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Trrip Report (10/6 through 10/15)
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Link to this postPosted: Tue Oct 15, 2013 7:10 pm    Post subject: Note Trrip Report (10/6 through 10/15)

More details will follow, but the title is "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times."

Twanger, we were fortunate enough to not need either the wooden plugs or the impellers (but at times I wondered if they would be next).

Walker, we ran out of time to get to Anegada (medical situation that I will put in the report), so we'll have to shake hands some other day. I wanted to personally thank you for your advice and for providing this forum. As a first-timer on a long-term charter, the detials provided would greatly appreciated.

We fly home tomorrow (assuming the ferries are running), then it's back to the grind stone on Thursday. Hopefuly I'll get the report completed by Thursday night.

I will say we had a great time and I think the crew would try it again.

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Link to this postPosted: Tue Oct 22, 2013 12:01 pm    Post subject: Note Actual report

Here's my trip report. I'm not a writer, so "it is what it is". I have toned it down since the first draft because it may have come across too negative. Also, I had to remove the photos as they are not supported. With that, it's yours.
BVI Sailing Trip 2013 Trip Report
Conch Charters
Ciao (2000 Hunter 420 Passage)

As you read this trip report, consider who we are and our experiences. We are two couples (Larry – me, my wife Brenda, Greg and Lynda) in our 50s who have traveled to the Caribbean in October for 24 years straight. We travel in October precisely because it is the low season and things are not crowded. This reduces what activities and restaurants are open, but we’re okay with that.

Likewise, this was our first long-term bareboat charter. While I had been on a week charter before, it was more of a race – running down the Texas coast as fast as possible, spend two nights and run back up as fast as possible. This is quite different than slowing cruising from one harbor to another. Other than that we had only chartered for three days/two nights (weekends). So while we could accomplish everything safely, we were a “rookie” group.

With that in mind, I wanted to add pointers we learned on our trip to encourage other first-time charters that if you can safely skipper a sailboat, you can learn the rest with research, with the help of forums, with the help of your broker (Virgin Island Sailing for us) and “as you go”.

Also, as I’ve read many trip reports, I would say we had several more problems than most. I would not say our experience with Conch Charters or their boat Ciao is typical, as I’ve read many positive reviews on them.

But the first pointer is to realize that chartering can sometimes test your patience.

When asked, “How was your trip?” I generally answer, “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” Overall, we had a really good time. But the problems we had outweighed the good times to the point that I will be fortunate to get my crew back on a charter.

10/5 (Saturday) - Day One: This was traveling day from TX to STT. Everything went well and we stayed at Pavilions and Pools (pre-arranged). P&P is a reasonable place for the money. It's not a great place, but we stayed overnight on beds that were too soft.

Another pointer for first-timers is that taxis are extremely expensive in our opinion. It is much cheaper (if you have 4 people and luggage) to stay in Charlotte Amelia and take the ferry from there all the way to Road Town, as opposed to what we did on the way over (Red Hook to West End).

10/6 (Sunday) - Day Two: We definitely arrived in the Islands. First, the taxi driver arrived at 8:30a as we had scheduled. However, he said the ferry was only going to be the 11:45a to Tortola West End. We thought this was bad because we wanted to be at Conch Charters at 10a to drop bags and provision. We decided to go down to Red Hook and see what was happening. For some reason the ferries were running late (surprise - Not!). We grabbed the Native Son at 9:10, which took us to St. Johns and then changed ferries to get to the WE. We arrived around 10:15.

A good guy taxi driver got us to Conch and waited while we dropped bags. He then swished us off to Riteway and Cash & Carry. The taxi driver went in with us and helped as we purchased $180 of groceries at C&C and then another $160 at Riteway. A quick stop for two bags of ice and we were back to Conch. We paid the taxi driver $100 for 4 people, quite a bit of luggage and a lot of help. He said it was for $60 from the ferry to Conch and $40 to and from the groceries. We thought it should have been the other way around.

