Wednesday 23 December
We anchor in a wide bay off Tortola, the largest of the British Virgin Islands but still barely the size of Malta and with only 17,000 population. I’ve booked a tour but it’s not till afternoon so I don’t take the tender ashore till about 11 when I hope to find an internet cafe. I walk the scruffy streets of the capital Road Town for a hot hour without finding one, and with little else on offer - the cruise staff let me take a slightly earlier excursion.
We start with a boat ride out to the smaller islands surrounding, and it’s nice to be on the waves at a level you can feel you’re on a boat. The young Tortolan ‘captain’ and his assistant are funny and charming and they keep up a jolly commentary about the islands we pass, but nothing’s really close enough to see in detail and once the rum punch comes out, it’s just a pleasant trip round the bay. About 3pm we disembark at the western end of the island in a yacht marina called Soper’s Hole (I have to tell you also that the suburbs of Road Town are called John’s Hole and Free Bottom but I don’t manage to photograph the signs) and are somewhat abandoned there for an hour before open-sided island buses arrive to take us on the land part of the trip.
By this time it’s overcast and hazy and I’m bored so the journey back is dreary, and not improved by the fact the woman next to me, from Aberdeen, is sneezing and wheezing into an increasingly wet clump of tissue. I hope it’s hay fever rather than a cold, but I spend the journey with my head out of the window inhaling diesel fumes rather than her germs. It takes forever and we only just make it back for the last tender to the ship.
It’s probably a taste of things to come, and inescapable that sleepy Caribbean islands aren’t really very interesting unless they have great beaches or natural features like rainforest. I resolve to re-examine the tickets I’ve booked for future excursions and cancel the ones which are just coach tours of the island.
I have a pre-dinner drink with Jeff and Canadian David in a high-ceilinged bar called the Chart Room where they are hugely excited to spot Helen Mirren at an adjacent table.
After quite a bit of ‘no, don’t turn round’ I get a chance to see the lady herself and have to disappoint them by confirming it’s not Dame Helen. Unless she’s put on twenty pounds and rinsed her blonde hair in a mop bucket.
At dinner, I organise ‘Secret Santa’ and hope I’ve rigged it so someone with a bit of imagination gets my name.