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 Back to the BVI

Good evening everybody. It’s now 5.30pm on Tuesday 2nd February 2021. It felt good to turn over the page of my desktop calendar and feel that we are inching ever closer to being able to return to some form of normality. I found myself feeling quite jealous during the week. As regular readers will know, I have friends and family out in New Zealand, and to see photos of groups of people happily together, with no masks or social distancing and living ‘normal’ lives… on the one hand I felt jealous, on another hand I felt very happy for them, and on a mysterious third hand I felt that it was something to aim for. Having said that, only half an hour ago the news broke of the very sad passing of Captain Sir Tom Moore. Naturally my thoughts go to his family and friends, and it only serves as a tragic reminder that we have to keep sticking to the various rules and restrictions as we try our best to overcome this terrible pandemic. God bless him.

 

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 Passengers look out from the fo’c’sle as ‘Serenissima’ navigates between the British (on the left) and US (on the right) Virgin Islands. 7th March 2016.

 

With January now complete, I will continue to offer the statistics of a month’s deliveries for those who have surprised me with their interest. I delivered on 23 of January’s 31 days. I dropped off 326 deliveries, and the total truck mileage covered was 1,528.1 miles. If you take a route as-the-crow-flies, then that is the equivalent of going from my house to: Ittoqqortoormiit (formerly Scoresbysund) on the east coast of Greenland; or Moscow, Russia; or the Greek island of Paros; or the Ancient Roman City of Leptis Magna in Libya; or Agadir, Morocco; or Porto Santo, just north of the island of Madeira. Alternatively, using a popular road route planner, I could have driven from my house in Hythe, Kent to John O’Groats and back again and still had 50½ miles to spare! The maths works out at a delivery every 4.7 miles. In order to achieve this, from the time of clocking-in to clocking back out again, I took a total of 180,293 steps (or 553 per delivery). No wonder I appear to have lost some weight since I began this new walk of life!

 

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The local steel band perform on board ‘Serenissima’ during our overnight stop in Tortola, British Virgin Islands. 8th March 2016..

In the last blog we had been visiting Jost Van Dyke, the most westerly of the British Virgin Island’s four main islands. As I wrote last time, we would have spent the afternoon enjoying the delights of White Bay before taking the Zodiac back to the ship and savouring dinner on board. Whilst the desserts were being rolled out, we would be tying up alongside in Road Town on the island of Tortola. The first photo of this blog is one that I’ve occasionally used as a trick quiz question. The question would be along the lines of whether the USA and UK share a border. Whilst they don’t share a land border (although it has been pointed out before that the Kennedy Memorial at Runnymede in Surrey is US territory), they definitely share a maritime border. The Sir Francis Drake Channel is relatively narrow, and in the photo shown you have the island of Tortola on the left (BVI), and the island of Saint John on the right (USVI). I remember being there on one occasion and a USVI-registered fishing vessel had been caught in BVI waters. The crew had been taken into custody on Tortola, and the matter was only resolved when then US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, made direct representations to her UK counterpart, the Rt Hon William Hague.

 

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The famous Pusser’s Bar, a short walk from our berth in Road Town, Tortola. 

 