Now is when the “fun” started. As we went through the boat check with Ross, we found a number of issues (dinghy motor carburetor was not function properly - replacement dinghy), but the big problem was the AC (why rent a boat with AC/Gen if the AC is not working?) Collin and Ross worked for hours (literally) replacing fuel filters, refilling Freon and a number of other items. Ciao is a 13 year old boat in charter. None of the problems were problems that were surprising. Any boat in charter for a few years will have nicks and bruises.

While work was being completed, I went in to see Irene who went through the chart briefing with me. The girls were not too happy as it was a hot day and sitting in a marina with no breeze and no AC doesn't make things better. However, finally at 4:40pm we were off. Ross confirmed that we had time to make The Bight if we motored straight there. "This is okay!" said the girls as we motored across Francis Drake Straight. Although I spent time showing Lynda how to steer the boat (only one circle) we made it down to The Bight just as the sun dropped below the hills.

The girls were positioned up front as we slowly motored up to the farthest out mooring ball. I knew this was a location that might not be as smooth as an inner ball, but I also thought that since this was our first mooring (ever) we should just take one that was away from everyone. With a slow approach the girls quickly grabbed the mooring and tied the line. We had reviewed the cleat knot, but they couldn't remember how to finish it off. Since there was really no wind, I simply went up front and showed them again how to tie off the cleat knot and how the bridle should be around and under the anchor, not inside the bowsprit. By the next day they were experts.

Finally "parked" for the night, we fired up the outside grill for BBQ chicken. It was dark, the stars were bright and we had a good dinner. Good day/good night.

Oh! Wait! Why is that cushion floating in the water!!! Apparently someone (with the initials GJ) brushed up against it as it hung on the lifeline and knocked it in the water. The cushion was saved, although this was not how I expected to use the dinghy for the first use.

As I went to retrieve the cushion, what do we see? Nurse sharks! With the bright lights we had attracted smaller fish which attracted some 12-15 sharks from 3 to 4 feet in length. Very cool!

First-Time Charter Pointers:
#1) Any boat in charter for a few years is not going to be a Boat Show boat or like your boat (if you have one). Take everything in stride and you'll enjoy the trip more.
#2) Once you get going you'll start to have fun.
#3) Mooring is really not that hard. It's like docking although you get to always come from downwind.
#4) If you are not the partying group there's no better time to vacation then in low season. Personal trip insurance to cover for a storm is cheap and "crowds" are non-existent which gives you the ability to try new things safely, like mooring.

10/7 (Monday) - Day Three: For some reason we decided to have breakfast in Soldier Bay - and anchor for breakfast. Anchoring in the BVIs is not the same as anchoring in Galveston Bay. After a 30 to 45 minute attempt we decided to just grab a mooring ball.

After cleanup we headed off. The weather was good, the weather report was good, so I thought we’d sail around the south side of Norman and up the east side to Great Harbor, Peter Island. With a four to six knot wind, making way is a two to three knot proposition in Ciao (a 2000 Hunter 420 Passage). Between that and continuing to teach the crew how to sail (made three or four full circles as they would let the boat turn to weather) we took four hours to sail down, around and pass up Norman Island. With the wind low and time now at 3pm, we fired up the engine and motor-sailed up to Peter Island.

As we got closer to Carrot Rock, the winds picked up to 12-13kts. Finally some reasonable wind! Resetting the sails, backing down the motor and we were off - 6kts. Ciao likes to run with the wind, but not much else.

We entered Great Harbor at around 4:30pm. Rocket scientists aren’t necessary in calculating a five hour sail around the east side was probably not the smartest idea.

We decided to take the farthest east ball (#1) and jumped in the water! What a great way to cool down! When you’re hot from sailing, jumping in that water is the best!

After a while, we had another wonderful evening of chicken, potatoes and green beans to top off the night. We sat down to discuss where we would go on Tuesday. We settled for The Baths and a mooring somewhere. Interestingly to me, we are still "on schedule" from my original float plan, after a shortened first day and a long sailing second day.

Off to bed to see what tomorrow brings!

First-Time Charter Pointers:
#6) Being safe doesn't mean not learning new things. Try it out; See what you can do. Sure you'll look dumb, but since no one is around to see it, only you will have to know.

