RYA Day Skipper, still in the BVIs

February 28, 2021

Reading time: 17 minutes

We end up abandoning plans to practice tacking and gybing, and have to motor for the full crossing. There isn’t even enough wind to motor-sail.

We are practically becalmed, the sea inky and still.

In October 2015, immediately after doing our RYA Competent Crew practical in the BVIs, we took our Day Skipper practical. We’d already done the theory aspect at home via correspondence with Kipper Sailing.

The foreground is a cocktail, and in the background is the sea and rocky coast with sun peaking from behind the clouds
Rum punch at West End

We told the story of comp-crew in our last blog. In this post, we pick up as we head back to the marina after two nights resting on land and exploring Tortola.

Back to The Moorings

We wake up in our rainforest Airbnb to heavy rain and cool air. Annoyingly none of the clothes we left hanging outside have dried properly – it’s just too humid. We’re resigned to drying them once we get back to the marina. As we finish packing, we eat little salami and cream cheese rolls for breakfast.

After saying goodbye to our host we set off shortly after 10am, driving off to the north and east, and mostly following the main road. We stop a couple of times to take photos, and make it to Hodges Creek Marina before 11:30.

Yacht shopping

Colin deciding if a Gemini could be the one.

We meet with Marianne at The Catamaran Company and chat for a while about crewing opportunities and visa requirements. Our main reason for the visit is to look at a Gemini catamaran, which is an option that falls in our budget for buying. The comfortable size of the Gemini, something I’d worried about, leaves me pleasantly surprised. This option has a spacious master cabin and head, an aft cabin, and a combined cabin and head, which is odd but makes sense as extra storage. I’m not sure sailing in this configuration with more than two other people would be that great though.

Maybe a Lagoon 500 is a little excessive for Ailsa…

Just for the fun of it, before leaving, we look at a Lagoon 500, which has 4 cabins that are practically suites and a kitchen so big it has an island. We’ve seen smaller flats. The idea of crewing a yacht like this is pretty sweet until the captain’s cabin, accessed through a hatch in one of the hulls, is pointed out to us.

Marina life

We continue driving around the main road back to the Moorings Marina, where we have mahi-mahi sandwiches before heading to the shop for shirts and the chandlery for a local chart. We spend a couple of hours relaxing by the pool before we get the okay to go back on board Nipolos 3, the training yacht we spent the last week on. Amusingly, we end up hanging our damp laundry from the loungers around us – we must look like utter riffraff.

Colin drives a dingy across a marina at dusk
Heading for drinks at Village Cay

Back on board, we meet Matt, the sailing school manager, as we unload our bags. I unpack, and we hand back the car keys and stow one bag on land. We catch up briefly with our instructor, Skipper Mick, before he heads over to Village Cay. After a shower, we take the dinghy across the harbour to join him, which already feels like a natural thing to do.

Village Cay is having its season-opening night, and it’s jumping. We meet a number of Mick’s ex-pat friends and drink the local summer ale from St John. We have dinner and head back over in time to have a beer on deck before our new crew join us. 23-year-old data analyst Jools is doing Comp Crew, and Greg, an airline pilot who flies private jets, is doing Day Skipper. We chat a while before bed at around midnight.

Day 1

Woke up earlier than I’d like given the late night. After getting set for the day and loading some provisions we head to the Family Food and Bakery for breakfast. Emboldened by last week’s visit, we try the Tyler Special, an egg and bacon butty with salsa, which is fantastic.

After completing provisioning, Greg and Jools have their induction talk. We make ready and motor out of the harbour. Once we’re out, Greg and Jools go through steering into the wind, steering a tack and stopping. Once they have settled in we hoist the sails and sail slowly and leisurely towards Virgin Gorda with the wind on our side.

Pelicans at sunset

Jools and Greg head off to The Baths, but we stay behind. We take the time to read and relax, watching the pelicans fish. After a shower and a couple of beers on deck, we go to the Bath and Turtle for dinner. Colin opts for chicken roti for the second week running, and I have a delicious seared tuna salad. We head to bed at around 10 pm, as does Jools. Greg and Mick stay up talking on deck. I think I get to sleep sometime after 12.

Day 2

I end up sleeping terribly in the heat. The rain finally cools things off at 6:30, but it also leaves me fully awake. I grab my raincoat and sit up on deck until everyone else is awake.

An open locker, full of cans of Carib lager

We run a few errands – getting cash out, getting beer from the supermarket, disposing of rubbish and looking at the shop. I have the same ginger and garlic tea I had the week before.

