Mile River in Rowayton --a small world indeed!

The plantings here are spectacular. Unlike what we have seen thus far, it looks more like Hawaii than the BVIs. A complimentary tram takes us to the nooks and crannies of the resort; we soon see why this is a stop not to be missed.

Returning to our boat, we have lunch and then snorkel at the tip of Hawksnest Point. This is somewhat difficult because we are not allowed to anchor our dinghy off the beach or bring it ashore. Thus, we leave it at the rocks where the water is somewhat rough, making getting in and out of and aboard the dinghy difficult. Nevertheless, the rocks provide excellent snorkeling. In the early afternoon we begin the next leg of the trip to Francis Bay, an easy 3 mile run from Caneel Bay.

Francis Bay is the better overnight anchorage as it is protected from the north as well as the east. It is a large bay with several possible anchorages. After leaving Caneel Bay we have the choice of entering Windward Passage or hugging the shore of St. John. The latter has to be done with some care as coral reefs abound. We decide to stay near shore and have little difficulty navigating along this route.

Approaching Francis Bay we at first try the innermost anchorage, which seems to be the least crowded and, seemingly, the most desirable. Here we have our most unsettling experience of the entire trip and learn why this choice anchorage is shunned. There is a native home with lush tropical plantings near the shore. As we drop anchor, a woman runs to the beach, wildly screaming.

At first we think we have committed something horrendous, such as dropping our anchor on what-is understood to be an underwater national park (there are several off of St. John). Finally, the wild screams become decipherable, "Get away from this woman's island." No doubt visiting yachtsman had subjected this person to some less than considerate treatment in the past. Rather than listening to her ranting --even though we are entitled to anchor where we chose --we decide to move on to another part of the bay.

As it turns out, our final destination is a fairly good choice as the Park’s service maintains garbage collection facilities. After more than 24 hours on the boat, the accumulated garbage from seven people make the northern part of the anchorage the right place and this the right time to take care of business. Also, slightly to the south is a primitive resort (with canvas over wood-framed huts), which has --as one guest put it --"a seven eleven" type general store. Although we are fully provisioned, a few extras come to mind, and we climb some 200 to 300 feet to reach the store.

In the late afternoon sun, we swim and Ray windsurfs in the gradually dying breeze, settling down to dinner and, then, sleep with, again, the security of the two anchors holding us fast.

Day 3 --Sunday, February 12
This day is intended to be a traveling and customs day, as we have decided to leave the American Virgins and enter the British Virgin Islands. Before the trip we heard that Jost Van Dyke was the best place to clear Immigration and Customs but shortly before departing it was decided to go to Sopers Hole on the western-most portion of Tortola. La Vida, however, advised us to clear at the newly established Customs port of Nanny Cay, on the southern shore of Tortola, right before Road Town, the main harbor in the BVIs. We did not intend to do this on a Sunday, as there are overtime fees involved, but the guidebook with which we were provided was equivocal on this, distinguishing "normal" hours from "extended" hours (we would clear during this category) and "overtime" hours. So we got an early start from Francis Bay to reach Nanny Cay so we could press on to our ultimate destination for the night, Marina Cay, which lies between Beef Island and Great Camanoe Island off the eastern tip of Tortola.

Leaving Francis Bay we pass between the northern most part of St. John and Whistling Cay on which stands the ruins of an old customs house. There we enter the Narrows, turning east into the wind, which seems to be somewhat stronger than in recent days. We pass Sopers Hole on the port, which we can see, between Little Thatch Island and Frenchman's Cay. Some of these islands are difficult to distinguish from one another, as their volcanic elevations tend to make them appear to merge. Once past Frenchman's Cay on our port, we enter Sir Francis Drake Channel, the main body of water, which is surrounded by the British Virgin Islands. The entire run to Nanny Cay is only some seven miles, but in an eight-knot boat, with a head wind, we inch our way there.

