The morning sun tiptoes into the partitioned-off corner of my room; the smells of strong spices and baking pastries fill my nose; the sounds of crowing roosters echo in the surrounding hills; and my 0700 alarm goes off, shattering all of it.
This was the typical morning during my stay in Road Town. No air conditioning, brisk cold showers, and a light breakfast. I loved every minute of it. Very seldom do I get out of bed with such zeal, but in the islands, I am more than eager to go out to meet the day. And on this particular day, I was to board s/v Solstice, the custom Cape George Cutter 31, built from a bare hull by Paul Exner over the course of nearly a decade.
Our originally discussed itinerary was to meetup at Trellis Bay on June 4th, sail over to Virgin Gorda, followed by an all-day sail to St. Croix, where we would tour the island for a few days then head back to the BVI. However, much to my surprise, Paul suggested we sail over to Puerto Rico and tour the Spanish Virgins- Vieques and Culebra – returning back to the BVI at the end of the week. I was thrilled! Our third crew member Alex arrived, and after a meet and greet, a few swigs of “Botany Bay” rum, and a brief discussion of our trip, we hopped in the dink and motored over to Solstice. Paul gave us a thorough tour of the boat and a safety briefing, then we weighed anchor to head off to Norman Island.
As we approached the crowded mooring field in the The Bight, a large bay on the western side of Norman Island, Paul said, “Ryan, I want you on the tiller; Alex you’ll trim the yankee. We’re gonna have a little fun.” We entered the anchorage with full sail and significant speed. Being my first experience of mooring in a place like this, I fully expected to drop sails and motor to our mooring ball. Well I was wrong. We zipped through the mooring field, tacking within feet of the charter boats, zig-zagging through the anchorage with ease. People were coming out on their decks, pointing and taking pictures. It was a RUSH! After a few of these victory laps, we sailed up to our mooring ball and dropped the sails, never turning on the engine. The purpose of this exercise was to show us (and others) that it CAN be done. Though I probably wouldn’t try it singlehanded, it was a real confidence builder. I’d give anything to see some of those pics. :) We finished the evening off with a snorkel around the neighboring reef and some dinner and drinks at the Willy-T, a steel barque converted to a raucous floating bar and restaurant.
Do you ever wake up in the morning and have absolutely no idea where you are or what year it is? Well, the next day was liked that for me. I awoke down in the cabin (not without a slight hangover), and after a few blinky sluggish moments, I realized I was still aboard Solstice in an incredibly beautiful anchorage. We got some coffee going, and while Paul whipped up some scrambled eggs, Alex and I got the boat ready to make sail. After breakfast, we sailed off our mooring and headed northwest on a swift broad reach to Jost van Dyke, where we would check out of the BVI en route to Puerto Rico. We killed that afternoon with Painkillers and conch fritters, storytelling, and the sounds of reggae at Foxy’s. Monday was to be our longest sail of the trip – downwind to Fajardo, Puerto Rico – so an early departure was the plan.
At 0200, alarms broke the snoring and slumber, and the ritual of readying Solstice began. This typically meant securing the lee cloths in the cabin, stowing any loose gear, and tidying up the galley. On deck, Alex and I deflate and stow the dinghy, prepare the mainsail, shackle the halyards, and run the headsail sheets ensuring they’re fair and clear. One of my additional responsibilities for our daily passages was navigation. We had a chartplotter, but one of my primary points of focus on this trip was to learn navigation by paper charts. So each morning (or the night prior), I would spend some time establishing a rough route plan, and whilst underway, would take a fix every hour plotting our position and course in the log. Our plan for this day was a downwind sail of about 60nm , with St. Thomas and Culebra to port. And at 0400, with a granola bar and an apple in my belly, we hoisted the main and pointed Solstice’s bow southwest out of Great Harbour for what was to be one of the best days of sailing I’ve ever had. It just keeps getting better and better.