Motor memory

Once we’ve eaten breakfast and cleared up, we learn how to reverse park on to a finger pontoon. I bite the bullet and go first. I don’t get in the first time but I don’t do too horribly. Colin is ridiculously perfect at the manoeuvre.

The day is very still, and with no wind we have no option but to motor around to the North Gorda sound, a trip full of bad jokes (even more than the week before) and Mick singing. We eat lunch, then Jools and Greg learn to steer onto mooring balls. Everyone takes turns doing man overboard drills, and I manage to do everything perfectly for once. We then have a go at parallel parking, which I’m less good at. It shouldn’t be a huge surprise, I’m not exactly brilliant at it in a car!

The Fat Virgin

The photo os taken from behind Ailsa, who is sitting on the deck of a bar surrounded by picnic tables. She is leaning forward cooking a distant cat to talk to her.
Making friends at the Fat Virgin

After a swim and deck shower we sit drinking beer as the sun sets. Dinner is at the esteemed Fat Virgin’s Cafe, with Esther the owner giving us a warm welcome. We share conch fritters and eat yet more delicious roti and fried chicken. Jools and I brave the local cocktail speciality, the Painkiller, which is dangerously moreish. There are a couple of beautiful feral cats who refuse to be friends, though one shows signs of wanting to talk to me. I’m quite relieved when everyone opts for a sensible bedtime soon after 10 pm.

Day 3

I have yet another awful nights sleep thanks to the heat. The air is so still that there no hint of a breeze to cool things down. In the morning Colin and I put together a passage plan to take us from our mooring to Anegada, and we set off after breakfast. It seems to be an unspoken agreement now that we prepare food and Greg and Jools clear up.


Colin is sitting in the cockpit of a yacht, with a smooth sea behind him. His t-shirt says "life is better sailing"
Barely moving on the passage to Anegada

I steer us out of the channel in torrential rain. The weather is impressive but makes seeing marker buoys tricky. The going isn’t helped by a large catamaran stopping in the channel. We hoist the mainsail but there isn’t a single bit of wind. We end up abandoning plans for Greg and Jools to practice tacking and gybing, and have to motor for the full crossing. There isn’t even enough wind to motor-sail. We are practically becalmed, the sea inky and still.

The passage at least gives me a chance to practice holding a bearing from the helm, before things get tedious and I hand over to Norman the autopilot. Colin and I fully navigate the passage and keep a log, marking our progress of the chart. We even make the important observation “boobs” when a cat occupied by a number of topless women passes us. It’s easy to see Anegada ahead – the reefs around it are reflected green in the clouds above.

A page of a log book, showing a passage from Virgin Gorda to Anegada. Under the remarks column, one entry has the word "Boobs!"
The log of the first passage we planned


Entering Anegada is through a tricky channel with extensive reefs, so Mick takes us in. We anchor at around 13:30, with a little panic when the anchor chain starts to slip off a guide.

Anegada is totally flat, and we can’t see much from the sea. We dinghy ashore to preorder dinner at Potters by the Sea and have a beer, marvelling at the hordes of slightly tacky charter guests coming ashore from a flotilla. Mick buys ice, essential as the fridges seem to be failing. Back onboard we eat lunch and spend the afternoon relaxing. Everyone finds the still heat too exhausting for us to want to go ashore to explore. As the sun gets low we all go for a swim, even Mick the Cat who hates getting wet.

Lobster and fig leaves at Potters

There’s a party-mood building, and after a couple of beers, we make our way back to Potters for dinner. Just after we arrive a flotilla party all dressed in some kind of garden of Eden swimwear theme (complete with snakes on the men’s speedos) shows up.

Dinner is yet more mahi-mahi and delicious lobster, caught locally. After eating we join the party and dance, and I have a cursory pass under the limbo pole but I’m not feeling that well so lose stamina. Mick and Greg get really into the dancing, it’s quite a sight. I crack up when Jools and Greg, out of nowhere, do a synchronised MC Hammer dance as we’re clambering back into the dinghy.

We head back over and the party continues. I go to bed soon after, but don’t get to sleep with the noise. Colin comes to bed and starts snoring to add to it. I eventually go back outside in a can’t beat em mood and end up sitting up until almost 2 am.

Day 4

We wake up a little later than usual, but not late enough to make up for the late night. I start to dread the last night when we’ll have to be up at 5 am or earlier to get to the airport. There is finally some wind, so we’re hopeful that we can get some sailing in. After breakfast, clearing up an immense number of beer cans, and preparing the boat, we get underway.

