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Sunday, March 17, 2024

Spring Break 2024 - USVI & BVI Catamaran Cruise - Lady Catron - British Virgin Islands

For Spring Break 2024 we went on a private chartered US/BVI Cruise on Lady Catron with Captain David and First Mate/Chef Emily. 

Saturday, March 9th 2024, we woke up super early for our flights to St. Thomas. Delta took us through Atlanta and we were in sunny warm St. Thomas by the early afternoon. We took a taxi to the Westin Resort at Frenchman’s Reef. After checking in, we went down to the pool and had some pizza, and relaxed by the pool. I fell asleep since I hadn’t been able to nap on the plane, but Andrea went for a walk on the beach with the kids. We all went to bed fairly early.

Sunday, March 10th, we got to sleep in and then headed to the harbor just before noon. We met Captain David on the dock and boarded the boat where we met his wife Chef Emily. Emily gave us a quick tour of the boat and then we enjoyed a lunch of chicken salad wraps before we set sail for St. John. 

The ride over to St. John took a couple of hours of sailing and we anchored in Watermelon Bay near the ruins of an old Sugar Plantation. In the afternoon and evening we paddled around on some SUPs (Stand Up Paddleboards) and snorkeled around a little island. We saw some fish while snorkeling, but not much out around the little island. After everyone else went back to the boat I took a SUP near shore and saw a couple sea turtles in the water. 

Once we all washed up, Emily served us a delicious steak dinner under the stars. 

Connor noticed a weird light in the sky off in the distance and we realized it was a SpaceX rocket launch. I got a nice picture of it as the first stage separated, and we watched as the payload section accelerated off across the sky. It was pretty amazing to see in person and I’m glad Connor spotted it. 

Dinner was delicious and after our cantaloupe sorbet dessert, we retired for the evening. Paige and I went up to the top deck to stare at the stars and we had a discussion about the universe, our galaxy, the extinction of the dinosaurs, and we saw a few shooting stars. 

In the morning on Monday, March 11th, I got up a little early to do some SUPing and was pleasantly surprised that both my girls were up early and wanted to join. Andrea took the blue SUP, and Paige sat up front on my SUP. We paddled out near shore and had a great view of a couple sea turtles and a stingray. We woke Connor up when we finished and we all ate breakfast burritos before going to shore for a morning hike. On the way to shore in the dinghy we got a great view of a sea turtle swimming in the clear shallow water.

We walked along Annaberg beach to some old ruins, saw some goats wandering through the woods, and eventually made our way to an old sugar plantation that had been used back in the 1700-1800’s. 

After we hiked back, Captain David picked everyone up, but I decided to swim back to the boat. It didn’t look that far, but without flippers, it was pretty challenging. Thankfully the salt water makes you a bit more buoyant so I was able to chill and float on my back when I got tired. Captain David came to check on me in the little boat, but I gave him a thumbs up and made it back on my own. I estimated it was a good 500 yards or so, but David measured it on the GPS and it was 0.2 miles, so closer to 350. I’m pretty sure my eagle eyes are far more accurate than any stupid navigation system so it goes on the blog officially as 500 yards. 

Once we were all back aboard, we sailed around the island and tied up in a harbor so Captain David could take our passports by to get approved by the British government for our BVI visit. We stayed on the boat and had a Caesar salad and smoothies for lunch. Once David got back, we set sail for The Indians and Norman Island. We snorkeled around some rocky outcrops at The Indians and saw a barracuda and a couple of squids. 

We had a snack back on the boat and then sailed to Norman Island, where the kids did tubing and knee-boarding. 

I paddled out to look at the caves with Andrea and then we washed up for dinner. 

Dinner was pork chops with snow peas and quinoa, and for dessert we had homemade chocolate chip cookies. Captain David went over our map to show us the route we had traveled, and our current location. We were all tired after our active day in the sun so we retired to our rooms and went to bed early. 

Tuesday, March 12th, I got up fairly early and took the blue SUP out around the harbor where we were anchored. When I got back, we woke up the kids and Paige wanted to jump in the water to look at the big starfish that were under our boat. Emily and I went in with her, and we floated over near another boat where we could see four stingrays that were working in the sand that the anchor’s chain had disturbed. 

