We recently got back from a trip to the BVI with our six year old. Here are 10 things you need to know about sailing with kids.
- Find a life jacket they love and make sure they wear it whenever the boat is moving. Jacob liked his a bit too much – we had to convince him to take it off when swimming!
- Find fun things to do when anchored like jumping off the side of the boat or tie a swim float to the back of the boat and let them try to lie on it. They can also snorkel to check the anchor.
- Find fun things to do when sailing. They can help steer, coil ropes or just play checkers and Uno. This one was the most challenging to us.
- Lots of snacks. We couldn’t believe how hungry our kiddo was but when we stopped to think about it – he never stopped moving!
- Explain ahead of time that there may be times when you can’t talk to them and you need them to sit still and stay out of the way – like when you are trying to navigate a tricky passage or when a big rainstorm with a huge gust of wind suddenly hits you.
Tell them where you are going and what they will find there. Have them practice saying names like "Anegada" and "Jost Van Dyke." Explain the things you are seeing. Practice spotting mooring balls and other types of boats.
- Realize that when they are very tired, injuries are much more likely to happen. One day after a long day at the beach, Jacob managed to fall off his seat and hit his back on the wheel and his stomach on the seat. Half an hour later he fell down the stairs hurting his back and slamming his front on the floor. Tired kids get clumsy and boats aren’t kind to clumsy people.
- Schedule lots of time for their favorite activities and realize they may not be what you think they will be. Beaches – playing in the sand – not swimming or snorkeling turned out to be Jacob’s favorite. (Also remember that kids tend to get really cold snorkeling for more than 30 minutes at a time.)
- Be sure to explain how the head (i.e. the toilet) works and double check a few times that they are doing it right. Jacob was really good about remembering not to put toilet paper in the head but it took him a few days to figure out to pump with water before pumping all the water out.
- Don’t forget the peanut butter! Jacob requested a peanut butter sandwich everyday. Ham, turkey, salami and pepperoni just didn’t cut it.
And, unlike this picture, you probably shouldn’t let them run on the boat.
White Bay, Jost Van Dyke, is a great beach that meets just about everyone’s beach expectations.
- Lots of white sand for those who just love to play in sand or sunbath.
- Almost nobody on the east end for those that like to have a beach to themselves.
- A great view for those that like to just sit and enjoy.
- Lots of beach bars on the west end for those that like to play with others.
- A water trampoline for those who really like to play.
Highly worth the trip.
On Wednesday, March 28th, we sailed from Anegada to Jost Van Dyke. It was a long slow sail but we more than made up for the lack of excitement later that night! A couple of other boats got their anchor chains fouled up and ran into us!
When we pulled into Great Harbor at about 2:00pm it was so full of sailboats that I briefly considered turning around and going back to Little Harbor but we all wanted dinner on shore and to see Foxys so we looked for an anchoring spot. First, we raced two other boats for the best looking spot. We lost. Then we headed for the second best spot and a guy yelled at us that his anchor chain was under there so stay away. That was a little strange as we were looking at the stern (back) of his boat and boats tend to pull away from their anchors so the anchor chain is always stretched out in front of them. So we looked around and it looked like every single boat was facing a different direction. A bit scary. But we persisted
and found another good spot. We anchored and the guy in the catamaran next to us tried to tell us we were too close but we showed him which way our anchor chain was and he must have decided all was good because he didn't say anything more. (Note that his boat was facing a different direction than ours – something that's not supposed to happen when everyone is at anchor!)
Several times that night I got up and went up top in the rain to check things out. I had just returned to bed at 3:30am when I heard voices! I jumped up, ran up top and discovered that there were two sailboats 10 feet from us drifting into us! I yelled for everyone else to wake up and started the engine. Then I realized the engine wasn't going to do us any good as we were attached to an anchor that probably ran underneath one of the boats. By this time Bill and Frank were throwing fenders over the side just in time to keep us from crashing into the boat next door. Turns out they had decided to pick up their anchor at 3:30 in the morning (don't ask me why) and in the process of picking up their anchor they dragged it across another guy's chain and they ended up dragging him towards us. But neither one of them could effectively maneuver away because they were attached to their anchors and to each other.
The first boat, the one that moved, ended up taking its dingy around and lifting its anchor and the other guy's chain into the dingy and untangling them and then they went off to anchor somewhere else. At which point the second boat (the one that had been dragged) was way too close to us – standing on the bow of our boat I could almost touch their stern. They didn't want to move but I stood there and stared at them long enough that they decided to pull up 20 feet of chain at which point I decided that I'd have to be happy with that and I went back inside, changed into some dry clothes and tried to go to sleep. (Note that we couldn't move without them moving because they were directly windward of us which theoretically means that our anchor chain was running right under their boat.)
All of this in the pouring rain!
Belle and her husband own the Cow Wreck beach bar and they are very popular with the yacht chartering crowd. Here’s a picture of Belle talking to Bill.
