There are challenges to doing adventure photography underwater off the back of a 40’ Beneteau sailboat while island hopping in the British Virgin Islands. But a Pain Killer rum drink, an Italian chef’s specially prepared meal and a beautiful sunset is a rewarding end to each day of sailing and snorkeling.
At Norman Island, a good swimmer, new to snorkeling, can tie their boat or dingy to a mooring and swim into three caves in the late afternoon sun. Other locations require more skill and planning.
Some of the island points have a strong current and wind waves rushing the water onto the rocks. Reef corals, sea urchins and other life are beautiful to look at, but often poisonous. To avoid hitting coral, it is necessary sometimes to put the underwater camera in your palm and swim with both hands and fins against current and wind waves. To avoiding the attention of a 5′ great barracuda swimming 10 feet away from you, it can be important to turn off the lighted LED camera screen after a quick photo and kick slowly.
This is my third year sailing and snorkeling in the BVI. I had purchased a Canon PowerShot D30 digital camera for this trip —a camera that wouldn’t be too expensive to lose if it ended up in the belly of fish. It’s controls are easy to find by feel to “point and shoot” a quickly moving yellowtail snapper or small oval damselfish. Sometimes the light was perfect and the water clear down to 100 feet. Other times, it was cloudy with bubbles from the waves and full of plankton. Near George Dog, I swam through tiny baby jellyfish called sea lice near the shore.
Every island has different types of flora and fauna to experience near the rocks and near the moorings. The light streaming through the water illuminates underwater caves, reefs and sunken boats. In deeper waters, I encountered a few sharks, barracudas and tarpon’s that didn’t pay much attention to me, thankfully.
Near the reefs, the fish were small and colorful. My favorite snorkel spot was at Norman Island in the late afternoon, swimming into a cave in partial dark, then turning around and to see everything in great detail with the sunlight streaming through the cave’s mouth.
Sailing is the best way to travel between the islands. I can find the “groove” at the helm of a Beneteau 40 sailboat, with my eyes closed, by the way the boat feels under my feet and hand, the wind hitting both sides of the sails. Most days, the trade winds are a perfect 10-15 knots with a chance encounter as photographer Guy from Yacht Shots BVI takes photos of our boat from a distance in his dingy. But, outside the Sir Francis Drake Channel in the open ocean of the Caribbean sea, the winds were 25 knots with 6 foot wind waves on some days.
With three on our boat, the Beneteau Oceanis 40 handled well and offered a separate cabin for each person. We were aiming for cabin privacy and sailing maneuverability.
At each stop along the journey, we caught the float of a mooring ball, threading the eye with a line that secured the boat for the night. The trade winds blew through our portholes at night, keeping our bodies cool despite the warm climate.
Jost Van Dyke has a dingy dock and an easy trail to the bubbly pool, a place where the waves break over the rocks into a small pool that you can sit in like a jacuzzi. But, we took the goat trail, a more strenuous hike and did some rock climbing. When we got to the bubbly pool, I put on my snorkel mask to see all the baby fish that were recently hatched.
Afterwards, a visit to Foxy’s Taboo for a drink and the Eggplant Cheesecake – surprisingly tasty after an afternoon of hiking in the sun.
A shower nozzle on the back of the boat was a must after a snorkel. It made it easy to wash off the salt and change to land clothes. Shore visits in the BVI are different on every island: A “Bushwhacker” at Pusser’s Marina Key Bar, last call at Willy T’s boat anchored off Norman Island for a Pain Killer, and fine dining at Yacht Club Costa Smeralda (YCCS) at Virgin Gorda.
This last trip, I was a guest of the YCCS’s new operations manager, Dario Cruciani, of the Yacht Club Smeralda Costa at Virgin Gorda, who was visiting from Sardinia, Italy. He introduced me to his chef, who prepared an exquisite meal. Dario and I chatted over a Sardinian wine about yacht clubs around the world, while overlooking the sunset on the Virgin Gorda North Sound from atop the hill.
Then my mates and I dined on a lamb shank and freshly made ravioli. The tiramisu was exquisite, with an unbelievably creamy texture. We spent the night on the dock at YCCS with the sounds of multiple languages and music coming from the sterns of the other yachts berthed at the marina. I love the contrast and feel equally at home on all these islands.
A common goal unites the diverse people who visit and live in the BVI: achieving a balance of happiness in these astoundingly beautiful islands. I am looking forward to our return next year.
Here are a couple of my favorite island recipes for you to enjoy:
Foxy’s Taboo: Eggplant Cheesecake
2 medium sized eggplants
1 bulb of garlic
16 oz cream cheese
4 whole eggs
1 cup Marinara sauce
Savory graham cracker crust for 9″ pan
Roast eggplant with garlic until soft (350 degree oven for 20 minutes). Puree in food processor. When cooled mix in cream cheese, eggs and Marinara sauce. Pour mixture into crust and bake in 350 degree oven for 60 minutes. Allow to cool for 8 hours. Slice and serve with extra sauce and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.
Our galley cook/bartender’s Painkiller
Rum (Pusser’s or other)
Coco Lopez (coconut cream)
Mix all liquid ingredients in a shaker, pour over ice cubes, sprinkle with grated nutmeg and garnish with a lime. Add dark rum floater. We used a 10 year aged rum from the Callwood Rum Distillery at Cane Garden Tortola. Callwood Family members have been making rum at that location for over 200 years.
Karen Lile is an entrepreneur whose passion for sailing, dancing and adventure travel are possible as an accompaniment to her businesses: television/film, KLPN.net; piano rebuilding and brokerage, PianoFinders.com (clients include Larry Ellison and Fantasy Studios); Tango, Swing and Salsa dance instruction, Karen and Michael Partnership.
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