Eight years ago, just about two months into our relationship, we chartered a sailboat in the British Virgin Islands for a week. It was our first experience cruising together. We had such a great time that when we were on the plane on the way back browsing a brochure of the islands, we took a pen and we wrote: “We have to go back!”

Today, as we enter the waters of the British Virgin Islands, that old brochure sits on our chart table.

We’re back!

Yes, we’ve completed our passage south. We plan to visit islands further south like St Martin, St Barts and Antigua but the so-called “Thorny Path” is now behind us.

Since we left Luperon we have dealt with the trades on the nose on the North Coast of the Dominican Republic, crossed the infamous Mona Passage and slowly navigated the South Coast of Puerto Rico. We did that relatively quickly with a particularly successful Mona Passage, considering its reputation.

Across the infamous Mona Passage

Our strategy was to sail 40 miles North East during the day and about 90 miles South East over night, thus avoiding the high seas that form in the shoals East of the DR and the evening thunderstorms that drift off West of Puerto Rico in the evening.

By the time the winds picked up at night we were close hauled on our long tack to Puerto Rico making really good speed. We had 20 knots on the port quarter and 4-6 foot waves on the port beam. No big deal, just uncomfortable. If you want a sense of what that’s like just take a 4x4 SUV going cross-country off road and put your house on top. Then tilt it 20 degrees to the right for good measure. And then turn all the lights out except for a little red bulb over your desk and try to go about your business by cooking, using the bathroom or getting some sleep. That’s what it was like for us to cross the Mona Passage.

Whales, Horses and Mahi-mahis

You know you’re sailing by the Dominican Republic when you start seeing white horses on its cliffy shores. I’m not talking about the wild horses we saw on the roads and fields further inland, but the optical effect of big waves splashing against the rocks along the coast.

But worse than that were what we call “black horses”, which is the profile of big waves, at night, occasionally raising above the horizon and covering the lights on land. When darkness fell on our first night out of Luperon and we were blind to the waves that hit us, the sight of those fast moving monsters against Puerto Plata’s lights sure felt like a herd of black horses galloping by.

During our last few hundred miles, we were also visited by whales and even caught a 5-foot mahi-mahi, our biggest catch so far!

Graduates of the Bruce Van Sant school of passages south

Bruce is this old salt with a bag full tricks and the generosity to share them in the form of a book: “A gentleman’s guide to Passages South”. His wisdom comes wrapped in a “you-gotta-do-it-my-way-or-else” tone that makes you want him to be wrong. But other than the occasional typo, the guy is always on the money! And believe us: we dared to test his methods and still carry the scars of the thorns we were served each time we strayed.

Following Bruce’s advice from Florida all the way to the Virgin Islands was like studying one day and taking the test on the water the next. Today, we feel like we’ve just graduated from his school of thought. So valuable was his advice that Franc put Passages South besides Higgins’ Analysis for Financial Management and Clive Davis’ Inside The Record Business on the “Lessons for Life” section of our library!

Jacuzzis and Bubbly Pools

Nature has a way to create special spaces. What we found on Culebrita and Jost Van Dyke could very well be the ones that inspired man to invent the Jacuzzi. Long treacherous hikes aside, these were excellent natural pools with a hole in the rocks where the wild braking waves crashed adding foam and bubbles for the lucky swimmer’s delight.

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In good company

As soon as we arrived in St Thomas we got the pleasant surprise of finding our friends Rick and Gay from Island Time, who had arrived the night before. So we took that opportunity to share with them cocktails and tapas at The Ritz, courtesy of a corporate award Andrea received from her company.

These past few days we’ve also enjoyed the visits from SeaKnots member Suky in Culebra and Ed and Jo-Di, who joined us in the BVIs. With them, we toured all the beaches and bars of Jost Van Dyke, courtesy of our local expert guide Mark, author of the sailing novel named like his boat: Down Island.

From the original painkillers at the Soggy Dollar to the Bushwackers at Cynthia’s bar in Harry’s Place we tasted almost every drink on the menu. And that’s without skipping Jo-Di’s fabulous home-made “margaritas at five”, a tradition we followed aboard every day of their stay!

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After we left Mark in Jost Van Dyke, we had some exciting sailing, including an improvised race with a sister-ship in the Sir Francis Drake Channel. It was a tough chase where we gave it all we had and got our competitive juices flowing. It’s not often that you get a chance to beat a boat of your exact same make and kind!

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Ed and Jo-Di also allowed us to cruise in style for a few days, treating us to the gourmet menus of the Peter Island and The Bitter End resorts. We sure miss them now that we’re back to being on the hook and eating turkey sandwiches!

We want to give a big special thanks to all of you who made a donation this week. Thanks to you we are now well past the $4,000 mark in funds raised via If you haven't donated yet, please, help us reach our goal of $1 for every mile of our journey. We plan to sail 6,300 miles so please, contribute!

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Comment by LOLA on March 13, 2009 at 3:53pm
This was great...good photos...we are all there with you
Comment by Suky on March 13, 2009 at 1:27pm
Wonderful to follow your journey. Great to know all the details & loved the feature Sail for Charity. Next week is World Water Week! March 22-28.
Comment by macip on March 13, 2009 at 12:01pm
Quin tros de peix, nano! En teniu per tot el mes!!!

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