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Old 10-08-2014, 20:59   #1
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Kim Petersen's Avatar

Join Date: Sep 2011
Location: South Florida
Boat: Nordhavn 40 Trawler Hinckley Bermuda 40 Yawl
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Florida to USVI/BVI and Back: A Travelogue with Photos

For those or you who have dreamed of bringing your boat to the British & US Virgin Islands - leaving it there for a season - and then sailing her home again, here is our experience doing just that. It proved to be one of the best boating decisions we've ever made, and one that we will do again in the future.

I have been sailing the tropical waters of the Virgin Islands for over 25-years, almost always bareboating during the Thanksgiving holiday with a sailboat from the Moorings. As many of you know, this is a sailing destination that offers predictable weather, seas that even the most novice sailing guest can enjoy, and a range of anchorages that serve up everything from raucous parties to hidden coves and isolated beaches; from burgers and conch fritters at Foxy's to all-you-can eat lobster at the manager's dinner at Caneel Bay.

But with each successive trip, the thought always crossed my mind, "wouldn't it be great to have our own boat down here for the winter season so we could visit whenever we wanted to and enjoy the comforts of our own boat"? As it was, my wife was going to celebrate her birthday in early January as was my best friend Brian, whose 50th birthday was the day before. I had promised them both that someday we would be on Jost Van Dyke for New Year's Eve at Foxy's. When a call to the Moorings revealed that a 10-day Christmas charter would cost just shy of $20,000, I knew the time had come.

Some quick calculations showed that a Dockwise boat delivery, plus six months in a marina, would cost less than 12-day cruise onboard a Moorings sailboat - not a bad deal, especially when I would be able to squeeze in three or four extra trips plus the adventure of sailing there or back.

We decided to take our Nordhavn 40, Tropic Explorer, inasmuch as our Hinckley Bermuda 40 was on the market (and still is). The Nordhavn is an expeditionary-style trawler that is often described as a 'passagemaker' due to its offshore design intent. The sistership to Tropic Explorer completed a circumnavigation in less than six months with no issues and many Nordhavns routinely cross the Atlantic and Pacific. Like our Hinckley, she is stronger than any crew, and is ideally suited to long blue-water passages. She has a draft of 5-feet, displaces 50,000 lbs., carries 220 gallons of water, and 920 gallons of diesel - giving her a range of between 2,400 and 3,400 nm, depending on sea conditions (fuel consumption is a miserly 1.75 to 2.6 gph at 6.5 knots) . She has both paravanes and stabilizers to ensure a comfortable sail offshore, and sleeps five comfortably (but with six it feels like three too many).

Our Nordhavn 40 Tropic Explorer at anchor

A view towards the galley and the companionway leading up to the wheelhouse and down to the cabins and head

The bridge on Tropic Explorer

Next was a decision on our voyage plan: Sail there in November and then back again in July with some friends? Hire a professional crew to deliver her? Or, send her via Dockwise from our home in Ft. Lauderdale? Sailing to the islands, while admittedly a grand adventure, would require an open-ended time commitment to negotiate the Thorny Path and wait out bad weather en route. And work commitments made this problematic at best. Hiring a delivery crew carried with it the not insignificant issues of wear and tear on the boat, cost of fuel, salaries, meals, airfare, etc. I knew that I was going to sail her home - it would be 'down hill' with current and winds to our back, but the slog to windward in getting Tropic Explorer there was unappealing given the circumstances.

So it was decided that we would engage Dockwise to transport her from Port Everglades to Charlotte Amalie in St. Thomas. The fee was about $13,500 - about $3-4,000 more than the cost of a delivery crew excluding the additional cost of those items that would wear-out or break on the way. It was very exciting to imagine that my boat would soon be in the islands, ready for any spur-of-the-moment visit. With Spirit Airlines offering roundtrip flights for as little as $260 to St. Thomas, it was possible for us to fly down for trips of five or six days whenever we wanted! Totally cool. And so it was that we sailed Tropic Explorer the short distance down to Port Everglades where she boarded yacht carrier Super Servant 4 on November 1st with a delivery date of November 15th in St. Thomas.

Leaving our dock to rendezvous with Super Servant 4

It was quite interesting to rendezvous with the Super Servant 4 and join the queue of other boats as they readied themselves to sail onto the submerged afterdeck of the yacht carrier. We were one of the first to sail on, and the very professional crew was there to assist us with lines throughout the process.

