One of the perks of working for a European-owned company is the vacation time. This year, my company gave every employee four weeks of vacation time, plus a week of paid shutdown for the holidays. So with the extra boost in paid leave I very much intended to get some real sailing in. And one of my major goals for 2016 was to do a big sailing trip, I was either going to crew for Alex in the big move of Eleanor down the East coast, or another training expedition of some kind. When Alex had originally planned to move Eleanor – mid March to early April – I was caught up in the middle of a major work project. Heartbroken that I simply couldn’t get away, I decided to book a trip for the summer.
Back in January, I volunteered to crew on the delivery of a Hanse 455 with Paul Exner (see Das Boot). After a few days of bitter cold and uncertain weather forecasts, Cpt. Paul decided to cancel the trip. Though we didn’t do any sailing, I learned a lot from him, and upon our departure he said “we will sail together one day.” Little did I know it would only be a few months later!
Paul runs a sailing expedition business out of Tortola, British Virgin Islands called Modern Geographic. I heard about his expertise through several blogs and my favorite podcast 59° North. So one day in March, Paul posted on Facebook that he had an opening for a trip in June, and I jumped on it. The deposit was on its way, and Paul had me working on my pre-trip “homework.”
The underlying theme of these expeditions is to take a sailor, professional or novice, to their next level, challenging their skills through a custom curriculum. One of the things I took away from my brief time with him in Annapolis, was that Paul knows really knows his stuff when it comes to weather forecasting. So this was to be one of my chief focuses for the following months up to the trip. While reading Steve and Linda Dashew’s book, The Mariner’s Weather Handbook, I began analyzing 500mB and Surface Analysis charts on a daily basis, slowly building my understanding of marine forecasting and weather routing. In addition, I wanted to learn from him the basics for navigation on paper charts, flying a spinnaker, and just generally advancing my sailing knowledge.
Two days after I sailed Lorilee up to Kemah, I boarded a 5 a.m. flight to St. Thomas – yes, it was a crazy week! I flew down a few days prior to meeting up with Paul, so I could get in some “island time” – which translates to spicy food, fruity drinks, and some great diving. As soon as I touched down in St. Thomas, I had to rush over to the Tortola Fast Ferry to pick up the last trip of the day, and I was off to the BVI.
After a somewhat stressful clearing into the country, I hopped in a cab and headed up to the room I rented through AirBnB. A quick introduction from the host and a freshening up later, and I was out the door in search of that first cold beer. On my way down the four flights of stairs, I bumped into another AirBnB patron who was staying there for the week. A lot like hostels, AirBnB’s tend to attract like-minded travelers, and this instance was no different. And thus the first night of this trip was spent in good company, with a few good drinks.
The next morning, I was bit too late to get on any dive boats, so my roommate and I decided to take a ferry over to Jost van Dyke for some beach time at White Bay. I did some great freediving and snorkeling, topped off by half a dozen Painkillers and some conch fritters. Apparently White Bay is a popular cruising spot, as the anchorage was quickly crowding up with chartered catamarans. One cat had to have been over seventy-five feet. Those boats aren’t my style at all, but damn they’re impressive to look at. We headed back to Tortola that evening, cooked a few steaks, and had a few Heineken before calling it a night.
On Friday, I managed to get on a dive boat at Nanny Cay that was heading out fairly early. As we were headed to a spot called Angelfish Reef on Norman Island, we spotted a larger charter catamaran dragging a mooring – flying an American flag of course. We managed to hail the captain, and as we approached, it became apparent the mooring was wrapped badly around his port side prop. The divemaster, Megs – a petite 30-something from South Africa – offered to dive on the boat to free the mooring. The skipper waved us off without even a “thank you”, and so we headed to the dive spot. Megs said, “Bloody credit card captains.” I laughed my ass off. Our first dive was nothing short of spectacular. In one dive, we saw giant rays, turtles, eels, and a reef shark. It could not have been better. So upon my return to Tortola, I capped off that awesome day with a solid two-hour nap and a super grande Painkiller at Pusser’s. I could get used to this.
And with an amazing start to this trip, I headed over to Trellis Bay Saturday morning to meet up with Paul and his Cape George Cutter 31, Solstice, for a week of the best sailing I’ve done yet.
Now the real adventure begins.