Wednesday, May 20th, 2009
From Les Isles des Saintes we had a fine sail to the British Virgin Islands in sweet balmy trade-winds. I suppose that we enjoyed this small passage in particular as we all knew that trade wind sailing would be drawing to a close soon enough. Never mind, enjoy it while we can. We carried on our way in the Caribbean Sea in the lee of Guadeloupe surprisingly well and sailed right through her wind shadow. And then kept sailing in the lee of the islands of Montserrat, Nevis, St Kitts, Statia and Saba, across the Anegada Passage where soon the tips of the Virgin Islands were in sight early-early just after one fair dawn.
This must have been much how Columbus first saw these myriad islands. A passel of peaks dotting the horizon, hence he named these islands after St Ursula and her 11,000 Virgins – seems rather a lot of virgins. We broke through into the calm waters of Sir Francis Drake channel by way of narrow Round Rock Passage, sharpened the yards up on the wind and made our way towards Spanish Town Virgin Gorda. We tacked a couple times and anchored the Picton Castle near the big blue Barkentine Caledonia, with the goodly Captain Kim Smith of Lunenburg in command. Here we provisioned up with fresh food and the gang got to visit the Baths. The Baths of Virgin Gorda are a must see stop in the BVI. These are wonderful rock formations of giant boulders pushed up through plate tectonics to create a maze along the edge of the sea providing great snorkelling, hiding places and picnic spots.
Then we sailed for Great Harbour, Jost Van Dyke. Up anchor and off the hook under sail for the 20 mile sail. The Picton Castle must have made quite a sight sailing along in these smooth waters, many charter boats came close and took pictures. By late afternoon we were at anchor at JVD for our last tropical island visit. Here the goal was to get in as much small boat handling as we could in these perfect sailing conditions. We are all aware that the minutes were ticking by. The skiff was launched, Sea Never Dry, our painted up dory with her Senegalese sails was hoisted over board, and the piece de resistance, Mr Bones, was launched. Yes, our fine Grenadian fishing boat was finished ready to be launched too. Matt had dome most of the work but most anyone had a hand in her coming together too, whether it was planning, sanding, puttying, painting, caulking or just helping Matt bend planks – this was a collective effort and interesting boat building experience on the decks of this barque. Bones was launched and rowed around with her Grenadian oars and pronounced a stunning success. Soon Bones became the auxiliary shore boat.
What else does one do at your last tropical island after four months in the tropics, over two months in the Caribbean alone and after being at sea in a big square rig sailing ship for almost a year? Well, you can imagine what you might do. Our gang hung out together a great deal, there was reggae music to dance to at nights, there was plenty small boat sailing to do and the dory ventured far and wide, and ashore there was a good deal of important nothing to do too as well. Onboard plenty of ships work to do – never ending; what with checking over the rigging before sticking our nose into the North Atlantic – trade-wind sails changed out for new storm sails, braces renewed, gear lashed, bits and pieced well stowed, full surveys and inspections of every part of the ship before heading north.
At Jost we missed seeing the famous Foxy who would always greet us with a special Picton Castle calypso song. He was off with his wife Tessa visiting family in Australia. Foxy Callwood had very recently been awarded by Queen Elizabeth II the MBE, or Member of the British Empire (we think that’s what it stands for) for doing so much good in the BVI. We figure we have to call him Sir Foxy now.
Then it came time, the Picton Castle and her crew sailed, again, off the hook under sail, now bound for Bermuda and Nova Scotia – about 1,600 miles. We had a fresh fair easterly that would take us plenty miles on our way for the first leg of this homeward bound passage. That was good enough for now.