10/8 (Tuesday) - Day Four: It’s hard to think that we're already on day four of our trip. We are starting to get the hang of the boat and settle in.

This morning we awoke to rain and thunder. The forecast was correct and it appears to have been raining for a while. The cockpit cushions are all wet, so there's no place to just sit outside.

Interested in seeing what today holds for us! (This ended up being a bad statement)

It was a little more interesting than I thought it might be. The wind was good at 10 knots and we were on a beam reach running about 6.5kts. Then a squall hit. We could see it coming down FDS but decided to sail through it. Typically, the storms pass through very quickly, so the expectation was we would be through it in ten minutes or so. We pulled in the Genoa and reefed the main to drop our speed to 3kts. After fifteen minutes of this one of the crew decided they were too worried about the storm and wanted to go to a safe harbor. We made a couple of tacks to Cooper Island and pulled into an empty mooring field in Manchineel Bay. Since no one was around and the wind was right, we sailed right to the mooring. The girls did a great job picking it up on the first try. Now it was time for lunch and maybe this will clear out and we can get to The Baths.

10/10 (Thursday) - Day Six: You probably noticed that day five and the completion of day four are not entered. I shall do that now and you will understand.

After the weather calmed (back on Tuesday), we headed to The Baths. The Baths are very interesting, including the apparent fact that you tie your dinghy up to a line about fifty yards off shore and swim from there. This is where the third problem on our trip occurred (counting two on Sunday with the dinghy and the AC).

We motored to shore to drop everyone off. I then motored back out to where the other dinghies were tied and swam to shore. However, while swimming to shore something got in my left eye and with the contact, scratched the eye.

This didn't begin to hurt immediately, but was noticeable. After our visit to The Baths, I swam back out to the dinghy, climbed in and picked everyone up to get back to Ciao. Once on Ciao, I removed the contacts and washed the eye – but it was too late! The eye (or lid) was damaged and an infection was already setting in.

Because the mooring balls at The Baths are NPT we couldn't stay there for the night. So we sailed up to Spanish Town to get a mooring ball (Tuesday night). What luck! There was one left. We hooked up, and Greg and I jumped in the dingy to get some groceries. While in Spanish Town, we are told that those mooring balls are all private and that there are no rentable mooring balls in the area. - bummer!

We hurry back to Ciao, stow our items and drop the ball. Now it is getting dark, with about 30 minutes of light – and my eye is beginning to kill me. We call Conch as we have no reports of mooring balls anywhere in the area. Conch tells us that there are none on that side of VG. The only option is the marina at Spanish Town.

As we motor into Spanish Town, all attempts to raise someone on the radio fail. I decided to just pick a slip and docked the boat. Greg and I mosey over to the office where a nice lady says, "What's wrong with your eye? You need to get that looked at because it's making my eye water just looking at you." "Thanks for the advice," I think to myself. We register with the lady, grab our free bag of ice and head back to the boat.

That night (Tuesday night) was miserable for me. My eye hurt badly. In the morning it was much worse, but we had no idea where to go for a doctor. So we headed out (Wednesday) and sailed up to Leverick Bay Marina to meet Nick. I had "met" Nick on the BVI TTOL forum (Travel Talk On-Line) and knew him to be a great person and help.

With one eye, we docked at the fuel dock, filled up with fuel (23.5 gals which we considered very small considering we had run the generator for at least 25 hours and also run the engine for 5-6 hours) and head to another slip for the night.

Nick arranges for a car and I drive with Brenda to the clinic - back in Spanish Town. By car this isn't too far, but if the nice lady in Spanish Town would have just told us that there was a clinic and pharmacy around the corner we could have gone the night before.

The rest of the evening (Wednesday) was better, as we had dinner at Jumbies and settled into the night.

We are really into "island time". We are all having trouble remember which day it is. Today (Thursday) we need to head back to Spanish Town to get my prescriptions (eye drop antibiotics, Amoxicillin and some kind of pain medicine).

