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Twice In A Lifetime

When visiting the British Virgin Islands once isn't enough. 
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    When you take a trip of a lifetime it’s usually not part of the plan to return for a second time.  After all, it’s called the trip of a lifetime for a reason.  But, plans change – especially when your destination happens to be the British Virgin Islands on a 48’ MarineMax Vacations Power Cat. The first time was such an incredible experience that we either had to stop bragging about it or just plan another one with friends who hadn’t been there.
On our first BVI trip, we flew direct to Puerto Rico and chartered a puddle-jumper from there to Beef Island, Tortola.  The puddle-jumper flight took 45 minutes, then customs in the BVI.  On this second trip we wanted to change it up.  We’d fly into St. Thomas and take a private water-taxi from Charlotte Amalie to the MarineMax Vacations base at Hodges Creek Marina.  There we’d find our sweet ride — a 48’ Power Cat with four spacious and comfortable queen berths, each with full heads, a complete galley and gathering space inside and a “spend your entire life up there” bridge lounge and helm.  
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    Our prearranged, airport pickup to the water-taxi was waiting for us with a cooler full of thirst quenchers and the news that our private water-taxi was staying dockside because of weather.  The big ferry from St. Thomas to Tortola was our only option so we hustled to the landing to find we had missed the boat by five minutes.  The next ferry was an hour and a half wait… which actually left almost 2.5 hours later.  Sneaky island time.  I’m not saying that we over-plan, but the play-by-play on how quickly we could get to our boat and get off the docks had been a masterpiece. We were not pleased and all that displeasure was making us thirsty.  You won’t be surprised by the ease with which one can get thirst quenching beverages in the islands.   
The first leg of the ferry took us to West End, Tortola.  In case you were wondering, yes of course they serve cold beer and the signature drink of the BVI, the Pain Killer!  The second leg took us to Road Town and customs. Get organized before docking and you’ll get through quickly enough.  Our van to Hodges Creek was waiting and we were greeted by our cheerful driver handing us ice cold water.  We arrived to find our Power Cat waiting patiently, stocked and loaded for bareboating.  It was a welcomed sight and the base manager was waiting for us with a smile and the kind of enthusiasm needed after a long day of travel. While we had provisioned enough to feed and quench the entire fleet for weeks, we decided we needed a little island jam. A place that could reset weary travelers and put the lift back under their souls.  The manager had the spot, a little joint on the water called The Loose Mongoose.  If you’ve ever imagined yourself in “that movie” —  an island bartender is flipping bottles and pouring drinks that taste of heaven’s nectar and the chef is practically table-side, “creating” just for you as the Caribbean laps at the sands just feet away — this was it.  The server is witty, a bit sassy and dropping drinks on the table and making it rain. The music is jamming, so much so that your table starts singing.  The chef, cheffing right behind you in the outdoor kitchen starts singing and dancing along. Wait, it gets better.  The chef loves your table so much he starts sending you shots!  Yeah!  That movie!  Starring us!  Incredible food, dancing, libations and a few chef-selfies.  In ONE hour we had reclaimed the day. The Loose Mongoose had lifted our weary heads and we hadn’t left the docks yet. It was already a glorious BVI beginning!
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We awoke early that next morning like excited kids, pounding bottled water and generic ibuprofen gel caps before getting our required walk-through, systems checks and discussing our float plan with our liaison and face of the operation, Bentley.  Even though we had three extremely qualified captains on our crew and three first mates capable at the helm, it was important to follow procedure, to understand the vessel and to make sure we actually knew what we were doing.  As Bentley must probably remind many who are captains of their own vessels, every boat is different and local knowledge and safety is one of the most important parts of the vacation equation.  

Since we’d done this trip before we had charted our daily itinerary weeks prior to our vacation.  The long arrival day shifted our plan a bit.  Our first stop was to be the fabled Anegada (Drowned Island), a shimmering coral island 15 miles beyond Virgin Gorda.  Sitting alone in the Caribbean unprotected by other islands, she is famous for her flatness (the highest elevation is 28 feet) and known for the lobster dinners!  To make the run we needed a good sea and a good weather window to return to the bosom of the BVI.   It was all about timing.  Bentley listened to our plans, answered every question, offered seasoned advice, encouragement and reality checks when needed.  The first reality check was that, even though the sun was shining, Anegada was not the right move.  Bentley had spoken and we listened.  
