Sailing in the British Virgin Islands

Friends who don’t sail ask me what the Caribbean is like and my answer is always the same:

“Imagine a picture on a postcard with white sandy beaches, clear blue skies and turquoise waters, well that’s the reality” and that is one of the factors that brings me back there year after year. And then there’s the sailing. The British Virgin Islands have some of the best sailing in the world. Apart from the sunshine, there are other factors that make it one of the top destinations for sailors every year. The islands are close together meaning that visitors can explore all the islands easily, stopping off for lunch on Cooper Island perhaps or taking a pit-stop to snorkel the Wreck of The Rhone.

The Baths, Virgin Gorda

The island chain that forms the British Virgin Islands means the waters are protected making for very pleasant sailing. Add to this the low tidal range and it makes for very easy cruising. The Trade Winds are constant in the BVI and of course we would not get very far without wind. There is a reason that the BVI is one of the most popular destinations for charter holidays. Sailing here is beautiful, accessible and above all great fun.

It is not all about sailing though and the fun does not stop once you have picked up a mooring for the night. The islands are friendly and cater well for visitors. Whether it is a trip to The Bitter End Yacht Club for some relaxing on the beach or a sunrise hike on Norman Island there is always something to do or somewhere to explore. The waters of the BVI are relatively shallow and an ideal place for marine life to grow. Snorkelling here is like being transported to a scene in Finding Nemo and the list of things to be spotted is huge. I still get excited every time I see a turtle. Whether I am following them to tag with one of our marine biology programs or just enjoying their company during a snorkel seeing one of these guys makes my day.

The islands themselves hold many treasures, The Baths on Virgin Gorda, Anegada, Sandy Cay and Jost Van Dyke are some of my favourite places to visit. The islands are diverse and whatever you are looking for you can probably find it here. Perhaps you want to relax in a hammock at Loblolly Bay on Anegada or maybe scrambling through the rocks at The Baths is more your cup of tea but wherever you find yourself it will be worth the visit.


Does this sound like your dream summer?  Check out our summer sailing camps for teens!


Empowering Teens Builds Self-Confidence

Adventures and challenges are the spice of life – sometimes they catch us off guard and other times we actively seek them out.  They may be small and simple or may consist of trying something outrageous you never thought you could/would actually do.  And after the adrenaline rush passes, most of us are left with a sense of satisfaction, pride, and unable to believe that we really just did “that” (whatever “that” may be for you).  If you have been a little nervous about stepping outside of your comfort zone but secretly wish for a little more adventure in your life, or if you are the type of person who craves excitement in all that you do – read on!
Sail Caribbean teen summer adventure camps are the perfect programs for teens looking for a unique and exciting way to spend summer vacation.  Not only do teens get to participate in sailing, scuba diving and watersports, they also usually come away with some truly life-changing experiences and personal insights.  So, what is it that changes?  Why do testimonials from both students and parents repeatedly claim that teens return “more confident, independent and mature?”  Well, it’s just the nature of our programs.

You see, at the heart of every program is the concept of empowerment.  The goal is to provide teens with the tools they need to work as a real crew and run all aspects of life on a boat!  Cool, right?  Two of the most important tools each teen needs for that to happen are self-confidence and the ability to work as a team.  We are not born with or without these qualities – in order to master them, we first have to learn and then practice.  That’s what we do every day at Sail Caribbean while having the time of our lives!

The programs are tailored settings for teens to break the confines of their daily lives and explore their individuality and ability.  Teens are challenged daily to learn brand new skills, problem solve and communicate clearly with their crew.  Activities are carefully chosen and set up for success, but the crew has to work together to make it happen.  Self-confidence flourishes as each individual and group accomplishment is acknowledged by the whole crew with appreciation and pride!  The program also provides a safe and supportive environment which allows for mistakes to be made without judgement.  “To bail is not to fail!” is a common motto you will hear staff and teens alike heartily proclaim on a daily basis.  Here teens can truly begin to internalize that mistakes can translate into an opportunity to do something exceptionally well.

Each individual has a unique perspective and set of abilities to offer in any given situation.  Self -confident teens become more aware of the value of their own contributions as well as those of others.  This awareness easily and naturally translates into teens proudly and confidently taking ownership of situations they come across in their daily lives.  Often teens even begin actively taking on leadership roles among their peers – confident people make natural leaders!  Before you know it, you will find yourself at the helm confidently docking a 50ft yacht while directing the rest of your crew to their positions.  Just imagine all the other amazing things you are capable of doing!

