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  #1  
Old 07-30-2003
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magnusmurphy is on a distinguished road
BVI charter report

Here is a short report of our recent BVI charter. Thoughts written down randomly as they come to mind as a result of time constraints.

Time: July 1 to July 28, 2003

Sunsail: Tortola
Boat: Beneteau 361

Crew: Author (M Murphy), my wife, two daughters of 10 and 7, and my father who joined us for two weeks.

Provisioning: Bobbyís market. We ordered two weekís worth of provisioning online ahead of time through their excellent website and everything was delivered a few minutes after our arrival. WE paid by credit card only after delivery. Another time we used their free mini bus to pick us up and deliver us back to our base. The quality of the food is great.

We basically circumnavigated Tortola and the islands three times in a very leisurely fashion. We often stayed in the same place for a second day and sometimes then moved only a short distance. We did sail to Anagada on our own (not with the flotilla) and another time sailed deep into the open ocean on a passage from Spanish Town to Soperís hole, with just one stop at Green Cay.

Wheather; Caribbean temperatures. We did however have winds that were stronger than expected. It seldom was less than 20 knts. As a result our nights were often interrupted by a bobbing boat and all the associated noises. There were a few days we felt the effects of sleep deprivation. We had about three tropical waves come through and one tropical depression, which caused us to head back to the base in Maya Cove as a result of a danger of tropical storm conditions. That led to a bash from Soperís hole (which was not an area Sunsail wanted us to stay in) against 25knt headwinds back to Maya Cove. Not very far, but it was late and the day and with uncertainty regarding the possible storm, made for some tense hours of motoring.

We packed too much clothes. We tried not to do that but still could have taken less.

I took a few electronic gadgets. The GPS helped on the way to Anagada, and I used my handheld VHF radio regularly. The boatís radio had no cockpit speaker or mic and was thus a pain to use if entering a marina.

We snorkeled a lot. Favorite places for snorkeling: Monkey point on Guano Island, Cooper Island just west of the beach club, North beach of Anagada, Green Cay (Jost Van Dyke). However many other places were great and we observed both a turtle and a spotted eagle ray feeding in
the grass of Deadmanís beach for about 15 min each. My kids were ecstatic.

I did nine scuba dives with Sail Caribbean Divers. Classy and very professional outfit. The wrecks in the area (including the must-see Rhone) are spectacular. We also snorkeled on the Rhone so my kids could get some images of the wreck. The stern section is easy to see from the surface.

Favorite beaches: Cane garden bay and Cooper Island. However there were many other great beaches.

The baths area is another must. My advice: Leave Cooper Island or Maya cove around 07h00 and go straight there Ė it fills up very quickly and one is not supposed to anchor, although we noticed many vessels anchoring further north in front of private beaches.

Anagada offered the following: the snorkeling was excellent on very shallow reefs and it was great for my two daughters to be able to see the marine life close up. The sail there was a spectacular reach from North Sound (Gorda Sound). From there we had a great sail to Jost Van Dyke.
We used our GPS but there were still some anxious moments. Only two of the navigation buoys were present (red at entrance of channel and red further in) My depth sounder measured 0.00 for the last 15 min! Fortunately by then Iíve noticed that it had a significant offset, but still it was not a good feeling. The wind was blowing so hard it was difficult to see anything in the water.
The lobster is as advertised: Great


Our boat was generally in good condition and everything worked. However towards the end there was a problem with the siphon valve of the head, with resultant odors and there was a problem with significant weather helm, probably as a result of loose rigging and resultant mast rake. We hardly ever sailed with full main (the wind was 20-25 knts almost all the time). WE noticed that the boat was swinging and yawing a lot at anchor or mooring. It made for difficult sleeping sometimes. I personally think it has to do with the keel configuration but may be wrong. We also often seemed to be rolling more than other boats.

