One of the things we were looking forward to on our vacation was a day trip to the British Virgin Islands, an overseas territory of the United Kingdom. Originally part of the Dutch Empire, the islands were acquired by Britain in 1672.
James & Tim passing through the Sir Francis Drake Channel. (06/16/06)
We were on the Island Time boat (led by Captain Coco), which took us from Great Cruz Bay on St. John to Soper's Hole on the island of Tortola, where we had to go through customs (you need a passport to go to the British Virgin Islands from the U.S. Virgin Islands). Soper's Hole was also the home of famous pirate Blackbeard between 1715-1718.
Soper's Hole, Tortola, British Virgin Islands. (06/16/06)
Afterward, we went through the Sir Francis Drake Channel to the island of Virgin Gorda, which means "Fat Virgin" in Spanish (Christopher Columbus gave it that name on his second voyage in 1493 because in his opinion, that's what the island looked like).
Our destination on Virgin Gorda was an unusual geologic formation known as "The Baths," located on the southern end of the island. At The Baths, the beach shows evidence of the island's volcanic origins, as huge granite boulders lie in piles on the beach, forming scenic grottoes that are open to the sea. It was gorgeous.
The Baths on Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands. (06/16/06)
Because there's no dock there, we had to swim our way onto the island, marking the first time in my life that I've ever swam to another country!
Another view of the Baths. (06/16/06)
After exploring the caves, we found a dingy little snack shop called Poor Man's Bar & Grill, which was operated by some not-so-pleasant locals. But since we don't consider that we've visited another country until we've spent money there, we bought a round of drinks.
Enjoying a Red Stripe at the Poor Man's Bar & Grill. (06/16/06)
Afterward we headed back through the Sir Frances Drake Channel to Norman Island, where we were going to do some snorkeling. Legend has it that Norman Island was the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, however I think there are several places that hold that claim.
On the way, we went by Salt Island, which is notable for the wreck of the royal mail packet steamer, RMS Rhone. It was one fo the first iron ships ever built, and it sunk in a hurricane on October 29th, 1867. All but a few of the crew were lost. Some of the underwater scenes in movie "The Deep" were filmed in and around the wreck.
We also cruised by Dead Chest Island, which reputedly got its name when the notorious Blackbeard, after a mutiny, put 15 men ashore on this island with only a bottle of rum hence the song: "15 men on a dead man's chest, yo ho ho and a bottle of rum." I was told by Captain Coco that the island was used for filming portions of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, however I haven't been able to verify that.
Dead Chest Island. (06/16/06)
We also passed Peter Island, on which sits a home owned by Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
At Norman Island, we went to the Caves, which is known as one of the best snorkeling spots on the British Virgin Islands. And it did live up to its expectations.
The Caves on Normal Island, where we snorkeled. (06/16/06)
There was tons of coral, countless fish, spiny sea urchins, crabs and more. And I personally got to experience why "fire coral" got its name ... because I got a bad sting from it on my right knee. And it hurt too! Luckily Captain Coco had some Windex on board that she was able to spray on it to minimize the sting (it was either that or peeing on it).
Tim re-boards the boat after snorkeling. (06/16/06)
Afterward we headed back to St. John where we had to go through customs again. They weren't stamping passports, but I asked them to stamp mine. After all, what good is a passport if they don't stamp it? :)