Conch Charters Trip Review
What an experience and what an adventure in a most beautiful place.
In the fall of 2012, my wife and I made a decision to research a vacation in the BVI and to charter a sailboat to explore the islands. We had heard from a friend how much they enjoyed it a few years ago and with our experience on our 30 ft Catalina over the past 15 years on a large inland lake thought we should give the bareboat option a try.
In February, after reviewing the VI Sailing website, I made a connection to Melody Delgado, and booked a 32’ Beneteau with Conch Charters (7 days beginning on April 16h) out of Fort Burt Marina on Tortola, BVI. Melody was very helpful in the selection of the charter since it would be our first time in those waters and just the two of us crewing it. The Beneteau 323 was a wonderful boat and very manageable from the cockpit with lines, cleats, and easily accessible winches all logically located.
A very good chart briefing with excellent information on a “north swell” expected later in the week preceded our boat checkout at the slip. During the boat briefing, we told the staff that we had never needed to use a mooring ball where we have sailed and even though I had viewed the online video several times, it was wonderful to have guided practice in the harbor before heading out to Norman Island for the night. The training led us to decide to have Beth handle the wheel and engine while I hooked the pendant, ran the lines through, and cleat them on the bow.
Well, since it was Tuesday the 16th not a weekend, we had no problem finding a mooring ball and with Beth at the helm and me with boathook on the bow, we comfortably fetched the pendant, ran the bowlines through and secured ourselves for the evening. A very good feeling of “boating job satisfaction” and gratitude to Ross at Conch Charters for his mooring tips made for a real fine end to our first day into BVI sailing. The winds and weather were about to perk up, but we didn’t know that yet! We slept soundly with a gentle rocking of the boat as the wind would swing us on the mooring.
We used a full jib once again, with no main, due to a 20-25 knot gusty blow and lots of rain. The boat rode nicely over the waves, but we did get drenched from the rain and tired from the workout. At least it was a warm rain! With some tacking to get near the SW corner of Tortola, we then rolled up the jib and motored through the channel near Frenchman’s Cay and on into the harbor area of Soper’s Hole/West End. The Conch Charter chart briefing was helpful in advising when and where to do motoring vs. sailing for boat traffic and sea conditions near channels.
At Soper’s Hole, we once again praised Ross (Conch Charters) for his training on the mooring ball retrieval; especially with the fickle high winds coming directly through the east side of Soper’s Hole. Mooring ball pickup No 2 – no problem! Beth’s confidence on the helm was climbing like an F-18 and I was feeling very good about our teamwork handling the boat with just the two of us in this new environment.
The winds would continue to blow for all afternoon and night, but the rain became intermittent and we enjoyed getting ashore and seeing some of the local shops, streets, marina, and restaurants. After we got back aboard just before dark, I checked the security of the lines, sails and dinghy as Beth made us some coffee to enjoy in the cockpit while observing the sounds and sights of the harbor at night. This became a nightly tradition. We usually fell asleep at 10p.
In the morning (Day 3) I used the cell phone provided by Conch to call the office and get an update on the weather prognosis directly from them due to a “small craft advisory” being mentioned on CH 6. I reassured Beth that our boat was designed to handle what was expected on a sail that day to Jost Van Dyke and we would use the reefed main. Another day of waves and wind with tacking put us into Little Harbor in early afternoon. Again, Beth put me right on the mooring ball for the pendant pick up and we proceeded to Sydney’s for a late lunch and some shopping.
While walking around the area of Little Harbor and knowing that the forecast called for 20 to 30 kts with 5-7 ft seas, I asked a group of sailors about how they might handle the next day heading out. They suggested that we set minimum sails and have the engine engaged with a low rpm. The prop wash helped with adding more rudder authority when the wave action obviously varied the power in the sails and also the amount of water over the rudder at times – most helpful for holding a course and executing smooth, consistent tacking.
We used this technique for the next 2 days as we left the next morning – Day 4. And, yes, the winds stayed as predicted even at night for the next 2 days.
I cannot wrap up this trip review without saying enough about how much we enjoyed the conversations we had with so many wonderful people we encountered. On the docks, at the cafes, at shops, and at the restaurants – everyone was friendly and approachable. And as it happens often in our other travels, we even ran into some people who are from within 10 miles of our home in Minnesota.
A tip of the hat, my new Tortola BVI cap of course, to the excellent support of the Conch Charter team before, during, and conclusion of our booked charter. I also appreciated the hotel recommendation of Melody Delgado. We elected to come in a day early and stay a day longer on Tortola and greatly enjoyed Marie’s By the Sea.
So, with the excellent recommendation of Melody Delgado, the professional support of the Conch Charter staff, and a great boat, my wife and I can say that we will be back. We also have already found some other sailors in our Minnesota area who are now interested in BVI.
Thanks again for a superior vacation experience in a fine part of the hemisphere.
Tim and Beth Beutell