The approach to Nanny Cay is straightforward and once inside the marina the first dock is open, making it easy to tie up. We gather our passports and birth certificates and make our way to Customs. Only one attendant is on duty, and since no one else is there to be processed, we are confident we will be expedited --confident, however, until we are presented with the forms (the ship's Manifest, the Passenger list, etc.). Once completing these formalities, however, we learn that --for the day at least --we can only complete Immigration proceedings at Nanny Cay. We will still have to go through Customs at Road Town. Thus, an unexpected stop is put on our itinerary, one we had originally wanted to avoid (as this is the main harbor in Tortola). Nevertheless, before the trip we had charted our entrance into the harbor as the Village Cay Marina there gave us the option of taking on fuel or water if necessary.

So we are now off to Road Town, an easy two mile run to the northeast. The harbor is well marked and, fortunately, there is dockage space at the customs house. Here we are told that one person can act as Captain and complete the necessary paperwork without everyone having to appear. One customs agent is on duty; again, no other travelers are present. This friendly government official inquires whether I like basketball and what university I attended. While the endless paperwork is being completed, we talk basketball.

Had it been Monday, he tells me that there could have been several hours' wait. In spite of additional expenses, again our timing is right. Some $150 poorer --fees to cover four days for seven people, the boat fee, taxes, and, yes the "overtime" fee {even though we were there during "extended" hours) -–we decide to proceed to Village Cay Marina, only a few hundred yards north, to top off our water tanks and obtain some provisions.

This is a fortunate decision. No sooner after arriving, a vicious squall hits, packing winds of up to 35 knots, with a driving rain. This, however, blows by after some 15 minutes, and the blazing sun once again fills the sky. While the gals go to the shops, we top off our water tanks (98 gallons @10 cents per gallon) and sit on the bridge admiring a new 110' yacht 'Thunderball' abeam our starboard. Luckily, a deck hand is at work so we are able to find out she carries two 3500 hp turbo charged, water-jet engines which propels her to a top speed of 46 knots!

Having completed our chores and eaten lunch, we leave Road Town and make our way to Marina Cay, some 9-10 additional miles to the northeast. It is still the early afternoon so we are confident we will reach our destination in time for snorkeling, which is considered to be excellent in this area.

The Marina Cay anchorage is in the lee of the island and is bordered by Scrub Island to the North, Great Camanoe to the West, and Beef Island to the South. Here we pick up a mooring maintained by the Moor-Secure organization which has moorings at various points in the BVls. Unlike prior afternoons, this day seems more unsettled, with more clouds and winds unlikely to abate. Given the limited amount of space at this anchorage, a mooring ($10) seems to be a good idea.

We immediately make preparations for a long dingy ride (almost a mile) to explore a reef off of the northeast portion of Great Camanoe. Here the weather begins to gradually turn, with even more clouds and wind. We anchor the dingy in the lee of the reef, and while some explore the inner area, which is calmer, the more adventurous go to the rougher outer reef. While the entire snorkeling area is among the best we have encountered thus far, the outer reef, with its severe drop into more open water, reveals the largest fish hiding in spectacular rock formations.

We make our way back to the boat satisfied by our findings, even though the sky has now clouded over. Tonight we barbecue on the back rail and watch the occasional local flights into the Beef Island airport that services Tortola. In the distance we can see masts in Trellis Bay, another popular anchorage. Marina Cay houses a small resort with a popular bar, but we are happy on the boat and settle down for sleep while the easterly trade winds, unlike our other nights, continue unabated.

Day 4 --Monday, February 13
Today we intend reaching the farthest point in the trip, the Virgin Gorda Sound, some 9-10 miles to the northeast. Our journey begins in the morning; after dropping our mooring line we pass north of Marina Cay and past Scrub Island, back into the Sir Francis Drake Channel. The breeze is fresh out of the east and skies are clear. Once in the Channel, we are still in the lee of the Dog Islands, West Dog, Great Dog, and George Dog, and the seas are relatively flat. A boat is off in the distance, anchored off a small island west of George Dog, Cockroach Island. We hope, for his sake, the island is not aptly named.

