Tortola, BVIs

Back and forth like a pendulum swung the masts of Koukla, while simultaneously the prow bobbed up and down.  This was the anchorage we had gone to because we had found the one at Jost Van Dyke a tad rolly.  Moreover, we knowingly subjected ourselves to this monotonous motion for nearly a week.

When we first arrived in Road Town, Tortola, we immediately looked for a sail maker to make a new staysail and salvage our frayed jib–both of which had been heavily abused off shore.  Tortola would be our best bet to have the job done, and the next possible island was an overnight sail away.  We found someone whom we thought would do a good job for a reasonable price, and hired them immediately, for the job would take several days.  Unfortunately, it was just after that we realized what a truly abominable anchorage Road Town harbor really was.

Ashore, the town wasn’t bad, but it was a long, extremely wet dinghy ride away.  Road Town, Tortola, was almost comparable to Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, but the former was quite a bit nicer, friendlier, and slower paced.  Perhaps twenty years or so ago the town would have looked modern and almost impressive, but today the style of the buildings and thus the town was quite passé.  In a way, the unimpressive air was a good thing, in that it was not too touristy, yet civilized.  Interestingly, the chickens here were like pigeons or sea gulls would be anywhere else–they were everywhere.  But, we wouldn’t consider eating one of our wild birds. Apparently, in Tortola, you could capture a chicken off the street, take it home, and eat it, sort of like a primitive form of welfare.  One restaurant we frequented had outside tables and a mother hen and her chicks would flitter and peep beneath the tables looking for breadcrumbs, while a proud-looking rooster strutted a few yards away.

Unfortunately, we were unable to go in to town often and see the sights, sounds, and chickens.  We did not want to get drenched on our way in to town, which is exactly what happened every single time we left the boat.  But one day, my mother and I decided to risk getting soaked rather than continue to suffer from cabin fever.  My father ferried us ashore, and we had a pleasant afternoon of exploring the town.  But, when we went to the dock to signal for a ride back to the boat we saw that our dinghy was gone.  We scanned the harbor, but there was no sign of my father, brother, or our dinghy.  After waiting for nearly half an hour we were quite concerned.  Then we saw our little inflatable with the two of them in it coming around the bend from outside the harbor and bouncing quite violently.  My mother and I watched them swing by Koukla, signal to us, and my father left to fetch us a minute or two later.  When he came to pick us up he had quite a tale to tell.

That afternoon, my father and brother had been working on installing some gadget or other, and they had left our VHF radio on.  Out of nowhere a man came on the radio and frantically called “Mayday” and said that he was alone, a line was caught around his propeller, he had no control over the boat, and he was headed toward the rocks.  The two of them dropped what they’re doing to listen, assuming the Coast Guard or the Tortolan equivalent to it would respond.  They listen for a few minutes and were surprised that no one said anything to the vessel in distress.  My father, in good conscience, could not just listen to this man’s pleas for help and do nothing, so he responded.  He told the man he would only be able to come out in a small inflatable, but that he would go out and assist however possible.  The man, now absolutely panic-stricken, replies in a quavering voice that he’ll take any help he can get, for he was close to going on the rocks.  So my father asks for his location, and my brother and he set out with a chart in a water-proof case and our portable VHF radio.  The man had said he was just outside the harbor, but when they got there, there was not boat in distress in sight.  Even before they got outside the harbor they were soaked to the bone, but outside was even worse.  The strong wind lashed about them and the spray stung and blurred visibility.  They searched for over twenty minutes but found nothing.  The whole time they were in contact with the man, but that was of little good to them, for the man was now fear-stricken to the point of incoherence.  Before they could reach him he was on the rocks and they lost contact.

Their rescue attempt now futile, and there being nothing else they can do, they head back in.  My father asked anyone we met for news about the man on the rocks.  One person my father talked to nonchalantly replied he had heard the man’s call for help, but it didn’t even seem to faze him that another human being’s life and property were in danger.  And, frighteningly, it was apparent that this was not the only person with this attitude, since my father was the only person who had heard the “Mayday” and was willing to help.  We eventually learned that some marina had, in the end, gone out to get him and got the boat off the rocks the next day.  Apparently, on many islands there is no Coast Guard or equivalent, and if there is, it is often of little use to a boat in trouble.  This was a rather unsettling piece of information to have gained, but we tried not to let it worry us too much.

We were now down to our final day in Tortola, since our sails were almost done, and we decided to rent a car and see the whole island.  That February 2nd we dinghyed ashore and walked to the car rental place just as it was opening.  We rented an open, airy, old jeep-like thing and aimlessly set off down the road.  In the B.V.I.’s they drive on the left side of the road, as you might expect for a British territory, and my father did a pretty good job of staying in the proper lane, but every now and then my mother would have to remind him what country we were in.  The steep, winding road and multiple hairpin turns also made me thankful that I wasn’t the one behind the wheel.  Most of the roads we took had the ocean on one side and palm trees on the other.  We drove by the Narrows, the windy passage with a strong current that we had gone against a while ago, and were thankful that we weren’t out on the water today, since it looked exceptionally windy.  It was so choppy out there the caps of the waves looked almost sharp.  But on land it was a beautiful day.  The warm tropical air whipped through my hair and the smell of exotic flowers and fresh cut grass followed us wherever we went.

After we had been up and down just about every road on Tortola we decided to ascend Mt. Scenery in our vehicle.  Mt. Scenery is the highest peak on the island and there was a tropical rainforest at the very top.  We penetrated a shroud of mist as we went up and up until we reached a small dirt parking lot at the very top.  We dodged muddy spots and hopped over puddles as we got out of the car and continued to do so as we set off down the path into the rainforest.  Moss-covered trees and giant ferns loomed on either side of the path.  While we were tip-toeing around the mud and water we were startled by a rustling from just off the path.  We looked around and saw a field just beyond the forest and the heads of two cows peering between two trees.  The presence of farm animals kind of ruined the whole mysterious tropical rainforest atmosphere.  Shortly after we passed the cows we decided we’d seen enough and headed back.  On our way back we passed the curious sight of a man in a hard had and rubber boots riding a donkey.  Wishing we too had rubber boots or a donkey to ride, we continued down the muddy trail to the parking lot.  We left Mt. Scenery and had the car back to the rental place before the sun had even thought about setting.

Tortola had been pretty nice, but we were all very anxious to get away from the incessant rocking of Road Town harbor.  We could only hope that wherever we dropped our anchor next would not cause our sturdy vessel to pitch back and forth so violently.


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