Trip to the Island of Tortola, British Virgin Islands
March 17-30, 2004

<sigh> I'm still trying to figure out why I came back from this vacation :-)  It was awesome!  Heheheh,  took some 'notes' so that I could try and remember what I did (it's all a happy blur right now), so let's see what I can piece together here:

Wednesday the 17th: I flew from San Francisco to Miami and then to Saint Thomas. At 3:15 PM I caught the Fast Ferry to Road Town, Tortola. Kevin was waiting their for me in a 15' inflatable boat!  So we loaded my bags onto it and headed across waters to Fat Hog's Bay.  Upon arriving there, we unloaded the boat at the shop and headed off to Fat Hog's Restaurant for some dinner. Dinner was quite tasty, consisting of some spicy BBQ ribs with garlic mashed potatoes, all washed down with a tasty drink called a Hogwacker (Bushwaker) and then a Painkiller (hehehe, this concoction of rum, pineapple/orange juice and coconut milk would turn out to be the mascot drink of the trip!). After dinner, we took a taxi to Kevin's 'house on the hill'........

Thursday:  I woke up around 6:30 AM and bleary eyed, stumbled out the front door to take a look at the view. Here it is:

Needless to say, I was pretty damn happy to be in Tortola! Can you believe this view!?!?!  After getting some coffee, Kevin and I walked to his workplace (about a mile away). He works for Sail Caribbean Divers as a SCUBA diver instructor.  It's a really nice outfit and the staff there treated me (and Paul) very kindly!  That morning, while Kevin was diving (the boat was full so I couldn't go out w/him), I went into town to pick up the rental car. Turns out it wasn't ready, so I putzed about a while, taking in the sites, and then headed back to the dive shop. That afternoon, I was able to go for a dive off of Chronis Reef. Mmmmm, 80' crystal clear blue water sure made for a great dive :-)  After the dive, we cleaned up the boat. and that night, we had dinner again at Fat Hogs (1 lb cheeseburger and a bowl of tasty pumpkin soup! Oh yeah, and some more Painkillers :-)  The rental car agency dropped off the car at the restaurant, so now we were mobile!

Friday: Started the day by diving the wreck of the Rhone.  Ok folks, history lesson:

The Wreck of the RMS Rhone is one of the most popular and highly rated shipwrecks in all the Caribbean. This wreck is situated on the lee side of Salt Island, spread out over a couple of acres.

The Royal Mail Steam Ship Rhone, a 310-foot iron-hulled steam-sailor, was built in Southampton, England in 1865 and was sunk by a hurricane a mere two years later on October 29th, 1867. Constructed at the height of the Industrial Revolution, the Rhone was of a hybrid technology powered by both sail and one of the earliest steam driven propellers. In the almost 130 years it has been underwater, the Rhone has been transformed by the sea and is now as much a natural reef as it is a wreck.

The 2,738 ton Royal Mail Ship Rhone was only two years old when it sank, having been built in 1865. The 95-metre iron hull was constructed along traditional clipper lines with masts and sails to supplement a steam engine driving a single propeller; the Rhone was one of the first screw-driven mail ships. Its design was unique, for it had both sail and steam power with one of the first steam-driven cast propellers. Captain Woolly, the Captain on the day, decided to anchor in Peter Island's Great Harbor due to an outbreak of yellow fever in St. Thomas. 

On the morning of Sunday 29 October 1867 the Rhone was anchored in Great Harbor, a sheltered bay on the north side of Peter island. Nearby was anchored an older Royal Mail Ship, the paddle steamer Conway.

With bad weather anticipated from the south, the two captains were concerned for the safety of their passengers. They conspired to transfer the paddle steamer's passengers to the larger and safer Rhone without raising alarm by inviting the passengers of the Conway to join those of the Rhone for breakfast on deck.

As the barometer had indicated, the storm swiftly arrived, but not from the expected direction. The hurricane force winds came across Tortola from the north and blew both ships tight on their anchor chains towards the shore of Peter island. Boilers were stoked and engines run to ease the strain on the anchor chains. Both boats rode through the first round with only minor damage.

With the wind abating, the Conway raised anchor and headed across Sir Francis Drake Passage to the apparent safety of Road Town on Tortola, the Conway's passengers still sheltering aboard the Rhone. 

