Silently floating, my son and I watch the slim, long, dark shape glide from under the jetty into a patch of sunlight. A six-foot cigar shaped shadow. “There he is – Hooky,” I whisper.
We had heard tales of him, An old barracuda; gnarled, scarred, with a hook and fishing line forever dangling from between the two sets of fangs on the side of his mouth. No one was brave enough to try to get the hook out. I can tell my three boys are thinking about it.
He contemplates us. I wonder what is really going through his small mind. Barracuda’s can live to over fourteen years; he’s clearly had a few fights, and judging by the hook, a few encounters with humans. He remains still, lurking under the failing jetty. A forgotten piece of the Caribbean waiting to see what comes his way.
My six-year-old boy and I silently touch the still, blue water with our paddles, our kayak responds instantly, cruising alongside a rocky coastline, on a pond like surface. I notice that, in front of me, my small man has his mouth open. His paddle forgotten, he stares in much the same trance-like way as he stares at ‘Cbeebies’ at home but here he is transfixed by thousands of fluttering flowers on the rocky shoreline. Each giant cactus, each shrub, is moving then we realise why, the whole bank is laden with white butterflies.
Here, in the British Virgin Islands, it is as if we are touching something beyond the tourists; the real Caribbean, as old as it is still, quiet deserted.
Like Blackbeard’s pirates who roamed these islands thirsty for rum, we too have voyaged far and adventured but now drink, just for a few moments, the deep, silent, clear watered peace of this place.
The sweetest joy of sailing is coming into these unoccupied bays, but barely touching them with our presence, we leave nothing we disturb nothing. The silence closes behind us and the wildlife remains as it was, it’s just that we have seen it.
At sunset, we treasure hunt on the beach, (cocktails in hand). We discover bleached white coral, portions of a miniature hermit crab claw, broken bits of sea urchin and we have time to inspect each intricate and marvellous design. We hear a squawk and look up to see a lone red macaw watching us. They aren’t usually found here. Has he escaped from the pirates?
We can visit these out of the way places because we are staying on a boat, this bay is our home for the night but tomorrow it could be anywhere, a different island every night, but our comfy bedrooms stay the same. Did I say boat? Sorry I meant a catamaran (47’) and while we’re at it, for us landlubbers, the bed is actually a berth, the toilet is a head, and the kitchen is a galley. All part of the adventure, the best part being you can jump off a boat into clear water, lie on it with a book and pop off to a deserted beach at a moments notice in it. We are on a mission for the Boat Show to report on sailing with the family – luxury sailing that is. (I know, I know tough job and all that but when they asked I was hardly going to say no!)
So we are afloat. ‘The Viking Dream’ is our home for a week. It is like ‘Swallows and Amazons’, a passport to adventure and discovery, to freedom from chores and the quite unique liberation that comes from daily diving into the clear sea. However because we have no pirate qualifications i.e., we don’t have a clue how to sail a boat, (an embarrassment on the high seas), we do travel with the very qualified ‘Captain Cocktail’ and ‘Sally in the galley’ (not their real names you understand).
The British Virgin Islands, an archipelago of more than 60 island cays are perfect for family sailing because of the huge variety of anchorages from busy bar beaches to deserted bays, in typically calm seas. There is great snorkelling and scenery, plenty of safe spots and the climate averages at 28 degrees C with cooling breezes and the occasional tropical rain shower.
Mark and Sally are both qualified yachting instructors so the boys get some of the most useful lessons of their lives, how to read a chart, how to steer the boat, to watch the wind, to see it fill a sail and then feel the sea moving beneath the wheel and compensate for it.
Our captain and his wife escaped the drizzle of England to make better use of their sailing qualifications and turn dreams into reality. They now run holiday charters, cruising people around these islands that they love and feeding them delicious food tailored specifically to us; Mahi kebabs, gourmet Viking burgers, four seeded tuna, Caribbean chocolate rum bananas.
There is non stop wildlife, we spend an age with all five of the family in the water making friends with barracuda, peering at butterflyfish, pointing out the whole delicate coral underwater ecosystem, and wondering at eels, rays and the countless shapes and colours of reef fish.
We birdwatch from the deck, frigate birds and brown boobys (kids favourite!), jewel coloured hummingbirds and kingfishers and we explore mangrove swamps discovering wading birds and baby sharks in the warm shallows. Jacks leap from the water, their silver scales flashing and occasionally we get a glimpse of a turtle’s head as it surfaces to breath.
Later we swim to the soggy dollar bar at white bay, palm trees wooden paint faded pastel bars, we reach to our pockets to pay and understand why it is called the soggy dollar.
The end of our week is marked by the Viking Olympics a set of in the water games designed specifically to make sure that you get a great ab’ workout from laughing so much. Dignity was never my strong point but especially so when I am racing on an inflatable noodles using only my legs for acceleration because the rules state I must hold on to my Viking helmet with both hands. It is only unfortunate that my husband specialises in underwater photography.
I was only happy to report back to the boat show that a sailing holiday, even with a young family is not only perfectly possible but an adventure we will treasure for ever. Years later, I still wonder if ‘hooky’ still lurks under that forgotten jetty.