Going back to our overnight stop in Tortola, as mentioned previously, I really do like to take advantage of any overnight stops that we have. Thinking back to when I first started working at sea, back in the early 2000s, I have such beautiful memories of our overnight visits to Tortola. I can close my eyes now and remember all of us crew piling onto a fleet of charabanc taxis and being told we were being taken to the beach. I had no idea that the beach was on the other side of the island, and couldn’t help but wonder why we were climbing up a mountain to reach a beach! On the way back, in the early hours of the morning, the taxi’s radio played a song by Bryan Adams called “Straight from the Heart” and we all sang the chorus at the top of our voices in the warm night air. Magical moments. I also used to always hire a 4x4 vehicle to use whilst we had our 24 hours in Tortola. It was just to have a moment of escapism on my part, and on one occasion proved to be unexpectedly useful. On warm balmy Caribbean evenings, to finish dinner on board and then head out on deck and have a steel band playing, with the fo’c’sle bar open, is one of life’s most pleasurable feelings. On another occasion, the steel band were not available, and so I came up with an alternative plan. Pusser’s Bar is about a 500 yards walk from the berth. It was a Monday night. I called the bar and they confirmed that they were not expecting to be busy. I then asked if I could bring some passengers to their bar, and not surprisingly they were delighted to accept. As a result, for one night only, we took the passengers to the pub after dinner. I only thought a few would come along, but the vast majority all took the chance to walk in the tropical night air and enjoy the unique surroundings whilst sampling the speciality cocktail, “Painkiller”, made using the original rum that was used for the Royal Navy’s rations. By the end of the evening, a few passengers were requesting a taxi to take them back to the ship, but the taxi drivers had long since finished for the night. I hadn’t touched a drop, and offered to drive them back using the 4x4 I had hired. So there I was, at about midnight, ferrying back and forth between Pusser’s Bar and the ship with very happy passengers!

 

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A beachfront bar, complete with roaring fire, awaits the arrival of the crew. Cane Garden Bay, Tortola, British Virgin Islands. 12th March 2017.

 

Thinking about hiring that vehicle, it has made me realise that I have driven in every combination there is, as in… on the right on the right, on the right on the left, on the left on the right, and on the left on the left. In the UK it is obvious that we drive on the right side of the car, but the left side of the road. I have hired a car in the US before, whilst checking out ports for Noble Caledonia, and then it was on the left side of the car, but the right side of the road. In the BVI, the cars are all imported from the USA, but the road laws are that of the UK, so you drive on the left side of the vehicle, but on the left side of the road. And finally, I once visited a former passenger in Portugal, and they let me use their British car, so I was driving on the right, but on the left side of the road. I wonder how many people have driven all four combinations!

Thinking back to the evening when we had taken the passengers to Pusser’s Bar, as the last passenger returned to the ship, I saw many of the crew coming down the gangway for the chance to have some time ashore. As they walked down the pier, I remember being tickled that they were walking in such a way that those in the more senior positions were at the front, with everyone else behind them. I’m sure it was just by chance! Road Town itself does not have much to offer. It really serves as the administrative capital of the islands, whilst the glamorous locations are on the opposite coast, over the mountainous centre. I felt sorry for the crew that they would have nowhere to go, and so I walked off to find a couple of the charabanc taxi drivers who I had got to know over the years. They kindly agreed to give all twenty of us a lift to the one location on the opposite side of the island that we knew would still be open (as pictured above). We all ended up having a glorious evening, with many of the crew taking the chance to go nightswimming in the warm seas. I footed the bill for the taxis, and all the crew were still buzzing the next day about what a wonderful night they had experienced. I told my bosses back at Noble Caledonia HQ what I had done, and was quite emotional when they asked me to forward the cost of the taxis to them, as they were very happy to help the crew enjoy some time ashore. Just another reason why I love being part of the Noble Caledonia family.

 

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Some of the crew of ‘Serenissima’, as well as me and Kevin Morgan, on an evening ashore in Tortola, British Virgin Islands. 12th March 2017.

One of things about the BVI, is that it is all rather dependent on the weather. There is, naturally, no cast iron guarantee of bright blue skies and glorious sunshine. I have visited the BVI just as a storm front has been coming through, and I cannot help but feel sorry for the passengers on those rare occasions. I’m sure it is the same wherever we live. If I had friends visiting me here on Romney Marsh and it rained all day, I would probably spend most of my time telling them that it was not normally like that. However, when the sun does shine, the views across the archipelago are sumptuous.

 

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Looking out from our open-sided taxi over the northern coast of Tortola, British Virgin Islands. 11th March 2017.

