On this shipboard excursion through the British Virgin Islands, the author encountered natural wonders, native hospitality and . . . the son of Ron Burgundy?
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I’VE SERIOUSLY CONSIDERED going “off the grid.” Haven’t you? One day, I plan to wave good-bye to this search-engine-optimized, meta-tagged, technology-imbued rat race. First, I’ll see my preteen daughter through college. By then, my novel will be on the best-sellers list. I’ll have a three-book deal that’ll require a tropical sanctuary to write the next two. That place just might be the British Virgin Islands.
Hopeful delusions? We’ll see. But I did recently experience the BVI on a five-day sailing adventure on the bluer-than-blue Caribbean Sea. Sixty islands make up the chain. I disembarked on the four main ones——Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada and Jost Van Dyke——each brimming with accommodating islanders. The tourism infrastructure is friendly, not at all begrudging (are you listening, Jamaica?). Seafood meals are plucked straight from the sea. There’s plenty to do. There’s also ample opportunity to do nothing except sit on the beach and imitate a Corona commercial.
Moreover, there’s a timeless, mysterious nature to this playground, which I find especially alluring. Pirates used to inhabit these parts. Dead Man’s Chest is the actual name of one island. It’s where Blackbeard, after a mutiny attempt, put 15 men ashore with only a bottle of rum. Hence the sea chantey: “Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest, yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.” I don’t wanna go that far off the grid. But you get the picture.
I’M SITTING ON THE BOW of It’s About Time, a white mono-hull sailboat owned by Horizon Yacht Charters. We’re sailing out of Tortola’s verdant Nanny Cay harbor in a two-boat regatta. Our partner is Touch of Grey, a catamaran. Each boat has five individual cabins, complete with private bathrooms.
It’s About Time is helmed by stoic Captain Roy. Quiet and confident in his black sun glasses, Captain Roy instructs us in the art of sailing. Our commander is serious but genial. He doesn’t consume rum-and-Cokes or Caribe beers, even while his passengers down them with carefree abandon.
Touch of Grey is the real party boat, though. Captain Ron plays music on an impressive audio system. He is younger and broader than Captain Roy.
The mono-hull is faster than the catamaran. We are doing a pure sail through the Sir Francis Drake Channel, passing Peter, Salt, Cooper and Ginger islands on the way to Virgin Gorda.
Captain Ron gets the catamaran to The Baths on Virgin Gorda first——because he cheats and uses his motor. The two boats quickly get competitive, especially after Captain Ron’s phone call 30 minutes into the trip to laugh at the folly of our forgetting to pull up It’s About Time’s fenders.
Um, was that my job?
VIRGIN GORDA (“Fat” Virgin) was named by Christopher Columbus in 1493 when he observed the island’s long shape and bellylike feature. After some cave exploration at The Baths, we sail past Mosquito and Necker islands——both owned by mogul Richard Bran son——and arrive at the Bitter End. Not literally, of course. We rest our feet in the white sand outside the 40-room Bitter End Yacht Club. There’s just enough time for a Painkiller (the official cocktail of the BVI, made with Pusser’s Rum) before a spa treatment and an alfresco buffet dinner.
A long, loud dinner is followed by a midnight round of pool. Allow me to introduce Touch of Grey passenger Nick Honachefsky. The self-titled “Gangly Pollack” regales us with nearly every Ron Burgundy line he can remember from Will Ferrell’s Anchorman movie: “They’ve done studies, you know. Sixty percent of the time it works, every time . . .”
Soon enough, we realize it’s time for Captain Ron (yes, Captain Roy went to sleep at a decent hour) to dinghy us back to our respective moored boats. It’s important to know this about sleeping and living shipboard: Use your boat potty as infrequently as possible. Do your business on land. “Clearing the head” is a process I learned about but, thankfully, never had to implement.
UNLIKE ITS VOLCANIC SIBLINGS, Anegada, nicknamed “Drowned Island,” is a coral atoll. Its landscape is unusual. The island is 16 miles long, 3 miles wide and no more than 28 feet above sea level anywhere. Imagine a giant boogie board out in the middle of nowhere, with trees growing on it. It’s the trees you see first as you approach the island by boat.
Anegada’s reefs are treacherous. There are now approximately 200 permanent res idents on the island. For a stretch of its history, though, the only inhabitants were sailors or pirates who wrecked on the reef. I go snorkeling with Honachefsky, an experienced fisherman. The water is filled with colorful sea life.
Him, splashing above the water: “Didja see the spotted trunkfish?”
Me, spitting out salt water: “The blue one?”
Him: “No. The white one literally shaped like a trunk.”
We find lobsters——indigenes that are spiny and spotted and don’t have claws. The ones we discover, though, are already captured in a trap. (Other lobsters we later find trapped on our dinner plates prove to be delicious.)
Before we dine at this particular restaurant, our host politely greets us. But I don’t catch the eatery’s name. “Excuse me, did you say, ‘Welcome to Big Bam Boom?’” I enunciate. Quirky names abound in the BVI. Everyone laughs, and our host repeats, slowly, “Big Bamboo.”
Like a shot, the Gangly Pollack is all over it with another Ron Burgundy line: “Bing, bang, boom . . . You’re fired, too, Ed.”