Dark & Stormy

The WEYC’s annual Dark & Stormy Regatta was held this past weekend. Well, it was really 4 days. Things got started Friday around noon, when i boarded Kuralu for the run over to the far eastern end of Tortola and the Registration Party at De Loose Mongoose in Trellis Bay.
Friday night was a great intro, with live music and many reunions; D&S had brought a lot of folks out of the woodwork to reconnect and make new friends. Many participants have been attending this event for years and years.
Milling about with the throng, i ran into Tracy, who invited me out for dinner on his Kelly-Peterson 46, Kahuli. His wife Susan had made up a great soufflé for dinner, with brownies and ice cream for dessert. After dinner (and a coconut-rum and OJ or two) Tracy and i ran back in to the beach. i sat and chatted with the crew of Storyteller, a fine C&C 41 being raced by Craig and Sally from The Catamaran Company. The evening wound up, and i caught a ride back to Kuralu with WEYC Commodore Dave Cooper.
That night i slept on the trampoline out on the front of Kuralu, the stars crazy above me, and the water below me showing traces of the only phosphorescence i’ve seen in the Caribbean. With my daypack for a pillow and the light breeze to cool me, I was more comfortable than in my air-conditioned apartment! And, being several hundred yards off the shoreline, there wasn’t a mosquito around.
Saturday morning I caught a ride with Robin into shore, and breakfasted with my racing crew from Ruffian. This is the same boat I raced on during the Sweethearts Regatta. Marty runs a good boat. Jim and Diane are fine folks, effervescent and good-natured. Lou Schwartz (who owns our local watering-hole, The Jolly Roger) was a gas on the mainsheet.
We got a good start out of Trellis Bay towards the finish line in Anegada, some 18 miles northeast. We took a different line than most of the fleet, aided by local knowledge (Marty sails to/from Anegada at least once each week), and although poised for a better finish, we were hindered by light and shifting winds. Still, we got into Anegada in the top third of the pack, sailing the tricky channel through the shallow reefs and dropping the hook off Neptune’s Treasure.
Anegada is the second largest island in the BVI, yet still the least-populated. It’s a coral and limestone atoll, and for all it’s length and breadth, shows no part of it more than 30 feet above sea level! The southern reef shelters several large shallow anchorages with great holding. Still, after setting the hook from the bow, I turned and asked Marty how much water we had.
“Six and a half feet”, he casualy replied.
“Below our keel?”
“No, total”. I winced, then smiled. Ruffian draws nearly 6 feet herself! With no tide to speak of, and little wave action in this sheltered anchorage, nobody seemed worried to be inches away from going aground!
That evening (and again the next morning), I took the short walk inland to the edge of the western salt ponds. About a third of the surface of Anegada is covered in these shallow ponds. There, I saw Flamingos! Someone had mentioned it to me, but it was still a moment of wonderment when I walked around some shrubs and saw these shocking pink birds in the water! Anegada reminded me of areas “out west” from my home town in central BC. It’s like Farwell Canyon, only flattened out, and with Flamingos. That night I returned to Ruffian after dinner ashore and had another splendid sleep outside under the stars.
During the D&S, Sunday is a lay-day, a time for the annual horseshoe tourney, sandcastle-building competition, and dinghy races. Sunday is also the day to get out and enjoy one of Anegada’s world-famous beaches. Most folks were headed to Loblolly Bay, which is renowned for snorkeling as well. However, hoping to avoid the crowd, a bunch of us West Endians crowded into a cab and took the bumpy ride to Cow Wreck Beach on the north shore. Wow! What a beach! What a little beach bar! I could totally envision Terry Brochu going there and feeling like he’d died and gone to heaven! The water is a crazy screaming electric green, spotted with the darker patches of coral, with the white water of the breakers out on the outer reef. The sand is like an incredibly fine yet heavy powder, unlike anything I’ve walked on before. With just the right amount of breeze to keep you cool without blowing sand or spilling drinks, etc., it was comfortable in the shade by the bar, laughing it up with Jim or playing dice with Niles.
Back on the south side later that day, i walked down the shore to see H.E.’s little beach and collection of buildings. He’s been bringing over bricks he makes from the leftover cement from his business, and with the help of other local Islanders, is starting a grass-roots co-operative collection of beach houses, a venture which I’m quite keen to follow. H.E. is an incredible man, even more so now that my ear has gotten trained to decipher his thick accent! He has the wildest, longest dreads I’ve ever seen, and while exemplifying an incredible pride in his heritage, shows none of the usual Tortolan xenophodia or elitism.
Walking over to his place, i had the blow-out to end all blow-outs… yup, i’m being forced to retire the Locals, at long last. The time for new flip-flops is upon me.
Sunday night was a little quieter than the riotous music and late-night dancing of Saturday night. Just as well, for in the morning we were to start the second race, a much longer one, all the way back to Soper’s Hole. Monday morning arrived after another beautiful rest under the stars aboard Ruffian. It was a sight to look around at all the other anchored boats to see morning faces peeking out as the sun dawned upon us. Marty ran ashore for the morning’s skipper’s meeting, and to fetch us a bag of freshly-baked cinnamon buns and banana-bread from Pam’s Bakery. Soon enough, we were sailing away from our anchorage, between the other boats, to pass through the channel and stage by the starting line.
A handicapped pursuit-style race, the fastest boats would be starting last, with several hours between the first start and the last. Being a full-keel traditional boat, Ruffian was starting within the fist 45 minutes or so of racing. We made a fine fast start, and i was soon busy on the foredeck, setting up the whiskerpole and flying our reacher. Marty let me make a few changes to the rigging, and our speed climbed. Again, we were on a different course than the bulk of the fleet, but trouble was on the horizon! Weather was moving across Virgin Gorda and Tortola from the southeast, and as we ran on past Scrub Island, Jost Van Dyke (and our first rounding mark at Sandy Cay) were obscured by a pile of clouds and rain. Soon we were in the rain and becalmed, and after another hour of sail changes and searching for wind, we called in to drop from the race rather than try to sail on and get into Soper’s Hole well after dark. Down went the sails, up went the dodger, on went the motor, and Marty brewed up a batch of hot tea spiked with Anisette to cheer us.
Into the north sound, the misty rain and clouds had the hills looking like something from the northwest rather than the tropics. There was something else in the air too, and we quickly spotted an ominous greasy mushroom cloud ascending over the spine of Tortola. We later learned that a junkyard in Sea Cows Bay had caught on fire. This Tuesday morning, the air still smells of burnt paint and rubber.
But now it’s back to work. Tracy’s genset and autopilot need troubleshooting, Mac’s cored deck needs re-laminating, and Marty needs a new teak grate for Ruffian’s cockpit. Of course, when I can, I need to sneak in a little work on my own little boat too!


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