It's kinda hard to tell your husband and colleagues back home that it's difficult to write while on assignment for Sport Diver when the view from your office, whilst sitting on a comfy bench on the deck of the luxury crewed yacht My Ann, looks like this image at right. And yes, expressions like whilst, mate and "isn't it lovely?" begin to creep into your everyday vocabulary when you are in the British Virgin Islands located east of Puerto Rico in the Caribbean.
Add "bloody awesome" to that list too. The BVI consist of the main islands of Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada, and Jost Van Dyke, along with more than 50 other smaller islands and cays. About 15 of the islands are inhabited. The capital, Road Town, is on Tortola, the largest island, which is approximately 12 miles long and three miles wide. The islands have a population of about 27,800, of whom approximately 23,000 live on Tortola. The island is easy to manage, especially if you can get the hang of driving on the left, unexpected speed bumps, hairpin, steep curving coastal roads in the hilly parts, chickens and goats popping out in front of you, and everyone and his brother passing you because you are definitely driving like a tourist. We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto, that's for sure.
July is a perfect time to visit the islands as it's the slow season. It's a wee bit hot — OK, more than a wee bit during the afternoon — but the water is calm and decently clear, the dive boats are uncrowded and unhurried, and you'll find yourself all alone at any of the scores of dive sites clustered around the islands, except for perhaps the Rhone, a beauty of a wreck that's always popular. But more on that dive when we make two tanks on her later in the week.
Today, we're diving with Sail Caribbean Divers located in Hodges Creek Marina on Tortola (they also have locations on Cooper Island and Norman Island). Along with other local dive operators, Sail Caribbean Divers supports BVI ecosystems by participating annually in Reef Check. Reef Check was established in 1996 as a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of aquatic ecosystems. It is recognized as the United Nations official community based reef-monitoring program.
The Reef Check program works by volunteers laying transect lines at specific sites and surveying the indicator species on the site each year. Divers head underwater to record, among other things, invertebrates, substrate types, fish, as well as instances of reef damage or disease.The quantity, size and distribution of each indicator species are noted so that the information can be compared to previous years' records. The data not only gives a snapshot of how the reef is doing currently, but also provides a long-term overview of the site to help with future planning. For more information about this program, check out Sail Caribbean's website.
Today, we headed to Thumb Rock and Vanishing Rock, two dive sites off Cooper Island. We make the first tank on Thumb Rock aka as Red Bluff Point. The topography is a lot like many of the dive sites in the BVI, ledges and patch reefs. We circumnavigate the large boulder-like pinnacle and see tons of trumpetfish and plenty of other reef tropicals, from parrotfish to grunts and snappers. You'll want a macro lens on your camera to explore all the nooks and crannies on the pinnacle.
Vanishing Rock is where we make our second dive — the site is aptly named; in the briefing, the divemaster points out the pinnacle just barely visible above the waterline and says, "Now you see it," and when a wave washes over it, adds, "Now you don't." This shallow reef is sometimes undiveable due to current; this morning, conditions are perfect. It's packed with nesting sergeant majors, males guarding their purple patches of eggs and furiously and earnestly swimming up to your mask to keep you away.
It's after these two lovely dives that we make the transfer to The Moorings yacht My Ann. Our crew, Dusty and Andy, are wonderful and this is an expertly run operation. Wait til you see what we have for breakfast tomorrow. This afternoon, after a light lunch of meats, cheese and fruit, we set sail for Benure Bay off Norman Island. Pinch me. I honestly can't believe I'm here.
For help planning your trip and to learn more about the British Virgin Islands, go to the BVI Tourism website.