Problems and negative impressions:

I write this with some reluctance since I donít want to come across as negative. We did have a great time. However paradise does have warts and this one is no exception.

Minor things first.
We found it very difficult to find safe areas to anchor. Most areas are so full of mooring balls you are almost obligated to take one and pay the $25. Thatís not a problem if youíre there for a week, but for a month it does add up. Cane Garden Bay is a happy exception and there are lots of excellent areas to anchor with good holding. At Cooper Island and Trellis bay Ė forget it. We tried anchoring one night at Cooper Island but ended up dragging. That was mostly related to an exceptionally strong squall (from the west at Cooper) but also because the best holding areas are all full of mooring balls. In Trellis bay we successfully anchored one night but on another occasion there simply was no room. We anchored but was too close to a private mooring buoy (whoís owner appeared to our chagrin), and we had to leave and grab one of the last moorings. In Anagada we didnít try, because of the strength of the wind and the difficulty we had in seeing where the reef was. However in calmer weather it would be a great place to drop the hook.
In Great Harbor at Jost Van Dyke, we set two anchors since the first had difficulty setting. No one else did however and as far as we know everyone was OK. There were no ďbumps in the nightĒ that we are aware of. WE anchored successfully right in front of Saba rock and had a great night.

We anchored often for day stops at places like Green Cay, Sandy Spit, Monkey Point, The dogs etc. We also made ample use of the Marine Park day buoys. Remember to purchase a permit.

DONĒT fish without a permit!! There is a controversy brewing with two US boats having been confiscated already. It threatens to become a political incident.

There was one very serious incident during our cruise:

The night we went back to the Sunsail dock to wait out the possible tropical storm, at least two but possibly as many as three sailboats were criminally boarded at about 02h45 by an unknown local man. Apparently some women were touched while sleeping. I woke up from a continuous screaming for help. On sticking my head out the companionway there was a man on the dock in a state of extreme anxiety shouting that his boat had been broken into and his girlfriend touched. The next moment he saw the culprit climbing out of the water onto a finger dock where he apparently ended after a scuffle with another charterer on another boat. The intruder shouted various threats which Iíll not repeat, at which everyone backed off. The man then ran off. Even though he passed three meters in front of me, all I can remember was that he was black, he was big, and he was wet. The police obviously became involved and from the next day on, Sunsail had a security guard during the night.
Although very serious, this incident is apparently the first such incident in the BVI that anyone can remember. Itís also not company specific but in my opinion it shows that security needs to be improved at all bases. I noticed that there was no visible security anywhere before this incident.


Now for some general negative impressions. The positives are: Great sailing, Beautiful scenery, and all the other Caribbean attributes Iíll not bore the reader with Ė itís well known and we enjoyed it all.

In the Cruising guideís introduction to the BVI, the Chief Minister Ralph OíNiell (now ex-Chief Minister) states:
ďOur people are warm and as friendly as the balmy tradewinds constantly blowing over the islands.Ē

I would like to take him on regarding that statement. After a few days my wife mentioned to me that she finds the people quite rude. Slow to judge I kept defending them for about two weeks. No no no, they are: shy, introverted, we donít understand them or their culture and traditions, itís island time etc. etc. etc.

After about two weeks I changed my mind and after a month Iím sure: They are rude. Now donít get me wrong, there are exceptions. I can think of a few. However in general we found the service exceptionally pathetic. With few exceptions (Iíll name the ones that come to mind) the treatment you get when asking for any kind of service is cold, sometimes denigrating. I can still hear the sigh of one woman who managed the Internet service Cafť at Trellis bay when she had to get up to show me to the computer. You get the impression you are just a pain in the neck and a bother. Very often service people will ignore you for a long time, and when you finally ask a question or try to get their attention, they will mumble something with their back turned towards you. When you dare ask again, the full wrath of their irritation is exposed.

