Much of what I wrote about BVI was written in the evenings on Sputnik, my beloved netbook. Looking at what I wrote on Tuesday, eight days into our trip, it’s obvious that I was starting to lose steam. In fact, at this point, I was counting the day until we could go home. And I’m sure that Rich was of the same mindset.
We were sunburned, tired, hot, and not particularly excited by anything aside from the prospect of sleeping on a soft bed with fluffy pillows, and a fan whirling overhead. I had daily fantasies about warm showers with fragrant shampoo, Ivory soap, and piles of warm towels (preferrrably just removed from a dryer).
To remedy our lackluster attitude, on Wednesday morning, we snoozed in the v-berth until 7:30. It was a blustery morning so neither one of us was inclined to get up. Rich made some coffee, which we sipped as we motored to The Caves (above) on Norman Island. This area is supposed to have great snorkeling, but we weren’t impressed, mainly because the water was choppy and full of sediment, making it hard to see the fish and coral. In addition, the current, made it dangerous to swim around the point to see another part of the reef. The prospect of being washed into sharp coral by a swift wave didn’t appeal to us.
Norman Island was the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel “Treasure Island.” The area has a history that involved pirates, treasure, and rum. A short sail away is Dead Chest Island, which reportedly got its name when the notorious Blackbeard. After a mutiny, he put fifteen men ashore on the island with only a bottle of rum, hence the song “fifteen men on a dead man’s chest, yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.”
With periodic rain storms throughout the day, after our morning snorkel expedition, we weren’t gung-ho about doing much more than anchoring in quiet Privateer’s Bay, reading, snorkeling in the area, daydreaming, and spying on others boats and their occupants.
“Rise and shine” was the battle cry on Thursday morning after a stormy night, closing hatches, checking the GPS to make sure we weren’t dragging anchor, and trying to get comfortable on the thin foam cushion in the v-berth.
The weather was overcast with gusty winds so we motored to the wreck of the Rhone, a Royal Mail Steamship that sank in 1867 after being caught in a hurricane. It’s one of the top place to scuba dive in BVI because the wreak is in only 30-90 feet of water with much of the ship is intact and visible, including decking, parts of the rigging, the steam engine, crow’s nest, and propeller.
Even so, I wasn’t eager to see it since 125 people instantly perished when cold sea water gushed into the ship, causing the steam engine to explode. Plus, our sailing book said that snorkelers can’t see much unless the water is super clear. Nevertheless, we pulled on our swim fins, adjusted our masks, and jumped into the water.
Sure enough, there wasn’t much to see, until we decided to circle back towards one of the commercial (scuba) dive boats. We could clearly see what was left of the Rhone. It strange to swim over a submerged ship as if we were a huge whale, its bones broken apart and scattered on the ocean floor.
By the time, we turned around to investigate the other half of the ship (it broke into two pieces), a group of scuba divers had suited up and were swimming underneath us. It was like swimming in a bowl of seltzer water. Everywhere there were itty-bitty bubbles along with larger bubbles that drifted up towards the surface and burst when we touched them with our hands.
I don’t know how long we swam in the bubbles, chasing and popping the bubbles. It was definitely some of the best fun I’ve had with a snorkel and mask!
Next, we headed around the corner to a cove off Salt Island (below). There were no mooring balls so we dropped an anchor, which didn’t seem to be holding. Rich pulled on his fins, mask and snorkel and jumped overboard to take a look. The anchor was in a rocky area. We attempted to anchor again, but couldn’t get a firm hold and were concerned that with the strong winds, a less than perfect anchoring, would blow us onto the beach.
Rich decided to go back to the wreck of the Rhone, grab a mooring ball, and then dinghy back to Salt Island. Excellent plan and twenty minutes later we pulled our dinghy onto the beach.
Salt Island was one of my favorite places when we first visited BVI. The salt ponds were full and on the peripheral were mounds of salt crystals along with a multitude of different varieties of sun-bleached coral. The islanders collected and harvested the salt, and every year, sold a one pound bag of salt to the Queen of England as a symbolic tribute. During their heyday, they were an important source of salt for the British Royal Navy.
Until a few years ago, one man lived on the island and was the sole person overseeing the salt ponds. As it grew older, he had to move to the main island, Tortola. Since he left, the salt ponds have become stagnant; the edges caked with reddish brown mud, the desiccated carcass of a small goat the only relic on the ground. Outside of seeing a couple of goats on the hillsides, seeking cover under scraggly bushes, there was no sign of life.
The handful of residential buildings had fallen into disrepair, the grave sites of the people killed on the Rhone have been vandalized, and much of the beach and walking paths were littered with broken bottles and cans.
It was very sad. And in a sense, it was subtle signal that our time at BVI was winding down. The next day, our last full day of sailing, we decided to snorkel one last time at The Indians. Unfortunately, it was overcast and windy so the water was murky, making it hard to see the fish and the reefs. It much nicer snorkeling when rays of bright sunlight filter down into the water, illuminating the fish and creating patches of warm water.
With our ice supply nearly gone and a need to keep our last bit of food cold, we zipped back to Soper’s Hole (right) for ice and a much needed dark chocolate Hagen Daz ice cream bar. We dawdled for an hour or so, went into a few shops, walked over to the dry dock (below), where a huge cat was being pulled out of the water. While Rich was preoccupied, I had a love fest with a young, slender, black cat. He was unsprayed, flirtation, frisky, and happy that someone was petting him.
We leisurely sailed back to Norman Island and Privateer’s Bay, a quiet anchorage with few boats and pleasant snorkeling. More rocky than “reefy,” the bay had a range of terrains and in several places can be very shallow – too shallow! At one point, we zigged instead of zagged and were in only a few feet of water with sharp coral, pointy rocks, and sea urchins less than a foot beneath our bodies. In this situation, you have no choice but to remain prone and paddle like crazy until you get in deeper water.
I’m sure we were in this shallow water only a few minutes, but it felt like half an hour of frantic paddling until the ocean floor once again dropped a safe distance beneath my body.
In other part of the bay, we were meander along a small reef and came upon a large pile of discarded conch shells. Local fishermen gather conch, break off the bottom of the shell, pull out the conch then dump the shells overboard, in this case, close to the shore.
Conch is a popular dish in the Caribbean; although, overfishing has depleted the supply and it’s illegal to gather queen conch Florida and adjacent Federal waters. On the last night we were in BVI, we had conch fritters as an appetizer. It tasted like fried, ground up squid… the shells with the critters inside are much more impressive.
The pile of conch shells that we came upon were primarily queen conchs, which have large, deep pink and coral lips that curve away from the main part of the shell. There were exquisite. We swam around the pile for few minutes, admiring their beauty and wondering whether we could swim down and grab one off the piles. We remembered, however, that you’re not supposed to disturb anything near the reefs.
Conch were originally used to make cameos(left) because they have layers of color, ranging from ivory to deep coral, which are revealed by a skilled carver’s hand. While we were in Soper’s Hole, I purchased a pretty silver bracelet with an inlaid piece of conch to remember our days in BVI.