Approaching the flooded Dockwise Yacht Carrier Super Servant 4 in Port Everglades

Tropic Explorer safely tucked in for her journey to St. Thomas

A couple of weeks later - after Super Servant 4 first sailed to Newport, RI - we met her at the spacious commercial port in Charlotte Amalie. Our boat was in fine condition, though her deck was peppered with droplets of what appeared to be fuel oil that must have come from the engine's stack. (Cleaning this off proved exceedingly difficult and we eventually gave up; but what modern detergents couldn't remove, the tropical sun did within a month.) Being the first on meant that we were the last to sail off, and so it was around 1500 when we were finally afloat in the Caribbean sea, steaming towards our first anchorage: Caneel Bay.

Tropic Explorer waiting for vessels aft to depart prior to our sailing off into the Charlotte Amalie harbor

Having vacationed at Caneel many times in the past, it has become a ritual for us to visit at least once on every cruise - and now we were there on our own boat.

Tropic Explorer at anchor off of Caneel Bay, the famous resort created by Laurance Rockefeller

My wife toasting our arrival in Soper's Hole where we cleared in to the BVIs)

After a wonderful evening ashore on St. John, the following morning we headed to Soper's Hole on Tortola in the British Virgins to check-in and register our boat for the expected eight to nine months we intended to leave her on the island. The immigration, customs, and processing of our boat took less than 20-minutes and soon we were sailing north to Manuel Reef Marina, where I had arranged to dock Tropic Explorer.

Manuel Reef Marina on Tortola would be the new home for Tropic Explorer

Manuel Reef is a simple but professionally operated marina located a short distance south west of Road Town and adjacent to Nanny Cay. This would be our base of operations - a simple ferry and taxi ride from St. Thomas. If we could get to the waterfront ferry terminal in Charlotte Amalie by 1600 we could ferry over to Soper's Hole (or Road Town) and be on our boat by 1800. It proved to be an ideal location with a very reasonable dockage rate (about $500 per month) that helped to make this whole adventure financially viable.

With Tropic Explorer now ensconced in her new home, over the next few months we would visit her for four sailing vacations - some long and some short - including a highly successful and thoroughly enjoyable Christmas cruise that saw us finally experience and survive the unbelievable pandemonium that is Foxy's at New Years (or as Foxy would say, 'Old Year's Celebration'). (A suggestion: We were lucky to have anchored off of Foxy's Taboo in Long Bay and taking a taxi to Foxy's. At around New Year's, Great Harbor has so many boats on anchor and on moorings that you could virtually walk from boat deck-to-boat deck and reach the beach without getting your feet wet. What with the always iffy holding there and the shortage of mooring balls, it's best to park somewhere else and drive.)

Bedlam and merriment at Foxy's on Old Year's EveTropic Explorer

Having our boat in the islands was fantastic and there were no down sides whatsoever. I would do it again in a heartbeat. When it came time to bring her home, I was excited at the prospect of sailing back to the states with two old sailing buddies: one recently back from Afghanistan and the other my uncle, an old salt also from Denmark who had just turned 95 years old. We flew down and made her ready on June 17th and left two days later while we waited for an improved weather window. Our intention was to arrive in Ft. Lauderdale on or about July 4th, with a route that would take us from Tortola directly to the Turks and Caicos in three days, stopping at North Caicos. From there we planned to sail around the southern tip of Acklins Island (Bahamas), along the eastern coast of Long Island where we woud clear customs in Clarence Town. We would then proceed north and east to George Town, decompress for a couple of days, and then head up to Staniel Cay and Norman's Cay, where we would cross over from Exuma Sound and into the Tongue of the Ocean and on home.

The days spent on our offshore leg to the Turks and Caicos were fantastic, and even though we had six- to ten-foot seas for much of the passage, they hit to our stern while we enjoyed clear and beautiful weather. It was easily the best part of the trip.

Sailing at night offshore is one of the great pleasures of being at sea

The glow of our instruments as we make our way to the Turks and Caicos

The chart plotter provided our boat's progress data, AIS targets, and upcoming course adjustments

We arrived at the Turks and marveled at the clarity of the water on the Caicos Bank on our approach to North Caicos. As required, we radioed into immigration and customs to alert them as to our identity and intentions, after which we arranged for a slip at South Side Marina. Bob Pratt is the owner and met us, helping us tie up and then arranging a rental car. North Caicos is an interesting and pretty island with many beautiful beaches, some wonderful restaurants, and one of the best grocery stores anywhere in the islands.

Pulling into our slip in Northern Caicos after our crossing from Tortola

Sailing buddies Kay and Brian (left) and Kim (right) enjoying the first of many celebratory drinks upon our arrival in North Caicos

We left for Clarence Town two days later. The voyage was perfect, with our radar, AIS, and chartplotters making nighttime navigation a breeze. We arrived at Flying Fish Marina and arranged to stay the night following our clearing customs. Customs had another idea; after they were summoned by the harbor master, we waited four hours and were then told that they were too busy, recommending that we have dinner at the marina and check-in at George Town instead. No sweat, gotta go with the flow ... it’s the Bahamas, baby! We went next door and dined on some great cracked conch along with a pitcher or three of well-deserved planter's punches.

