BVI: Sailing Adventure On The HIHO

Her face is a blur. The music is loud. People surround us, cheering her on. They're wearing black eye patches. But no matter, she moves in close to me, arches her head back and grabs my shirt for support. I'm sent off balance. I step on Virgin Atlantic billionaire Sir Richard Branson's foot. He quickly waves off my apology, points toward the mystery woman, gives me a thumbs- up and smiles. See the photos.

That's when it hits me. I'm not dreaming. This woman, this sinewy, wildly rhythmic woman dancing before me is my wife. The cheering crowd? Our new best friends, all of them dressed as pirates. Sir Richard Branson? Yep, he's part of this too. Earlier in the week, he hosted a lunch for our group on Necker Island, his private retreat, which costs upwards of $40,000 a night to rent.

But make no mistake, this isn't an exclusive gathering. Nor am I flaunting a life experience you may never afford. Instead, it's just one highlight of the Highland Spring HIHO, a week-long event that blends island hopping, catamaran cruising and partying through the BVI's — all in the guise of a windsurfing race. Tonight is the much-anticipated Pirate Party at the Last Resort restaurant, perched over Trellis Bay on Beef Island.

"Are you a pirate or a pansy?" asks windsurfer Rusty Henderson, handing me a painkiller, the local drink of choice. Rusty's offering is bittersweet. Tomorrow, we'll race our windsurfers 20 miles along the Sir Francis Drake Channel. We'll zip past Dead Chest Island where legendary pirate Blackbeard abandoned 15 men with a bottle of rum. Then we'll skip by Nanny Cay, a tropical marina at the base of Tortola's lush hills. We'll finish racing at Little Thatch, a private island only HIHOers have permission to enjoy.

"Drink it," demands my wife, pointing to the painkiller still in my hand. It's easy for her to push this. Unlike me, she won't be windsurfing in the morning. In fact, of the 135 participants in this year's Highland Spring HIHO, only 35 are windsurfers. That means the majority of tonight's pirates will sleep late tomorrow on their respective 43-foot, HIHO-provided catamarans, then spend the day cruising on board, taking in the sights, snorkeling and, yes, recovering. We windsurfers don't have that last luxury. Our daily races blaze the path that our flotilla of 19 catamarans follows, with the last race finishing where the HIHO fleet moors for the night. We've done this routine for four windy days, weaving through the Eustatia Sound of Virgin Gorda, over to the coral island of Anegada, and now to Tortola. Each day has included a lunch stopover on a remote, screen-saver-worthy beach, where we've eaten like kings, frolicked like kids and enjoyed the company of fellow HIHOers — many of whom are veterans of the event, and hail from places like Italy, France, the UK, Australia — you name it. "You've got to be loving this," says Roddy Grimes-Graeme, an Antiguan windsurfer, nodding toward my wife, whose provocative dancing remains in full swing.

"My girlfriend digs the HIHO too. That's a big deal, huh?" Indeed it is a big deal. Back home, my wife often feels like a widow to the wind. Today I spent five hours windsurfing, and she couldn't be happier with me. It's no wonder some HIHOers bring their families. Windsurfers or not, fun is fun. But for the moment, I'm questioning too much fun. The painkiller is still in my hand, untouched. My wife's dance marches on. Her face is a blur, but through all its motion, I see her wink at me. She wins, I decide, lifting the glass, shouting out a familiar toast. "HIHO!"

Plan Your Highland Spring HIHO

  • When: June 28-July 5, 2009
  • Contact:
  • Cost: $2,100 — includes meals and a cabin aboard a catamaran.
  • Getting there: Fly to Tortola — most U.S. flights connect through Puerto Rico.
  • Windsurfing: Gear is provided for an extra charge.
  • HIHO stands for: Hook In and Hold On. Windsurfers wear harnesses that hook to their sails to relieve arm pressure — a must for long-distance racing.