I was standing on the bow when we sailed in the small turquoise bay of Virgin Gorda. With my feet stretched out to balance in the Caribbean swell, I plunged into my eyes to watch for any coral reef on our way – a danger to the catamaran we had rented for a week.
A flash of money appeared in front of me with blue marks on the back. "Mahi" I called. The two little boys who were watching from the cabin were about to see. My husband screamed and took his fishing rod while keeping a hand on the bar. But the fish is gone.
We followed his way to wet the night in Savannah Bay, where we quickly dived. The sea was hot as the bath and clear. Our 4 year old dog paddled next to me in his yellow lifejacket and goggles – just as we had done in Montana's public pool – delighted with colorful fish that circled our toes .
The night before, we had flown to the British Virgin Islands (BVI), at the end of a thunderstorm, which had caused a swell and stronger winds than normal. Some of our crew – six adults and three children – had skipped a Dramamine for the two hours of sailing between Tortola and Virgin Gorda. Fortunately, the rest of the week was dry and sunny, reflecting the constant trade winds that make these 60 or so tropical islands one of the world 's leading cruise destinations.
My husband and I are fervent sailors and – joking one of our friends – the "connoisseurs of the islands". We have traveled more than 10,000 km in a dozen countries. Once our son is born, sailing has also become my favorite way to bond as a family: no TV, no traffic, no things to do to distract us from each other. Just the sound of the waves, the pleasure of discovering new beaches every day and the intrinsic rhythm of waking up to the sun and sleep asleep under the stars.
Since we live in an isolated mountain state, charter is our preferred means of access to the tropical environments we dream of in winter. As a family, we sailed to the Bahamas off the coast of California and Tonga. The British Virgin Islands was our first charter with our 6 month old daughter aboard.
But you do not have to be experts in navigation to navigate paradise. Instead of the unmanned rental we prefer, many visitors choose to rent a boat accompanied by a captain or a full crew. If the sails are not attractive, several companies also offer motor yachts.
The British Virgin Islands have one of the largest charter fleets in the world due to the line-of-sight navigation and dozens of seaside restaurants, marinas and boating bars. Most dozens of charter companies are based in Road Town, Tortola's main port. We chose Dream Yacht Charter because we prefer to avoid the crowds: their beautiful fleet is in a small marina closer to the airport.
After the experience of the Bahamas Family Charter last year, we learned that sailing with young children is more fun if you bring other adults and other children as playmates. British virgins, I invited my sister, my father, our good friends and their young son.
We met everyone in the BVI outside Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport. We had chosen to take the 30-minute flight from Puerto Rico instead of going to St. Thomas and taking the ferry to Tortola, as we found that Jet Blue and United offered affordable flights to the international airport Luis Muñoz Marín from San Juan.
While we were flying over Tortola aboard the 12-seater jet plane, the damage caused by Hurricane Irma, which had hit the British Virgin Islands the previous summer, was still evident. After a 10-minute taxi ride from the airport, my son and I walked through the base of Dream Yacht Charter to see what the "storm shredder", as he called the hurricane, had caused. In the midst of the disturbing sights of twisted quays and windblown debris, we laughed as we spotted a failed yacht led by a Halloween skeleton wearing a purple wig.
When we arrived on our new and bright catamaran on the docks, my son applauded. Usually, my husband and I rent the smallest boat possible to reduce prices. But our larger crew meant we had more people to share the costs. It was our first catamaran trip.
The extra space and smooth ride of the Lagoon 40 feet have created an addiction – and are definitely preferable to a narrow monohull to entertain active kids. The boat had four double berths, two single berths and four heads (sails for bedrooms and bathrooms), two large armchairs and a large open arch. We would have stocked a local grocery store in advance by ordering online. The store delivered food and drink bags directly to our ship upon our arrival.
These drinks are useful at sunset. After getting separated to dive with a colorful parrot fish along the rocks or build sandcastles on the beach, our crew gathered at the bow for the "appetizers" – gin tonics for adults , orange juice for children and bottle of milk for the baby. .
The sky turned pink, the ocean became silver, a flock of flamingos flew to the west and the boys jumped onto the trampoline-like net that stretched between the two hulls of the catamaran. A perfect happy hour all around.
The next morning, after preparing egg and bacon bagel sandwiches and putting the boys to the table with stickers and the baby in a bunk for his nap, we lifted the sails and headed to the north, to Anegada, the most northern island of the country. Renowned for its excellent fly fishing and snorkeling opportunities, as well as world-class lobster dinners, Anegada has not disappointed.
We headed ashore in our dinghy and rented a van to explore countless empty beaches. My husband threw a 10-pound frog around the mangroves while my father and I were swimming outside to see a lemon shark drifting through thousands of bait fish. Sitting barefoot at a table in the sand, we ate fresh snapper and creole rice at Loblolly Beach Restaurant. After lunch, the boys, big and small, played on a swing made of old buoys and driftwood.
Returning to the dinghy at the end of the day, my son and I combed the beach in search of treasure. He pocketed an orange clam shell and a piece of corrugated coral. I found a little coconut perfect for an impromptu football match.
That night, after our ritual sunset and our easy-to-prepare bratwurst dinner, mashed potatoes and carrot sticks, we lay side by side on the bow to watch the stars come out.
"Mom, is it a Venus?" He pointed to a bright star near the growing moon.
"I think it's Mars, Venus is a morning star, so we can look for her when we wake up."
I put my arm around him. He yawned, fell asleep quickly in front of the slight swing of the boat.
The next morning, during our three hours of sailing south, we gathered around the map to choose our next destination: a day of docking on the uninhabited island of Great Dog for snorkeling and lunch, then in a protected cove on the west side of Super Camanoe for the night.
We prefer to live off the beaten track experiences. In addition, with the children on board, we did not dwell on the BVI's abundant nightlife centered on cruisers. So we chose to anchor in more isolated areas rather than in front of popular tourist attractions.
Most nights we shared a gem-colored bay with one or two other boats. Or not at all, as was the case on our last night off Peter Island, where two turtles stood up to say hello after we threw the anchor.
The boys each caught a small valet with the help of their father. . . gasped in amazement as they watched a three-foot barracuda with a stinging dart under the bite to slaughter a fish from the start. We nicknamed our visitor "Barry" and gave him some biscuits after dinner.
On the last morning, my son woke me up at dawn. "Mom, we forgot to look for Venus!
I followed him out in the warm breeze to see the distant waves toppled into the gold of the rising sun. We found the morning star in the east, blinking lavender sky.
Smiling to my son, I thanked the heavens for a week of favorable wind and the opportunity to sail to paradise with my family and friends.
In Guadeloupe, beautiful beaches – with a history