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An article written by our staff and featured in The Charter Connection

THE BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS - BACK WHEN CHARTERING BEGAN
by Ed
May 2005

The moment we sailed into Road Town Harbor, Tortola in the early dawn, October 1972, and watched this sleepy town come to life, I knew this was the place I wanted to live.

I had joined the 80' modern racing schooner 'New World' in Lymington, England six weeks earlier and four of us had delivered her across the Atlantic. Our initial landfall was Barbados, on my 25th birthday. We arrived after dark with the intoxicating sound of steel drums wafting across the anchorage. Next morning we discovered they had come from the Holiday Inn on the beach, but after a month at sea nothing dampened my enthusiasm.

We sailed up the Caribbean chain stopping in pristine harbors along the way. I particularly remember Marigot Bay, St. Lucia, which had none of the present marinas and sprawling houses on the hillside - just a small bar on the sandspit and a wreck in the middle of the bay.

There were almost no lights visible on the Virgin Island hills, so we waited south of the islands until dawn, slipping past Norman Island at first light. We were virtually the only yacht anchored in Road Town Harbor.

I packed my bag, and with the firm belief that it was difficult to starve in a civilized country, I left the boat.

30 years later, the chief immigration officer (known simply as 'Tooley') told me he remembered my entrance into his office. I said all the wrong things ("yes I'm looking for a job, no I don't have any money"). 'New World' had already left, so I was allowed to stay, but had to deposit the cost of a return ticket with the government to insure they could extradite of me. I never did get this deposit back when I left 9 years later. It took every bit of cash I had.

It took me 3 weeks to convince Charlie Carey that I could be an asset to his fledging new charter company, 'The Moorings'.

In the meantime, a Canadian grandmother who ran a bar with her Tortolan partner took pity on me, and in return for work, gave me food. Jill's Bar was next to Stanley's, which was the only other bar on Cane Garden Bay. It was rare to see a white person on the beach and ever rarer to see more than one sailboat in the bay. The days were spent looking for a job in the morning and swimming in Cane Garden Bay in the afternoon. Sadly Jill's Bar was eventually burnt to the ground, supposedly over a local dispute.

'The Moorings' was located in a rented building just west of the waterfront houses, next to the Francis Drake Pub, and started with 4 Pearson 35's and a small Dufour. Charlie had just added several new Morgan Out Island 41's (8 I believe) that had arrived with many problems. We were a small crew. Bob Woodrow was the manager. Bill Hirst (now a surveyor) and George Forster (Road Town port pilot) and I took turns with charter check outs, area briefings and skippering jobs. I also purchased parts for the yachts and provisioning supplies. Charlie and Ginny were great employers and pioneers in the charter industry. Several years later, all but one of the charter companies in Tortola were run by managers trained by them. I have fond memories of Charlie walking down the dock on Fridays, paying his crew in cash from a fist full of notes! A far cry from the multimillion dollar company 'The Moorings' became.
See photographs showing how Road Town has changed

Before I could brief charterers on the area, I needed to see it, so Charlie gave me an Out Island for two days. In that time, I sailed in and out of every bay in the BVI. It looked so very different from what we know today. There were very few houses in the hills and almost no boats in the channel. It is no exaggeration to say that if you found a boat in an anchorage you moved to the next one! This is hard to imagine now, when you can sometimes count 100 boats anchored at Norman Island alone.

The Bitter End was a small bar (Elizabeth sold the most expensive lobsters and would never quote prices over VHF - or single side band radio as it was then). Marina Cay was the popular spot. The tiny restaurant was on the top of the hill and there were just two large round tables for everyone. You never knew if you would be sitting next to a boat captain or a film star - the BVI was undiscovered then and a popular place for celebrities to hide.

Tony and Jackie Snell were about to move from their small restaurant in Little Jost Van Dyke to Trellis Bay. Tony's humor is legendary - he played to literally thousands of charterers over the following years. In those early days you expected the unexpected, from desperate mechanical breakdowns to diaperless daughters stealing the show.

Peter Island had just been built and there was a small bar on Cooper Island, run by Tim and Jan Short. Tim used to row out to any boat that chose to anchor in the bay and in his slow English drawl, invited them ashore even if they didn't want to join him for dinner. They always did - I don't know if it was his English accent or the pirate's pipe he always smoked.

In the west, the young Foxy had opened his small bar on the beach at Great Harbor, Jost Van Dyke. Everyone sat at one table, where the 6-12 guests experienced true calypso. Foxy was a genius. Every reaction from his guests was caught in the next line of his song. Woe betide the skipper than had had trouble anchoring that afternoon - every detail would be painfully recounted. In these prepackaged days, it was hard to imagine this type of spontaneous entertainment. Foxy's is still a popular spot and a great place to visit, but it's character, like so many places in the BVI, is very different.

Next issue: A description of the charter companies in these early days and the interesting pioneers who started them. What it took to operate a charter company. The children's hour. More photographs.

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  Ed Hamilton & Company
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