Have you ever felt excited, proud, and more confident after encountering a new challenge or adventure?  Please share your experiences!


The Language of Light – Bioluminescence

As a child, one of my favorite things to do in the summer was to catch fireflies in my grandmother’s backyard.  My sisters and I would collect several in a mason jar and then scurry under a blanket to watch them glow.  It was always a truly magical experience!  Even if you live in a part of the world where fireflies are not frequent visitors, you most likely have at least heard of this natural phenomenon.  It seems like such a unique trick the famous firefly has – at least, I used to think so…It turns out that bioluminescence (the ability for a living organism to produce light) is a spectacular adaptation shared by many – from bacteria, to fungi, and all the way up to even a few species of sharks!  While there are many terrestrial and fresh water examples, beneath the hull of our sail boats the ocean is home to a stunning diversity of living glow-sticks.

And when the sun goes down, the light show becomes visible!

Click Me!

Photo From Here

The image and video above feature an array of microscopic Plankton – day or night, they are always in the water, but their tiny, transparent forms make them difficult to see without magnification.  So, why is what they do so much cooler than you or me turning on a flashlight or lighting a candle?  Imagine if when the power went out, and there were no batteries to be found, you could simply wiggle your ears and cause a clear blue-green light to shine from your nostrils!  Okay, so that example is a bit ridiculous – but I think it gets the point across.  Animals and plant-like algae have adapted to create light from their own body chemistry!

Are you intrigued yet?  You should be.  But if you are so far unimpressed (or better yet, really excited) – I DARE you to click this link 🙂

Bioluminescence: The Language of Light

Yeah…  that’s what I thought!  Awesome, right?

If you’re into the science of it all, the above video was composed primarily from Edith Widder’s TED presentation, which I really enjoyed.


Here is how it works – the process really is like cracking and shaking a glow stick.  There must be at least two chemicals involved and when they combine, light is produced.  The biological chemical which produces the light is generally referred to as “luciferin” and the catalyst enzyme (woo!  Chemistry is all around you!) is “luciferase.”  Luciferase helps luciferin combine with oxygen – the chemical reaction causes a burst of light, and leaves the oxidized luciferin inactive.  (Image From Here)

Luminescence is often confused with ‘florescence’ or ‘phosphorescence’ – check out the differences here.

So, why do so many organisms in the ocean bioluminesce?  Some species seem to have no apparent reason for glowing, but scientists have been able to narrow down a few categories for luminescent functions:

  • Communication – similar to twinkling lightning bugs
  • Locating Food – night vision goggles
  • Attracting Prey – think deep sea creatures such as the well-known angler fish
  • Camouflage – blending in with moonlight from the surface
  • Self Defense – glowing ink clouds!
  • Burglar Alarm – when threatened, the plankton emits as much light as it can, often in a distinct pattern, to attract larger predatorial animals to hopefully eat whatever is trying to eat the plankton.  It’s like calling the police!
Sometimes, when there is an overabundance of nutrients in the water, planktonic blooms occur – think of grass after a really good spring rain.  These are often referred to as Red Tides since the event typically results in a reddish discoloration of the water.  Red tides can cause a lot of problems, but they can also be breathtakingly beautiful.

Click for Video of Surfers in Bioluminescent Waves, Red Tide Event, September 2011

(Photo From Here)

A favorite evening activity for Sail Caribbean Teen Adventure Camps is to wait until the sun sets, don a snorkel and mask, and splash into the water to see these amazing bioluminescent creatures in real life!  You also get the opportunity to experience this phenomenon while on night-time scuba dives, snorkels and sails.  Check out some of the Sail Caribbean Trip Updates regarding bioluminescent adventures last summer.

Do you have any questions or comments about bioluminescence?  I would love to explore this topic further in the directions most interesting to you!  Also, please share your favorite stories and experiences with the rest of us!


A Measure of Success on Sierra

Pursuing Interests

Like all Sail Caribbean programs, Sierra Tropical Marine Science inspires students. It helps them recognize that whatever they set their minds and hearts on is a goal that can become a reality. Steven Viegas and Elise McBride, two Sierra students who were inspired to pursue their interests, decided to attend Eckerd College’s Marine Biology program.

