Sailing to the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean 1500

Sailboats from the Caribbean 1500 fleet maneuvering at the starting line in lower Chesapeake Bay.   Swimmers and charter boats at The Baths, a popular attraction on the island of Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands.


In November 2007, I sailed as crew aboard the sailboat Night Heron on a trip from Portsmouth, Virginia, to the island of Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands. We were one of about 70 boats that sailed as part of the Caribbean 1500, an annual event organized by the Cruising Rally Association.

Night Heron is a Brewer 52 owned by Jeff Edwards, a former businessman from Florida who is getting back into boating as a liveaboard cruiser. His mission was to buy a boat and head south, thus banishing cold weather forever, and after a long search, he had recently purchased the boat in Rhode Island.

Jeff's next task was to prepare the boat for a safe and efficient passage to the Caribbean. After bringing the boat down to Tidewater Marina in Portsmouth, Virginia, he began working his way through a long list of repairs and improvements, including replacing the engine! Although the schedule looked doubtful, through a combination of heroic effort and great expense, the work was completed and the boat was readied.

Anticipating a Caribbean voyage with an untested boat, Jeff had joined the Caribbean 1500. In this organized event, a fleet of boaters of varying experience coordinate their efforts and look after each other during a voyage from Chesapeake Bay to the British Virgin Islands. The Caribbean 1500 also includes a number of educational and social events in Hampton, Virginia, in the days before the voyage, as well as communications, weather-forecasting, and position-tracking services during the voyage itself.

A sailboat needs crew, so Jeff invited his friend CiCi Sayer, an experienced cruiser and boat captain from San Diego, California. They picked out two more crew from a list provided by the Caribbean 1500 organizers: John Santic (me!), and Greta Gormley, a sailboat cruiser from Washington, D.C. Rounding out the crew was CiCi's Sheltie, "Schooner".

The fleet of boats departed lower Chesapeake Bay on November 4, 2007, right after Hurricane Noel barreled up the East Coast (far enough offshore to avoid damage). Several days into the voyage, though, a strong cold front wreaked havoc on a number of boats, including Night Heron, seriously damaging our sails and generator. With crippled sails, our voyage took much longer than usual and required long periods of motoring. This, in turn, raised the risk of running out of fuel and/or fresh water. The rest of the trip was a mixed bag of weather—some good, some bad—accompanied by the usual number of boat problems.

Finally, after 15 days and 1,518 nautical miles, we reached our destination: Village Cay Marina, in the capital city of Road Town, on the island of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. After leaving Night Heron, I spent a week on the island playing "tourist", including visiting the neighboring island of Virgin Gorda. At the conclusion of my adventure, I hopped on the ferry to St. Thomas (in the U. S. Virgin Islands) and flew back to the States.

I have lots of information and pictures to share, which you can read by clicking any of the following links. Note that the pages run sequentially, so you can read everything by clicking the "Next Page" button at the bottom of each page.

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