The opportunity to charter a Sunsail 384 catamaran for a week at the beginning of the Caribbean sailing season presented itself this fall. Adventuresome friends had a Caribbean charter on their bucket list and were willing to take their kids out of school to give them a once-in-a-lifetime learning experience. The result? A crew list for Sunsail 384, No Name, that included three women, an eight year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl.
In theory, one person can sail the Sunsail 384, because all of the halyards, sheets and other controls are led to the helm station on the starboard side. However, no matter how accomplished you are as a captain, it’s nice to have extra hands, especially when docking.
I had mentioned that I was cruising to a number of friends in the Virgin Islands. Each suggested favorite snorkeling and dive spots, restaurants, bars, beaches and entertainment. It’s no wonder that people can return year after year and never run out of things to do.
Of all of the advice I received, the best was, “It’s going to be windy and coming right down the channel. You should get the worst of the sail out of the way in the beginning and enjoy the rest of your week.” The trade winds indeed were blustery that week, and 20+ knots was the staple day in and day out.
With our sights set on Virgin Gorda’s North Sound, we pulled away from the Road Town dock at Sunsail’s Tortola base. Not long after we poked our twin hulls out of the harbor, we realized that breaking up the trip by tucking into Beef Island and Trellis Bay for a swim and lunch would make the long sail easier on everyone. The rest and the realization that we were vacationing and could set our own schedule was a welcome relief. The swim also made the kids happy.
As our cruise took shape, our teamwork developed; we overcame our lack of brute strength and experience by assigning tasks and talking through potentially tricky maneuvers well in advance of show time. We also practiced our knots so that everyone could tie a cleat knot, a bowline and a clove hitch under pressure. Each time we picked up and released mooring balls, anchored, docked, set the sails, tacked or jibed without incident, we celebrated. After a couple of days, our crew performed like old pros.
When the kids had burned up a lot of energy or felt a bit sea sick (as we passed through the Dog Islands and around the northern tip of Virgin Gorda), they read and napped. I was amazed at how much they read throughout the cruise and how much they wanted to learn. The 12-year old’s assignments included a focus on math and science, so she became my first mate and learned her way around the instrument panel and charts over the course of the week.
Our crew’s “what if” sessions during dinner inspired conversation and practical lessons. “What if the captain fell overboard?” “What if we broke loose from a mooring ball?” “What if a storm came through and we couldn’t see land?” All were plausible situations that could occur during any cruise.
Kids like simple things. Playing in the sand and spying nurse sharks in the shallow water while we finished off dinner at the Bitter End Yacht Club; driving the inflatable; taking the helm of the 384; snorkeling among the bait fish and thinking that they could catch a Tarpon were among the highlights of their trip. Best of all, however, was being able to enjoy an uncrowded white sandy beach by swimming and snorkeling at their whim, slurping virgin pina coladas and nibbling on French fries or a PB&J at their leisure.
Our final 24 hours on our Sunsail 384 were our favorite. We moored at The Bight on Norman Island. Dinner, drinks, volleyball, swimming and hiking were among the activities available following our mid-afternoon arrival. Reggae music emanating from Pirates accompanied our onboard dinner. The wind howled throughout the night, yet the water was flat.
Hiking around the island on our final morning was a treat, and the icing on the cake was cooling off at the beach near the main dock. The diving pelicans and an occasional fish boil were the telltale signs of spectacular snorkeling that awaited us without the effort of moving our floating hotel.
From above, the water was crystal clear over white sand. Only when we put on our masks and snorkels did the silver school of fish that went on forever completely mesmerize us. We swam in and out of it. We saw trumpet fish, angelfish, parrotfish and many more, all without effort. As one relaxed mom said of the morning, “this is just what the kids needed.”