As a returning Sail Caribbean student and a marine science enthusiast, Steven made every effort to understand the marine ecosystems and learn how to help protect and preserve them. Throughout the Sierra Program, he showed his willingness to push his comfort zone and learn new skill sets. He led his peers in many projects including Coral Watch and REEF Fish Surveys. Steven also developed and presented a lesson on the health and importance of local coral reefs, and helped lead an activity for local BVI Youth Empowerment Project students. Unsure at first, Steven pushed his comfort zone and grew tremendously.

Elsie also demonstrated her great enthusiasm for learning. With commitment, cheer and ambition she set a high standard for her peers to look up to. Her positive attitude and motivation helped to further inspire both students and staff. Elsie helped with multiple research projects and was exemplary with all her written and presented work. Her potential was clear to all who met her. It was evident that she was committed and devoted in all her endeavors.

These two students were a tremendous asset not only to the program, but to their peers and instructors as well. After Sierra, Elsie and Steven decided to pursue marine biology as a larger part of their life. In preparation, they each requested letters of recommendation from their Sierra instructors in pursuit of acceptance into Eckerd College’s Marine Studies program. Eckerd College is small liberal arts school based in St. Petersburg on the eastern coast of Florida known for its Marine and Environmental studies programs. Both Elsie and Steven have been notified of their acceptance into Eckerd and are very excited to begin courses next month. Laurie and I, instructors on the 2010 Sierra Program, are very proud and know Elise and Steven will continue to accomplish great things.

A Successful New Program

Working as an instructor for Sail Caribbean is a highly rewarding job. The programs are dynamic and progressive and are geared to help young adults realize their goals and build life skills. In 2010, Sierra Tropical Marine Science was launched. Its goal was to take advantage of the natural resources available in the BVI and provide an in-depth, hands-on marine science program. Sierra provides a foundation for students like Elsie and Steven who have a passion for marine science. It advances students’ knowledge and understanding of the world’s oceans and builds in them a commitment to become a good steward of the seas. Last summer, students just like Elsie and Steven proved time and again that they were willing to devote hours and energy toward the goals they set for themselves.

Sail Caribbean spent a great deal of time analyzing the Sierra program’s success. There are many ways that success can be measured and, with a holistic view, we did our best to account for all of them. We received student feedback while we were running the program and again once it ended. Using that feedback, combined with demonstration of understanding through review sessions, we are able to measure student satisfaction and achievement. We found the happiness, motivation and ambition of the students, as well as group dynamics and cohesion was altogether positive.

Challenge and Reward

Working as an educator can be challenging. There are many factors determining the joy instructors and educators derive from their work. The greatest factor is the positive relationship formed with students. This friendship brings the most inspiration to our work. Every educator wants to see students achieve their goals and succeed. As a Sail Caribbean instructor, the relationships and friendships that form are stronger and last longer than ever anticipated. Making these friendships and knowing the work we do has such a positive impact on the lives of our students is profound and rewarding beyond measure. The pride that comes when we see our students challenge themselves, apply what they learn with us, and continue to pursue goals afterward is what drives us to do the best that we can as mentors.

Knowing that our work has impacted the lives of Elsie and Steven is a perfect example of the driving force behind our choice to teach. I am proud to have helped inspire and intrigue these young adults, and wishes them well in all their future ventures. May the wind be at their back, the sun on their face and may they always find a safe port at night!

By: Graham Benton, Sierra Captain

Prepare a Moveable Feast

Students are all smiles while eating on Sail Caribbean.

Good food is a sure way to avoid a mutiny at sea. The galley on a sailboat is an altar to efficiency, designed to minimize space but maximize utility. A two-burner stovetop, miniature oven, and compact counter space aren’t reasons to sacrifice your taste buds. And although almost everyone enjoys a fresh seafood catch of the day, don’t rely just on your fishing rod to whet your appetite. The prudent chef plans healthy, varied meals. With the right tools, prep, and plan, you can enjoy gourmet cuisine underway, spending less time below and more time on deck enjoying the finished product.


Provisioning with fresh, local foods is essential to good meals.

The first and most important step is stocking your stores properly. Canned goods go a long way and save money, but may not always satisfy your pallet on their own. To ensure for healthy, creative meal options, selectively supplant your floating pantry with fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, spices and herbs. Choose ingredients based upon preferences and allergies given by your crew prior to your trip to the market. When charting your course, take into account how many days you will be at sea, and plan provisioning stops along the way to replenish depleted supplies.


