Above and Below the Waves:
For many travellers the siren call of the Caribbean is all about the water. Sports enthusiasts — from the novice snorkeller to the seasoned diver — find relaxation and challenge the twin benefits to this sparkling azure sea.
The winter months provide great surfing off Tortola’s north shore and just enough gusto in the trade winds to keep sailors tacking happily up the Sir Francis Drake Channel. The steady breeze also challenges kiteboarders and windsurfers with full sails.
During the high season (November-April), the white sheets of happy sailors can be seen all over the 60 islands and cays that comprise this British territory. One does not have to be a qualified captain to enjoy the experience, as Tortola is home base to many charter companies with crewed yachts willing to assist. One of them is The Moorings, which offers bareboat, crewed and power yacht charters, as well as a sailing school. A great resource for finding a boat and crew tailor-made for your needs is the BVI Charter Yacht Society, which represents the independently crewed yachts in the Territory. bvicrewedyachts.com
The premier sailing event in the islands, the BVI Spring Regatta & Sailing Festival occurs at the end of March annually. It is one of the top three sailing competitions in the Caribbean C.O.R.T. (Caribbean Ocean Racing Triangle) circuit. There is always an impressive fleet of boats that arrive for this exciting challenge, which guarantees “warm water and hot racing.” bvispringregatta.org
Other regattas offer competitive sailors unique choices and opportunities. One that throws professional sailors with amateurs together on the same yacht is the annual Pro Am Regatta held in October at the Bitter End Yacht Club in Virgin Gorda. Amateur sailors get the opportunity to crew on boats skippered by America’s Cup captains and Olympic medalists. That’s equivalent to having a tennis lesson from Roger Federer.
The new Caribbean base for the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda at Oil Nut Bay Resort and Beach Club on Virgin Gorda offers mega-yacht owners a chance to compete in an event especially designed for yachts 100’ and over. The Loro Piana Caribbean Superyacht Regatta & Rendezvous now in its third year falls in mid-March, allowing superyacht and motor yacht owners three days of racing, cruising and special evening entertainment.
For enthusiasts of the classic wood boats of yesteryear, Foxy’s Wooden Boat Regatta is now in its 38th year and held at Jost Van Dyke at the end of May. Stately one-of-a-kind wooden beauties compete in the party-filled, two-day event.
In these warm buoyant waters, snorkelling is an easy sport to pick up, with no lessons needed. You can rent masks and fins from dive shops on the islands, and many guest villas and resorts include snorkelling gear as part of the stay. Where to snorkel? Right off the beach is a good place for beginners. Prime snorkelling on Tortola is located at Smuggler’s Cove and Brewer’s Bay on the west end of the island. The Baths on Virgin Gorda are considered a must, even young children will enjoy peering at the teeming sea life amidst the boulders and protected pools of water.
A full-day adventure to some of the outer islands is highly recommended. Many popular day charter vessels offer trips to the Caves and the Indians at Norman Island — two excellent reef locations known for parrotfish, blue tang and even an occasional friendly barracuda. Jost Van Dyke with its small cays — Green Cay and Sandy Spit — are also popular snorkelling areas, as is Loblolly Bay on the north shore of Anegada, which can be reached by ferry or plane.
Divers around the world have often heard of the BVI, and that is directly related to the famous wrecks that beckon from the ocean floors. The most famous is the RMS Rhone, a British steamship that was caught in a hurricane in 1867 and met its watery demise off Salt Island. Now a virtual aquarium for coral and fish, the bow section lies in about 80 feet of water and pieces of the stern and the propeller are easily seen. Dive operators lead daily excursions to the site for one- and two-tank dives. All divers must be certified. For those who want to get a taste of diving, there are brief “resort courses” available that enable you to experience a shallow water dive. Blue Water Divers, with locations at Nanny Cay Marina and Soper's Hole Marina, has a staff of seven instructors and operates four dive boats.
“Let’s go surfing now, everybody’s learning how” might have been lyrics to a song popularised by The Beach Boys, but the allure of surfing spread outside of California. The ground swells that roll in toward the north shore of Tortola during the winter months bring with them surfers from around the world. Popular surf spots include Apple Bay, Cane Garden Bay and Josiah’s Bay. Surfboard rentals and lessons are available at watersports centres on Tortola.
Kayaking opportunities abound in the islands. The sport has become so popular that many yachts have kayaks as part of their sports gear when in anchorage. This is an ideal family outing as the skills needed are easy to learn with just a few basic instructions. From two-seater tandem ocean kayaks to small little “mangrove explorers,” there are kayaks to fit every size and type. Trellis Bay Watersports Centre offers day and weekly rental packages and is a great jump off point to several islands, within a 45-minute paddle. If you are a bit nervous about exploring on your own, experienced kayak guides lead groups on a half- or full-day tours.