 

The taxi drivers also serve as the guides, and always provide an informative and amusing commentary. They would take us to various viewpoints, tell us the story of the islands, always tell us that their mother’s homemade food was better than anybody else’s, and kindly help everyone on and off their vehicles. We would usually end up at some point at one of the most popular bays in the archipelago – namely Cane Garden Bay on the northern side of Tortola. A complimentary Painkiller cocktail would be served, and we would watch the pelicans swooping low across the water. Palm trees would gently sway in the light breeze, and invariably one passenger would spectacularly fail to climb into the hammock on the beach, much to the disapproval of his watching wife. I would bring a towel with me, and then encourage the passengers to take off their shoes and have a paddle in the sea. Some even took their socks off as well. I would then offer my services to dry their feet before we continued on our way. 

 

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 Our refreshment break on Cane Garden Bay, Tortola, British Virgin Islands. 11th March 2017.

 

With our morning in Tortola complete, we would sail the few nautical miles during lunch over to nearby Virgin Gorda. There is no dock at Virgin Gorda, and so we would normally drop anchor just outside Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour in Spanish Town and utilise our fleet of Zodiacs. I remember one occasion when the wind was in just the wrong direction and we couldn’t use the regular anchorage. However, being a resourceful size of ship, we found that we could sail into the more sheltered North Sound, utilising the very narrow buoyed channel between Mosquito Island and the superbly named Prickly Pear Island, and then land our passengers at Gun Creek. I was on the navigational bridge as we made our approach to the channel, and the Captain used the radio on Channel 16 (to which all boats and ships have to constantly tune in) to announce, “I am coming through the channel so please keep out of my way”. It did the trick as the plethora of yachts scattered in all directions to allow us to pass!

 

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  Looking south along the full length of Virgin Gorda. 15th March 2016.

 

More charabanc-style taxis would be waiting for us in Virgin Gorda, and we would head off and explore the island. Once again, stops would be made at the numerous viewpoints, with the relatively remote British Virgin Island of Anegada (the only low-lying coral island of the archipelago) visible in the distance. We would continue along the main road of Virgin Gorda before arriving at the southern tip. It was here that we visited something I hadn’t really expected. Whenever you think of the economy of the Caribbean, thoughts turn to present-day tourism, or yesteryear plantations. I doubt many of us would consider mining. I would guess I was not the only person who was surprised to discover that there had been an attempt at copper mining in the British Virgin Islands.

 

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The remains of the Copper Mine in Virgin Gorda. 15th March 2016.

 

It transpired that the Amerindians were the first people to mine copper on Virgin Gorda in the 1400s by digging tunnels into rock. The copper was used to make tools and jewellery which was traded with people on other islands. The majority of the structures that now remain, as shown above, are remnants of mining activity by the Virgin Gorda Mining Company that operated between 1835 and 1862, shipping copper ore to Wales for smelting. The mine was operated by approximately 200 people, including managers, women and children. The mine was a rich source of minerals, but there were high operating costs and it was a long distance to ship ore to Wales. The fortunes of the mine varied and in 1861 it appeared to be flourishing. However, in 1862 the mine ceased operations and twenty years later it was sold by the government to a Cornish company to recover outstanding taxes. After 1862, the mine had varied history, as reports of other minerals such as molybdenum, gold and silver attracted miners from England and America. There was activity at the mine as recently as the 1970s when exploratory drilling was undertaken. On 28th March 2003, the site was declared a National Park due to its importance as the only known historical site of this type representing the British Industrial Revolution within the West Indies.

 

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Making a close inspection of The Baths in Virgin Gorda. 4th November 2007.

 

 And finally… having visited the Copper Mine National Park, we would usually finish the tour of Virgin Gorda at the famous ‘Baths’. Huge granite boulders litter the shore in an apparently random array, and make for wonderful opportunities to explore on foot or by swimming near them. That is me in the photo above, being my usual sensible self. It is almost magical to be able to wonder through the natural tidal pools, tunnels, arches and more that make up another of Virgin Gorda’s National Parks. Sitting here on a chilly evening writing this, does make me reflect that I should be in the area of the BVI at this time of year. However, I am delighted to have been told by Laura Cochrane that we are scheduled to visit again in early 2023. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that I am allocated to one or more of the cruises, and that you will be able to join me. For now, take care of yourselves and remember that you never know who might be delivering your groceries!

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