There were exceptions: Nigel at Cooper Bay Beach club (great guy to get to know better), The Sunsail dock staff (the office staff is very stand-offish), one lady at a store in Road Harbour, The waitress at Fat Hog Bobís restaurant. Unfortunately there were too many incidents of pathetic or rude service that leave one with the general impression that maybe the BVI needs a wakeup call as far as that is concerned. Too many tourists and too little competition apparently leads to taking people for granted or even (thatís the feeling sometimes) causing resentment.

Some incidents were clearly simply funny and showing a cultural divide and Iím not including that in my beef. Iím thinking of the guy at Little Harbour; Jost Van Dyke who ushered us out of his store since he wanted to go eat his lunch. No matter that we were the only customers in the whole area and were not going to wait around for more than an hour for him to finish his lunch (which he proceeded to eat just outside the store while we got back in the dingy and left). There were no posted lunchtime closures and there were other salespeople sitting around. This incident was quite amusing and could be cultural. However what irked us was the thinly veiled animosity I tried to describe above.

Overall we had a great time.

Iíll be especially interested to hear other peopleís feelings on the issues I raised above. I think the fact that we went for such a long time, made some of these things more noticeable. On the average week charter, such a great time is had by everyone that something like indifferent (or worse) service is not even noticed. Having read my impressions Iíd be interested to see if others agree. I thought long about whether Iím going to post this impression. Too easy to be seen as a whiner. Maybe heís the rude oneÖ I can see the way all this can be interpreted. However I do feel itís maybe time to let the BVI know there may be a problem. Their economy depends on tourists. I do not want to be treated as a pain in the neck by a waitress when ordering a painkiller or asking for water at a marina. I might just decide to go spend my dollars somewhere Iím appreciated.

Just my opinion

Magnus Murphy
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Old 07-31-2003
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BVI charter report

Magnusmurphy:
Thanks for the good report.
No need to feel badly about having come to some (apparently well-considered) reluctant conclusions. You''ve stated the facts, and derived opinions - for better or worse, these represent your experience.
Some of the poor service you mention IS cultural. This does''nt excuse it!
Thanks again.
Gord May
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Old 07-31-2003
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BVI charter report

Magnus,

Thanks for your report. We just returned from 10-day cruise in the BVIs and had somewhat different experiences with locals.

When we made the effort to converse with them beyond the business aspect of our dealing (buying food, items, paying for a mooring, etc.), we found a lot of the service people were recently from other Caribbean countries. In many cases, they were fleeing much more undesirable conditions and were both glad to be in a better situation and yet not entirely satisfied with their lot. Islanders who were born there or longtime residents seemed nicer to us overall - just a generalization.

Overall, we did notice the attitude at times like we customers were quite a bother to them, but that wasn''t the majority. Some were outstandingly courteous and helpful, but still a little reserved in their demeanor. Most were in that acceptable (to us) middle area.

My wife and I have both been Type A personalities for a lot of our lives, but we''re getting more relaxed over time. We quickly adjusted to "island time" even when it meant sitting around for an hour waiting for a taxi that was only 5 minutes away.



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Old 08-01-2003
Eva Eva is offline
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BVI charter report

I, too, have just returned from a July sail in the BVI -- my 5th. During our visit, I only had one encounter which I would term "rude" -- but it was clearly my fault. I was at the airport waiting on a lost bag, had sent my husband to the charter base to have our checkout (hoping to leave base that afternoon), flustered and frustrated, and was looking to an airport official for assistance. As I launched into my request, she looked stonily at me, and then cut me off mid-stream, saying "Good Afternoon." This, instantly, reminded me that it is considered the height of rudeness to launch, American-style, into a request or question without a greeting or pleasantry. As soon as I offered the appropriate greeting and apology, the lady became correspondingly more polite to me. I knew better, but let my annoyance over my lost luggage get the better of this well-ingrained practice (which, after years of island travel, I find myself using at home -- and it almost never fails to disarm the most indifferent clerk).

