Bare boat chartering is the best way to see the Virgin Islands.
We chartered a 41 foot sailboat out of Tortola, British Virgin Islands (BVIs), at the end of July. The 21st of July we left Tampa with the good news that no tropical weather was on the horizon. Our first adventure turned out to be our flight to the Caribbean. We flew into San Juan, Puerto Rico where we changed planes, from a jet to an 8 passenger Cessna! The flight from San Juan to Charlotte Amalie, in St. Thomas, American Virgins was uneventful and beautiful. The small plane glided over the many islets and rock promontories that dot the passage from Puerto Rico to St. Thomas. Once in Charlotte Amalie we took the Tortola Fast Ferry to Georgetown. This was our next adventure, zigzagging between the islands on a very large power catamaran, with other 100 or so passengers. The weather was beautiful if a little windy. Once in Georgetown we just had to go into Pusser’s for a very late lunch. Pusser’s is a local rum manufacturer and restaurant/boutique. The food is fabulous and the service friendly and fast. The restaurant is across from the ferry docks, so we walked there after a very accommodating Taxi driver took our luggage to the Moorings facility and promised to return for us in an hour.
Our first day afloat woke up somewhat gray and blustery. We learned that at that time of year the islands get a rain shower early in the morning and it’s usually cloudy with high clouds until the sun warms up and dries out the vegetation. The sun came out as we were leaving the channel and the wind kicked up. We clocked the winds that day at 28 knots (about 35 miles), but one of the many beautiful things in the BVIs is that while the wind may blow the seas stay choppy but no high waves form. There’s really not enough room between the islands for any sort of sea to build up.
Norman Island was our first stop. All the islands in this small chain are hilly promontories with deep small bays. We picked up a mooring at the Bight, the most visited spot on Norman, which is actually a private island. There are several pretty spots on Norman. You can dinghy ashore and have a very nice meal at the small beach shack and walk up the trail to the top of the hill for a look at the spot where the Atlantic and Caribbean meet. The snorkeling along the wall that encloses the Bight is decent, but the best diving/snorkeling will be at the caves by the entrance to the Bight. These are a short dinghy ride away. On your way in or out you can also pick up a mooring and dive “The Indians”, a series of rocks a short distance from Norman, right on Francis Drake Channel, where the snorkeling can be spectacular, but only on calm days as the current runs very swiftly through here.
Marchioneel Bay on Cooper Island is also a private place with a small resort by the beach and a great restaurant/bar. We picked up a mooring in front of the beach and got down for a “pain killer” at the bar. During the afternoon of sunning and swimming we met Eddy, our friend and companion barracuda during our stay in Cooper Island. It rested under the dinghy taking advantage of the shade and whenever we took the dinghy, it would move under the sailboat. Marchioneel Bay is a great spot to swim and do a little snorkeling around the rocks that surround the Southeast corner of the anchorage. But the main attraction of this flat island is the resort and its friendly people.
From Marchioneel Bay we continued east to The Baths, probably the most famous spot in the BVIs. The Baths are a series of winding tunnels, partly under water (up to your waist at times but mostly knee deep), in a crescent shape, which wind their way under the hills at the South end of Virgin Gorda. The view from the restaurant bar at the top of the hill is spectacular, as is the experience of walking through these caves made of great boulders, with sugar white sand underfoot. Swimming in these tunnels is an experience to remember.
Cane Garden Bay sits on the North side of Tortola at exactly the opposite end of the island from the capital, Roadtown. Tortola is a very high island, with the highest peak at over 2500 ft., making travel across the island difficult. This gives Cane Garden Bay the feel of a separate island. The views are spectacular, with the very high peak in the background and the very white crescent beach at the foot of the mountain. The small town has some very nice restaurants, several shops, and a couple of artisans, making it one of the most diverse places on the islands. Across the channel, and to the Northwest of Tortola sits Jost Van Dyke of several famous bars. The most notable is probably the Soggy Dollar Bar; famous for its pain killer, a rum concoction that brings many people to the small harbor of White Bay. The story goes that you must swim ashore, walk to the Soggy Dollar, have your pain killers and swim back to your boat. Most people dinghy ashore, but a couple in our group did the swimming to and from shore. The other famous bar is Foxy’s, in Great Harbor, where you can have a mediocre meal, a good drink and a great time. There’s live music most nights and the harbor is small enough that you can hear it from your boat, so you can party right at home.
The British Virgin Islands is a group of over 60 islands and rocks to visit and explore. One week is certainly not enough to see this Caribbean paradise.