Still windless

The wind is there, but barely. We get enough for Jools to have a go at sailing the different points of sail but the wind is so pathetic that a gybe becomes a big arc. Even when we resort to motor sailing we make slow progress and the crossing from Anegada to Trellis Bay takes 5 hours. While Mick sleeps we dinghy ashore to look at the shops. I buy some locally made pottery, and Colin talks to many cats.

We don’t have a great deal of time to relax so I shower and start to prepare dinner. Between us, Colin and I prepare a meal of marinated BBQ mahi-mahi, lemon and lime rice (this time with the coriander I was annoyed not to have the week before), and a ratatouille type dish with orange juice for tang.

Nightsailing again

After clearing up we get ready for our nighttime passage. Unfortunately, yet again we have no wind. We end up spending 4 hours motoring, and at times I nod off. The moon is much bigger this week so the stars aren’t so vivid, and there are no shooting stars.

After a long, boring passage to Cane Garden Bay, we have a beer and go to bed. Of course, I end up not getting to sleep again as Mick and Greg’s quiet chat on deck is enough to keep me awake. I stave off an insomnia panic attack, go upstairs to chat a little, and finally get to sleep at around 2 am.

Day 5

Yet another bad nights sleep, I’m not sure how I can keep sleeping so poorly without just becoming exhausted. Even though Mick said there is no need to get up early I’m still up soon after 7 am as there is a noticeable swell rocking the boat – apparently the northern winter swell has arrived early, and the local paddleboarders seem happy.

Colin is sitting in a dinghy (out of shot), holding on to a wooden jet behind him
Colin fights the swell at Cane Garden Bay

Season’s change

We raise anchor and move onto a mooring ball before attempting a tricky dinghy ride ashore where we have breakfast at the same place as last week. The beach is already getting busy compared to the week before. It’s clear that the season is picking up.

A long slog

Once safely back on board, we motor out, watching waves form at the shore. There is some wind finally, though very little. Greg concludes the slowest circumnavigation of Sandy Cay ever, then we take turns sailing and motor sailing to pass around the western tip of Tortola. I’m frustrated to have Greg correcting my steering – steering in low wind is much harder than high winds. We make cheese sandwiches for lunch as we sail, and it’s another long slow day.

Home base

A photograph of Ailsa'a RYA Day Skipper license
Ailsa’s Day Skipper license

We get back to the Moorings sometime approaching 4 pm and get the boat set perfectly to execute seamless docking. After we take away trash Mick puts our licenses together and we update our logbooks, taking us up to 210 nautical miles total and 7 hours 45 minutes of night sailing.

I’m pleased to have passed, but the second week has not felt like great progress. The lack of good sailing weather and my sleeping problems have been frustrating. I’m more than ready for a couple of days of relaxing, and moreover, an air-conditioned room with a proper bed.

We check out the marina shops, and then back aboard we say our goodbyes to Mick. As a gift, we leave our GoPro and a charging box to help him kit out Shenanigans, the boat he bought for $1 and has big plans for making his home. We have dinner with Jools and Greg and say our goodbyes, as we’re getting up at stupid-o-clock to fly to Barbados.

Recovering in Barbados

From Tortola, we flew on to Barbados via Antigua. Remarkably, both Liat flights left on time. We enjoyed 4 nights at the Rostrevor Hotel, the hotel where we stayed when we got married in 2013. It’s a wonderful few days and we catch up on sleep, see friends, and visit our favourite places. We even make it to a couple of new places too.

Bonus sailing

On our last day, before heading to the airport, we even got some bonus sailing in. We hired a laser at Dover Beach and had a lot of fun translating what we’d learned on the 47ft Beneteau. Needless to say, we get a couple of good dunkings! Still, it’s the perfect way to end what has been an incredible introduction to sailing.

Almost as soon as we’re home we sign up for our Coastal Skipper/Yachtmaster theory course, we’ve definitely caught the bug!



As you may well know, the BVIs was devastated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017. Mick was updating us throughout, and we’ll never forget his messages from the eye of the storm. Sadly, he lost his boat (and home). He’s now skippering and maintaining boats in Greece. 

We were supposed to return to the BVI in 2018, but the islands just weren’t that ready for tourism. As well as the destruction to homes and public buildings, a lot of well-known businesses disappeared, and both hotels and charter fleet had to be largely rebuilt. We hugely encourage people to visit once it’s possible to do so, and contribute to the economy of these amazing islands. We can’t wait to spend Christmas there.

For more info on the recovery of the BVI’s and volunteering opportunities, visit the Virgin Islands Recovery and Development Agency, and BVI Stronger.