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    Reassessing our run, we landed on Cooper Island, only 3.5 nautical miles southeast of the marina.  One of the great things about MarineMax Vacations is that one of their experienced captains is at the helm until you are out in the bay.  They also offer to send the captain with you to your first destination if you are not 100% confident of your ability to get there.  You can also just hire one of their captains for your entire journey as well.  Once our  MarineMax captain got us into the bay and jumped into his dinghy, our adventure had officially begun. 
We have a steadfast rule on travel days — the captain does not drink any libations until the vessel is safely tied at our next destination.  Our crew decided that we would act in solidarity with the captain(s) on this trip.  And, well, hopping from destination to destination in the BVI rarely takes longer than an hour.  It’s a win/win!  As we hit the lee of Cooper Island and the glassy water embraced us, we all felt it.  It was there, on this first approach, that our friends faces reflected what we had gushed about.  It was the “oh wow” face.  It was the “is this real?” face.  Those are moments we live for.  It was real…and it was spectacular.  The water turns to this stunning shade of turquoise and the sun dapples the palms lining the white sandy beaches.  All at once you want to both immerse yourself in it and not come too close so as not to lose the beauty of the panorama that is right in front of you.  The mooring ball that you will grab and hook up with bobs and swoons and beckons you to that perfect spot and you fall in love.  You want to see it all.  You want to feel it all.  You wonder how it has taken so long to BE in it.  All of that “incredible” hits home.  

Once tied up and settled our crew was presented with arrival packages we created for them.  We have a few traditions, one is giving each other nicknames.  In full vacation mode our actual names rarely get used.  OK, if you must know — Rummy.  Tervis.  Nuts.  Beans.  Pearlie and Dandy.  Silly?  Sure, but pretty comical after a few Pain Killers, and practical.  Our welcome packages included t-shirts, hats and Tervis tumblers with the new logo and nicknames.
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    Another tradition is we herald the cocktail hour with the ring of our captain’s bell, taken on all our voyages.  We toast to life, to how fortunate we are and of course, to how great it is being boaters. Lest I forget, included in the packages were giant inflatable bird rafts.  Yup.  A swan, a flamingo and a parrot.   We are those people.  Go big or float alone.
Cooper Island was laid back but elegant.  Cooper Island Beach Club has a rum bar that’ll make you rhumba.  The restaurant was on the beach and excellent.  While nothing anywhere says “dress nicely,” we were happy to put on the linens and patterns.  A three-minute tender-ride and we were headed to our table.  It’s a special spot and you are treated very well.  These folks are good people who made us feel right at home.  It’s just so hard to relax here…  

After a restful night’s sleep in our air-conditioned suites, we arose to a perfect travel day.  As coffee brewed, our on-board chef (and first mate) whipped up a hearty breakfast in the well-equipped galley and then we were off the mooring and on our way.  Anegada was back on our horizon.  
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    The seas brought us about a 1-2 foot chop and the winds were NW 5-10 knots, so our trip through the BVI and beyond Virgin Gorda was ideal.  Anegada rises out of the water evoking the feeling of a lost island.  It shimmers in the distance almost as a mirage and is a sliver through the binoculars given her flatness.  Following the channel is crucial here.  Our crew thought it couldn’t get any better than Cooper Island.  After this I will stop saying how incredible the color of the water was, but as gray clouds built above us,  the intrusion of sun exploded the turquoise with shimmering diamonds and unending shades of blue diving to the white sands below.  It made our approach seem magical.  Anegada was special.  In her simplicity lay her charm and in her waters lay her beauty. 
