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Trail-tripping and boatbuilding in the BVIs

Trail-tripping and boatbuilding in the BVIs

There is no getting around it. When bareboat cruising in the British Virgin Islands, a mandatory stop is Jost Van Dyke and Foxy’s famed beach bar in Great Harbour. No matter how many times you have done Foxy’s, read about Foxy’s, or heard about Foxy’s, it must be patronized one more time.

Cruising JVD in a Sunsail-chartered Beneteau 473 in mid-April and not writing about Foxy’s was a challenge. But the subject has been done to death editorially over the long span of its 30-plus years of rum, song and pig roasts.

However, after a land cruise to Foxy Callwood’s newest beach bar, Taboo — on the island’s developing East End Harbour, where a start-up marina has taken shape at Long Bay inside Diamond Cay — I heard about a traditional boatbuilding project under way at the original Foxy’s. I’ll get back to that; first the land cruise.

To reach Taboo, I led my crew of six the adventurous way on a roundabout, mountain-top trail, rather than motorsailing or taking the easy, paved road from Great Harbour through Little Harbour and beyond. In two sport utility vehicles rented for the day, we bumped along the winding, up-and-down unpaved trail from the island’s west end (White Bay) to the east end (Long Bay). Few cruisers go beyond beach bar row to make this land passage across the spine of the mountain, even though more mountain roads are being bulldozed, and building sites are posted for sale.

To beef up our courage, we stopped in White Bay at 10 a.m. for rum “painkillers” at Sandcastle’s Soggy Dollar Bar and Seddy’s One-Love Beach Bar, where I asked Seddy Callwood (a Foxy son) about the condition of the trail. “Rocks,” he answered bluntly, noting that Foxy, at 67, continues to hike it from one end to the other.

Our armada followed a level, sandy road out of White Bay and looked up, up, up the vertical side of mountainous Jumper Hill. I told Harry Bratcher, driver of our second vehicle, to wait until the three of us either made it to the top of the first hill or chickened out and turned back. I put our vehicle in four-wheel drive and up we went, not looking back. Harry and his two passengers followed.

Some of the rocky, rolling road ahead looked downright dangerous from a distance, but for the most part it was wide enough and relatively cleared of rubble, with guard rails piled up and waiting for installation. At the Majohnny Hill summit, we paused at a 1,054-foot elevation for a great view of Great Harbour below. Things move slowly on island time, but I can envision this trail being paved one day, and residential lights twinkling on the mountainside at night like Tortola, the neighboring main island of the BVIs.

Descending steep inclines was more nerve wracking than ascending, especially on hairpin turns where sliding rocks could have made it risky. A few miles along on this five-mile cruise, we began our occasionally perilous descent from Rymer Land to Long Bay.

Rounding one turn, the trail narrowed and was blocked by a road grader pushing fallen boulders over the side. The operator moved the grader close to the hillside, waving us through with barely enough room to squeeze by.

“You have got to be kidding!” said Lynne McCashin in white-knuckled disbelief as I moved ahead slowly. From her front seat, she gripped hand-holds and turned her head away from the sheer drop. (We laid that line on her often at every opportunity.)

Well, we made it to Taboo, an open, modern bar and restaurant in the valley where burgers cost $12. We ordered a round of rum punches but had packed a cooler for a picnic lunch on a nearby beach. It was at Taboo that I heard from Tessa Callwood, Foxy’s wife and Taboo manager, about the unique boatbuilding project at the old Foxy’s. Checking this out, I encountered the barefoot legend himself, sprawled out on a hammock and watching television on the open “special events” roofed deck above the sand-floored bar. He was wearing a “Soundings” T-shirt — a cool coincidence.

What’s going on here is something of keen interest to Foxy as chairman of the Jost Van Dyke Preservation Society, and a sponsor of a home-grown product: the building of a traditional Jost Van Dyke Island Sloop. Under the supervision of Capt. Kevin Gray, who has lived on JVD since the early 1970s, the lofting of this 32-foot wooden sloop is being laid out on this dance floor, and Foxy helps whenever he can.

“We hope to enter this sail-training vessel for a crew of island youths to race in Foxy’s Wooden Boat Regatta next May,” says Gray, 67, the JVD32 project director who has set up a laptop computer operation above the bar where Foxy usually serenades his patrons in late afternoon after naps.

Preliminary sketches of the old island cargo sloops were fashioned by JVD elders Ivan Chinnery, Vancieto George, Baba Hatchett, Claudius Callwood, Mark Morris, Orlando Martin and others. Blueprints were provided by naval architect Mark Gammon of Halifax, Nova Scotia. JVD students Ruby Pickering, Gawain Walters, and Delvin Leonard helped build the strongback.

There are many contributors, including Island Marine Outfitters, which has provided primary funding of $4,000 in building materials for hull construction under a shed behind Foxy’s establishment. Tax-deductible donations are being solicited for the project.

Three known Tortola sloops similar to the JVD32 are in existence, the oldest being the 1882 Vigilant built by William Penn in Tortola’s East End. She now lies on the hard at Sand Spit in West End awaiting hull repairs.

The typical full-keel Tortola sloop was up to 30 feet in length, with a large leg-of-mutton mainsail, overlapping jib, high bow and sweeping sheer. It carried passengers and cargo around both the U.S. and British Virgin Islands.

The Island Sloop Society, supported by Tortola’s West End Yacht Club, is working with the JVD Preservation Society to build and preserve island sloops. For information, visit www.sloopnews.org, or e-mail Gray at captkevingray@yahoo.com .

Jack Sherwood is writer at large for Soundings.