Grottos and Enchiladas
Monday, December 5th
We run these trips 2 hours at a time, with an eye on the next 48 hours. We generally let the wind and the weather and the mood of the boat to dictate where we go and where we swim. Today there was almost no wind, and very little swell, with an increase in both forecasted for next few days. The Baths at Virgin Gorda is a swim that is best swum in calm conditions, and it’s a favorite of ours, so we planned our day around getting up there before the swell filled in.
Our first swim was from Little Harbor to Great Harbor on Peter Island. This isn’t normally possible due to the strong winds that normally whip down the Francis Drake Channel, but today we had ideal conditions. The coral along this one mile stretch is some of the healthiest in the BVIs, owing to the constant supply of (relatively) cool, fresh sea water and the lack of human and boat traffic. I swam up next to Peggy, and we stroked together the whole way. She and I always fall into a natural swimming rhythm together, as we’ve done on past trips. It’s one of the things I love about this job: finding swimming buddies. We surprised a big green turtle who was munching on some turtle grass behind a reef, and it swam off in a hurry, reminding me just how fast these guys can swim. We stopped at a turn and hung out with Karen and Heidi, exchanging wildlife sightings. Turtles ruled the day. Rick kept the group’s pace in a kayak. He’s a California guy with an infectious, joyful wit and fabulous stories who surprised his wife Karen with this vacation for her birthday. Quite the guy. A rain squall overtook us, which is no big deal for swimmers, we’re always wet. The Promenade met us in Great Harbor, with a massive tray of greens and eggs: the perfect post-swim second breakfast.
We motored up through the scattered squalls to Virgin Gorda, passing Salt, Cooper and Ginger Islands, we’ll probably hit some of those later in the week. As we grabbed a mooring ball, the skies parted and the sun dried everything out that got wet on the ride up. The Baths are so named for their history as a place where enslaved African people would be taken off the slave ships to be washed after a terrible journey across the Atlantic, a terrible legacy for a beautiful place. Massive granite boulders line the shore, creating tunnels and caves and grottoes. There’s a trail that runs through them, and we hiked it, Heather taking photos along the way. It’s drippy and slippery and otherworldly. Back on the Promenade, Heather donned SCUBA gear and took underwater video of some of the guest’s strokes. We’ll review them in a technique session tomorrow. A lunch of pulled chicken and salad came out. Chef Chris is nailing it. Well-deserved naps occurred at this point.
Our second swim of the day was our famous course through the same type of boulders we hiked through, except these are in the water. This is a different kind of swimming, we zig-zag between the rocks, looking for narrow openings to zip through. The building swell caused surges that sometimes held us back, then pulled us through the cracks, spitting us out into fizzy blue pools filled with fish. It’s exhilarating and totally opposite from following the black line at the bottom of a pool. The swim ends at a sugar-sand beach, and we lounged in the waves for a bit before swimming to the Promenade, which had moved to gather us.
We motored across the Drake Channel to Lee Bay at Great Camanoe Island, a new spot for us. Painkillers (rum, coconut, orange, nutmeg) were downed, stories exchanged, enchiladas disappeared quickly, and as the swell moved in, it conspired with a cave in the cliffs next to us to create a thundering, splashy, lullaby.