After our required medical stops we head down to Copper Mine Point. This was small but interesting and the kind of thing we like to do. After the copper mine, we go to The Baths but it was still too early to eat. We cruise in the car a little more and stop at Mermaid's Dock Side Bar and Grill for lunch. Mermaid's was quite good. We had no other diners and enjoyed a rain storm while sitting on the floating, covered restaurant. We then head to all four of the grocery stores in Spanish Town to see what they have and buy more things (we find the marina store is actually best for our needs). We think we are stocked up for the rest of the trip (other than ice).

Because of the eye, we make the decision not to head to Anegada at all. This was not much of a decision. The trip would be no problem if a storm didn't come up. However, with my eye if we were in the middle of the passage when a storm hit it would not be safe. While the eye is no longer hurting, I don't have clear vision out of it. My crew says the eye is not red anymore and the swelling is down (This makes me feel a lot better).

We stay with Nick another night and decide to head to The Dogs and Marina Cay on Friday. Although the distance isn't that much shorter than going to Anegada, we will have islands to duck behind in case of a storm and we'll be heading down wind the whole way.

First-Time Charter Pointers:
#7) Always take your snorkel mask if you have to swim from the dinghy.
#Cool If you have to get back in the dinghy from the water, set up the painter across mid-ship. This will give you something the grab to help you get back into the dinghy. I was somehow fortunate enough to get in without this, but will not make this mistake again.
#9) Verify 100% the mooring ball locations if you're considering staying on mooring balls. There seem to be plenty *except* between The Baths and North Sound. Possibly your charter company will be able to tell you the updated list, as I suspect they change too often to have a list somewhere.

10/11 (Friday) - Day Seven: We had a good storm during the night, but no problem for us. Weather for the day is as expected and typical for our trip - 10kt winds (with possible up to 20), 40% chance of rain and otherwise another gorgeous day in the BVIs.

We headed off to The Dogs. We have no idea what we will do, if anything other than sail there. Naturally, a storm did arise and hard rain pelted us for about 15 minutes. It wasn't nearly as bad as the one we had on Tuesday, but we were glad we were not heading to Anegada.

Originally, we decide to head to West Dog to grab a mooring behind on the back side of the island (away from the wind). However, once the girls saw the closeness of the rocks we decided to head to George Dog. After grabbing a mooring there, we rested, had lunch and just hung out.

Next we headed to Marina Cay. Lynda had heard a lot about Pusser's there and we were happy to go. Our plan was to have dinner at the restaurant. Of course, we didn't know it was completely closed for the offseason. No problem Mon! We had chicken and steak to grill. We decided on the chicken. Another day in the BVIs!!!

This caused me to reflect back on several posts on different forums that talk about the days when the BVIs were empty and no crowds. If you really are interested in that, you'd love early October. Yes, many things are closed, but many wouldn't have existed back "in the day.” And there are plenty of places open. But there are no crowds. Tonight, in the Marina Cay mooring field there are three boats, counting us and not counting a long-term fishing boat. This *is* how the BVIs once were and why we vacation in October.

Oh, and we had our fourth problem. The dinghy engine (second one) died on the way back to the boat. It was close enough to row, so it was a minor inconvenience.

10/12 (Saturday) - Day Eight: Weather is predicted to get a little worse with 40% chance of showers in the morning and T-storms in the afternoon. Winds 10-15 kts, still out of the East/Southeast.

I checked the dinghy and it still would not start. I called Conch and they will meet us in Cane Garden Bay sometime this afternoon.

The Marina Cay mooring guy came by to collect at about 7:30 while I was drinking my coffee. This is the very first mooring collection for the trip - $30.

We then headed off to Cane Garden Bay. This was a very pretty location and one that we really liked. While Conch showed up with a replacement motor and gas tank for the dinghy, we ate lunch at a little place on the beach (Tony’s).

Since Soggy Dollar was only open until four (off-season hours) we knew we couldn't eat dinner there so we headed for Soper's Hole. We had another great sail down to Soper's and grabbed a mooring, skipping Jost Van Dyke.