Most charter sailboats provide ample cupboard space. The only limiting factor in food storage is usually refrigerator capacity and design. There is only one correct way to pack this appliance: NEATLY. Store meat and dairy at the bottom, the coldest part of your onboard icebox. On top, place vegetables and bread. Separate and seal everything (double-bag with meats) to avoid unwanted leakage. Unpack and clean everyday, reevaluating each food groups’ status. Don’t be afraid to discard!

The gimbal stove is designed to rock and roll at sea.

The Stove

Most sailboats have a gimbal stove, meaning it can rock back and forth with the waves. Keep in mind its limitations when choosing your menu. If the seas are big, it might be a better day for a quick stir-fry than an involved pasta dish. Save the fresh broiled fish for a night when you’re tucked away in a protected cove or on a slip.

Keeping your heat source in mind is also essential—small burners mean that heating pots or pans with large surface areas can take time. A boat stove gives new meaning to the old wisdom that a watched pot will never boil, so be sure to plan accordingly when a recipe requires boiling water.

Conserve heat by using a lid on your pot or pan. This helps water boil much faster, especially if it is a tight-fitting lid, and helps evenly distribute heat on meats and other ingredients that need to be cooked thoroughly. Reusing hot water from one part of the dish (like pasta or potatoes) when heating up another can also save time and water, vital resources when underway. If available, a pressure-cooker will increase the pressure in the pot by not allowing steam to escape, raising the boiling point of the water and cooking faster. Alternatively, save time and fuel and enhance flavor by steaming vegetables or other foods instead of boiling them.

3 Preparation Tips

Staff and students work together, making meal prep fast and fun!

  1. Whenever possible, prepare your ingredients in advance. This is especially important for defrosting frozen foods earlier in the day. Make a goal of having all chopping, washing, and prep complete along with a basic understanding of the recipe before you add anything to the pan. Work in teams and to music, two essential ingredients in enjoyable cooking!
  2. Remaining flexible with ingredients can also make a big difference—if you’re short on time, scrap the mashed potatoes plan and toss your tubers in the oven for a simple-to-make potatoes au gratin—letting the oven do the work and keeping the small stovetop open for preparing your main course.
  3. To maximize efficiency in the galley use as few utensils as possible. This will ensure a speedy post-meal cleanup. Wash as you go and you’ll be surprised how much more pleasant a meal can be when you know the cookware is already clean!

With a little practice and patience, you’ll be preparing meals on board that rival your finest culinary exploits at home. Try the delectable recipe below, one of the many our students create from the Sail Caribbean Cookbook:


Approx Time: 45 mins
Difficulty: 2

Ingredients Directions
2 boxes of fettuccini pasta Boil 1/2 a pot of water, THEN add the pasta.
1 pkg. of shredded cheese Cook the pasta until it is soft but firm.
1 cup of Parmesan Drain off the water & put the pasta in a bowl.
1 broccoli head diced Toss with a little oil to keep from sticking.
2 green peppers diced Add the veggies to the cooking pot.
2 tomatoes diced Place 1/2 of the strips of cheese over veggies.
1 carrot diced Put the hot pasta on top of the veggies.
Parmesan or Pesto Top pasta with more cheese & cover with top.
Let sit 5 minutes to melt the cheese the toss.
Stir in butter and pesto or Parmesan to taste.

Underwater Photography Guide

Regardless of your experience level in photography and underwater exploration, combining the activities takes practice.  Water covers seventy percent of Earth’s surface, yet even the most seasoned photographers may never snap a shot in the deep.  Thanks to relatively recent technological advances in assisted breathing and water resistant materials, underwater photography has never been easier (and less expensive)!  Here are a few simple ways to help you capture better quality images on your next dive:

Get the “Right” Camera

With the advent of digital technology, film has slid into relic status.  That does not mean it is obsolete—with appropriate housing for a film camera one can capture impressive images—but it is not as easy as shooting with a digital camera.

The number of water resistant cameras available to consumers has increased exponentially in the 21st Century.  It is possible to produce quality images with almost any model.  A point-and-shoot gets the job done, but flexibility and quality are sacrificed a little.  Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) cameras will produce the best results, at a slightly higher cost.  There is no “right” camera, just the camera that fits your budget and underwater activity.


With any style photography, obeying basic composition rules is key to creating an appealing focus and story you want to tell.  First, place your subject in the viewfinder based on the “rule of thirds” because de-centering a subject is more interesting than keeping it dead center.  Keep an eye out for attractive lines and patterns.  When shooting motion, center your lens on the front of your moving subject to add anticipation.  Always place yourself either level with or below your subject to get a more appealing shot.  Last, keep an eye on the background and what depth of field you would like in the entire image.