Captain Woolly told the crew to fire up the boilers just in case and when the storm hit he needed full ahead even at anchor to hold position. The fearful roar of the hurricane blew howling winds from the North Northwest. A lull came - or as we know it today "the eye of the hurricane". Captain Woolly tried to make a break for open water away from the rocks and land. Time was lost as the anchor first fouled and after vainly trying to free themselves, the captain ordered the anchor line cut.. The Rhone was now under way, but with no options left except to make for open sea and attempt to ride out the hurricane.

He headed out between Peter and Salt Islands. Most people onboard couldn't swim so crew were ordered to tie in all the passengers (sealing their fate). The second part of the hurricane hit with black skies and huge seas. Captain Woolly like all good English Captains had a cup of tea with a dash of rum, stirring it with his silver spoon as he navigated his ship through the channel past Salt Island. The rain was blinding so he tried to get a better look outside when a big wave washed him overboard off the bridge. He was never to be seen again.

The first officer took over and the Rhone first steered east along Sir Francis Drake Passage, then south through the channel separating Peter island from Salt island. As the eye of the hurricane moved over, the wind picked up again, rising rapidly from the south-east.

Struggling head on against punishing conditions, the Rhone's engine was just not powerful enough to make progress and the ship was pushed back and broken against Black Rock at the western tip of Salt island.  The cold water hit the hot boiler causing a big explosion splitting the Rhone in half. The stern sank in 35' while the bow drifted slightly deeper into 80'. The vessel now rests in two main sections off Salt Island, near Black Rock.

Out of 145 on board, just one passenger and 21 crew survived, rescued with assistance from the residents of salt island.

If a state of the art steamship such as the Rhone came to an unfortunate end, what of the much less sophisticated paddle steamer, the Conway? She was blown ashore on Tortola, all the crew surviving. Nearly every building on the islands was blown down.

Out of all the tragedy of the hurricane there is a partly happy ending. The residents of salt island were essentially right at the bottom of the social pile, subsistence fishing and working the salt pans while living barely out of slavery. In gratitude for their efforts to rescue crew and passengers from the Rhone, Queen Victoria granted them and their descendants rights to the land as long as they continued to live there, in return for 5 pounds of salt annually for the royal table.

The Rhone is a spectacular dive, worthy of its considerable reputation. It looks exactly like people expect a historic shipwreck to look like. The long sleek lines of the intact bow section, lying on her starboard side in 78 feet of water, are clearly visible. The pointed bowsprit, the long iron mast, the crow's nest, the lifeboat davits and even a signaling canon are easily spotted. Inside the wreck schools of fish flow around the support beams, shafts of light penetrate the gloom through portholes. On the "ceiling", a liquid mercury-like layer of trapped air cascades past beams covered with brilliant orange cup coral. The stern section lies in the shallows against Black Rock Point. This section of wreck lies between 65 and 25 feet.

The Rhone's long standing popularity is due to the fact that it is reasonably intact and physically beautiful, complete with encrusting marine life, friendly fish, green moray eels, and the occasional black tip or whale shark. The Rhone is also a film star - she was the filming location for Columbia Pictures' treasure diving epic, The Deep, starring Nick Nolte, Jacqueline Bisset and Robert Shaw.

I'd end up diving the wreck of the Rhone numerous times throughout my trip. Never once did this dive site disappoint to amaze me :-)

After our dive of both the Bow and Stern sections, we headed back to shore. Shortly thereafter, Kevin and I went back into town to pick up Paul, who also arrived via ferry. We celebrated his arrival with a few Painkillers over at Pussers.

Sunday:  We started the day with an amazing brunch at Fort Burt. The New England Culinary Society has a satellite operation on island and they did the brunch here. It was amazing! 4 different types of pate', salmon, chicken, salads, and deserts that made us loosen our belt straps! Hehehe, a great way to start the day!  After brunch. We began our day of touring the island. Here are some pictures from that day:




The three amigo's enjoying the view!

A wee bit of paradise......

two monkey's in a tree!

A great shot of Kevin :-)

Looking down at Cane Garden Bay :-)

"Life is Just a Tire Swing...." :-) Down off of Cane Garden Bay.

Sunset at Smugglers Cove.... the epitome of a Caribbean sunset....!

Heheh, we also made a stop for some Bomba Punch at the Bomba Shack!  LOL, what a fun way to kill an hour (and a few brain cells) that afternoon. Ahhh, Rege' Pink Floyd :-)

That night, we enjoyed an amazing dinner at a restaurant called C&F. It's hidden off of the main drag in Road Town, and it's a great find! We had swordfish that was amazing as well as sampling of their ribs.  And yes, lots of rum drinks!

