I got further on my second trip. I invited a number of Vincentians to the training course in Road Town and although they were placed in a different hotel, we would meet up for the occasional lime and one weekend we intrepidly set off to find a fellow Vincentian friend in Virgin Gorda, the second island of BVI. An early morning ferry sped us past the south coast of Tortola, beyond Beef Island and out across the Sir Francis Drake Channel to the sleep little island. At the single concrete jetty we were met by this friend and family, piled in the cab of his pickup. We jumped in the back and swayed along the bumpy streets to his house in Spanish Town, the main settlement. He overlooked this marvellous sweep of bay in front of the tiny airstrip. The island is low hills at the south end, topped with remarkable granite boulders and a dry cactus scrub. The north is similar to Tortola, old volcanoes clad in dry forest. After a beer or two, we headed up over the largest of these, Gorda Peak. Virgin Gorda became my favourite island that day, and still remains so, not because it is lively. It has some of the friendliest people in the Caribbean living there, but they are not very dynamic. No, it is the sheer variety of beauty in its nine miles by two. As we came out of Spanish Town the road jigs either side of a narrow isthmus; the sheltered waters of the channel protect Savannah Bay, a beautifully unspoilt sandy beach with great fingers of coral reef jutting out from four or five places. On the other side rough waves break from the Anegada Channel against a rocky shore.
As we climbed, I looked back at the revealing panorama. At the peak, I knew it was the most fantastic view in the Caribbean. The bays either side of the road were directly below us, the stripes of breaking waves, reef edge, coral, seagrass, beach and coast marked Taylor Bay to my left, beyond the boulders and houses of Spanish Town, the huge sweep of protected channel that makes BVI the yachting capital it is was full of vessels, milling in all directions. Tortola and its smaller cousins loomed to the west and on the left a series of smaller islands guarded the southern approached. At the very end, St John, one of the US Virgin Islands, blocked the exit, its green clad hills unspoilt from development. The ensemble was breathtaking, the colours vivid.
We drove over the crest of a ridge dropping from Gorda Peak and stopped again – here was the second best view in the Caribbean. The road tumbled down steeply through the village of North Sound to a wide body of calm turquoise water with the same name. It was surrounded by islands of various shapes and sizes and was filled with yachts, speedboats and a seaplane or two. Two vast hotel resorts sat on the eastern side, still on Virgin Gorda but one of the two peninsulas that dangled precariously into the Atlantic. In the centre of one of the channels was another small resort sitting on the tiny Saba Rock. On my right, on the other side of the lower peninsula was another fabulous bay; South Sound, with the now characteristic pattern of reef crest, seagrass and sand in a bright blue sea, a few mangroves and a small salt pond completing the perfect Caribbean environment at one end.
Moving my eyes beyond the immediate view, another island sat in its own circle of coral reef. This was Necker, bought by Richard Branson some years before as a private island resort. And in the distance, hardly visible at all, was another large island, but because it was almost completely flat, only a thin sliver of beach followed by a green line of vegetation gave it away. And yet, for about fifteen miles to the east waves were breaking. The island was Anegada, the waves were breaking on Horseshoe Reef, one of the largest continuous reefs in the world, some scientist describe it as one of the largest single organisms on Earth.
We dropped down the sleepy village of North Sound, a slightly tarted up version of any sleepy fishing village in this part of the world, and came out at Leverick Bay, another resort. Here we loaded our ice box on a small boat and carefully guided it over to one of the resorts I had seen at the top of the hill; Bitter End. The boat had a very shallow beam, but the water was so calm in the sound that we were able to progress quite quickly. We dabbled in amongst the resort’s attractions then had lunch at Saba Rock. We spent an hour or so on the beach at another island, Prickly Pear. My St Vincent friends and I lying on our backs in the warm water, a mixed drink perched on our bellies. Michael Bailey, one of the group, looked over at me floating there and said “you really have a shitty job”. I couldn’t help but agree.