Beyond our bow lies Virgin Gorda, Columbus' "fat virgin." A discussion ensues: can we decipher her lying on her back? The guys can but the gals can't. Once beyond Great Dog the seas become choppier, but while the Grand Banks bobs, it is a dry boat. We guide our vessel between the farthest "Dog" --Seal Dogs and Mountain Point, the northwestern tip of Virgin Gorda. While we observe vessels passing north of Virgin Gorda and south of Mosquito Island --the island North of Virgin Gorda and northwest of the Virgin Gorda Sound --we heed the advice of La Vida and proceed to the entrance to the Sound which is north of Mosquito Island. This passage is obviously more heavily traveled and the better entrance for the uninitiated.

As we round Mosquito Rock and enter Virgin Gorda Sound, we decide to plant our hook at Drake's Anchorage, the first anchorage in the Sound, just behind the reef which runs southeast from Mosquito Rock. Judging by the reef and the color of the water, this must be a particularly good area to snorkel. According to our guidebook, there is a path to the top of Mosquito Island, a hike of 290' --an opportunity to collect photographs and stretch our sea legs.

Right behind the reef a Moor-Secure mooring awaits us and as the wind continues to be brisk we chance the $10 mooring. While Ray and Sue decide to snorkel the reef, we choose to lunch at the resort at Drake's Anchorage.

Afterwards, we debate which decision was best. The snorkeling was great! But the delicious fresh fish lunch was preceded by the infamous "pain killer," a Virgin Islands rum drink, the contents of which is a bit different from one establishment to another.

After lunch we climb into the dingy and make our way to the narrow passageway between Mosquito Island and Virgin Gorda, where we have been cautioned not to enter the Sound. We hear the snorkeling is excellent as there are several shoal areas, one on the southern tip of Mosquito Island and the other at Anquilla Point on Virgin Gorda. While this snorkeling area is similar to the others we have seen, as we have now so often encountered in our snorkeling exploits it is also distinctly different. Here the beauty consists more of unusual rock and coral formations than of fish. As I look up from my snorkeling activities, a 42' Bertram sportfish-is barreling through this shallow spot, passing from the Sound into the Sir Francis Drake Channel. I make a mental note of his route for our return trip.

After about an hour of snorkeling and sunning ourselves on the sandy beach adjacent to the reef on Mosquito Island, we return to the boat to ready ourselves to climb Mosquito Island. Everyone dons sneakers or topsiders. Apparently there are two main attractions on the hiking trail: the top and Honeymoon Beach. When we reach the fork in the road leading to each, we resolve to retrace our steps to the beach after reaching the top. The climb to the top is circular; the brush is heavy but the trail is well marked. With the kids and Ray leading the way and the rest of us huffing and puffing, top is finally reached.

The hike is certainly well worthwhile. From this point we can see some 20 miles in the distance --beyond Prickly Pear Island to Necker Island, which seems to have a solitary mansion on it, and then to the east, the famous "Bitter End" at the end of the Sound (where we hope to go tomorrow), and to the southeast Leverick Bay. The different colors of the water show the reefs. The day is partly cloudy but somewhat threatening.

We make our way down the mountain to the turn in the path that leads to Honeymoon Beach. The path to the beach becomes rockier and finally the beach can be seen some l00 yards away. We settle on a huge rock, some l00 feet above the pounding surf to admire the beauty. Making their way down among the rocks, Ray and Sue decide to swim at the beach while we return to the boat. Only some 200 yards from the Drake's Anchorage Resort, the heavens open up and a torrential downpour engulfs the island. Luckily for us, a little hut with a palm treetop is on the beach and this affords adequate protection.

Ann and I return to the Grand Banks to shower and get ready for dinner. Soon Ray and Sue appear on the beach and the boys run in on the dingy to pick them up at the Drake's Anchorage dock. Once everyone boards the dingy, the engine quits. Ray is quite handy with an engine, but after unsuccessfully working on the problem for about 15 minutes, rows back for tools. Apparently the problem has to do with one of the two off switches on the 8 Mariner; perhaps some of the wiring became wet. Clearly this is a problem for which we are not equipped, and therefore we decide to call La Vida in the morning.

