Captain's Log

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Landfall – British Virgin Islands – May 11, 2019

With the Saintes and Nevis well astern we kept sailing for the British Virgin Islands and Jost Van Dyke. At dawn, the day came in cloudy and warm. Wind was fair on the starboard quarter, seas modest. On the misty horizon ahead we could see the tips of the many Virgin Islands, so named by Columbus a long time ago after St Ursula and her 11,000 virgins. I have no idea who St Ursula and the girls were. But it sure looks like a lot of islands as we approach. And then it becomes clear that there are fewer as the multiple peaks turn into one island or so. Still plenty islands though. From the east we see Virgin Gorda, Ginger, Cooper, Salt, Deadman’s Chest, Tortola, Peter Island, Norman Island and the US island of St John towards the west. St Thomas is off in the distance and out of view.

Into Sir Frances Drake Channel we slip in to Salt Island Passage at about 0830 and sail almost over the wreck of the RMS Rhone, a famous wreck of a big iron steam and sail mail ship lost in a hurricane in 1867. A horrific loss at the time. Hurricane Irma was a reminder of how bad a hurricane can be hereabouts. Once past Salt Island and Deadman’s Chest (yep, that’s its name) we squared the yards for the run down the channel between the islands. Many bare-boats sailing or motoring around. For reasons we do not understand many of these sloop rigged catamarans under charter seem to prefer to motor downwind instead of unfurling a big genoa and sailing along quietly. A mystery. 

The Picton Castle sailed gently down Sir Francis Drake Channel pointing out various islands and anchorages and introducing a bit of history. Piracy, free-ports, sugar, slaves, rum, terrible tropical diseases of yore, islands changing flags with frequency, the post-colonial era. The islands are dry. They seemed scoured from Hurricane Irma. But rebuilding well underway it seems from afar. Soon enough we came up to the narrow pass at Soper’s Hole and West End Tortola. This we need to negotiate to get to the north of Tortola and to Jost Van Dyke’s Great Harbour. The gang braced up on the starboard tack and remained at the braces and for quick sail handling. Chief Mate Erin took the wheel and sailed the ship through this dog-leg slot without using the engine. Then it was only three and a half miles to Jost. With all sail trimmed just so, Erin sailed the ship right up to the anchor. With some swift sail handling and backing of the main yards to stop the ship from hitting the island,  we let the anchor go in four fathoms and backed the ship down under main topsails until the hook got a good hold. Clew up and furl the sails. The passage was done. Next, launch the longboat and the beautiful Lunenburg/Senegal Dory known as Sea Never Dry. Jost Van Dyke is about as good as it gets for ambitious small boat sailing.

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