What Happens to Light in Water?


A low-angle, ambient silhouette.

Without getting too technical, it is important to know the three things that happen when light hits water: refraction, reflection, and absorption.  Refraction is the bending of light rays, reflection sends them back in to the atmosphere, and specific wavelengths (colors) in the visible spectrum are fully absorbed by incremental depths (Red is only visible at shallow depths; blue much deeper).  Light intensity and individual colors diminish, which forces the underwater photographer to take action in these low-light situations…

Two Lighting Options: Ambient and Flash

A close flash captures vibrant colors.

The only two sources of light for your pictures include the Sun (ambient) and any artificial light (flash).  Both can be used effectively, but a flash affords more flexibility to the artist and increases visibility and color. Most cameras come equipped with that technology, but even a modest external strobe flash helps a camera capture far better quality images (coordinated with optimal composition, of course) than a simple, internal flash.  Since Ambient light is most intense and less reflective at midday, so plan your dive accordingly if you decide on natural light.

Practice on Land

Diving is limited and expensive, so take advantage of time above sea level to play around with your camera and composition rules.  The more photographs you take, the more quality images you will get.  Once you’ve got it down, strap on an air tank and make the transition!

Ambient Abyss

Ambient, natural sunlight creates a story without flash.

Dive! Dive! Dive!

You are now ready to jump in—go ahead!  SCUBA diving should only be done with proper training and/or guidance, so if you are not a certified diver, you will need to take the PADI (or equivalent) course.  You can tackle the course anywhere in the world, and there is no better place to dive than the Caribbean, Belize, or Australian coral seas.

Fill Your Memory Card (And Your Memory)

Snap Away! The more pictures you take, the more high quality images you will get.  Don’t forget to look up at your subjects and not just through a viewfinder!  Spend more time with underwater ecosystems and experienced divers and the photography opportunities will increase in quality and frequency.

For more complete, comprehensive underwater photography guides, check out websites by Scott GietlerSea Friends, and Eric H. Cheng.

Why Every PADI Diver Should be a Rescue Diver

Ecologically, our oceans are one of the most diverse habitats on earth, home to hundreds of thousands, if not millions of aquatic species, each unique in their color, shape, and size. With so much to explore, it is no surprise that for many, once they start diving, they find it very hard to stop!

Diving is about more than exploration. Experienced divers grow to respect the sport for the challenge and reward offered as one progresses up the certification ladder. Early PADI courses, including Discover Scuba Diving, Open Water, and Advanced Open Water, focus on developing core skills required for individuals to be knowledgeable and safe divers.

Once a diver reaches the Rescue Diver course, however, there is a distinct transition from internal awareness to more external awareness that includes not just your own safety and experience, but that of other divers around you.

The Rescue Diver course curriculum is an exciting combination of knowledge development and emergency simulation skills designed to further educate divers in preventing accidents as well as handling them. Divided into five sections covering self rescue, recognizing and managing stress in other divers, emergency management and equipment, rescuing panicked divers, rescuing unresponsive divers, the Rescue Diver Course is the most comprehensive non-professional course that PADI offers.

What really makes the Rescue Diver course so valuable, is the balanced development of both tangible and intangible skills. By nature of the course materials, participants develop a series of intangible leadership and communicative skills. Simultaneously, through learning the skills and knowledge required to help other divers, participants also build confidence in their own diving ability. In fact, many individuals leave the rescue diver course a more confident individual AND diver. A recent poll of Sail Caribbean fans on their thoughts and experience with the rescue diver course garnered this response from Erica Pacal, a 2009 staff member and dive master.

“I absolutely would recommend the course, and I’m not just saying that. The Rescue Diver course was by far my favorite and the most valuable course I’ve ever taken. It makes you a stronger and confident diver” -Erica Pacal, Sail Caribbean Facebook Page

In conclusion, whether you’re a novice diver or experienced and debating whether or not to continue onto the Rescue Diver course, don’t hesitate. This is one course that every diver should have a goal of completing, making you both a safer and more confident diver.

For those interested in completing the Rescue Diver Course, our Sail Caribbean Charlie Teen Program: Advanced Scuba, Watersports, & Scuba, gives you the opportunity. From your first dive, through dive master, let Sail Caribbean summer programs and the Sail Caribbean Divers help pave the way.

Click here to visit the PADI site and learn more about Rescue Diver Course

Take a look at the Introduction to the PADI Rescue Diver Course Video