Rider and Words: Graham Harney
Photos: Colin Harney
Location: British Virgin Islands
Date: Wednesday January 5th, 2022

Although he cut his teeth on the kitesurfing pro tour, Graham Harney has, like many, since realized the potential for increased water time that comes with owning a foil and a wing. Packing it for his annual family Christmas trip to the tropics turned out to be a savvy move…

You don’t choose your parents. My brother Colin and I got lucky, for many reasons, but one that becomes ever present around Christmas time. I am now 25, and for every year of my life and Colin’s too, we’ve traveled south to the British Virgin Islands (BVI) to spend Christmas holidays with our mum’s side of the family. Every year except 2020 for obvious reasons! Our mum was born on the Island of Tortola, and her mum and brother still call the islands their home. This year’s trip was especially important to be together because of Grandad’s passing last spring.

The British Virgin Islands are an especially wonderful place to be during the winter. At this time of year, the Caribbean trade winds are so consistent that for sailing regattas they write in the notice of race, ‘winds WILL BE 20-25 knots from the east’. Tortola is also nicely exposed to open waters, creating ideal conditions for downwinders. This year however was unusually calm for a lot of our trip, and on numerous occasions I found myself especially thankful I’d decided to bring the foil and wing setup, rather than kiteboarding gear.

This day was no exception. Late morning after a solid session of yoga, meditation, and a fresh fruit family breakfast, we met up with Sam, a longstanding Tortolan friend of ours. He had suggested we venture by boat upwind to an island by the name of ‘Dead Chest’ across from Dead Man’s Bay, Peter Island. Legend has it that

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Captain Blackbeard once marooned his crew on Dead Chest as punishment, each with only a cutlass and a bottle of rum. Those bold enough to brave the swim to Dead Man’s Bay either drowned or were eaten alive by sharks. The channel between these two points is completely exposed to the east, making it a perfect spot to tow into what little wind swell there was. Both Sam and I took turns surfing swell downwind through schools of flying fish and past the odd turtle or ray. Dead Chest is a magnificently aesthetic little island with exposed rock cliffs rising abruptly from the blue. Colin did his best to shoot from the boat, a constant learning curve, and between rides we would all relax on the sides of the RIB and take in the Caribbean ambiance.

Next, we ventured 30 minutes around the bottom of Tortola and north to Jost Van Dyke, a neighboring island home to the famous Soggy Dollar Bar. After dropping anchor and backing the boat into the beach among all the others having done the same, we enjoyed a satisfying lunch of roti and local fish accompanied by Painkillers (a popular Caribbean rum cocktail) and beer, and a swim. Then we upped anchor and journeyed upwind towards the perfectly picturesque islands of Sandy Cay and Sandy Spit. Colin had a go foiling behind the boat, his first time ever with a foil under his feet; a new experience for him and as most of you will appreciate, a scary one. By then it was late afternoon, and the sun was beginning to recede toward the horizon. The bountiful colors of the BVI illuminated by a late afternoon sun never fail to take my breath away.

It’s not uncommon to cross paths with some of the world’s most incredible yachts while in the BVI. That afternoon we met ‘Nahlin’, a 300ft yacht launched in 1930, and originally powered by steam turbines. Now owned by the founder of Dyson Vacuums, she has been extensively restored. Colin thought she would make for an epic backdrop, and within a few minutes I’d pumped my wing and jumped into the ocean. Someone usually makes a comment about ‘big fish’ whenever diving into deep water.  While there are certainly sharks around, I’ve yet to have one mistake my foil for a tasty snack…

I am a rookie when it comes to winging, and all the many disciplines of foiling that become accessible with the right gear. However, Ocean Rodeo’s 5m Glide A-Series with the 100% ALUULA airframe, and Takuma’s 55L Carbon and 1210 Kujira Foil felt like the perfect combo for most of what this trip had on offer. Anything from 12 knots calm and steady, to a 30+ knot rain squall was game on.

The wind was calm but steady this day, perfect conditions for cruising around on foil. A yacht like Nahlin is particularly impressive up close, and the crew appeared relaxed as I glided silently underneath the tremendous overhang of the stern and bow sprit. The sun set as we made our way back to Nanny Cay Marina on Tortola, the taste of beer in our mouths, sand and salt in our hair, and a real feeling of bliss at our surroundings…

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