Wispy white clouds gallop across the powder blue sky, blown by a strong but hardly blustery wind. These clouds were headed for Jost Van Dyke, in the British Virgin Islands, as were we. As we headed out on the morning of January 28, 2002, the four of us were astounded to find that the wind was blowing in the best possible direction for where we wanted to go. In further disbelief, we noted that the wind was blowing at approximately 25 knots, which is a near perfect strength for our 33 ton vessel Koukla. After the sails were efficiently raised by Koukla’s able crew, we went from 0 to 8 knots in no time flat. Unbelievably, the speedometer even flashed 9 and 10 knots on occasion. This was absolutely unheard of; we were going about three times our average speed.
For most boats, 25 knots of wind is a bit much, but not for Koukla. We passed numerous smaller reefed vessels. We even soared past a heavily reefed Hinckley. For those who aren’t familiar, Hinckley’s are very fast and very expensive boats. We flew towards Jost Van Dyke on a beam reach the whole way, which is the fastest point of sail for a schooner. Very, very quickly the island of Jost Van Dyke went form just a dot on the horizon to a green, looming hulk.
Just when we were starting to enjoy the one really good sail we had had so far we had to come to a screeching halt, literally. Great Bay, Jost Van Dyke may have been pretty great aesthetically, but great in size it was not. It was a dead end harbor with coral reefs on either side, and we were screaming towards this veritable brick wall at 8 knots. But the four of us were undaunted. We knew our places and set about lowering the sails, readying the anchor and such like a highly trained racing pit crew. Even with the sails down we were still moving a bit too quickly. So, my mother, who was at the helm, had to kick it in to reverse to prevent what would have been our eventual collision with a coconut palm. We very quickly dropped the anchor, and we were still drifting backwards a bit when it caught.
It should be noted at this point that this harbor is known historically to have bad holding ground, and most everyone who tries to anchor here drags at least once. But not us, because we were well equipped in the anchor department. All of them, except for our one dinghy anchor, are big and very heavy. Most people would have one or two anchors, but no, that wasn’t good enough. We had to have 6 anchors. Or, I think there were at least six, I kind of lost track. If you lose track of just how many anchors you have it’s probably overkill. But I think it gave us all some guilty pleasure watching other boats come into the harbor, try to anchor three or four times and still drag a bit.
Now that Koukla wasn’t going anywhere, there was just the matter of checking in to customs. I was kind of excited because this was the first time I had officially been out of the country. I had never even been to Canada. At the same time, I think we were all a bit leery of public officials because of our recent close call with the law back in Charlotte Amalie. Also, we knew we would have to turn over our firearm and we hoped that that wouldn’t bring about any problems. Fortunately, we cleared customs without any trouble, and the British officials were reasonable, polite, and professional. The worst part about it was that I had to sit in this room in the customs building that strangely reminded me of my old elementary school for far longer than I would have liked. There was a whole island right there waiting to be explored and it was killing me that I had to wait so long to see it. Finally, my father had finished all the paperwork, our passports were stamped, and we were free to go.
When we left customs and Immigration we just picked a road and started walking to see what there was to see. The road that we picked was just an unpaved path along the beach. Every hundred yards or so we would pass a brightly painted plywood shack plastered with beer posters with a sign that said “bar” somewhere in the vicinity. After we passed about five of these we tried a different direction. The opposite direction led us past many small sun-baked houses, some with cloth doors, goat pens, or chicken coups. As we plodded on the houses became fewer and further between, and the road gradually got steeper and steeper. The incline was so gradual, in fact, that our legs noticed long before our brains did, until suddenly a small mountain/large hill sprang up before us. The road went up, so up we went, straight up in fact. The dirt road was practically vertical and often crumbled under foot, making only every other step count. Every now and then a goat would stroll by the side of the road and I would become quite jealous of the ease with which it scampered about the steep terrain.
Slightly less than half way up we realized that we should have brought water with us. But, we had not anticipated such a hike so we were unprepared and thirsty. My mouth felt like a desert and each step in the blazing sun was more difficult than the last. Finally, we reached the end of the road and were rewarded with a panoramic view of the harbor.
Thanks to gravity, the hike down was immensely easier than the hike up. Down the mountain, we trailed a herd of goats. My father attempted to converse with them, but they just rudely bleated and ran away. On our way back in to town, we stopped at a convenience store of sorts that was essentially just a few sparse shelves and a refrigerator in someone’s basement. But, it sold drinks so we didn’t really care much. I got a Ting, a beverage found only in the Caribbean, to my knowledge and dismay, which I had just recently been introduced to. It is made in Jamaica from Jamaican grapefruits. It’s more than just juice, yet not quite a soda though it’s carbonated. All I know is it’s very good.
My Ting was gone in no time and daylight was slowly fading, so we headed to where we had planned to eat that evening, Foxy’s. Foxy’s Tamarind Bar and Restaurant is a legendary hangout among the cruising community. It is most famous for its world renowned New Year’s parties. We had planned to go, but our engine quit on our way there. It was probably just as well because even from a few islands back we could see the mass of toothpicks sticking out of Great Bay. We had heard that the rather small harbor was so chalk-a-block full that you could literally walk from one end of the harbor to the other by hopping from boat to boat. I don’t think any of us were terribly disappointed to have missed that. The important thing was that we had made it to Foxy’s, a major stop on our itinerary. What made Foxy’s so illustrious was the owner, Foxy himself. He was a man of African descendancy somewhere between my parent’s and grandparent’s age. Salt-and-pepper dreadlocks immerged from beneath a worn baseball cap. He was dressed very casually for a wealthy business owner, for Foxy’s had been very successful for much longer than I have been alive. And a genial smile never ceased to grace his dark features. My family and I spoke but a few strained words to him, but I overheard him say something rather profound. When asked how he was dong by some random person I remember him emphatically reply, “I am doing fantastic, but tomorrow I’ll do better.” I thought that was a great philosophy, if only it were possible to live by. But, I think that sort of philosophy is a lot easier to live by if you live on Jost Van Dyke.
We whiled away the time before dinner listening to Foxy play the guitar and sing and tell jokes, sipping soft drinks, and watching a few silly tourists make fools of themselves dancing. The sun went down and flickering candles were placed on all the tables in the open air restaurant. The place was practically an extension of the beach with a roof; the floor was even purposely all sand. Every square inch of the ceiling, the posts holding it up, and the few walls that there were were covered in business cards, signatures, flags, even articles of clothing, all left there by their former owners to prove that they had been to Foxy’s. One drawback to the restaurant being completely open was that its patrons were at the mercy of the mosquitoes. They were so bad that my father and I had to run back to the boat for some bug spray so that we could enjoy our diner without being diner ourselves.
We ate in the velvety evening air while the savory smell of West Indian cuisine wafted across the island. The stars twinkled in the heavens and the moon spilled beams of light over the water. Today had been wonderful, but tomorrow, perhaps, I will do better.