Monday:  We started the day by doing another 2 tank dive on the Rhone.  Afterwards, it was over to Cooper's Island Beach Club for lunch.  This place is a little piece of paradise and Kevin's dive shop has a satellite office on the island. Hehehe, here's a couple of picts of Kevin and I enjoying the hammock he brings along to lounge in during the quiet hours.


In the afternoon, we did two more dives on the Rhone. That evening, we enjoyed an amazing dinner at the Harbor View restaurant. Dinner included appetizers of garlic & mango calamari & a gorgonzola salad. For dinner, I had the glazed pecan grouper and for desert, banana surprise! <drool.. this was one of the best dinners we had on island!)

Tuesday:  In the morning, we snagged one of the 15' inflatable boats and the three of us set out across the bay to Virgin Gorda. Well, about 1/3 of the way there, we realized that with all the weight on the boat, and the choppy waters, this probably wasn't the best time to do this, so we diverted over to Salt Island. We anchored just off of Thumb Rock and did a little fishing for about 2 hours. During that time, we noticed that we were getting A LOT of sun (funny how that happens :). After not catching anything except a buzz off the beers, we took a quick swim and then headed over to the island itself. Here are some picts of Salt Island:


On Salt Island, looking down at the bay.

Remnants of a small village on the island. 

Self picture of Penz at the top of the peak on Salt Island :-)


Mass grave of the crew and passengers from the wreck of the Rhone. It truly touches the soul....

That night, we decided to eat in. LOL, and of course, we did it island style. Caribbean lobster, Mahi-Mahi and shrimp with potatoes and all of the fixin's. Look good to you? 

Wednesday: We took the ferry from Beef Island over to Virgin Gorda so that we could go and see The Baths National Park. This place is a little piece of paradise! Here are some pictures:




"Just a few friends...." :-)

Heheh, my favorite picture of myself during this whole trip! Isn't that water AMAZING!?!?!?! :)

After our hike to The Baths, we enjoyed a few painkillers at the local bar and then we caught the ferry back to Tortola. We then cleaned up and grabbed one of the 25' boats and took it over to Cooper Island for the night. We had dinner/drinks at the local restaurant and then retired to two of the bungalows on island. It was awesome staying at the Cooper Resort!

Thursday:  Slept in nice and late :)  Got up, and stumbled to the beach for some breakfast. After that, spend the morning reading. Finished the first book in Robert Jorden's "The Wheel of Time" series. (started the second one). Laid in the hammock for a while....  Did an afternoon SCUBA dive with Paul on 2 sunken tug boats (pretty cool, saw some Eagle Rays). Later that afternoon, took the boat back to Tortola, had dinner at Fat Hogs (a 'hog size" bowl of pumpkin soup that you could swim in and a salad). After dinner, Paul, the dive staff and I all went on a night dive on the Rhone. It was awesome! We saw a GIANT sea turtle and a huge lobster, amongst the other night life that was out. It was a spectacular dive!

Friday:  We were lazy and lounged around the apartment until about 1:00 pm. Did some souvenir shopping, went the Roti Palace for lunch.  The only thing on the chalkboard menu is a great treat called a roti: a delicious crepe-like wrap stuffed with your choice of meat or fish. The mango chutney accompaniment is a must but watch out for the HOT sauce, YUM!.  The one and only cook and server is a wonderful island woman who serves up really great home cooking, meaning everything is homemade. The hospitality is just as good as the food.

Dinner that night was at The Last Resort, off of Beef Island. You actually call the restaurant from the dock and they come and pick you up in their boat :)  It was a cool place. Live music, tasty beverages, and for dinner, I had Bangers & Mash for dinner. Quite tasty!

Saturday:  Started the day with breakfast at the Village Key marina by myself. Kevin had a Dr's. appointment that I took him to and Paul went on a morning dive. We regrouped at the same place that afternoon for a very HAPPY happy hour! Hehehe, Paul and I must have drank at least a bottle of Meyers Rum via all of the Painkillers we drank. We had Kevin drive us back to his place where we picked up a really good bottle of red wine and some tin cup chalices before heading out to a nice secluded spot on the island. There, as the sun went down, we had our Tin Cup Chalice moment :-)  After that, it was off to C&F's again for dinner. Hehehe, let's just say that I was "that drunk guy" that night as I went into a feeding frenzy over a huge plate of spare ribs. Heheheh, messy.... but fun! (the good things usually are!).  LOL, what a night.....

