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Hannah White: Sailing with Children

Hannah White is a passionate sailor and broadcaster, used to pushing boundaries. After setting a new Guinness World Record in 2015 for the ‘Fastest crossing of the English Channel in a single-handed dinghy’, Hannah set her sights on sailing in the British Virgin Islands with her newborn baby in tow. Just a few short months after Hurricane Irma, this was no ordinary vacation. But, inspired by the resilience and tenacity of locals, Hannah set out on an adventurous island hop. Read on to see how she fared.   

Baby on board a Sunsail boat

Taking the leap

The idea of heading to the British Virgin Islands for a Sunsail sailing holiday just five months after Hurricane Irma and Maria was, I thought, a risky one. As a family, adventure is in our blood, but now, with a 6-month-old daughter, like many other new parents, our focus when planning a holiday has fundamentally changed.

The images of the Caribbean following Hurricane Irma in September 2017 painted a very sobering picture. The decision ultimately came down to managing our expectations. I had many conversations with people in the region – local business owners and other contacts in the Caribbean – and all painted the same picture. A clear picture. Yes, the region was badly damaged, and yes it will take time to repair, but they’re on the right track, and they need people to visit; they need tourism to continue.

My priority, of course, was my seven-month-old daughter Olivia and trying to establish what we would need to take with us and what would be available on the islands. Google was indeed my best friend, and I was soon able to make contact with a supermarket in Tortola. Soon enough, I had placed an order for enough nappies and baby wipes to fill our ship!

My focus then moved onto baby equipment. From bouncers to baths and high chairs to cots, it had to be light, compact, and easy to tie down – a leisurely upwind sail could easily be ruined by a high chair sliding to leeward!

On arrival, we were greeted by this impressive and immaculate new compound – a huge building, reminding me of a 5-star hotel. Beyond the reception area, the boats were lying proud, and our Sunsail 404 – a Premier Plus boat with just one trip under her belt, was ready and waiting. Loaded to the gunnels with food, drinks, and nappies, the yacht had everything we needed to make the trip a success.

Sunsail conducts an obligatory skipper’s handover and thorough chart briefing, which, given the changes to “normal operation” currently in the BVI, was even more useful. Availability of fuel, water, and provisions dominated the conversation. Understandably, there were a lot of questions. 

“Are there mooring buoys in Anegada?”

“Is the Soggy Dollar Bar still open?”

“How much debris is in the water?” 

We walked away well informed and ready for our journey. 

Despite sailing many boats, I have never sailed a cruising catamaran, let alone driven a 40ft long and 22ft wide cat under motor with twin sail drives with double lever throttles. Sensing my slight apprehension of manoeuvring her in front of a gaggle of eager onlookers, the Sunsail team came to my rescue, talked me through the controls in more detail, and helped us cast off, all to the soundtrack of a hungry, jet-lagged baby!

Empty Anchorages

Family walking on the beach

Our first port of call was The Indians – just a couple of miles SSW of Wickham Cay and one of the most popular snorkelling spots in the BVI. In just under an hour, we were picking up a mooring buoy and jumping into the sea, with snorkels, and flippers at the ready. These four rocky columns rise straight up out of the water, about 100 feet from the ocean floor. A lot of the coral was still covered in sand and, in some places, broken and surrounded by debris, but I didn’t have to swim far before signs of regrowth were appearing, with an abundance of fish bringing life and vibrant colours back to the seabed.

After lunch, we left our mooring buoy to find an overnight anchorage. Some friends had been in touch to say they were spending the night in Manchioneel Bay, Cooper Island, a two-hour sail away, so off we went.

I had read about a lack of mooring buoys, so I was prepared to anchor in many of the bays, but Manchioneel Bay set the tone for the whole week, and the biggest problem we had was choosing which ball to tie up to! 
Olivia’s first evening on board was pretty successful, albeit a little unorthodox: an early evening play on the bow trampoline, an outside bath while watching the sunset, and an ice-cold bottle of milk while we enjoyed a glass of rose and lit the BBQ. 

Anegada: coral and clear waters

father and baby

The forecast for the week was for an increasing breeze, and I was keen to get to Anegada – some 20 miles north of Virgin Gorda. With a steady 15-20 knot Easterly, today was the day to do that trip before the breeze and swell built!

Cooper Island to Anegada was a five-hour sail. Reaching speeds of 8-10 knots, the boat performed superbly, providing a stable platform that allowed Olivia to sleep for the entire crossing, granting us some time for sunbathing and wildlife spotting! Flying fish, pelicans, loggerhead turtles, we saw them all. Just as sleeping beauty stirred from her sleep, we spotted the low-lying volcanic island, which sits only 8.5m above sea level.

Surrounded by an abundance of shipwrecks and reefs, access to Anegada harbour is challenging, and on more than one occasion, I was very glad to be in a shallow-drafted cat. Once moored, we buzzed ashore in search of some freshly caught lobster. Taxis and mopeds are both easy to come by on the island and will take you to a number of fun bars and idyllic beaches. We headed to Cow Wreck Bay, and idyllic it was. Anegada was barely touched by the hurricanes, and some locals affectionately refer to it as the “windy day”. As a result, Cow Wreck Bay on the north of the islands still remains one of the most stunning beaches in the world. An afternoon playing in the sea, snorkelling on the reefs, and trying to stop Olivia eating sand came and went, and we headed back to the boat.  

Flamingos

mother and baby

Anegada is home to a 150-strong flamingo population, which I was desperate to see. As the sun came up the next morning, a friendly taxi driver took us to the viewing point, some 1.5km from the flamingos. Using a drone, I managed to see what I had long dreamt of seeing. A flamboyance of flamingos in their natural habitat. 

Continuing our trip, we headed into the North Sound of Virgin Gorda, a mecca for sailing’s rich and famous. Picking up a mooring buoy off Prickly Pear Island, it was time to head ashore and explore. I felt so many emotions as I cruised past Saba Rock in the dinghy. A place I had once drunk many a Dark and Stormy was currently in ruins. However, I was comforted by the fact that, like the coral under the water, signs of life were everywhere.  Locals were working away, sifting through the rubble and clearing the rubbish, and the clean-up has well and truly begun. 

For supper, we headed to Leverick Bay, on the other side of the sound. It is a part of the island that has well and truly rallied, rebuilt, and kept the party vibe alive! As if nothing had happened, Leverick Bay delivered, as did the Michael Bean’s Pirate Show and happy hour – not to be missed! 

Sail the BVI 


“Keep your eyes peeled for the rest of Hannah’s adventure, which will continue in our next blog post. Sign up to our newsletter to receive the latest news, promotions, and sailing inspiration straight to your inbox.”

Contributor

Ian Pedersen

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