We had Açaí bowls for breakfast and then took the little dinghy out to the caves where we snorkeled and explored as far back as we dared in the dark. Connor spotted a dozen big silver fish swimming together and Paige saw a big jellyfish. I saw a clear tiny jelly that had sparkling rainbow colored lights twinkling along its edges. It was some beautiful bioluminescence that I’ve never seen before in person. 

We got dried off, had a quick snack, and then set sail for The Baths & Devil’s Bay National Park. Paige and I were kind of confused what it was and David explained it was a bunch of big rock formations which are unique to the area. We had burgers for lunch and then took the dinghy out near one of the beaches where our family swam in to the park. The rocks were indeed huge, and it was fun crawling through the passages and hidden areas between them. We did a little shopping, got a few shirts, some shorts for Paige, and a magnet. 

David motored the dinghy out to pick us up and then we sailed over to our mooring spot for the evening off of Great Camanoe. For dinner we had fettuccine Alfredo with bacon, salad, and finished it off with some dark chocolate bars, and of course some smoothies (Connor’s favorite). 

In the morning on Wednesday, March 13th, I got up and did my morning SUP. Captain David snagged a small spotted grouper and Andrea reeled it in, then we got on the dinghy to head over to a nice snorkeling spot. Wednesday morning was the first time we took the underwater scooters out. Paige and I both used them and while Paige wasn’t overly impressed, I absolutely loved it. I like to dive down to get a different view of the coral, and with the little scooter I was able to zip around underwater much faster and farther than I could normally. I liked using it at the most powerful setting, but that also meant that the battery didn’t last long. It was my favorite snorkeling spot so far, the reef was expansive and the coral was huge with lots of colorful fish everywhere. 

After snorkeling, we set sail and went East. We had intended to make a stop in the Dog Islands, however there was a swell from the North that made that area a bit choppy. The sea had big humps of water that were bouncing us around and they broke dangerously as they neared the island and coral. Captain David made the decision to skip that spot and head to the northeast side of Virgin Gorda. 

Throughout our journeys, Captain David has towed a few lures behind the boat and suddenly we heard one of the reels clicking away as the line ran out. David gave Andrea the rod and she reeled in one of the largest blue bar jacks that has ever been caught on the Lady Catron. 

We arrived in the afternoon and found a nice mooring ball that was open near the Bitter End Yacht Club. We had lunch while we took in the view of the area, and it was quite a sight. There were all kinds of boats, including some of the fanciest privately owned yachts we had seen yet. One had a slide from the top deck, one had a helicopter, lots of them looked luxurious. Our boat was comfortable and pretty darn nice, but there was some next level fanciness on display around us. A gentleman that actually lived near us in Florida was motoring around the harbor selling rum drinks. We didn't buy anything from him, but we enjoyed petting his dog.

Although the kids were not interested, Andrea and I decided that they would take the opportunity to try water skiing. Captain David took Connor out first and I went along in the dinghy initially to give it a little more weight. Connor didn’t have much luck, so I got out and they tried some more. Unfortunately he couldn’t quite get all the way up and get going. It seemed like he was close a few times, but no luck. 

Paige had the same results and gave up after seven or eight failed attempts. 

I wanted to give it a try and David knew the little dinghy wouldn’t be able to pull me up out of the water, so we tried to yank me off the back of the yacht. It seemed like it was almost going to work for a moment, but I was sinking faster than the boat was pulling me up, so we gave up. I tried the knee board and we got that to work the first try. You have an option to leave the handle attached to the board and after I got comfortable I tried to detach it, but that definitely made it more tricky. After a couple circles around the harbor, I let Connor have another try. He was determined to get the skis to work, and although he didn’t get up, I was proud of him for giving it another go.

Once we finished with the water toys, Captain David removed part of the fencing on the upper deck so we could practice our dives from higher up. Connor dove right in, but Paige had to practice a few more times from the bottom step before she built up the courage to go from the top deck. Her first dive was half dive and half feet first, but after that she got the hang of it and had some good ones. 

We washed up and then after a snack, we headed over to the Bitter End Yacht Club in the dinghy. The kids took naps on the beach while Andrea and I took a walk around the club and down the beach where we enjoyed some picturesque swings over the water. We played some cornhole with Captain David, did some shopping, and then stopped over at the Saba Rock Resort where the guests were feeding some enormous tarpon from the dock. Captain David told us that they throw in kitchen scraps daily around 5pm and the fish definitely knew it was feeding time. 