Sunday:  A sad day as we had to bid farewell to Paul. We dropped him off at the West End Marina where he caught the ferry back to Saint Thomas.  Kevin and I grabbed some passion fruit smoothies (yes, with rum) from a local stand, and took a nice long drive back to his place. That afternoon, we hung out and that evening we got a really tasty pizza from the Harbor View Restaurant.

Monday:  My last day on island. Took Kevin to work and then went into Road Town to pick up some rum for the trip back.  It was first day it really rained on island. Hehehe, it must have been sad to see me going :P  Spent the afternoon packing and lazing around. Read "The Da Vincci Code". Good book! That night, I took the staff out to dinner at nice restaurant called Xodus.  It was a great last meal

Tuesday: Here is what my view was at 5:30 AM when I was leaving Kevin's place to catch the ferry to Saint Thomas:

And so, after arriving in Saint Thomas, I caught my flight to Miami, FL and then back to San Francisco... I'd just like to say THANK YOU again to Kevin for making this trip possible. It it wasn't for him living the life of an islander, I wouldn't have been able to enjoy my stay as much.  So, with that said.....

Tin Cup Chalice
by Jimmy Buffett


I want to go back to the island,
Where the shrimp boats tie up to the pilin'.
Give me oysters and beer for dinner every day of the year,
And I'll feel fine, I'll feel fine.

[Chorus:]
'Cause I want to be there,
I want to go back down and lie beside the sea there.
With a tin cup for a chalice
Fill it up with good red wine,
And I'm-a chewin' on a honeysuckle vine.

Yeah, now the sun goes slidin' 'cross the water;
Sailboats, they go searchin' for the breeze.
Salt air it ain't thin,
It can stick right to your skin,
And make you feel fine.
It makes you feel fine.

'Cause I want to be there,
I want to go back down and get high beside the sea there.
With a tin cup for a chalice
Fill it up with good red wine,
And I'm-a chewin' on a honeysuckle vine.

Yes, and now you heard my strange proposal;
Get that Packard up and let's move.
I want to be there before the day
Tries to steal away and leave us behind;
I've made up my mind;

'Cause I want to be there,
I want to go back down and die beside the sea there.
With a tin cup for a chalice
Fill it up with good red wine,
And I'm-a chewin' on a honeysuckle vine.

All the best! 

:Penz

March 14, 2004:  Spent the day with Ashish, Jill, Nikhil and Amy touring some wineries up in Sonoma county!  Had a blast!!  I've got some notes on the wineries that we visited that I'll upload to here shortly (just need to dig them out).

:Penz

March 6-10, 2004:  On Saturday 3/6, I flew from San Francisco to Tucson, AZ to visit Mark and Jessica Hamel!  I had a great time out in AZ with them. They have got a really nice house, of which they finished building last year.. It's got plenty of room, a nice big kitchen, huge garage w/a workshop, 2 bedrooms, office, den, living room, and a backyard w/a hot tub (LOVE that hot tub!).  It was great being able to stay there :)
During the weekend, we visited the PIMA Air and Space Museum. This place was awesome! You have the opportunity to get up close and personal with lots of vintage and currently used aircraft. Some of my personal favorites were seeing the SR-71 Lockheed Blackbird, the Harrier Jumper Jet, the B-25 Stratofortress, the B17 and B-29 bombers, F-15 Strike Eagle and The Guppy, just to name a few.

We also visited Mt. Lemon National Park (beautiful place) for a bit as well. Each time I've visited Mark our here, we take a ride up the mountain and I always enjoy that. Seeing the cactus are really cool and the landscape is just awesome.  The weather during my visit was perfect!  Each day it was about 85' and sunny with no humidity. Very nice :)

Monday-Wednesday, during the day, I worked remote from Mark and Jess's house. This was great as none of us had to take any time off from work (especially good for me as I was getting ready to leave on a 2 week vacation starting the following week!). And it was just fun to work 'from home' :)

Thanks Mark and Jessica for an AWESOME visit! :-)

:Penz

March 2, 2004: Had a great time tonight with my good friend David Parker. I met him in the city for dinner and after that we went to see "Mama Mia!" at the Golden Gate Theatre. It was a GREAT performance! We had awesome seats (orchestra) and thoroughly enjoyed the show. The music (ABBA) and the performers were awesome. Thanks David for a great night out on the town!

:Penz

 


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