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              by Richard C. Ross
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A jet plane can cover a distance of a hundred miles in about fifteen minutes or so -- perhaps a bit longer if the plane in question is in a landing pattern.  For an automobile to cover the same distance usually requires approximately an hour and a half -- speed limits notwithstanding.  But in a boat -- ah, now that is a different story entirely... and the kind of boat in question will definitely make a difference. 

Having been a fan of motorized watercraft for the majority of my life (and having become very seasick on a sailing catamaran and other types of non-motorized boats), I really had no idea of what sailing entailed, let alone how long it would take to travel a specific distance, and I really had no desire to find out.  Until recently, that is.

The short version of a very long story is that, 32 years ago, I was very much into the restaurant business (not much has changed).  Having done stints as a busboy and dishwasher at the Twin Door and later having added several job descriptions at the Mill Race Inn in Geneva, I furthered my "education" at numerous restaurants on the west coast (where I met mentor Joseph Insalago).  Returning to the Fox Valley, I added to my resume various positions at another half-dozen or so venues before being offered and... turning down a position as Food and Beverage Director at a very high-end yacht club in the British Virgin Islands. 

Many have told me I was insane to have said no to the offer; my reasons are now certainly quite old and mostly irrelevant.  But I finally seized an opportunity to go there and see just what it was I had passed up way back in 1980  in early November my wife and I joined my cousin and his wife for a Caribbean vacation: a bare boat charter of a sailboat out of Tortola, BVI.  It was possibly the most incredible journey we have yet taken; it was beautiful, peaceful and also very enlightening.

For those who have had the good fortune of being able to visit the area of the Caribbean in question, you are well aware of the warm temperatures, humid air, the beautiful water surrounding numerous volcanic islands and the smiling and friendly natives.  You also know how the pace of life is decidedly slower than it is here; if you want something done quickly, you best find another vacation destination.  So the question of  the speed of travel becomes moot (at least temporarily).  It's all relative to the preferred pace of life: slow, relaxed and enjoyable. 

Besides, the motorized watercraft are generally not always reliable (our "fast ferry" became quite slow when it blew the transmission on its way to Tortola from St. Thomas...).  Blow Boats or Snail Boats (the pejorative for sail boats) are preferred for the true sailors there.  As long as there is a breeze -- and rarely is there no breeze in the Caribbean-- a boat with a sail will reliably get one to a destination.  Who cares how long it takes?

It is at least somewhat appropriate at this point to mention the fact that, many years ago, I got my first taste of real silence -- and peace  -- on the water when I purchased an electric trolling motor for my "stinkpot" (pejorative for a motorboat).  Getting there fast is nice... but hearing only the wind, water and wildlife is indescribably comforting for the soul; when fishing, an electric trolling motor affords exactly that comfort.  So when I discovered I had the opportunity to experience the soothing sounds of wind against the sails and ocean water sliding past the hull -- not to mention the chance to finally stop at the abovementioned venue where I had turned down a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, let's just say that I didn't need to give the subject much thought before saying yes to the trip.  Except for the fact that I still had a concern for the sea-sickness thing, I was more than psyched for the journey.

So, back to the original conundrum about speed -- at least when it comes to boats that travel using only the wind as their source of power...  One constant in the BVI is the wind: it blows fairly consistently from the northeast -- at least in November -- at a velocity of about fifteen knots (nautical miles per hour) or just over seventeen miles per hour.  With properly-trimmed sails, the result will be a boat speed-over-ground (SOG) of five or six knots -- sometimes more and sometimes less -- through the water.  This is certainly a speed fast enough to accommodate stops at several island destinations in a week's time, yet slow enough to allow for one to contemplate life at the slower pace of the BVI... 

In any case, my cousin tells me that in our week of sailing, we likely covered roughly a hundred or so miles of ocean.  Some quick math will indicate that the required time for such a trip under sail would be in the neighborhood of perhaps 20-25 hours.  Our journey lasted just over five days, so the calculation sounds about right.  But the time seemed to fly at a much greater rate than that.  And I could have easily sailed for another several weeks if it was possible.

Oddly -- perhaps even miraculously -- I never experienced even the slightest amount of motion sickness.  Perhaps that could be attributed to a small patch of sticky scopolamine-impregnated Mylar applied to the skin behind an ear...  I'm not sure.  What I do know is that 1) I had more fun that I ever would have imagined, 2) I would return in a New-York-Minute if it was possible (and if finances allowed) and 3) I was able to see -- in person -- the location of the job I had taken a pass on oh, so many years ago: a place called the Bitter End Yacht Club.

The Bitter End Yacht Club is much different from the 1980 description in the brochure I still keep, yet  although no picture can ever do it justice  it looks today much as I had pictured itIt is still top-notch, vastly improved, though, and larger; it offers the ultimate getaway for visitors from all points of the compass.  It resides in an absolutely stunning setting and is definitely everything I had thought it might be, and then some (Try to imagine though, a cocktail at a high-end yacht club for $1.50.  Times have definitely changed...).  Picking up a mooring ball in the harbor at adjacent Saba Rock, soaking up the 18-degree north latitude sunshine and marveling at the azure blue water, I now have at least a small sense of what might have been my future.  I also have a far better understanding of the allure of the sea and distant ports of call.  It is not for everyone.  But if by chance you might be looking for a vacation that provides something just a bit different, I would highly recommend you give it at least a bit of thought.  The sounds of wind and water have a very hypnotic and alluring affect)

Should that thought perhaps take you beyond the "just dreaming" stage, as it did for me, I would at the very least suggest taking a gander at the map of our journey.  After a flight that took us to St. Thomas and a ferry that got us to Tortola, we sailed to Norman Island, then on to Jost (pronounced "Yost") Van Dyke, Marina Cay, Saba Rock (and, of course, Bitter End Yacht Club), The Baths at Devil's Island National Park and finally to Cooper Island before heading back to Tortola.  The map is linked if you'd like to get a closer look; there are also additional descriptions of our individual moorings at those islands in the event you might be interested.  By the by, there are dozens of island destinations that can be selected; each is different but has all the amenities necessary for an enjoyable stop.

Our particular voyage is obviously way outside the boundaries of the local (Fox River Valley) area, but I just couldn't help share it with you; it had that great an impact on me and I couldn't resist; it was that memorable.  It was my first trip to that location and the very first time that I did not get seasick, so you can imagine my joy at that -- especially if you have ever suffered from the same malady!

To be clear, I'm not sure that a replica of our trip would be especially suited for a family with young children; I say that only because those I observed sailing on other vessels did not include young children.  But hey, who am I to judge?  The British Virgin Islands are a marvelous destination and a place where time can stand still, even on a moving boat...  Be the skipper or hire a captain.  Cook on board or have dinner ashore.  The food is excellent.  The snorkeling is excellent.  The weather is excellent.  The sailing is excellent.  The connection with Mother Nature is beyond excellent.  It can also be an excellent time and place for your family to connect.

Who cares if it takes five hours to go twelve miles?  You're there to relax and enjoy some of the finest water on the planet.  The trip to the BVI was at the top of my own personal "Bucket List".  I can now, with no regrets, move on to number two.





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