A gentler cousin to surfing affectionately known by its acronym SUP, stand-up paddleboarding originating in Hawaii from surfing instructors who needed to stand on their boards to oversee their surfing initiates. Soon long paddles were developed to skim through the water and voilà — a sport was born.
SUP boards are generally much longer than contemporary surfboards, averaging about 12 to 14 feet in length. Lightweight paddles made from a carbon/Kevlar mix are designed with a flexible extension to fit the height of the paddler. SUP is best performed in quiet bays and mangroves like those found around the bridge at Beef Island. However, if you want to match your skill against some of the sport’s growing ranks of pros, the Highland Spring HIHO has now added stand-up paddleboarding to the competition.
This is a sport that attracts those who love to sail at great speeds. Many start off with a few cursory lessons at a watersports centre on the island and then quickly become addicted. Boardsailing BVI owner Jeremy Wright has even perfected a moving windsurfing model on the sand at his Trellis Bay location, which he insists will make you a pro in a few hours.
An adventure sport loved by the young and old, windsurfing has spawned an annual international competition held in the BVI, which is now in its 29th year. The Highland Spring HIHO is held the last week of June and attracts competitors who race around the islands. Sailboats serves as floating accommodations and are generally filled with not only racers but their family and friends. Islands serve as race point destinations and also the venue for evening celebrations. Sir Richard Branson, a windsurfing enthusiast, has kindly hosted several events on his private paradise, Necker Island. Visit go-hiho.com for more information.
Windsurfers who want even more excitement add a kite to the mix, changing the vertical dynamic greatly. Kiteboarding not only propels you at great speeds, but allows you to swing up in a gust of air and do a 360, if so desired. This sport is not for the faint of heart or the untrained: Lessons are a must for this risky sport. One of the more popular spots to see kiteboarders in action is off Cow Wreck Beach on Anegada. Now with daily ferry service from Tortola, this is a potential day adventure with lots of action. For those wanting some warm-up lessons, a kiteboarding centre that has a range of lesson packages is located at the Bitter End Yacht Club in the North Sound of Virgin Gorda. Visit caribkiteboarding.com for more details.
Fishing has long been a way of life in the BVI. Local fishermen still provide a fresh source of reef fish, lobster and some deep-sea fish. Visitors to the islands must get fishing permits from the Conservation and Fisheries Department in Road Town. Permits have already been approved if you’re on a fishing charter. Fly-fishing can be arranged with operators either on Tortola or Anegada. Skilled fly fishermen know just how to maneuver their flat-bottomed boat using a pole in the shallows to reach the elusive jacks or the popular bonefish found in Anegada.
For the deep-sea fishing enthusiasts, Speedy’s Charters out of Virgin Gorda is a popular operator who customises full- and half-day charters and can arrange customised pickups if you are staying on Tortola. Most keen fisherman know the best spot for catching marlin, wahoo and tuna is the North Drop off Virgin Gorda. For those who love the thrill of fishing tournaments, the Bitter End Yacht Club hosts the annual BVI Billfish Tournament at the end of July. This all-release blue marlin tournament is filled with nightly social activities and events. For more information, visit beyc.com.
Blue Water Divers
Nanny Cay Marina & Soper’s Hole Marina
Tel: 494-2847; 495-1200
Fax: 494-0198; 495-1210
Come dive the fabulous “Blue Water” of the British Virgin Islands! Let Blue Water Divers BVI make your scuba diving vacation a truly memorable experience!
Deep-Sea Fishing with Speedy’s
Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda
Tel: 495-5235; 495-5240
Choose from our custom-designed fishing boats: our 31-foot Bertram, Speedy’s Adventure; or our 44-foot Southern Cross, Speedy’s Unbelievable, for the more seriously adventurous and comfort-inclined fisherman. Both full- and half-day charters are available.
Dolphin Discovery Tortola
Prospect Reef Resort
Make your dreams come true with this experience of a lifetime. The breathtaking and intimate discovery of swimming and playing with dolphins in the ocean is exhilarating. These amazing mammals exhibit unique behaviours, creating magical memories.
What would make your BVI vacation complete? Whether its boating, biking, hiking, team sports, horseback, surfing, snorkeling, diving, windsurfing, kayaking, kite boarding, sailing, fishing — get the 411 on who to contact right here.
Learn more about each island of the BVI and its beautiful pristine beaches, here.