Crewed or bareboat? The author samples both.
My wife BJ seemed somewhat apprehensive, I must admit. Among other things, she was uncharacteristically quiet as we sat on a bench at the dock, eyeballing the ferry that would take us from St. Thomas to Roadtown, Tortola, where The Moorings bases its British Virgin Islands charter operations and where a virtually new Robertson and Caine 474 Powercat awaited. At length, the ferry’s big diesels roared to life amid greasy-gray plumes of exhaust. “Well,” coughed BJ, “Here goes.”
I did some thinking on the ride over. Certainly the first half of the trip was gonna be easy. All we had to do was spend a couple of days on the 474 enjoying the crewed-charter experience, a cushy gig entailing little more than being waited on hand and foot by a couple of soon-to-be-married (and most likely very happy) youngsters: Shaun Miller, our South African captain, and Kelsey Van Beever, our Antiguan chef.
The second half was tricky, though. In order to fully appreciate and write about the differences between crewed charters and the do-it-yourself bareboating adventures The Moorings also purveys, I’d need to cruise the 474 alone with BJ for an extra couple of days, relying on linehandling and other abilities that neither she nor I were altogether sure she had.
“I thought we’d spend the first night anchored at Great Harbor on Peter Island, if that’s alright with you two,” said Capt. Miller, leading the way through the evening shadows in The Moorings’ compound. “It’s not far.”
Miller took me aside once we were aboard. “I understand your wife needs to practice picking up some moorings before Kelsey and I leave on Saturday,” he said as we toured the 474’s flying bridge. BJ was unpacking her bag below, in one of the four staterooms, well out of earshot. “That’d be cool, Shaun,” I replied, giving him a hopeful gaze. “She’s not comfortable operating the boat, so doing deckhand duty’s her only bareboat option.”
As we approached Great Harbor’s shallows, with little more than the moon, our depthsounder, and Van Beever’s flashlight to guide us, I was genuinely struck by what I’d say is the main advantage of a crewed charter: the presence of trustworthy professionals onboard who nix the anxieties and responsibilities even experienced customers are likely to feel, particularly in unfamiliar waters. Indeed, before falling asleep that night, BJ and I heard Capt. Miller on deck more than once, checking the anchor. It was a comforting feeling.
Day dawned with spectacular clarity, and as the green hills and white sands around us began to glow, Van Beever served up the cinnamon pancakes we’d selected from the sample breakfast menus we’d received from The Moorings weeks before. Thanks to genuine maple syrup and berries on the side (topped with mascarpone), breakfast was lovely and set the tone for the grilled fish, fresh pasta, nouveau Caribbean desserts (like Bananas Unflamb), and other delectables our chef subsequently prepared. “How are the pancakes?” I asked BJ. “Delicious,” she replied, adding as Van Beever breezed past, “and the presentation—excellent!”
After breakfast we cruised to Soper’s Hole on the west end of Tortola to pick up our photographer Gary Felton. And as our cat purred into the lagoon at Soper’s, Capt. Miller turned her over to BJ and me so we could try picking up a couple of moorings on our own. The effort failed totally, despite the superb close-quarters maneuverability of the 474. “I just can’t do it,” BJ emphasized after several tries, standing on the foredeck with boathook drooping.
“Don’t worry Beej,” I yelled from the bridge, feeling simultaneously empathetic and powerless. There was simply no way I could dash out there, snag the mooring pennant, and operate the 474’s controls at the same time. And BJ looked pretty vulnerable and alone out there, with everybody looking on. Finally, Van Beever interceded, nailing the pennant on the first try, then quickly feeding a length of three-strand nylon through the thimble at the end and securing it, bow cleat-to-bow cleat, bridle-fashion.
An undercurrent of concern pestered the rest of the day. But we had a pretty good time nevertheless, stopping on the southwestern shore of Virgin Gorda to snorkel the Baths (an array of huge granite beach-strewn boulders with cave-like passages in between) and anchoring for the evening near Necker Island, an opulent little resort (reportedly with a daily rate between $22,000 and $36,000, depending on the number of guests) owned by Virgin Atlantic’s Richard Branson.
BJ finished a book she’d been reading that night—Two On The Isle by Robb White, a memoir about White and his wife Rodie laboriously but joyfully turning Marina Cay, a tiny island not too distant, into a home during the Great Depression. The next morning, as I sipped a cup of Starbucks’ Breakfast Blend in the cockpit, BJ suggested I read the book and wondered aloud about the possibility of us visiting Marina Cay on our way back to Roadtown where we had planned to drop off Felton and maybe (or maybe not) the crew. “It’s a love story,” she said. “Sort of.”
My wife’s happiness is important to me. So that afternoon we pulled into Pusser’s Marina Cay Resort for a literary look-see. Because it was summertime (i.e. hurricane season), everything was closed and quiet, but a trail beckoned from the shoreline. “Maybe it leads up to the house they built,” said BJ, starting off. And no sooner had we turned the first bend when a vision appeared ahead—a middle-aged lady was standing there with a big glass in each hand. “Hello,” she said, just before stooping to pour water onto the plants of a small memorial.
The story Allison told us was so personal and affective it brought tears to our eyes. She and her husband of four decades, Jim Logie, had come to the Virgins from Scotland years before. And they’d happily run the resort on the island together until a great tragedy had befallen them. One morning in February of 2008, Logie walked down the resort’s dock whistling a tune, jumped into his outboard-powered skiff to go fishing near Virgin Gorda, and simply vanished forever, although rescuers later found his overturned boat in rough seas. “People told me I would miss him less in time,” she concluded. “But everywhere I look I see him still. So today’s my last day in this lovely place—I’m saying goodbye.”
Some chance encounters linger. And this one lingered as we examined the hilltop house Robb and Rodie built together. It lingered as I silently watched Capt. Miller do the dishes for his fiance that afternoon after lunch in the galley. And it lingered as I sat with BJ on the 474’s flying bridge, all alone—the two of us, with a poly mooring line gently tugging at the bow, on the last night of our bareboat adventure, with reggae romantically wafting from Quito’s Gazebo, on the shores of Cane Garden Bay.
The bareboat thing finally panned out, thanks to photographer Felton’s helpful discovery (soon after departing the fuel dock at Marina Cay) that the fully extended boat hook onboard was not actually fully extended.
And the extra foot?
It was just enough to make my beautiful wife BJ the best mooring picker-upper in the vicinity. At least in my opinion.
CONTACT: The Moorings (800) 535-7289. www.moorings.com.
This article originally appeared in the December 2009 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.