That night, with everyone returned to the boat, we barbecue and settle down for the night by listening to a country music station which we picked up on FM. The wind continues out of the east, northeast. While we have no protection from the wind, the reef breaks the surf.

Day 5 --Tuesday, February 14
The first order of duty on this crystal blue Valentine's morning is to try to start the engine; several pulls at the cord, priming and pumping are to no avail. La Vida maintains a chase boat, but here we are at the farthest point from St. Thomas, and we had even hoped today to go to the Bitter End at the innermost point of the Sound. In any case, there is nothing to lose by calling, and we try to raise Virgin Islands Radio to patch through a collect call to La Vida. While VI Radio did not respond, a "freelance" service managed to put the call through.

La Vida advises that we are, indeed, too far for their chase boat, particularly in the 25 plus knot steady trade winds now blowing; however, they have an arrangement with Speedy's --a repair service --which is located near the Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour and after some discussion we decide to go there rather than the Bitter End. Actually, we agree this is somewhat fortuitous as there are several benefits if we go into the marina. We suspect our water tanks need topping off, and we are now low on some supplies. Also, reaching the famous "Baths" is a short cab ride from the marina (rather than anchoring outside the Baths and risking a dingy landing at the tumultuous surf).

So, casting off our mooring and remembering where the Bertram had negotiated the shallow waters south of Mosquito Island, we follow that path out to the Sir Francis Drake Channel for the short trip to the Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour (some 3-4 miles). It is rough in the Channel as the wind has been blowing for days now and its velocity seems to be increasing.

The entrance into the Yacht Harbour is well marked but narrow. In the marina we are directed to a slip. The wind is now gusty; another boat maneuvering nearby loses control and it is broadsided against the bow pulpit of a boat in a slip. Even though the Grand Banks is a heavy boat, and its keel makes it less susceptible to the wind than a planing powerboat, the unrelenting wind --now gusting to 35 knots --will have its way unless the boat is handled with precision. Ray is at the controls, aggressively managing the throttles in order to back the Grand Banks into the slip. This he does with skill.

After tying our lines, our first order of business is to call Speedy and decide whether our stay in the marina should be overnight or for only a few hours. Earlier in the morning the VHF had suggested --when another vessel had radioed the marina to confirm a reservation –that the Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour is fully booked. However, since the day is windy, we opt for staying if at all possible. I was prepared to plead our case to the marina office, but that is not necessary; we are more than welcome --reservations or not. Price: 70 cents per foot plus $10 for power and another $10 if we intend to use our reverse cycle air conditioning. Given the wind, we hardly think that necessary.

While I make the booking, Ray contacts Speedy's service, and they soon arrive. Speedy and his helper climb into the dingy, prime the engine and pull the cord, and voila --it immediately starts. We explain the intermittent nature of the problem (wet wires can finally dry out) but the "oh, sure" look on their faces shows their disbelief. However, we are now certain it was a wet wire problem and so I tape the loose off switch, hoping to mitigate the problem.

At the marina there are several crewed charter boats. Speaking to one of the skippers, I learn that this winter in the BVIs has been one of the windiest and coolest in recent memory, and the next two days are forecasted to be even more unsettled; we are near a low-pressure area.
That afternoon we hire a car to take us to the Baths. The Baths, large boulders juxtaposed to one another which are washed by the sea, creating unusual pools, are billed as a must stop in Virgin Gorda. Adjacent is a white, sandy beach that is more crowded than other beaches we have visited. Indeed, this is a landmark not to be missed.

Our driver promptly meets us one hour and forty-five minutes later as promised, and we return to the boat –to shower, dress, and then seek some ice cream at the marina. A pint of Haagen-Das is some $5 but well worth it to a group suffering from severe ice cream depravation!

As evening falls we are particularly grateful to be at the marina. The low-pressure area has spun a squall packing winds of up to 50 knots, with a horizontal rain we rarely see at home. That night, our fourth on the boat, we agree to switch accommodations, Ann and I taking the vee berth and Ray and Sue the aft cabin.