This island only offers mooring balls, which we often prefer over a dock.  It adds to the adventure of it all.  With a water maker, a powerful generator and a tender for eight,  our Power Cat was more than equipped to swing in comfort.    The minute we were secure, a sun washed Montauk Whaler with a cheerful fellow approached.  He was singing.  Yes, singing.  He had repurposed the song from Oklahoma (the Broadway play and movie).  “It’s a bright golden day on the…water.  The sun is as high as an elephant’s eye and it looks like it’s rising right out of the sky…”  We gathered to hear him sing, delaying the arrival cocktail, and soaked in every word.  He invited us to try the lobster dinner at his restaurant “just right over that way.”  He offered to get us anything we needed from shore.  We politely declined.  “Ice?”  He offered, knowing that all his singing had made us thirsty!  Yes, please!  Other charming islanders approached, inviting us to dine at their spots as well.  Reservations, often done by VHF, are strongly encouraged.  
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    As we gathered our snorkeling gear for an adventure on the other side of the island,  a small front that had been building treated us to a beautiful fresh water rinse down and double rainbows just off our starboard.  All around us people came out to stand in the warm rain and watch the colors.  There was something powerful in that moment — the sense of a shared experience.  The communing with nature.  The collective awe in this piece of paradise with the relatively few who make the trip.  The shower came and went quickly as a perfect welcome and then we were off to shore.
After a quick two-minute ride we arrived at a place called Potters By The Sea for our first on-shore libation.  The multicolor, shanty-esque structures that make up the restaurant and bar were vibrant with charm.  Random chickens welcomed us.  It was quiet except for a couple of equally colorful local personalities who twisted our arms into ordering their arm-hair-curling, get-the-party-started Painkillers.  Time eased by.  Chickens milled.  We nursed our beverages.  We named the chickens.  Life was good.  One of our captains, a dashing yachtsman and curious chap with a short attention span and a devilish grin, meandered over to chat up the driver of an island taxi.  Within minutes we were gallivanting across the island in the back of a pick-up truck complete with bench seats, bimini and cold brews foaming at the neck.  Loblolly Beach was our snorkeling destination.  As the dust swirled behind us our driver gave us a lively tour of the island.  Cows, goats and chickens owned the road.  Colorful shacks poked out from behind the scrub.  At one point, our driver threw out the anchors and we came to an abrupt stop.  Flamingos!  He pointed excitedly.  A huge flock.  We liked his keen eye.  Well done, pick-up taxi driver island guy.  Well done. 
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    Loblolly Beach was magnificent whether you snorkel or not and we thoroughly enjoyed our day there.  Then it was back for dinner.  We chose The Wonky Dog.  It was intimate, had a great menu and the easygoing bartender who had invited us by boat was a skilled fire breather.  Get a little lit at dinner?  Who said no?!  Upon arrival we were seated immediately, the table beautiful, the service five-star and the dinner delicious.  
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    In the morning we were off to Saba Rock, where we stayed for two days with jaunts in the tender to Prickly Pear Island, to Leverick Bay, and to the famed Bitter End Yacht Club.  Next was the Virgin Gorda Baths for a morning of exploring before a few hours of anchoring in Deadman Bay on Peter Island.  Then to an unforgettable stay in The Bight at Norman Island.  From there our stops included the requisite day in White Bay on Jost Van Dyke (even if you’re not feeling like a tourist, stop at The Soggy Dollar anyway), a mooring around the bend in Diamond Cay for sea turtle watching and a morning of exploring at Sandy Cay (it’s what every tropical island picture postcard aspires to look like).
Every destination was unique and we could write a movie about the hilarity, shared emotions and pure pleasure we experienced together.  The adventure. The beauty of not sitting still for too long.  Therein lies our love of the BVI and why as boaters we are captivated by and drawn to her.  There’s always something to go back to, whether missed on this trip or something just so memorable that it inspires a return for more memories.   The MarineMax Power Cat effortlessly provided an experience that allowed us to push beyond what we thought was possible..  If all this talk of tropical paradise is making you thirsty for a get-away, the one thing we can tell you is that a MarineMax Vacations adventure in the BVI will surely quench that thirst.
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