If this sounds too simplistic, then I apologize. However, I''ve observed Americans and many Europeans speak to people in the islands without any preamble, and the result is striking.

On the other hand, I do agree about the leisurely pace of service. However, unless I''m trying to catch a plane, I just don''t allow myself to worry about it (though it can get awfully annoying at times!)
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Old 08-04-2003
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BVI charter report

Magnus, I have spent a lot of time living/working on various boats all over the Caribbean (spent 7 months straight at one point at Nanny Cay on Tortola) and I understand very well what you are describing in the attitudes of the locals.

I would describe it (generally) as indifference rather than rudeness. Some of the attitude can be racially motivated I guess, but for the most part they just donít care. I just learned to live with it.

I remember talking to a taxi driver on Dominica who complained that it took a long time to get his car serviced when it broke. He said the car sat at a mechanicís shop for many days before the mechanic felt like it was time to look at the car.

ďWhat if I set up a mechanicís shop on the island and fixed broken cars right away rather than make you wait a long time Ė do you think I would get all the work Ė would everyone bring their cars to me?Ē

He said no, that people would keep bringing their cars to the same place. This is the same taxi driver who was giving our boat crew a lift and we watched in amazement as he dropped a soda bottle out the window and watched it shatter all over the street. I asked him if it was possible that he would get a flat when he came back this way and his response, as I recall, was complete, absolute indifference.

Go figureÖ
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Old 08-04-2003
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BVI charter report

My wife and I and another couple chartered a Beneteau 411 from Sunsail in Tortola July 19-29. This was our first bareboat charter experience and we all agreed it was one of our best vacations ever (10 days was not enough). We were very pleased with the boat''s systems, performance and cleanliness. We found the sailing, snorkeling, scuba diving and destinations in the BVI to be quite extraordinary. Also, Sail Caribbean Divers and the Ample Hamper are first rate operations.
We met Magnus Murphy (who authored the previous letter) and his family while at Sunsail''s base in Maya Cove waiting out TS Erika. His account of the events regarding the culprit boarding at least 3 occupied sailboats on our dock is dead-on accurate. Worse, there were no Sunsail security personnel at the marina and the calls to Sunsail''s emergency phone number went unanswered. It was not until 2 hours later, after making contact with the U S Coast Guard in St. Thomas, that local police arrived to take statements. This was a terrifying experience for many at the dock and it took several days before anyone on our boat got a restful night''s sleep.
We highly recommend the BVI as a charter destination, but will not return to Sunsail in Tortola until serious safety issues are remedied.
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Old 08-05-2003
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BVI charter report

daveandrenee,

Sorry to hear of your frightening ordeal. I can''t really say with certainty about all the other charter operations on Tortola, but I know that many of them have zero security at night. To be frank, from a historical perspective, it doesn''t seem to have been justified. Hopefully, that will have been an isolated incident.
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Old 10-04-2003
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BVI charter report

I agree with all the above accounts of "indifference" of service, mostly with the waiters/waitresses. It became a funny little joke with my crew about what they would say to us next. I remember a little restaurant in Roadtown (next to the Bat Cave... I can''t remember the name) where the waitress asked me if I wanted cheese on my "turkey & cheese sandwhich" as advertised on the menu. I said, sure, and she rolled her eyes and said "Irie.. but it''ll cost you extra!" and walked away, to which myself and the rest of us just broke down and laughed. It got to the point where it didn''t matter anymore.. it was just plain funny.

Don''t say that all the locals are rude, though, because we were treated so well from a number of people, because we treated them with respect back. There''s a guy named James on Cooper Island who we met and had the greatest time with. We brought him a couple of cold Red Stripes and hung out all day, he let us use his kayaks, invited us to hang out on the other side of the island where they owned property, and just had a good time with us. We saw him again on the last night (at the Bat Cave) and drank beers with him and his cousin all night, and they paid for most of them! Great people!

