British Virgin Islands cruise: Exploration, relaxation

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ROAD TOWN, Tortola -- For been-there, done-that clients who need to shake up their travel routines, a chartered yacht cruise through the waters of the British Virgin Islands could be just the move.

On a recent four-day sailing adventure that touched on a handful of the BVI's 60 islands, I discovered a singular mix of exploration, fun and indolence typically reserved for teenagers.

I've been an avowed landlubber all my traveling life, despite a love of the water. Small-ship sailing seemed boring to me, plus I sometimes got miserably seasick.

So I armed myself with anti-nausea remedies and stoically boarded a luxurious, fully provisioned, twin-hulled catamaran, part of Horizon Yacht Charters' fleet based at Tortola's Nanny Cay Marina.

At sea I snacked, imbibed, fished, read, laughed, napped, ate, stayed up late and repeated that routine several times.

BVI062008I never felt the slightest twinge of seasickness aboard A Touch of Grey, a 46-foot Fountaine-Pajot Bahia catamaran boasting sleek, blond-wood interiors and stylish, modern cabins. While at sea, I stayed above deck and found I had plenty to do.

There was socializing with the group and with Captain Ron, our engagingly funny and capable leader, in the shaded, U-shaped cockpit. There was ample space for sunning on a big trampoline. There was widespread napping anywhere.

Waking up meant surprises as I discovered a new island each day. It was sensory overload as I spotted the shadowy, iridescent form of a green turtle gliding through the water or glimpsed the sinuous arc of a gleaming beach.

Island-by-island highlights include:

Virgin Gorda: The Baths are among the most-photographed spots in the Caribbean, but photos just don't do justice to this national park on Virgin Gorda.

We moored offshore, tendered to the beach by dinghy and walked among the stories-tall granite formations that looked as if they had dropped from the sky, with contorted rocks, gigantic boulders and brightly colored grottoes of warm, clear water.

My group picnicked on Devil's Bay Beach, and afterward, I headed for the surging surf to float.

Late that afternoon, we sailed again. Predictably, I fell asleep and awoke as we approached the green mountainside punctuated by quirky, triangular rooftops and a beach fronting the Bitter End Yacht Club on Virgin Gorda's North Sound.

A silvery, 5-foot barracuda slid beneath the catamaran when we moored in the harbor and tendered to shore for a hot shower at the resort.

At the resort's Clubhouse Grill that evening, we enjoyed the house-baked bread along with fresh salads and grilled fish and meats.

After a buffet breakfast the next morning, we toured the resort. Its 30 airy North Sound Suites, freshly upgraded, evoked elegant Balinese-meets-BVI-style rooms with an upscale-treehouse atmosphere. Then it was time to set sail for the rarely visited island of Anegada.

Anegada: Unlike its volcanic siblings, Anegada is a tiny coral atoll, ringed by a treacherous coral reef where ships frequently sank in the surrounding waters. It is popular today as a haven for snorkelers and divers.

We ventured to Loblolly Bay, a nearly deserted beach, where we snorkeled in shallow water in search of the Anegada spiny lobster, a local delicacy.

Back on the cat, I braved the shower. Each of the ship's four private cabins had a microscopic but immaculate bath with a hole in the floor. The bath also was the shower. The sink's faucet converted to a handheld shower, and that hole in the floor was the shower drain. Using it was fun, in a summer camp sort of way.

By night, we dined with our feet in the sand overlooking our boat at the Anegada Reef Hotel's open-air restaurant. The painted picnic tables fairly groaned with heaping platters of vegetables, rice and peas and the erstwhile, elusive Anegada lobster.

These were split and grilled on traditional oil-can grills. Our group passed platters, chowed down, laughed and lingered until well after closing time.

Jost Van Dyke: On the last day of our adventure, we hit Foxy's Beach Bar & Restaurant.

Foxy Callwood, our dreadlocked host, regaled us with impromptu poetry about the U.S. presidential race. Captain Ron recommended the worthy cheeseburger and fries.

Next, we made a short taxi trip to Land & Sea Adventures at nearby White Bay, where we played a high-speed game of follow the leader, zooming up and over gravel-and-dirt hills and down steep rocky mountainsides on dirt bikes.

After taking in spectacular vistas and inhaling quantities of red dust for 90 minutes, we celebrated at the Soggy Dollar with the original Painkiller drink, widely known throughout the islands.

I took in the late afternoon scene on White Bay, with large groups of sailors in full party mode, many of whom appeared to have polished off a number of Painkillers prior to our arrival.

The sounds of reggae and conversation mixed in the air as the sunset turned the sea steel blue and lavender. It was a spectacular end to an exciting day, and the Painkillers--well, they are appropriately named.

For more information, visit www.horizonyachtcharters.com.

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