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Trip Report Festiva BVI Sailing

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For anyone who has ever thought about sailing the British Virgins, this report is for you. Instead of chartering an entire yacht with friends, we tried the “by the cabin” approach offered by Festiva Sailing on Tortola, and were not disappointed. We did a similar trip 2 years ago with Tradewinds (the other “by the cabin” outfit in Tortola), and there is no comparison – we were disappointed with Tradewinds, but Festiva did everything right. Both use 44 foot catamarans, but Festiva is configured for three guest cabins, while Tradewinds is configured for five. Plus, Tradewinds cabins are not air conditioned (not a big deal for some people, but a big deal for me), and Festiva is.

Based on the pre-cruise questionnaire, Festiva tries to match up similar couples on boats for the week, and we were lucky in that all three couples on our cat were the same age with similar interests. Two of the three had sailed the BVI before, so there was some familiarity with the itinerary and some special requests for particular stops. Not every charter plans to go to Anegada, but four of us really wanted to, so the captain accommodated (another difference between Festiva and Tradewinds – the Tradewinds captain refused to go to Anegada, even though the entire boat wanted to go). Yet another difference between Tradewinds and Festiva – we remembered (less than fondly) that the Tradewinds captain stayed in port the first and last night of the cruise. The Festiva captain planned to sail out as soon as everyone was checked in on Saturday, and not return until breakfast the next Saturday morning, an hour before everyone was supposed to be off the boat. Unfortunately, because of an airline glitch one couple did not arrive until late Saturday night, so we didn’t sail until Sunday morning, but it worked out fine.

Anyway, on with the sailing!

Saturday PM – check in at the boat at about 5 pm, unpack (remember to pack light –you need 2 swimsuits, one or two pairs of shorts, one “nicer” shirt or t-shirt for an evening ashore, and several t-shirts to keep the sun off), then wander out on deck for cocktails and to get acquainted with the crew and other guests. Later, the captain fired up the BBQ on the back of the boat to sear some tuna steaks, and the rum drinks are set aside in favor of a few bottles of wine that have been chilling in the cooler. Lots of conversation, some after dinner drinks, and everyone heads off to bed.

Sunday – Day One. Morning sail from Nanny Cay, Tortola to the wreck of the Rhone for a snorkel, then a short sail to Cooper Island for a visit to the beach bar, lunch on deck, and time for snorkeling around the point. Then a nice sail to Virgin Gorda for a hike through the Baths. Too much fun. After the Baths, the usual itinerary is to go on to Spanish Town, but one of the couples has been waiting for a lost bag, and it has been located at Customs on Tortola. We decide to sail back to Cooper to moor for the night in order to be in Road Town first thing tomorrow morning. Dinner – bacon-wrapped tenderloin steaks on the grill.

Monday - A quick sail to Road Town for luggage pickup and some morning shopping. After that, a nice long sail around Tortola toward the Dogs – a series of small islands between Tortola and the north end of Virgin Gorda – for snorkeling and lunch. The normal routine for the week is to get to a good snorkel spot by about 11:30 and snorkel for an hour - then a beautiful lunch is ready on deck just as everyone has rinsed off the salt water and dried off enough to not track a lot of water onto the cushions. After lunch and another snorkel, we sailed on to the north end of Gorda, where we docked at the Bitter End Yacht Club for the night, which gave everyone the chance to do a little on-shore relaxing at the bar/club house/game room after dinner. (Dinner – marinated mahi-mahi fillets on the grill.)

Tuesday – after a morning hike around the north shore of Gorda, we set off on a terrific two hour sail north to Anegada – the flat, desert island that is the northern edge of the BVI, home to pink flamingos, long pink sand beaches, and beach bars famous for the best grilled lobster in the world. The crew called ahead to make sure that there were lobsters reserved for everyone on board. Dinner ashore.

Wednesday – a morning sail back to Gorda for lunch and snorkeling, then on to Marina Cay and Trellis Bay for happy hour and dinner. Marina Cay is a pretty standard stop for most of the sailing charters that circle the BVI, and happy hour on the Cay will usually result in seeing some familiar faces from earlier in the week. That is one of the fun things that I remember from our previous sailing adventure in the BVI – most of the boats are on a Saturday to Saturday charter, and since they all follow a similar itinerary, you find yourself seeing the same faces at various spots. Dinner ashore at the Last Resort (okay, I’m using “ashore” loosely here, because the restaurant is actually in the middle of Trellis Bay) is a standard stop on the charter boat circuit – not my favorite spot in the universe, but the food is good and the band isn’t bad, after they get past the comedy show schtick.

Thursday – today we sail along the north shore of Tortola toward Jost Van Dyke. A morning snorkel stop is followed by sailing and then lunch at Sandy Spit, where we spotted a couple of dolphins in the water, but couldn’t get close enough to swim with them. After lunch, we sailed on to two of the most famous bars in the Caribbean – Foxy’s in Great Harbor, and the Soggy Dollar in White Bay. We got lucky and Foxy himself was holding court when we were there mid-afternoon, telling stories and introducing visitors to his grandkids. Then we sailed around the point for an afternoon on the beach at Soggy’s – painkillers for everybody! Dinner is pork tenderloin on the grill, accompanied by one of the best vegetable lasagnas I’ve ever tasted.

Friday morning – a morning sail to Soper’s Hole on the West End of Tortola to take on water and pick up some groceries (okay, and to do some shopping), before sailing on to Norman Island. A morning snorkel at the Indians, followed by lunch and snorkeling at the Caves. Mid-afternoon we sailed around the point to make sure we got a mooring ball at the Bight for the night. We took the dinghy over to the Willie T for happy hour. If you have never been to the Willie T… well… it is definitely one of the great bars in the Virgin Islands, but let’s just say it is an entirely different feel from the bars on Jost. A great place for the last night of the trip, though! Final dinner back on board – shrimp scampi with bowtie pasta.

Saturday morning – an hour sail back to dock, then breakfast on deck before packing up and heading off. (They are very strict about on and off times, since they only have from 9 am until 5 pm to clean and re-provision the boat for its next trip.)

Our shipmates had all decided to take the ferry to St Thomas Saturday afternoon, since they were flying from there on Sunday. We planned to fly straight from Tortola on Sunday, so we arranged for a jeep and explored the island. We had reservations at Sebastians (at Apple Bay – very nice but a little isolated for me), and got to spend some up close and personal time at Cane Garden Bay Saturday afternoon (with the craziness of the cruise shippers) and evening (wonderfully quiet except for happy hour at Myett’s). Even though we have a lot of experience driving on the left in the mountains of St. Croix, the switchbacks on Tortola’s north shore were challenging, and a four wheel drive vehicle is definitely a necessity.

All in all, a terrific eight days in the BVI. Two things I had never done before (the Bitter End and Anegada) were both fantastic, and other stops that we remembered fondly were just as nice the second (or third) time around. Saturday in CGB was the perfect end to the trip – just enough time to get your land legs back before jumping on a plane and returning to the frozen north (yes, there was still snow on the ground when we got back to DC).

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