In order to make George Town by sunset the next day, I planned our departure for 0500 so as to allow a healthy cushion. Navigating into George Town requires careful attention to charts and surroundings, but it was a delightful day wending our way around the islands and into Elizabeth Harbor where we anchored just east of town.

We waited until the next morning for me to dinghy in and clear customs at the police station. Once again I was told that Customs and Immigration was unusually busy and they could not clear us anytime soon. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe not. One of the police officers volunteered to drive us the 30-minutes to the airport where we could clear in both the boat and each of my two friends! So I dinghied out and retrieved them and then enjoyed a scenic drive in the comfort of a Bahamian police car and the company of a charming police woman who could not have been nicer. It is better in the Bahamas!

One of the Bahamas' finest, this officer kindly offered to drive us from George Town to the airport so that we could clear customs & immigration. Along the way we were treated to a first-rate guided tour.

That evening we enjoyed a Junkanoo of sorts hosted by the town. Locals and yachties, adults and children, all came out to dance and party until late into the evening. The next morning we left for Staniel Cay sailing along the Atlantic side of the coast. Having left at 0800, we arrived in the early afternoon and took a slip tucked in behind some of the mega-yachts that seem to call Staniel Cay home for much of the summer.

I needed to perform some maintenance on the boat, and after seeing the wealth of amenities Staniel Cay had to offer, we readily agreed to stay for three days. Staniel offers a clean and well-run marina that caters to families and boasts a great bar and restaurant, along with nearby snorkeling at such renown attractions as Thunderball Cave. You can even swim with the local nurse sharks as they maneuver in to dine on the discarded remnants of fish cleaned by boats tied up in the marina. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay and I made a mental note to bring my wife and 11-year old son next time we sailed to the Exumas.

Kay and Brian in the Staniel Cay Yacht Club.

We were running out of time and headed up the coast for Norman's Cay, infamous for having once been the Bahamian base for marijuana and cocaine smuggling into the US by elements of the Medellin Cartel. It's a beautiful island with many interesting sites to explore on both land and in the shallows surrounding the island. Unfortunately, with a need to make our way home to flights and work, we had to simply look to starboard as we transited from Exuma Sound over to the banks that would lead to the deep waters of the Tongue of the Ocean and home.

We arrived in Florida two days later in time to approach the coast as darkness fell and the sky was set ablaze by fireworks - it was July 4th and we were home. Looking back, bringing our boat to the Caribbean proved to be immensely rewarding - and relatively inexpensive when compared to the costs of even a single Christmas charter. We enjoyed that Christmas cruise and so much more. We'll do it again soon.

Hinckley Bermuda 40 Yawl
Nordhavn 40 Passagemaker Trawler
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Old 11-08-2014, 07:02   #2
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Re: Florida to USVI/BVI and Back: A Travelogue with Photos

Nice job on the travelogue! Sounds like the trip of a lifetime with many memories.

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Old 11-08-2014, 09:53   #3
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Re: Florida to USVI/BVI and Back: A Travelogue with Photos

Sounds like a great experience, thanks for sharing. I would say when you say "sail", I keep thinking sailboat as in real sails as apposed to passage making under power.
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Old 11-08-2014, 10:11   #4
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Re: Florida to USVI/BVI and Back: A Travelogue with Photos

Originally Posted by marlinmike View Post
Sounds like a great experience, thanks for sharing. I would say when you say "sail", I keep thinking sailboat as in real sails as apposed to passage making under power.
Thanks, Mike. As a life-long sailor who only recently moved over to the 'dark side' of trawlers, it's difficult for me to adjust my vernacular. But that said, even cruise ships post 'sailing times', even if few any longer have topsails, topgallants or any other sails aloft. Honestly, i can't envision myself ever saying, "we're going to power over to Marina Cay for lunch". Talk about nails on a chalkboard!
Hinckley Bermuda 40 Yawl
Nordhavn 40 Passagemaker Trawler
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Old 11-08-2014, 10:19   #5
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Re: Florida to USVI/BVI and Back: A Travelogue with Photos

Thanks for sharing the trip. It looked like a great adventure.
Edit: Great boat BTW!
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Old 11-08-2014, 10:29   #6
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Re: Florida to USVI/BVI and Back: A Travelogue with Photos

Very cool trip...nice to have such a senior citizen on board.
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Old 05-05-2016, 22:53   #7
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Re: Florida to USVI/BVI and Back: A Travelogue with Photos

Good post, very informative.

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