Destination Little Jost Van Dyke

Trip Start Dec 09, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Virgin Islands British  , Tortola,
Wednesday, January 11, 2012

We would need to clear out of the British Virgin Islands by January 19 when our 30-day immigration visa would expire. On Tuesday, January 10 we began our navigation back to the USVI with several planned stops along the way. 

We took advantage of the perfect conditions departing Valley Trunk Bay (use Google Earth "Fly to" to find 18 26'17"N 064 26'38"W) to fly one of our symmetrical spinnakers all the way down the Sir Francis Drake Channel to the west end of Tortola – a distance of about 15 nm.  We were the most colorful vessel on the water.  At West End we planned to douse the sail in the lee of the hills surrounding Soper's Hole, then roll out the genoa for the short reach up towards Little Jost Van Dyke.  Our destination was Sandy Spit, a tiny sand speck with one palm tree, less than a mile north of its big sister, Sandy Cay.
The spinnaker run was fabulous.  Wind was from the east blowing 12-17 kts and we were the only spinnaker boat in sight.  It was one of those times Dave says to himself, “This is why we’re here…” 

Approaching the west end of Tortola, Drake Channel narrows and there's a bottle neck of traffic going both ways through the narrows between Tortola and St. John.  So we were even more alert to potential collision courses than usual and a few boats we could see ahead could become problems.  Added to this, we were flying only the spinnaker (no main) on starboard tack, and thus did not display the usual indicator of port or starboard tack and don't use a spinnaker pole to give an extra clue when seen from a distance.  We even rotated the spinnaker a bit farther than needed to port to make it a bit clearer we were on starboard tack (with the right-of-way that tack implies). 

To our non-sailing readers, sailboats on starboard tack have right-of-way over sailboats on port tack.  The boat without right-of-way is obligated to change course to avoid collisions.  The “tack” a boat is on is determined by which side of the boat the wind is on.  This is usually easily determined by the opposite of which side of the boat the mainsail boom is on.  With the boom on the port side (wind on the starboard side) you’re on starboard tack and vice versa.  As we weren’t using our mainsail, we were alert that some skippers may not identify us as being on starboard tack.  When boats are on the same tack, the boat furthest upwind has to yield right-of-way – which would have been us if we encountered a starboard tacker coming upwind.     

Approaching West End, we saw a Sunsail charter monohull sailing upwind on port tack on an intercept course.  We both independently spotted him and concluded we better be ready to turn one way or the other in case he didn't give way to us.  As the intercept became more certain, Dave hailed him on VHF: "Port tack Sunsail monohull in Drake Channel approaching spinnaker catamaran.  This is Pas de Deux, the spinnaker catamaran approaching you.  Be advised we are on starboard tack.  Please acknowledge."  As we were the only spinnaker in Drake Channel this should have been enough to get a response.  No answer.  Dave hailed two more times with no response.

By then we could clearly see the helmsman and his entire charter crew looking at us and taking pictures.  When it was clear to Dave the charter boat didn't have room to tack away and probably had no intention of bearing away, Dave altered course enough to starboard to avoid collision.  We passed within shouting distance:

Dave: Did you realize you had to give way?  I'm on starboard tack, you are on port tack!

Charter helmsman: Look at my sails!  They're both on the starboard side.  YOU'RE WRONG!!!

We just had to grin and bear it.  They were a relatively young group of guys.  Donna suggested to Dave that next time he tell them to go back to school.  Sailing in the BVIs sometimes provides unexpected entertainment.....
The rest of the plan went well - eventually.  We doused the spinnaker after rounding Frenchman’s Cay, rolled out the genoa, and headed the short distance north to Sandy Spit.  A pretty good squall came and passed on the way and we anchored a bit NW of the small island in a less than optimum spot, arriving at 1330.  Sand beaches usually have near-shore sand bottoms for good anchor holding, but other boats were already in these good spots right off the beach of Sandy Spit so we had to anchor in rocks and marl a short distance away.  This took a couple tries and we knew we had a tenuous hold. 

Knowing the afternoon departure rush had yet to begin we watched and waited for some of the other boats to leave so we could move to a better anchoring spot.  As the popular current cruising guide describes this as a “day anchorage” we knew the charter boats would be leaving soon for their next anchorage where they could overnight.  Like clockwork, boats started departing around 1400 and we were ready to be opportunists.  We scored the very best spot to be had with the departure of another large catamaran, dropping the anchor in 10 feet of water less than 100 feet from the center of the sand beach, then backing down to let out about 75 feet of chain.  Dave dove the anchor to check the set and couldn’t even find it at first – it was completely buried in the soft sand.  We actually shortened up the chain a bit before attaching the bridle ending up with about 55 feet of chain to lessen our swinging room for the expected crowd that would inevitably arrive the next morning.  Happy Hour came a bit early… (18 26'59.34"N 064 42'33.7"W)

Sandy Spit is a small fraction of the size of Sandy Cay, just to the south.  It’s not called Sandy Island or Little Sandy Cay probably because it used to be connected to Green Cay and was literally a “spit”.  A short shallow reef now separates Sandy Spit from Green Cay and provides excellent protection from east seas, creating the opportunity for an overnight anchorage.  In contrast, larger Sandy Cay is a true island with no protection for seas finding their way around it.  That location would only be an acceptable overnight anchorage in calm to light conditions.

By nightfall, only one other small boat was remaining and we enjoyed a bug free evening.  A very exotic anchorage after the crowd leaves for the day!

We did not move the following day.  The day crowd started arriving by 0930 and many boats came and went all day.  Some anchored a bit close, but we knew they would be short timers.  We snorkeled the reef off the SW tip of the island which proved to be quite interesting and healthy; although as typical it was barren at its shallowest points.  A dramatic wall of coral extended some 50-60 feet below.  Donna remarked that, of all the sites we had seen, this particular one would make an excellent “beginner diver” site.  Later in the day we explored the south side of Little Jost Van Dyke in the dinghy and located a good anchorage just around the first point west from Sandy Spit for possible future use.

Following this day’s afternoon rush, we were the only boat left at Sandy Spit and the new quiet solitude was the payoff of having the noisy crowd around most of the day.  A group of five college-aged kids showed up at dusk in a dinghy from a boat anchored some distance away and set up camp on the beach – complete with a camp fire.  Despite mild smoke, we actually enjoyed watching their fire.  They slept there all night but got up early to depart the next morning after clearing their trash and fire pit.  We would depart soon thereafter.

Note to cruisers: to score the best spot at Sandy Spit, arrive early (by 8:30 AM) and line up the lone palm tree on the beach on 90*m, advance close to the spit, and drop the hook in 10 feet.  Normal prevailing wind will hold you off the beach.  Beware the hard bottom just to starboard and the reef that continues around it– it is easily seen in good light.  There is sand before the hard bottom, but the slope gets steep fast.  If we’re there when you arrive, approach the beach along our port side!
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