It is deep winter in Bavaria, Germany and time for us to plan our next holiday. Our fingers take a walk on the globe as we try to determine our next adventure. We travel in a peculiar way and our destinations have to fit our type of transportation. The Eskimos had the same idea and were the first to use a kayak to go hunting. A small boat was easy to maneuver as they steered and propelled with paddles. Years later, explorers and adventurers began traveling on kayaks. Nowadays, kayaking is synonymous with "sporting fun."
We want to put the cold winter behind us. An ideal setting would be a place with year-round warm weather, where friendly people live on a few islands that are not too far away from each other. Well, again and again our globe-trotting fingers stop on the B.V.I., a place wrapped in mystery for us. We know Martinique, St. Lucia and Tobago, but the British Virgin Islands? The topography looks fascinating and so our research begins. We wonder what the wind conditions and waves look like there. Are there beautiful beaches? How about infrastructure for kayakers? What kind of people live there? Our winter depression begins to turn into great expectation, as details about the B.V.I. appear very promising.
It's now Christmas day 2005 and we have arrived at Cane Garden Bay on Tortola. Our first morning in the B.V.I. could not be better. It will be easy to get into the rhythm of these islands. After breakfast on the beach, we start to check our gear. We are lucky, the equipment survived the trip from Bavaria with no damage at all. In the shady garden behind our hotel, two huge blue bags turn into two seaworthy folding kayaks. We always find the construction of our kayaks fascinating and once assembled, the fully loaded boats add to our excitement.
A map of the islands lays before us with three weeks of holiday time. Cane Garden Bay will be our base for the next few days, before we set out to circumnavigate the archipelago. The greatest uncertainty on this trip will be the wind. The Sir Francis Drake Channel can be a challenge for all sailing beginners, but when it comes to 11 to 17 knot winds and high waves, even experienced kayakers have to take care. Only if you are well trained in this sport, can you manage to go long distances in the open sea.
Our first excursion takes us to Sandy Cay, a small island off Jost Van Dyke. A friendly yachtsman, whom we saw that morning at Cane Garden Bay, greets us. The three- mile one way trip was easy. We got started early and a light wind pushed us from behind. On our way back we encounter friendly tradewinds.
Our next target is Jost Van Dyke. Soon it will be New Year's Day and everyone is busy preparing for the annual celebration and the campsite is much in demand. So we give up our plans to spend the next couple of days here and instead prolong our stay at Cane Garden Bay. This time on the way back, we meet less friendly tradewinds and a pleasure trip soon becomes a challenging sporting moment. Each second we do not paddle shifts us back, and we are happy when we can finally navigate our kayaks into the shelter of Tortola. Yachts sail ashore with us, and while they stop to tie up to moorings, we run aground on the sandy beach with strong surf. After a refreshing plunge in the waves, we drink our "landing-beer" a pleasure we have indulged in since our first journey with kayaks.
In the evening, we sit on our apartment's terrace and listen to the weather forecast. It sounds promising. We will be leaving our first comfortable base on this journey, and we are both sad and happy at the same time. How will it be? We can hardly wait until the next day.
Next morning we check the weather conditions and everything is perfect! Even the surf is less strong than yesterday. We go for it. We load our boats with clothes, water, beer, food for several days, a tent, a camp stove and the usual travel gear. We find our kayaks are now so heavy that we cannot carry them. Instead, we roll them on our boat-trolley to the beach.
The sea welcomes us with a light shower, but after a few strong strokes, we slide out of the bay, riding the surf. We paddle southwest, past welcoming Apple Bay and Long Bay. It is a short way to Smugglers Cove, where two sea turtles come up for air to say hello to us. Unbelievable, we think. We have never seen these animals in their natural environment and from such a short distance. Unfortunately, the turtles dive back down all too quickly. We wait for a while, hoping to see them again, but realize they are not coming back. We paddle cautiously to the beach to look for a place to get ashore. Days later, we hear that due to the strong surf, it is not normally possible to anchor or to land here. In addition, a further surprise awaits us. As the keels of our boats touch the beach, a welcoming party is gathering together. The head of the German BVI Tourist Board arrives and arranges a place for our overnight stay. What a great beginning for our big trip.
After a calm night in our tent and a quick breakfast, we pack our gear and are on our way very early. Today, we will have to manage the longest leg of the journey. Our destination is The Bight, a large bay on Norman Island. After circumnavigating Tortola's west end, we stop briefly at Soper's Hole to replenish our cash for the next few days. We pass Little Thatch Island and all of a sudden we find conditions have changed. The trip takes on a more serious note. We are in the Sir Francis Drake Channel and fight a strong current and high winds. We encounter very rough seas with high waves and for a time we lose sight of each other. We are concerned with yachts and powerboats cruising by - do they see us? The only good thing is, the current is carrying us and we travel forward quickly in spite of the strong wind that is pushing us back. We paddle to St. John to take advantage of the calmer landing conditions there. At noon as the wind gets weaker, we embark again and are able to enjoy the spectacular world around us while continuing toward Norman Island. It is busy with boats, but due to improved conditions, they do not represent a danger for us. We paddle between Flannagan Island and Pelican Island right to The Bight.
We make our way among the yachts to the beach, and land at Pirates Restaurant on the beach. "Happy Hour" begins and we enjoy a refreshing, cool beer with a delicious New Year's meal. We appreciate the quietness of Norman Island and decide to stay one more day. The weather allows us to visit the Caves and to spend the rest of the day watching pelicans. During the night, the wind almost blows our tent away and even in the morning, the wind gusts whirl around the bay. How will it be, out there, in the open sea? Although the waves have white caps, we decide to paddle to Peter Island. The reason is quite simple: We are running out of food! As we paddle along we become acquainted with the seasonal "Christmas Winds." This gale allows us only a little forward speed. However, we soon forget our boating labours after arriving, as we realize being on this island is like living in a dream. We stroll around in the luxury setting of the hotel and feel like aliens. We are evidently underdressed.
Now, we have to make a decision about the route for the following days. The windy conditions will persist, we are sure of it. So, we go for Plan B. That is why we have folding kayaks. It offers us the freedom to change our plans.
We are able to go on to Virgin Gorda via ferry with kayaks onboard. On our way to the hotel, a friendly taxi driver tells us many interesting things about "his" island. We choose to stay at Fischer's Cove Hotel and our first kayak tour brings us to The Baths. It is amazing how you can enjoy this fabulous scenery from your kayak - from our point of view the cliffs are majestic. This will not be the last time we visit this place.
We are able to visit one more highlight of Virgin Gorda - the North Sound. The sea is almost still as we start out, not a gust of wind. Little Dix and Savannah Bays are inviting, but it is a long way for a one-day trip, so we give up for the day. The next day we enter the North Sound. One of our advantages over yachts is that we can paddle through the shallow short cut between Mosquito Island and Virgin Gorda, which is off limits to vessels with long keels. As we paddle along we are able to have a look at the wonderful coastline. The weather stays stable and after we have completed the trip to The Bitter End Resort, one of the last stops on Virgin Gorda, we stop for a snack at Leverick Bay on the way back.
Back at our hotel, we are sitting on the beach feeling very lucky. Our thoughts go back to the first day in the B.V.I. and we both know this: to paddle in such a beautiful part of the world is the perfect symbiosis between being in motion and enjoying life with nature. For us, these journeys are always an adventure and the best way to escape the everyday working routine. We are happy to know that there are still such places for us to experience in the world.