We washed up when we got back to the boat, played a funny pig game, then had delicious Jerk Chicken for dinner and the chewiest brownies ever for dessert. Emily made homemade Nutella and coconut ice cream to go with the brownies and you know it was good when Connor eats it all, he loves his smoothies, but isn’t much of a dessert eater otherwise. 

Each night after dinner, Captain David showed us the route we traveled for the day as well as our current location. We talked through our plans for the next day and the crew was always awesome about making sure the plans were exactly what we wanted.

We had a relaxing evening, watching the sun set, and enjoying the surprisingly good internet connection in the area. Andrea and I were even able to watch a bit of the Indian Wells tennis tournament on her iPad with our YouTube TV subscription, which was awesome. 

Thursday, March 14th, we got up like usual and after my morning SUP around the harbor we ate French toast and then set sail for our first snorkeling spot of the day. 

We stopped off of Great Dog Island and moored the boat in some deeper water a few hundred yards from shore. I jumped in with one of the handheld scooters, so decided to leave my camera onboard and that means there are no pics or videos from that adventure. Paige took an underwater scooter too and had fun with it, but wasn’t overly impressed with it and preferred swimming without it. I loved it. I told Andrea that I never wanted to go swimming again without one, especially snorkeling. I like to dive down to get different views of the sea life and it was effortless with the little scooter. I felt like I was just flying through the coral reef and I could chase the fish around and go anywhere I wanted. 

The reef on Thursday was one of the best of the entire trip. There were enormous fanlike coral, huge twisting bulbous tan coral, and colorful fish everywhere. I’m disappointed I didn’t bring the camera, but it was more relaxing just to enjoy the moment without any distractions. 

After snorkeling, we set sail for Jost Van Dyke and we snagged another fish on the way. It was a bigger one and Andrea was having trouble reeling it in by herself, so Paige worked the reel while Andrea held the rod. At Jost Van Dyke, we hiked out to the Bubbly Pool, where waves came crashing over the rocks in to some sandy pools. 

Paige and I went down in the the water and I held on tight to her when the water came crashing in. It was beautiful and definitely could be dangerous if the water is any higher. 

In the evening we did some paddle boarding around the harbor and the kids practiced diving off the boat. 

I almost died, which was a wee bit scary. I took one of the scooters and just as I was getting in the water, Andrea warned me to watch out for this guy that had been zooming around the harbor collecting mooring fees. I’d noticed him too, and I remember thinking that he seemed careless and was going way too fast. I knew he would be passing by after finishing up with a boat near us, so I stayed fairly close to our boat and I was using the scooter to go down deep and to see if I could pressurize my ears. I had been underwater for about thirty seconds or so and I started to float back up when Andrea’s warning popped in to my head and I also thought about how Emily had mentioned that she always looks up when she surfaces. I turned my head and I was surprised to see a triangular shadow of a boat about eight feet above me. It was floating directly above me and I could see the white propeller, which wasn’t moving. I yanked the trigger on the scooter to get away from the boat and as I watched, the propeller started spinning. I swam perpendicular to the boat and went deeper before carefully coming to the surface. Andrea and the kids were on our catamaran watching, and I’m thankful they didn’t just witness me getting turned into a smoothie. After that I was pretty much done snorkeling in the harbor. 

We broke out the Nikon DSLR for a family pic and even though it was windy and we didn’t put a lot of effort into getting ready, we got a nice family pic as the sun was setting. After dinner we played Yahtzee and it was the first time the kids ever played. Connor was a hoot, telling us how he was the Alpha and how he was going to score big, but then missing. Paige kept going for long shots, and she was determined to go for a Yahtzee until the very end. She kept the Yahtzee spot open, and on her final turn she rolled a bunch of random numbers. We debated which numbers to go for, I said she should try for fours since they had been lucky for me. Connor told her to go for the threes and Paige decided to go for threes. On her second roll, she rolled four of the dice and hit a Yahtzee with threes and it was an exciting end to the game, bringing Paige back from last place all the way to second. 