I know that nobody wants to appear as a "tourist" but you can''t help but look that way when you charter a sailboat in the BVI''s. But, I witnessed a few different occasions where the tourists just plain didn''t give the island a chance. They came into restaurants with superior attitudes and were surprised to get bad service.

Be ready to wait a half hour for a check, and maybe have to pay for a drink of water, and all that... but who cares? when you''re in paradise, it doesn''t matter. For a short time, you can escape from all the ******** that is America.

Ben
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Old 10-05-2003
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BVI charter report

The BVI attitude of indifference is nothing compared to the USVI''s problems of customer service. They actually have to train people to stop acting like assholes from the cashier''s counter. I''ve been here since ''98 and just getting a car inspected or paying your property tax one is expected to take a day off from work and "accommodate" the pseudo-socialist governmental norms. Nepotism is rampant, corruption throughout the Caribbean, including the US, is typical and expected. It is an attitude of absolute entitlement. Everyone believes they should be a millionaire and not work for it. Is it that bad? No, not when you focus on what YOU can get out of living here vs. subzero temps, a lousy summer in New England this year, great fishing, sailing, racing. There''s a lot of people that just get beyond all the aggravation, have their little hideouts (ie., Neptune''s Treasure, Anegada) and live life to it''s fullest by racing the St. Croix Regatta, Puerto Rico Heineken, then St. Maarten Heineken, then Rolex, then BVI Regatta. Then the fishing tournaments start again. Love slow, sail fast, hook up. KW
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Old 10-06-2003
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BVI charter report

I was on a Moorings 4-day crewed charter in April this year. It was our first trip to the BVI, and it was like a dream--absolutely wonderful. If you''ve never bareboated and want to "scout" the area, do a crewed "cabin" cruise first. Our crew (Brett and Ronnie) handled the 47'' cat like the real pros they are, and served exquisite meal after meal. We went to Peter Island, Virgin Gorda, Anegada, Monkey Point/Marina Bay, then finally back to roadtown. Now I feel like I know the area well enough to bareboat down there anytime and know the good places to go.

As to the attitude issue brought up in this thread: one of the things our crew told us over drinks the first night was that island folks get irritated (and show it) when you try to go too fast for them. Our captain, Brett, has been in the BVI for a few years and seems to know everyone in every bar. Every night we went ashore, Brett walked into the bar with us, shook hands/hugged the staff, and immediately went behind the bar and started serving drinks for us and for anyone else--the barstaff seemed to take it for granted that he would do this, and took the opportunity to relax a bit (ha!). Anyway, Brett''s advice was to dress well in stores and restaurants (ie, no bathing suits, no flips, wear shirts, nice shorts or slacks), smile, say hello, have a "bit of a chat" (Brett and Ronnie are English), stay laid back, act as if you''re very happy and relaxed, in no rush, and interested in the people around you. After saying hello, exchanging names, talking about the weather, etc, for a while, the waiter/bartender/whoever will have asked you what he/she can do for you, and you can say "oh, when you have time, I''d love a [whatever], but there''s no rush." The "whatever" will be there twice as fast, the person you''re dealing with will really warm up and be nice, and you''ll all have a good time.

Act like you''re not in a store/restaurant/whatever--act like you''re in their house as a guest. It works--most of the time. After all, there are a-holes everywhere. And I''ve never had to deal with officials in the BVI, don''t know what the right approach is there. Closest I came was going into a bank to get some cash (for some reason my atm card would not work in atm machines there, but would work in stores.) In the bank, it was all business, no "island time", everyone--locals and tourists--were treated with bureaucratic indifference but with efficiency.

Anyway, that''s my 2 cents worth. I''d have to say that when we took the time to apply the above advice it always worked really well. When we were tired and grouchy (it rained quite a bit while we were there before and after our cruise), and reverted to US-style expectations of service, we got the cold shoulder.

bw
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