"Starlight star bright, first star I see tonight. This rhyme replayed in my mind as it would on the lips of a child who'd finally mastered its words. I didn't mind the nagging, because a fresh weather front drew aside the curtain of overcast that had lingered over the British Virgin Islands since my arrival. A magnificent carpet of stars danced in three-dimensional relief, mocking the meager light of the Peter Island Resort and Yacht Harbour ashore.
"Wish I may, wish I might have the wish I wish tonight.
I didn't want much-simply to spend a few more days aboard Starlite, to sail, hike, study the stars and laugh with the crew.
Anchored for the night in Deadman's Bay and sailing about her mooring at the whims of breezes bending over Peter Island, Starlite chuckled with the wavelets cavorting at her bow. I lay on my berth in the master stateroom gazing at the sky through the open hatch and watching clouds rearrange familiar constellations. Of the three nights I spent aboard Starlite, courtesy of her owner, this was the only one that allowed stargazing-and it was my last.
A short time before noon two days earlier, the young, athletic and energetic Capt. Matt Bridge met me at the airport on Beef Island, Tortola. Starlite, he told me, waited for us on a face dock in Road Harbor. The crew of this 95-foot sloop-first mate Tim Hanley, chef Tiffany Muse and stewardess Delys Walsh-was ready to set sail as soon as we climbed aboard. When Diana Mares of Camper & Nicholsons USA joined us, we set sail for Peter Island, a pleasant reach south across the Sir Francis Drake Channel.
For lunch, we fancied an anchorage in Little Harbour on the western end of Peter Island, a couple of hours away. We motored clear of the traffic in Road Harbour, then Capt. Bridge turned into the wind and ordered the sails to be set. Main at full hoist and genoa rolled out 100 percent, we bore off and let the sails fill. Then, our microcosm fell into a hush, save the muted whistle of wind in the rigging and the hissing of the bow wave as Starlite accelerated to 9 knots.
The transition from auxiliary to sail is always my favorite moment aboard a sailboat. All of the shoreside cares blow away with the wind. Even Walsh, the "Kiwi Pistol, seemed to slow a bit, though she appeared at my side to offer a drink as soon as I thought I might want one. Her very dark skin and hair, onyx eyes and bright smile defy pigeonholing, but her wry sense of humor and efficiency are tailor-made for her job.
Little Harbour was a quiet spot, well sheltered from the swells of the channel, and the bottom provided reliable holding. Muse, an elfin figure with blond hair and devilish blue eyes, served a lemon-pesto asparagus tempura salad with julienne of fennel, red peppers, carrots and haricots verts dressed in lemon-pepper vinaigrette. She followed this with Caribbean curried chicken salad, fresh spinach, tomato, crushed cashews and caramelized ginger. Her artful blend of subtle flavors in all the meals rivaled those served by any restaurant I'd experienced anywhere ashore. Over espresso, Bridge and I discussed an itinerary.
Choosing an itinerary in the B.V.I., which has so much to offer, can give a person apoplexy. Devotees of the area have told me a lot of the best sightseeing occurs below the surface of the Caribbean. I don't snorkel or dive, primarily because I wasn't born with gills, but I understand the attraction. Yes, the water around the B.V.I., glistening like a plate full of Navajo jewelry in the desert sun, tempted me, but I still preferred the heeling teak decks of Starlite.
Later in the day, something almost as intriguing as snorkeling attracted me. Jon Bannenberg, designer of Starlite's topsides, graced her main saloon with two large windows on each side. Two of them are in the raised deck above the sheerline, the other two below. These windows are about 5 feet across, and as we reached along on a starboard tack, portside rail in the water, I discovered the windows on the sea. I settled into the settee and waited for the sea life to speed by, but the Sir Francis Drake Channel disappointed me. I enjoyed watching the water rush by nonetheless.
During lunch, a mushroom of dark gray cloud, like a watch cap on the head of a sailor, shrouded the peak of Mount Sage on Tortola. This cloud cover is nearly permanent and has created a genuine rain forest atop this island. The longer I looked at the cloud, the more I wanted to be in it.
The next day, Mares, Bridge and I went ashore at Cane Garden Bay to take a taxi to the entrance of the national park that preserves the Mount Sage forest. Well-groomed trails crisscross the park, leading hikers into a forest of mahogany trees, to the highest point in the B.V.I. and past hundreds of rain forest plants. Butterflies flitted around our heads in impossibly erratic flight paths, and tiny birds called to us from the safety of the dense foliage. Below the cloud line, breaks in the growth opened onto panoramic views of the surrounding islands. An hour or two of treading on the permanently damp paths gave us a fair workout.
We avoided the crowded Baths on Virgin Gorda for a stopover at Fallen Jerusalem. This pile of rocks, strewn into the sea by an ancient seismic event that has defied explanation, provided excellent snorkeling for Mares and Bridge and challenging rock climbing for me. First mate Hanley, my climbing partner, has quite a lot of experience at this sort of thing, longer legs than mine and the strength of youth. He scampered over the rocks like a bighorn ram and helped me when I needed it.
During the three-plus days, we worried our way between flanking reefs into White Bay and Jost Van Dyke, and took the tender ashore for a Painkiller at The Soggy Dollar Bar. Its décor is island primitive haphazardly decorated with dollar bills pasted on every surface.
"Fanciful is the best description I can conjure for this charter. Whims guided our course and choice of anchorages. Starlite's crew loves to sail and does so, upwind or down, any time the wind permits. No wonder-she sails more like a high-performance yacht than you would expect of a typical charter boat.
Below, she's large enough to provide as much privacy as a charter party would need, but intimate enough for a romantic couple. The crew knows how to serve without intruding, but they are delightful companions for anyone open to that possibility.
I would sail with her again in a heartbeat.
Contact: Camper & Nicholsons International, (011) 44 20 7491 2950; email@example.com; www.cnconnect.com, or any charter broker. Starlite charters for $25,000 per week, plus expenses, for six guests.