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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Virgin Islands - North Sound

At the top of the island of Virgin Gorda is an area known as North Sound. A large expanse of water bounded on all sides by islands and coral reefs with only a couple of narrow entrances. This is perfect sailing and anchoring, flat sheltered water in gorgeous surroundings and has, unsurprisingly, become a mecca for charter sailors and the rich and famous alike. There are some very exclusive places here, and even those that let in scruffy types like us exact their revenge in terms of dollars. My standard test - how much for a cold beer - demonstrates that. Most islands it has been $2US on average, up here it's $3.50.

Tourism clearly brings in an enormous amount of money, I'm told that the average income here is forty thousand US dollars. The BVI's form a sailors paradise, with short distances in sheltered water between beautiful islands and islets. We have only seen a fraction of it and already love it here despite the costs. For those on a short holiday, it's irrelevant to be spending pretty much what they would at home on eating out, basic provisions and so on since this is a special vacation and people happily 'push the boat out' so to speak.

One of the more annoying effects of this is the 'mooring ball' issue. We keep our boat in one place but dropping the anchor. Find a nice sandy spot, let down a big lump of steel with thirty metres of chain and you're all set. Every boat has one, you can check the connections for corrosion every day when you lift it up and if you do it right, it's easy and effective. Those on vacation, however, may never have anchored a boat before. They are well practiced at pulling into a marina slip and tying up but you can tell that anchoring is worrying because when they must do so, they often sit on the bow for thirty minutes afterwards worrying about whether they've done it right.
So when some nice kind company or national park authority lays moorings (basically lengths of chain anchored to the bottom with a float on top for you to tie to), people are delighted to just motor up, tie a line to it and be done. More than once I've heard people say how good it is to feel 'more secure'. Fair enough, although I always worry that you don't know whether that chain is about to rust through, or if the rope part is chafed within a thread of it's life until your boat goes sailing off by itself, as has happened to a couple of boats we've heard of this season. Give my my chain and anchor any day.

This wouldn't be a problem except that the cheapest of these moorings runs to $25 a night and, worst of all, they are laid in the best anchoring spots, forcing those of us who won't pay to the edges of the anchorage a bit to close to the shore, or the reef, or open water. 'Ah yes', say the folks who want our money, 'but people want moorings, the fact that they are full shows that'. Actually no, it shows that you've made anchoring awkward enough that any charter skipper who's nervous about it already will pick up the mooring and pay instead.

Oh well, end rant, it's not a big deal and I guess it saves us having to get up in the night to fend off badly anchored charter boats dragging down onto us.

I've been distracted, the real point of this post was to say how nice this place is and what we've done. It really has been a little like being on that wonderful Caribbean vacation (wait, I hear you say, you are on a wonderful Caribbean vacation, but you know what I mean) The beach has a volleyball net where we knocked a ball around for the first time in a long time, and with the kids too. Gesa lounges on the beach chair, cocktail in hand and I play in the waves with the kids. Unlike the typical vacation, we still have to 'wash the car' as it's time to scrub the dinghy. We all have fun actually, turning it upside down and scraping off the barnacles and other marine life that has tried to make itself at home on our transport.

Back on board, we enjoy the comings and goings of all the other yachts, make the most of wifi that reaches out to us from the resorts and barbecue up the tuna we caught on the way here.

On shore we get chatting to a family with similar aged kids and it turns out that they have a house here that they spend about six weeks of the year at, when they aren't at home in Aspen, Colorado. 'Come over', they say, 'we've got a pool' and we need no more invitation. The kids get on well and play happily together in and out of the pool, and when we are invited to stay for dinner we enjoy a lovely evening together watching the sun set over the bay and chatting about all manner of things home and away. We are constantly delighted to meet such generous and hospitable people everywhere we go, both afloat and ashore and it's good to be reminded just how nice people are to each other, regardless of background, status, wealth and all the other factors that cloud our judgement so much at times. Anyway, thanks, Tom and Barb, if you're reading this, and we hope our input to your plans for your UK vacation is helpful!

We explore the shoreline and reefs around the sound, and all snorkel on the shallow barrier reef. Whilst not as spectacular as some of the places we've been, the fact that the coral and fish are just a few feet below you makes it fascinating and easy to spot the small and different things that live there - some bright purple coral I've never seen before and many little 'fairy fish', vivid blue and yellow dancing in and out of holes in the coral. Max is almost swimming without a float now, and even wants to dive down like Issie, so the shallow calm water was wonderful for him.

We're moving on to rendezvous with our friends from Iceni and visit 'The Baths' further south, so more later.
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