After getting everything set up, we took the dinghy over to Fish 'N Lime. Brenda wasn’t feeling too well (queasy) so she didn’t enjoy dinner as much but Fish ‘N Lime was good.

Today was the first day we had no showers or storms during the day. Other than on Tuesday, we haven't had any long-duration showers, so they don't really affect us. They are nice cool downs.

We get back to the boat to find that it was not cooling (our fifth problem). This was not good news for all. As Brenda said, "While some folks rent boats without AC/Gen, we paid for it." We decided to open up the boat, shut down the AC/Gen and see if it was frozen up. There are two units on the boat, so I was surprised that both had quit. The rear was producing cool air, but not enough to override the heat from the generator and a bad front AC unit. We decided that after breakfast we would head back to Conch and have them look at it. Hopefully, they will be able to get it working well for our last three nights.

It is warm like this!

10/13 (Sunday) - Day Eight: Last night was barely livable for us. While some can live without AC in the Caribbean, we cannot. We were all up by 6:30 because of the heat.

We will head over to Conch as soon as we finish breakfast. The weather continues as the last few days: 10-15 knot winds from east/southeast and 60% chance of showers in the morning and T-Storms in the afternoon. There was a light drizzle while we ate breakfast which was nice. It helped keep things cool and shady.

We then sailed around to Conch, with a little motor sailing because of the wind direction. Once at Conch, they put more Freon in the front unit and said everything was good. We topped off the water and then sailed to Great Harbor on Peter Island.

We had a wonderful time floating in the water, followed by showers off the back of the boat. It was such a nice evening, we left the generator and AC units off while we cooked and ate T-bones for suppers. We went upstairs while Greg fired up the generator and AC to cool things down for the night.

Then things got worse (problem number six). After about 30 minutes the generator quit running. After verifying that the generator did not overheat, we tried the engine. It did not sound good, so our diagnosis was no fuel, fuel delivery problem (filter?) or bad fuel. This is really not good. Either way, it's going to be another hot night!

We shut down all the power to conserve the battery and went to bed. This was hotter than the night before because we didn't have fans running. Needless to say, I didn't sleep very well. I kept calculating over and over in my head to see if there was any way we could have run out of fuel. Also, every different noise kept me up wondering what would go wrong next. Three times I got up and walked around the deck to make sure there were no additional problems.

First-Time Charter Pointers:
#10) Use an Engine/Generator log sheet where you log the start-up and shut-down times for each as you use it. Then if you have a problem, you have all the details you need.

10/14 (Monday) - Day Nine: We all got up around 6 because we couldn't sleep. Around 6:45 I made the first call to Conch and was greeted with an answering machine. At 7:05 I called again and left a message to have Operations call me.

We passed the time by making coffee. This was done by using the kettle to heat the water (seemed to have a lot of propane) and then pour this through the drip coffee maker. We did not want to risk drawing down the power in the batteries.

Weather should be good today. Chance of rain 30% for showers, but no forecast for t-storms. Winds should be calm in 10kt range. At least we have this on our side.

At 8:40 I called again. This time they answered and we discussed the situation. Initially, they made it seem that we had run out of fuel. In any case they would contact an engineer and have him call. I spoke with the engineer at about 9:30 and explained everything that happened. He was skeptically that we had run out of fuel. So, he jumped in the chase boat and came over.

He worked on the fuel, engine and generator for more than an hour. He confirmed that we had not run out of fuel, but he couldn't really explain what had happened. He was good, taking all the fuel lines off and inspecting everything. His best guess was that there were two lines that had clamps that were not tight. These, while not leaking fuel, could have let air into the lines causing the generator to quit and the engine to run poorly.

He then inspected the AC unit and confirmed that it was leaking badly and not repairable. He called the base and they searched for a new unit on the island and found one. The plan now was to return to base for a third time (seventh problem). This time they would top off the fuel and water and replace the AC unit. This took another four hours out of our day, but we were back at our spot in Great Harbor on Peter by 3:30pm with a working engine, a working generator and a new, working AC unit (YEAH!).

We jumped in the water, floated around a little, snorkeled some. After a couple of hours we all showered off the back of the boat not worrying about water usage because we are returning to dock tomorrow evening.

