In my Bareboat Cruising Class post from a few days back, I promised a followup post about the boat itself. This is that post, along with some general travel notes.
Salaway was a Moorings 494. In any other context, it would be better known as a Jeanneau Sun Oddessy 49.4. She was a good boat in general, and handled very well both under sail and power. Like any charter boat, it was configured with more cabins and heads than the boat was really designed for–in this case, 2 double berth cabins, 2 1.5 V-berth cabins, and 4 heads. This resulted in really tight quarters and lack of storage in the cabins. The salon and cockpit areas were quite spacious.
This boat was also sold in a 3 cabin, 2 head configuration, with a large owner’s cabin in the bow. I think that version would be much more livable.
She was a nice boat underway. She had a 2 wheel design, which was very nice for allowing the helms person to sit way out on the windward side for maximum visibility, without having one of those stupid-big wheels that block access so badly. My only handling complaint was that following seas tended to kick the stern out one way or another, which gets pretty tedious deeply broad reaching under full sail and trying to avoid a crash gybe. In all fairness, these were “instructional” conditions where we were running more sail than we might have on a leisurely cruise. If it was just us, we would have probably rigged a preventer–or maybe even run on just the jib. On anything higher than a broad reach, she sailed exceptionally well. All lines were routed back to the cockpit. Lines from the mast led through a set of line clutches to a pair of two-speed winches near the companion way. Jib sheets led back to a larger set of 2-speed winches on the gunwales. Lines were generally well labeled.
There were a few design choices that I didn’t understand. Except for the wind readout, none of the instruments or engine readouts were visible from the wheel without major contortions. The shroud chainplates were dead center on the otherwise nice, wide side decks. This made moving between the cockpit and foredeck harder than it needed to be, specially if you were carrying something. The lifelines and bow pulpit did not seem very sturdy. The foredeck would have benefited from more grab rails, although their were nice high rails around the mast that you could lean against while hauling on halyards and such.
There were a few maintenance issues that could have been better. I give The Moorings the benefit of the doubt that had we been the direct customer rather than going indirectly through the sailing school, they might have been a little more attentive. The biggest issue is that the house batteries would just barely hold a charge. The mainsail track could have used some attention, as the main could be a little balky coming down. This could be a safety issue considering that you had to climb up the mast a couple of steps to reach the sail to haul down on it–not fun on a pitching deck. The cam cleat on the boom vang was sprung. The speed and distance log was non-functional. I guess they expected us to use the GPS, but it’s confusing to have instruments that don’t work. The air conditioner compressor for the aft cabins had problems, not that it mattered once once we left shore power.
This sounds more negative than it really should–I haven’t enumerated all the things that were right with the boat. It really was a net positive.
You pretty much can’t go wrong with the BVIs. We spent the nights before and after the cruise at The Moorings base, which is now combined with SunSail. They have nice facilities in general. There’s some major expansions underway. They had recently opened a new section of spa-style shower suites that were really nice–as in 5 star hotel nice. We enjoyed these on the night before the cruise, when we stayed on the boat itself. We stayed at the on-site Mariner hotel the night after, which was basic, but nice. (Of course, after a week at sail, relatively endless hot water is the height of luxury.) It had a king bed, a nice view, a wet-bar and fridge, and, above all, air conditioning. Actually, the AC broke down early the next morning. Fortunately, we were checked out before the heat of the day. I don’t know what it is about us and AC–our home unit is having problems now, too.
The on-site restaurant is good, but expensive. Actually, we found this to be true of most of the island. The best bet is just to realize in advance you are going to pay gourmet prices for merely pretty-good restaurants. I just made myself quit paying attention to the prices. Given that most food is imported, this should not be much of a surprise.
We spent a good deal of the class in Gorda Sound (as labeled on the charts) aka the Virgin Gorda North Sound (as everyone calls it.) This is a large harbor area at the north-east end of Virgin Gorda. It’s protected by a couple of smaller islands ( Mosquito Island and Prickly Pear Island) as well as lots of reefs. The entrance is a little tricky if you haven’t done it before–keeping to the channel between Mosquito Island and Prickly Pear Island is important. It’s tempting to try to sail between Mosquito Island and Virgin Gorda. Don’t even try it unless you are a lifetime native with a really shallow boat.
The sound is big enough to get some wind, but small enough to keep the chop down. This made it a perfect location for lots of the class drills. It also has some first rate shore facilities, the Bitter End Yacht club in particular. The Bitter End has a first rate resort, if you want a land-based vacation. We spend some time in the sound on a Windjammer (r.i.p.) cruise several years back, and were very happy to return.
We spent the Friday night of our mini-cruise in the Bight of Norman Island, which is a boater hot-spot. There’s the Pirate’s Bight, a nice beach bar and restaurant, along with a nice (and air-conditioned) gift shop. But the famous spot is the William Thorton, aka the Willie T. This is a floating restaurant and bar infamous for wild parties. In fact, when we had dinner there, most of the bar had been taken over by an extended family reunion group who partied big-time.
We spent a few days in Cane Garden Bay recovering from the class. We got a room at Myett’s, which is a combination beach bar, restaurant, and guest house. The room was really nice, except for issues with the, wait for it, air conditioner. (Really, it was adequate to cool the room for sleeping at night, which is all that really matters. If you hang out in your room all day in Cane Garden Bay, you really should just go to Vegas instead. ) Cane Garden Bay is a beautiful beach area and popular anchorage. It has several very good beach bar/restaurant, of which Myett’s is probably the nicest. There’s also a popular bar called Quito’s Gazebo that features Quito on guitar. This is worth seeing if you get a chance, he was very good.
From all my Air Conditioning comments, you might think we are typical Texas AC junkies. That’s really not true; we spend a good bit of the Texas summers outdoors. The top on my Miata pretty much only goes up if it’s raining or snowing. On the other hand, our previous BVI trips had always been in January, when the highs run around 80 and the lows upper 60s to low 70s. All the almanacs indicated that June would be similar daytime temperatures, but warmer nights. Don’t believe it–days were typically low 90s and nights low-to mid 80s. Not to mention humidity that would drown Houstonians. I guess the almanacs are wrong, as all the locals we talked to said the heat was typical. It was really fine in the daytime, when you were outside in the breeze. Nights below decks, on the other hand, could get a bit steamy. Maybe if we had enough battery to run the cabin fans, it would have been better. As it was, one of the newer boats with AC and a genset sounded pretty nice by the end of the week.
Again, don’t get me wrong. We had a great time, and would go back in a second. Even in summer with no AC.