Day 6 --Wednesday, February 15
We resolve to have an early start this morning, as this will be one of the longest legs of the trip, unfortunately, one that will bring us closer to St. Thomas and the end of our voyage. We estimate the run will be some 14-15 miles, but we will have a following sea and, who knows, our Grand Banks might get up on plane going downhill!

Without having more days to spend, we have to pass islands we now resolve to visit on the next trip --Ginger, Cooper, Salt, and Peter Island. Our destination is Norman Island, the island thought to be the setting of Robert Louis Stevenson's TREASURE ISLAND. There we will anchor in The Bight, an extremely large protected anchorage, and then explore the caves by dinghy (if our outboard works). The wind and our following seas have churned the Sir Francis Drake Channel which forces 'Soft Shoalders' to wallow. I try not to overcorrect on the steering to keep our ship on course.

As we pass Peter Island, we can see, first, Flanagan Island off of the eastern tip of St. John, and then Pelican Island, northwest of Norman Island. Leaving Pelican to the starboard and Rinedove Rock on the tip of Norman Island to the port, we enter the Bight. There are two main anchorages here, one in the northeastern corner and the other in the south-southwestern portion. While the former seems to be the most desirable, the other visiting yachtsmen seem to be very possessive of not only their space but adjoining space as well. Perhaps this is because the winds tend to swirl. Boats are facing every which way. We decide to anchor, instead, in the southern sector.

This anchorage houses a permanently moored old Baltic trader that has been converted to a restaurant and bar. We anchor upwind of this vessel, near the shore, dropping our two anchors. We let out more scope than usual, not only because we have the room but also the weather continues to be threatening and the VHF has warned the winds may increase tonight.
After lunch we ready ourselves for snorkeling. Off the port bow a large tortoise swims playfully. The snorkeling reveals many fish, including a barracuda, which swims alongside Ray and a stingray with a penchant for hovering at the bottom below our boat.

After snorkeling we shower and don cameras for our dingy trip to the caves off Treasure Point. As we leave the Bight, we are no longer in the lee of the island and the water is rougher. There are four major caves around the Point, with two of them large enough to accommodate our dingy. However, with the seas running the way they are, it will be difficult, if not downright dangerous, to enter the caves. Ray, the most dauntless of our crew, is determined, however, to take on this challenge under power. The sea is surging into the caves, and we time our entrance. With everyone fending off the walls of the cave, we make it.

Ray's VCR camera is going non-stop and my cameras are flashing away. Perhaps the excitement of the caves is the danger under these conditions: what if our outboard gives out again and our dingy is slammed against the rocks7

Of course, we manage to experience the caves unscathed and we emerge into the light with a great deal of pleasure. As we return to our boat, the occupants of the sailboat some 100 yards off our port had taken the opportunity to go about their business in the buff. Our 12-year old boys think it is particularly hilarious and, since our neighbors are well along in their years, we are hopeful that our reappearance will encourage them to return to a more unnatural state, which, thankfully, they do.

We shower and dress. The adults are going to dink over to the William Thornton, the restaurant/bar moored in the Bight --some 200 yards astern of us --for painkillers. Of course, as we dink, a brief squall erupts. We manage to stay mostly dry by making this a quick trip, our dinghy nearly getting up on plane despite carrying the four of us.

The bar certainly has ambiance: several yachtsmen are already soaking up the cheer. Ironically, the first couple we begin to talk with are also from New Canaan, CT., Ray and Sue’s hometown. After a few painkillers, we manage to return to our boat.

The weather forecast for this night is less than cheery: squalls with high winds. We eyeball our anchors. The Bruce is well buried and our Danforth is too. I let out addit1onal scope on the lines. By the time we begin our barbecue, a mini-squall is already beginning to move through so, in the dark, with rain pelting me, I do my best to grill our steaks.