Friday, March 15th, Captain David set sail to White Bay, off the Southwestern end of Jost Van Dyke. He dropped us off on the beach after breakfast and we spent our morning playing in the sand, going for a walk on the beach, and doing a little shopping. Paige got an ice cream cone, but otherwise we didn’t see any food that looked all that appealing. After we got back aboard our boat, Chef Emily gave us an afternoon snack of edamame, the biggest bowl in history. We also had some virgin pina coladas, and then we relaxed during the voyage over to St. John. 

We went through US customs in St. John, which seems like a pointless process, but didn’t take too long. St. John’s dock area wasn’t too developed and although there was a little shopping, we got a bit bored after a couple of hours. Paige and I enjoyed some popsicles, we bought some shirts and then met back up with our crew to head back to our catamaran. 

We sailed the boat around to a quiet harbor and decided to just wash up and relax for the evening. There was a shipwreck nearby and possibly some turtles, but we were fairly exhausted from all our swimming and the weather was gloomy and rainy most of the day. It actually poured heavily for a bit in the evening and we were content to just do some packing and relax on the boat. 

After dinner I set up my phone on a timer and we got a pic together with our crew, then we played Yahtzee along with Captain David. Paige had a super lucky night, and if she’d had the same score on Thursday she would have been the big winner. Unfortunately for her, Connor had one of the best Yahtzee games I’ve ever seen. He got his bonus points in the top section as well as three Yahtzee’s for a whopping score of 470. 

Saturday, March 16th, we woke up to a drizzly morning and nobody felt like going for a final SUP or swim. We had smoothie bowls for breakfast and then finished packing up our rooms and set sail for St. Thomas and the airport. Our flight out of St. Thomas was a mess since they overloaded the plane and there were high winds. We sat on the runway burning fuel while they tried to decide what to do. Eventually we burned too much fuel and had to go back to the gate to refuel and to deplane the standby passengers and their luggage which had made us overweight. The flight should have been 4 hours in the air, but by the time we got off the plane, we'd been onboard for close to 8 hours total. It was a mess, but thankfully we made it to Atlanta. We missed our connecting flight home, but there were other flights available, so we eventually made it home. It was a long boring day, and not an ideal ending to our vacation, but we were happy to make it home safely.

Overall the vacation was amazing. I gave it a 9/10 and I think most of the family would agree. Andrea asked if there's ever been a 10/10 vacation and I couldn't think of any big vacations that were any better than a 9 on a 10 point scale. We have high expectations, though! We've had some 10/10 weekend trips, but it's hard to have a "perfect" big vacation, with all the moving parts and all the people involved. It may have helped that we didn't have any expectations going in to the trip, and any preconceived ideas of how it "should" go. The kids were tired of school and I've been a little burned out with work, so it was perfect timing for a relaxing family vacation. We all had some great laughs, spent quality time together, had beautiful weather, fun hosts, and thankfully nobody got turned into a smoothie by a boat. 

Islands Visited in Order

  • St. Thomas
  • St. John
  • The Indians
  • Norman Island
  • Virgin Gorda - The Baths and Bitter End Yacht Club
  • Great Camanoe
  • Scrub Island - snorkeled 
  • Great Dog Island - snorkeled with planes underwater 
  • Jost Van Dyke
  • St. John
  • St. Thomas

Overall Vacation Likes:

  • Water toys: SUP, Tube, Kneeboard, Snorkels, Underwater Scooter
  • Food - Chef had meals and snacks without us asking, based on preference sheets
  • Time of year - perfect weather. Warm enough to swim, not too hot. 
  • Flexible schedule based on whatever we felt like doing

Overall Vacation Dislikes:

  • No A/C during the day
  • Spotty Wi-Fi
  • Tricky toilets and showers
  • Size of Paige’s room
  • Flights home 

Our Favorite Things:

  • Paige
    • Stargazing 
    • Snorkeling 
    • Smoothies
  • Connor
    • Swimming
    • Sleep schedule
    • Breakfast food
  • Andrea
    • Private and Flexible schedule 
    • SUPing
    • Food
    • The Baths
  • Shawn
    • Private schedule
    • Snorkeling plus scooter
    • Family meals together
    • Surviving my propeller encounter

1 comment:

Richard said...

Great trip with great pictures. I particularly liked the map, the Space X launch, and the night paddleboard pictures.
You guys always look good.