The next picture is Belle’s son-in-law Alex. He has a masters degree in music and teaches at the local school. There are 250 people living on Anegada and 30-40 students in school. Alex says the education system in the BVI is excellent and the government works hard to ensure that everyone is gainfully employed. I didn’t see anyone begging or living in poverty and the BVI is not a cheap place!
Monday the 26th we took off at 10am. (Right after our dinghy was fixed for the second time.) We sailed directly to Anegada – I got a bit nervous at the end as we didn’t see the channel markers right away. Anegada is surrounded by reef and there is only one channel in – if you don’t make it through the channel, you ground your boat. We ended up anchoring in only 10 feet of water!
It rained most of the time we were in Anegada but we still had a fabulous time. The beaches were gorgeous, the snorkeling was good and the beach bars were fun! We stayed two nights. The first day we went to Loblolly Bay which was by far the more popular destination. Great snorkeling and an awesome beach. The next day we went to Cow Wreck beach which was even better. It was even more beautiful, there were only about five other people there – on a beach over a mile long!, and Belle who ran the beach bar and restaurant was a great cook and very friendly. It’s called Cow Wreck because a boat carrying a load of cattle crashed on the reef and their bones are still there. We didn’t see the cow bones but we did see a shark, a ray, and lots and lots of conch and crabs. Jacob put a live conch in his sand castle until Frank explained that it would die out of the water.
The night before we left Anegada the wind blew like crazy. I was getting really worried that it was going to be a rough sail the next morning. I needed have worried …
After the Baths we sailed to the Bitter End Yacht Club on the north end of Virgin Gorda where we grabbed a mooring for the night. Our dinghy broke again (this time a wire that need to be replaced) – again, they fixed it quickly when they opened up in the morning. Luckily there was a water taxi at Bitter End that we used to go back and forth to the resort for the evening. It was free but they asked for tips. (People in the BVI are very open about telling you when they expect a tip!)
We had dinner at a pub like place on Bitter End and Jacob got a hot dog – the one and only place that we found that served hot dogs in the BVI! (We had made reservations at the Bitter End restaurant but on discovering that the average dish was $50 we decided to head for the pub.)
If I were to go there again I’d grab one of the Saba Rock moorings – they were right next door and they gave you free ice and water with the mooring.
On Sunday, March 25th, we sailed from Peter Island to the Baths at Virgin Gorda. It was a long but really good sail. We had to wait about 30 minutes motoring around waiting for one of the day moorings as they were all full and the water was pretty deep for us to drop anchor in. Then we dinghied everyone to shore and Frank took the dinghy back out to the dinghy mooring (about half the way to the boat) and swam in.
Jacob loved the surf on the beach and we all enjoyed the caves – Jacob, Frank and I had a great time on our own personal "rock slide" – a big rock about 7 feet tall that Frank hoisted us up onto and then we slid down the far side on our bottoms.
But everyone’s favorite was the restaurant, The Top of the Baths. The view was the best in the world, the food was delicious (the jerk chicken was spicy and the coconut chicken was sweet) and there was live music and a swimming pool. Jacob made friends in the pool and the rest of us enjoyed our meal. Jacob was quite upset that the half eaten sandwich he left on the table disappeared – this was our first clue to how much he was going to eat on the trip!
On Saturday, March 24th, we left Norman Island and sailed to Peter Island. We stocked up on ice at the marina and waited to get our dinghy motor replace by the Footloose chase boat. The throttle broke and we had two speeds – full speed backwards or full speed forward. The Footloose chase boat arrived promptly and changed the outboard motor. Then we headed to a beach in the next bay over and discovered that our windlass didn’t work! The windlass is the motor that lowers and raises anchor – so no anchoring for us! We backtracked to Great Harbor on Peter Island where we could get a mooring (one of those balls you tie up to) and waited for the chase boat again! This time the chase boat took longer so we took advantage of the time to swim to shore (after waiting for a four foot barracuda to clear the waters!) and play on the beach. We had a great dinner on the boat of game hens and the chase boat arrived at about 7pm. They replaced the alternator belt on our motor and did some other stuff and we were back in business. That night at Great Harbor we caught a bunch of fish that liked chicken bones!
On Friday, March 23rd, we got our boat. After a hectic three hours of
loading all of our provisions onto our boat, Carino, a 433 from Footloose, we finally got off about 3:30 and
arrived at The Bight on Norman Island at about 4:30. We had a great
meal of mahi-mahi on board and the next day we went snorkeling at the
caves at Treasure Point.
who had never been snorkeling, jumped right off the dinghy into 25 feet
deep water, came up and yelled "there’s lots of fish down here!"
Needless to say, he took right to snorkeling.
There are some great pictures of our boat with us sailing at Yacht Shots. If we’d realized what they were doing we might have smiled!
We arrived at Beef Island airport at 6pm EDT and took a cab to our hotel on Tortola. It was a long day as we left the house at 3:30 MDT but Jacob still had plenty of energy for a swim and then he tried conch fritters for the first time.