Blue Water Vagabond

This week, completely by accident, I came across a book by Dennis Puleston, a man who, on a sailing voyage that began in England and lasted six years, happened to spend quite a bit of time here in the Virgin Islands. According to Blue Water Vagabond, first published in 1939, island life back then was idyllic.

BWV

“It is an isle serene, forgotten and undisturbed by the restless world outside,” he wrote about Tortola, continuing, “no noise of cars startles its one drowsy street, no cablegrams send shudders through its noontide rest… We fell in love with the Virgins from the first.”

He describes inviting Dr. Wailing, who was acting commissioner of the territory then, onto his boat, only to later receive an invitation to come stay ashore in Dr. Wailing’s house after the kind doctor was appalled at the boat’s stink (Puleston and his sailing companion had a dead rat somewhere on their boat).

Once settled, they lived as I imagine many did here in those days: “We bought a fishpot and kept ourselves in fish. Sometimes we went out with a torch on the reefs at night to spear crawfish. We rambled over the mountains and swam in the sandy bays.”

He describes visits to The Baths, to Fallen Jerusalem, and Norman Island, and, one trip he’d looked forward to for some time, to meet the people of Anegada, whom he had read “make their living by fishing and wrecking.”

After describing his first impression of the island, he writes that “the men who can make a living in such an unfruitful place must needs be a resolute and hardy folk… They are bold sailors and energetic fishermen.”

Puleston’s ship the Uldra was also an early charter yacht. A pair of American tourists had tried first in Puerto Rico, then in St Thomas to hire a sailboat for an island cruise, but had struck out. Someone on St Thomas remembered Puleston’s recent visit, however, and suggested the pair look for him on Tortola.

“So the Americans had jumped aboard the first sloop Tortola-bound, and here they were,” Puleston wrote, going on to describe that the tourists hired Puleston and his companion. The cost: all the running expenses of the trip.

The foursome wound up “vagabonding down the islands” for several months, and Puleston includes mentions of all the ports they stopped in – I shouldn’t be surprised that a foursome of young single men basically hung out on the islands that had the prettiest women, right?

What touched me the most about what I read was how Puleston and his friend felt after dropping off the American tourists in St Thomas and were heading back to Tortola, which I very much related to after just year or so here.

“Seems like being at home again, doesn’t it?” the friend asked, and Puleston felt he was right.

“In spite of all the other islands I had seen, I was glad to be back. I loved Tortola more than ever.”

 

This column appeared in the Aug. 23 edition of the Limin Times.

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IMHO: The Best BVI Beaches

Okay, maybe best is a strong word. It might be more accurate to say that after nearly six years, these are the beaches I can go back to again and again, weekend after weekend, and still love.

  1. Smuggler’s Cove
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An afternoon in Smuggler’s Cove

Like all Tortola’s best sandy beaches, Smuggler’s Cove is on the northern shore, but unlike a lot of the others, the area is naturally very sheltered so the water is almost always calm. You can’t quite see it in this picture, but on this particular trip there were several really small kids enjoying the water — this is the kind of place you can usually take even your not-so-experienced swimmers. There’s also a reef for nice snorkeling if you’re into that and with so little wave action, the water is usually crystal clear.

Getting to Smuggler’s is probably the most difficult drive on this list, with a decent trek down a rutted dirt road that I’ve heard some in the neighborhood don’t want paved for fear it’d bring too many people to this extra-gorgeous beach. With plenty of sea grape trees and two separate parking areas, I find that even on a busy Sunday afternoon I still wind up feeling like I have the place to myself.

If you go: Watch out for the occasional undertow, and don’t forget your bug spray; the hordes of sand flies and mosquitoes make their appearance at about 5 o’clock every day.

2. Long Bay, Beef Island

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Sunset at Long Bay, Beef Island

With easy road access, plenty of parking and seemingly miles of smooth sand, this beach is a favorite for group gatherings of all kinds, from family barbecues to the annual Fisherman’s Day Jamboree. The length of the bay makes it popular with runners and swimmers seeking a good workout.

From Tortola, you get to Beef Island by driving on the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge. Close to deep water, this beach is a nesting site for sea turtles — once we discovered a handful of recent hatchlings climbing around on this beach — they were so cute!

If you go: This beach is right next to the Beef Island airport, so be prepared to hear the occasional takeoff and/or landing.

3. The Baths National Park

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The swimming area at The Baths National Park

If you can only see one place in the BVI, get yourself to Virgin Gorda and go to The Baths. Not only is the beach beautiful, the boulders all around the place that you can climb through are positively magical. It’s really hard for me to do it justice, but seriously, it’s a must-see.

Summer is when the water is calmer and the crowds are almost nonexistent, but if you have to go in the height of winter travel or on a day when you know there is a cruise ship in port, go late in the afternoon and you should miss the crowd.

If you go: Make sure you coordinate your ferry and taxi returns so you don’t wind up stranded in paradise.

4. Cane Garden Bay

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Jumping off the dinghy dock in Cane Garden Bay

Popular with sailors as an anchorage, entertainment is the perk at Cane Garden Bay, which is dotted with a variety of beach bars, restaurants and water sports rental spots. If you want to be served tropical beverages while relaxing in a rented lounge chair, this is the place to be. It’s also got a nice public restroom and easy parking.

All the amenities are also why it’s the most popular beach with cruise shippers, so on some days it can get quite crowded.

If you go: Check the cruise ship schedule so you’ll know whether to expect a big crowd.

5. Savannah Bay, Virgin Gorda

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Christmas day a few years ago in Savannah Bay

Beautiful sand, calm water, and cute little bohios (thatched shelters made of wood and palm leaves) make this a postcard perfect beach. There’s also a reef for snorkeling and it’s just a stone’s throw from Spanish Town, making it an easy picnic spot even if you have to get back to the ferry the same day.

If you go: Post up under a bohio for some shade! The sun is so intense some days that many around here like to say that Virgin Gorda has its very own sun.

BVI friends, how is my list? Did I leave out your favorite beach? Let me know in the comments!

 

A walk in the Condado*

I love public art, especially large sculptures. Here are a few I came across while wandering the Condado this weekend.

*Condado translates into county in English, but it’s also the neighborhood in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where I spent the weekend.