The British Virgin Islands is often described as the sailing capital of the world. Gentle trade winds blow constantly, and the islands offer a warm and sunny climate, many diverse sandy beaches and outstanding coral reefs in clear turquoise water for diving and snorkelling. But the BVI offer more…much more: History and nature have been kind to this unique archipelago. Here is a sample of the adventures awaiting in this sailor’s paradise:
1. Most sailing visitors to the BVI are those who have chartered a yacht and wish to have a great sailing experience with interesting stops. A short sail across the Sir Francis Drake Channel will bring you to Norman Island and the protected anchorage of The Bight. It was in one of Norman Island’s caves that a chest of 3,000 pieces of eight was found in 1910 or thereabouts. This is why certain names were given to the bays and promontories, like Treasure Point, Money Bay and Privateer Bay.
The underwater area at The Caves provides excellent snorkelling as does the nearby Indians, a formation of protruding rocks. The famous floating bar and eatery, the Willie T, is anchored in The Bight; and a beach bar and restaurant at the head of the bay is appropriately named Pirates. A beautiful, quieter and more secluded anchorage, Benures Bay, with delightful snorkelling is situated on the north side of the island.
2. Tacking up the north side of Peter Island you’ll pass several pretty bays, the most spectacular being Deadman’s Bay. This palm-lined swathe of sandy beach is next to the intriguing island of Dead Chest, and it’s ideal for a walk ashore or a swim in its tranquil turquoise water. To the east of Peter Island lies Salt Island, but the settlement on the island’s north side is now abandoned. Once the inhabitants harvested salt for use as a preservative, and the salt ponds can often be seen rimmed with dried sea salt. But what really makes Salt Island alluring is the wreck of the Royal Mail Ship Rhone. She sank in a terrifying hurricane in 1867 and rests in 30 to 80 feet of water — it’s arguably the best wreck dive in the entire Caribbean. The shallow part can be seen whilst snorkelling, and there are daytime mooring balls to tie up to for a temporary visit. Movie producers liked the site so much that they filmed portions of The Deep here in the 70s. If the wind is south or east, you can anchor off the settlement in relative seclusion.
3. Just a 10-minute jaunt eastwards from Salt Island is the next island, Cooper Island; and a popular restaurant sits just behind a quaint sandy beach. Another good snorkelling spot at Cistern Point can be reached by dinghy. The mooring field here can be crowded, so another option is available at Haulover Bay where there is just room for two or three boats. If the wind is south-east, the anchorage may be untenable. This bay is close by Wreck Alley where several derelict boats have been purposely sunk to make dive sites — perfect for scuba enthusiasts.
4. A short reach of about an hour will bring you to beautiful Marina Cay and a romantic story, the stuff of legend. A pioneering writer, Robb White, bought the island in 1937 and slowly but surely, with the help of wife, Rodie, built a sturdy little one-room cottage on the summit. In those days, the BVI existed on subsistence farming and fishing; there were few tourists. The couple existed on the ocean’s bounty; Robb would ask Rodie what she would like for dinner and then would dive the extensive surrounding reef and bring back a snapper, grouper or lobster; whatever was her wish. The couple’s lifestyle inspired White to write Two on the Isle, and Our Virgin Island, later to become a popular movie starring Sidney Poitier and John Cassavetes. Check it out and have a Pusser’s Painkiller at the beach bar.
5. The Baths is now on everyone’s list of must-do adventures with the unique trails through the granite, house-sized boulders. But the nearby island of Fallen Jerusalem has the same topography, and the tiny anchorage with only two mooring balls offers quiet seclusion. Sailing northeast in the lee of Virgin Gorda you’ll come to Mountain Point, where the diving and snorkelling are excellent. Wild goats can sometimes be seen scrambling up the rocky cliffs whilst turtles swim beneath the waves.
6. Your next stop will likely be Virgin Gorda’s North Sound, and a good anchoring spot is off Prickly Pear Island or behind Colquhoun Reef in about 10-20 feet in a good holding bottom. Then you can dinghy to any one of the area’s bars and restaurants. This locale, known as the billionaire’s playground, offers all kinds of activities: Hiking on the hills around the Bitter End Yacht Club and Biras Creek Resort presents stunning views. For watersports lovers you can rent any number of water craft from the Bitter End Yacht Club or perhaps you’d like to try the exciting and increasingly popular kiteboarding.
7. Anegada is 13 miles to the north of Virgin Gorda. An exhilarating beam reach will likely be your point of sail, and vigilance is needed here. Favour the western point of the island before turning into the channel — it’s well-marked on the chart and in the guidebook. The island of Anegada is a good example of the geological diversity of the BVI. It’s a flat, coral island with miles of pristine sandy beaches, and it’s on everyone’s wish list to visit. Jump in an open-air island-style bus or rent scooters, perfect on this flat island, then head for one of the spectacular north side beaches. Anegada is famous for its lobster dinners; there are plenty of choices and the sunsets are mesmerising.
8. The sail from Anegada to Jost Van Dyke, with the wind at your back and the scenic delight of Tortola’s north shore to port verifies the quote that the ‘‘pleasure is in the journey.’’ Both Sandy Spit and Sandy Cay are delightful islets with good snorkelling on calm days. Both offer that feeling of ‘‘having arrived’’ in a Caribbean paradise; turquoise water, powdery sand beach and waving palms. Nearby is the popular attraction of the Bubbly Pool. In north swell weather a small opening in the rocky cliffs of Jost Van Dyke’s north-east coast allows water to be forced into a natural pool. The swirling, frothy Jacuzzi provides a playground for young and old. The delightful anchorage between Little Jost and the main island of Jost Van Dyke offers more tranquillity than the party venues at Great Harbour, Little Harbour and White Bay.
The BVI is an exceptional sailing vacation destination. The above is just a sampling of some of the archipelago’s many attractions that should whet the appetite of even the most apprehensive dreamer.