That night the wind sounds like a freight train moving through the Bight. While everyone sleeps, I am up and down checking our position, making sure we are not dragging. Given the velocity, if we ever broke anchor there wouldn't be enough time to start our engines and gain control. Logic dictates I should go to sleep, as there is nothing I can do if such a disaster strikes. Who said boating is logical?

Day 7 --Thursday, February 16
Our last full day. Where to go? Our BVI cruising permit has expired so we decide to return to the American Virgins. We want to try a new anchorage in St. John, perhaps Hurricane Hole on the eastern end, which is just a short hop from Norman Island. However, Catch 22 is operative: we have heard along the way and La Vida has also cautioned us that as soon as we enter American waters we must go directly to Cruz Bay on the western end of St. John to go through American customs. Although, technically, this has always been the law, the continuing battle to eliminate drug traffic has dictated the enforcement of this requirement. Supposedly, if we try to anchor first, or to proceed directly to La Vida, ignoring clearance through Cruz Bay, the boat can be impounded, and we can be fined $2,500 and subject to imprisonment. We comply.

Thus, we will head first for Cruz Bay and then for the night return to our first stop, Christmas Cove, where we had enjoyed the snorkeling. We pass south of St. John and, once outside the lee of Norman Island we are open to the wind and a following sea. We thought the seas would build to a greater degree than they have; after all, the wind blew last night and even now is continuing at about 20 knots. However, the seas are no worse than the ones we encountered leaving the Virg1n Gorda Yacht Harbour.

Once back into the Pillsbury Sound, approaching from the southeast, we pick up Steven Cay outside Cruz Bay and, although it appears one can approach the harbor by passing between the Cay and St. John, the more prudent path is to go around the Cay, leaving it on the starboard. The current is running fairly strong here, and reefs and shoaling run from the Cay to St. John. Cruz Bay is a relatively small harbor, with little docking space and anchoring room. We understand that the Captain may present papers to American Customs, so Ray drops me off with the passports and birth certificates while he trolls around the harbor, waiting. Unfortunately, a ferry has just discharged its passengers and so I wait in line.

Finally reaching the desk, I am advised that ALL my crew MUST appear but since the ferry has now departed from the dock Ray can bring our Grand Banks to the customs dock. A not-too-pleasant, devoid-of-humor lady questions our documents, asking a "trick" question of one of the boys (Will he respond to his middle name?) Sue replies on his behalf and is castigated by the agent for answering the question.) I am then asked to fill out a form for our boat; lots of stamping ensues, and we are finally cleared. This all appears to be completely unnecessary, but we console ourselves with the knowledge that it did introduce us to another port and, the best part of all, no fees were involved.

Back into the Pillsbury Sound, leaving Current Rock to the starboard, we cut to the port and back into Christmas Cove, where our trip began. This afternoon we snorkel at Fish Cay off of Great St. James Island. The outside of the Cay is especially good for snorkeling. Tonight we do some preliminary packing, so we have as much time as possible in the morning for windsurfing, swimming and snorkeling. 'Soft Shoalders' must be back at La Vida by 12:00 noon, but, as we are only a half hour away, by attending to the packing now, we should have most of the morning free.

Day 8 --February 17
This is it. We are dejected. We have coffee in the early morning sun. Of course, it is one of the best mornings of the past several days. The wind is calmer, not a cloud in the sky. So we attend to our planned activities and, at 11:30 am we get underway. As requested by La Vida, we radio some 15 minutes from the dock. A chase boat meets us to pick up our dingy and to deposit a La Vida guide to help us back into a tight slip.

It is hot at the dock. La Vida goes over a checklist with us while we unload our things. They are turning the boat over for another charter that begins the following day. We now have to reimburse La Vida for the fuel. We used the engines, on the average, only a couple hours a day, but the generator was used more often than that. We guess it might be l00 gallons of fuel until we see the port tank topping off at a mere 30 gallons! Finally, only 61 total gallons were consumed in the entire trip. A trawler is indeed stingy with fuel.

A cab is called, and we begin our travail to Kennedy Airport. Next year, we resolve, we will do this again. Who said boaters can't remain best friends on one boat?