Sailing through the British Virgin Islands provides a great way for a family to reconnect

A fancy resort? Not for the 20-somethings. Backpacking? Not for the elders. Sailing?

Rainbow over Tortola on our first morning in the BVI

Yes! All three of my kids grew up sailing at camp—the girls at Camp Kamaji in Minnesota and my son at Camp Nebagamon in Wisconsin. The girls have taught sailing and we’ve had some of our most memorable times sailing on charter boats in the Caribbean and in Tahiti.

When it came time to decide on a family trip for my far flung gang—the first time we’d all be together in more than a year—sailing, with some diving included, was everyone’s top pick.

So that’s why we’re here are in the British Virgin Islands, long a haven for sailors, having just left the Moorings bustling Tortola base in a 46-foot long Catamaran—the biggest boat we’ve ever sailed ourselves. No captain or crew for us, my kids insisted. “The fun is doing it ourselves!”

They always accuse me of over-planning when we travel together and a trip like this takes some planning, especially when my daughter Reggie and boyfriend Dan Foldes are becoming certified divers thanks to the excellent instruction at Sail Caribbean Divers, and the rest of us want to join them diving some of the BVI’s stellar sites—there are more than 100 to choose from, I’m told.

There’s also the small matter of provisioning the boat—you can’t necessarily get breakfast fixings when you are sailing in an archipelago! And who knows what you want to eat for lunch three days from now? I did the best I could—everything from eggs and English Muffins and Bagels to Peanut Butter and Nutella, to Hummus to cheese, crackers, pasta, sandwich fixings…though I forgot the key ingredient for the fajitas we planned to make for dinner.“ No worries,” the kids insist. “We’ve got lots of food!” They’re right.

The small fridge and freezer on board are jammed and finally, after an hour-long briefing and an inspection of our boat—really the Moorings folks telling us where everything was and how it worked — we’re under way. The sun is peeking out after a morning downpour.

Reggie and Dan have already left to do their certifying dives at Norman Island, where we will meet them at lunch time—a brief sail from Tortola.

Matt and Melanie hoist the sails on out Moorings catamaran

After all the stress of organizing this trip and getting here—of course we missed our connection in San Juan — I’ve forgotten what I need most (my rain jacket!). It’s pouring rain! And then the shower passes and there’s a rainbow stretching from one end of Tortola to the other! You can practically touch it. And now I’m remembering why I love family sailing trips.

My 27-year-old son and his 20-year-old sister, who haven’t seen each other since August when she left to study in Asia, are putting up the sails together and catching up as they steer the boat.

We have Wi-Fi, courtesy of Renport, but coverage is spotty so no one is glued to their smart phones, lap tops or iPads.

Everywhere we look is turquoise blue sea, bobbing sailboats, the occasional yacht and islands in front of us. Spectacular! We have a kayak and floating matt on board courtesy of Last Stop Sports, and if we wanted, we could kayak or snorkel or swim anywhere we like. We truly are masters of our own schedule and itinerary.

But this isn’t a luxury yacht. The cabins are small and you have to run the water heater for five minutes before it gets warm enough for a shower and then keep pressing a button to pump the water out afterward. There’s no dishwasher (except us) and no matter what we do, the food seems to freeze in the fridge. So much for the fresh watermelon, lettuce and celery. The good news: frozen grapes are delicious!

Today we’re sailing less than 10 nautical miles southwest of Tortola to Norman Island where we will attach our boat to a mooring ball ($25 for the privilege) and spend the night.

This is actually the third time we’ve sailed in the BVI. In 1998, when the kids were still kids, we had a skippered sailboat. In 2007, when they were in high school and college, we did our first bareboat experience in a monohull sailboat from Moorings. This time, with all of them in their 20s, it’s a more spacy catamaran.

I’ve done my part. I arranged the charter. I provisioned the boat. I provided the beer and fixings for Martinis and rum drinks. Now I have to sit back and hope this trip accomplishes what I wanted—to enable all of us to relax and catch up, sharing another great experience together.

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One Response to Sailing through the British Virgin Islands provides a great way for a family to reconnect

  1. Lucy Brown July 6, 2014 at 3:11 pm #

    Norman Island, home of Pirates Bight Bar, Restaurant, and Gift Shop, is perhaps most famous for being the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, Treasure Island. However, Norman Island also has a rich documented history of acting as a hiding spot for Pirate booty.Documented history for the island dates back to the early 18th century when a Spanish galleon called Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe buried 55 chests of silver coins after the crew mutinied aboard the ship.

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