Currently, Greg is out cooking chicken, the girls are getting the potatoes, beans and broccoli ready and Jimmy Buffet is playing on the stereo.

Hopefully, the last 36 hours of this trip will be the best (or at least trouble free)! Tomorrow we plan to sail down to The Indians and snorkel. Then we may go to The Caves. Depending on the time, I hope to get some more sailing in as we head back to Conch Charter's base. We plan to stay on the dock, eat out and pack on Wednesday morning. This will allow us to catch the 10 o'clock ferry from Road Town to Charlotte Amelia, getting us to the airport around 11:30 and then home.

First-Time Charter Pointers:
#11) If you're very sure you have fuel (as I was), let the engine and gen cool down and then try to restart them (After going through regular start-up checks). I don't know that they would have run, but it's very possible. (Of course, since we didn't have an AC working, it probably would not have made a difference in the temperature.)

10/15 (Tuesday) - Day Eleven: "Oh, What A Night!" AC working strong! This is what we expected for the whole trip, which we never had.

The weather today is forecasted to be worse than other days. 50% chance of showers and t-storms in the morning and 50% chance of showers in the afternoon. East winds at 12-16kts.

We left Great Harbor about 11, as we had a late morning and therefore a late breakfast. We sailed down to The Indians as planned and I had a nice snorkel. Brenda attempted to snorkel with me, but got scared. But we had fun. After snorkeling we had lunch on the boat and then sailed back to Road Town.

The return sail was bitter-sweet as I would expect everyone's experience to be. Ten days is quite a long time, so it's nice to return home. On the other hand, is a vacation ever too long? We did have several problems, but I think my crew would return (just not next year).

First-Time Charter Pointers:
#12) Life's too short to worry about small problems. Just get over it.
#13) Never, ever charter or buy a center-cockpit sailboat. Inexperienced sailors hate the lean and the boat (at least this one) does not point well into the wind.
#14) Have a better pre-charter checklist. Know all tank sizes (don’t rely on your research, ask the charter company). Go through all of the storage locations. Go through all the kitchen utensils and equipment (found the toaster on the last day and Conch didn't know it was on the boat).

10/16 (Wednesday) - Day Twelve: We got up early, cooked breakfast, cleaned up and packed our bags. We caught a 9am taxi to the Road Town Ferry, went out on the 9:30 ferry to Charlotte Amelia and at the airport by 11. All our flights went well and we are back at work.

“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.”
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Link to this postPosted: Tue Oct 22, 2013 2:24 pm    

Great report, even if the trip turned out to be less than you wanted.

I have to say, I am amazed that you ever got the AC to work at all on a 13 year old charter boat.

Great "First-Time Charter Pointers". They are valid for seasoned charterers as well!

The best is #12: Life's too short to worry about small problems. Just get over it.
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Link to this postPosted: Tue Oct 22, 2013 3:25 pm    

Thanks, Walker. Sorry we missed you, but with the eye it just wasn't a good idea.

Hope the report wasn't too long and boring.

As I'm sure you're aware, the AC units are fully replaceable units (can't recall the brand name). The aft unit was fairly new and now the front unit is brand new. I was personally disappointed that they waited a week to replace it. Since the owner of the boat paid the same amount regardless of when the unit was replaced, it would have been wiser for them to have replaced it from the beginning (in my opinion).

Anyway, I am somewhat hopeful that the crew would go again sometime. And I'm sure they'll be willing to pay that extra $25/night/person to upgrade to the newer Beneteau I tried to talk them all into chartering.

It was a good time and we learned a lot in a safe area. Fortunately, we had no strict plans for being at location-A on a certain day. We just took it as it came.
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Link to this postPosted: Tue Oct 22, 2013 5:21 pm    

My point regarding the AC was that the owner of a 13 year old charter boat seldom does more than necessary to keep it afloat.
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Link to this postPosted: Wed Oct 23, 2013 5:03 am    

Wow, you certainly had your share of boat issues!

Glad you had a good time anyway... Would you go again in October?
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