British Virgin Islands (BVI) – the Sailing Experience
With calm ocean waters, steady winds, well sheltered and picturesque bays and glorious views, complimented with pirate-themed bars and full-moon parties no wonder British Virgin Islands, or BVI for short, have become one of the major sailing hubs of the Caribbean.
It is a great destination for many charter yacht trips, sailboat charters luxury yachts charters, and ocean liner cruises touring the Caribbean like. Maybe the word British in the islands’ name sounds a bit too chilly, but there is not even a trace of cold and fog – the islands are as Caribbean at heart as they can be!
Planning a Virgin Islands Vacation? Wondering which way to sail best?
We have been in British Virgin Islands quite a few times for sailing yacht and catamaran trips and are thrilled to share some insights that will help you feel at home and coming for more BVI sailing adventures every year.
British Virgin Islands – Island Tortola -The official Warm Welcome
When you are traveling to the British Virgin Islands for your unforgettable BVI vacation, does not matter for what kind of adventure – yacht sailing, surfing or scuba diving – you will arrive in Tortola Island. Tortola – is the largest of the islands of the group with the capital of Road Town at its heart.
Tortola Island is also the home of roughly 80% of the population (roughly 25,000). The island is also well known Caribbean charter boat hub and convenient stop for yachts and catamarans of both local and sailing across the Caribbean. Most British Virgin Islands yacht and charters and bareboat charters are based here.
The island itself offers magnificent views with sharp peaks covered in lush greenery and picture-perfect pristine secluded sandy beaches: Brewer’s Bay, Smuggler’s Cove, Long Bay Beach, Apple Bay, Elizabeth Beach, and Josiah’s Bay Beach – will certainly give you enough variety. You could spend your entire Caribbean dream vacation right here.
Road Town, the capital of the British Virgin Islands, with its slightly over 9000 population boasts a harbor filled with sailing boats and yachts of all shapes and sizes. Stroll down Tortola Pier park alongside the cruise-ship dock with its brightly painted signature purple roofed buildings filled with souvenirs and memorabilia. If you want to catch a bird’s eye view of the island and neighboring cozy cays you have to head to the island’s southwest, to Sage Mountain National Park.
We certainly, hope you caught enough sleep after the full moon party as we are heading towards the week full of adventures on our sailing yacht.
When is the best time to travel to The British Virgin Islands?
Mid-December to April.is truly the best season to be here – the weather on BVI is just perfect. All BVI tourist attractions are open. The islands are busy with life.
May & June. Are just perfect if you prefer it quieter. Less crowds and everything is still accessible. As far as for sailors is concerned, the winds are milder.
We should also mention that November to July is a great lobster seasonat BVI when these delicious creatures are widely available.
British Virgin Islands – Charter Yacht Sailing Highlights
Norman Island is comfortably nestled at the very southern tip of the archipelago. It is rumored to be one of the islands where the events of “Treasure Island”, a famed adventure novel by Robert Louis Stevenson took place. Who knows, maybe there is still some treasure hiding in its coves?
The oral tradition has it that the island was named after Norman, a pirate that bought it or leased it at some point. The island actually has a documented history of hiding treasure on it.
It was a part of the 50 chests of silver that were whisked away by the mutinied crew from Spanish treasure galleon the Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. The guilty were found and punished, and the treasure removed from the island – but there are still rumors that now and then some chests found on the island…
Today Norman island is uninhabited and is privately owned by Henry Jarecki. The island is well known for a large harbor that offers one of the most well-protected anchorages for sailing yachts in the area. It is also famous for its three water-level caves at the base of the cliffs just outside the west side of the Bight. The caves offer an unforgettable snorkeling experience.
Although, there are no permanent inhabitants on the island it offers 2 restaurants to its visitors: Pirates Bight and The Club.
Peter Island, Salt Island & Cooper Island
This picturesque smaller islands are a group of islands called Little Sisters and are a delight to sail around with picturesque cliffs, coves and bays, and tranquil pristine waters and have a lot of adventures to offer.
Peter Island is the largest privately owned island (purchased in 1978) in the British Virgin Islands and is 5th largest of the islands of the 60 islands archipelago. The island was named after Pieter Adriaensen -”The Commander”.
Peter Island is untouched by civilization and offers great hiking and biking trails that will help you discover tropical flora and fauna that can not be seen anywhere else. The island’s largest beach is crescent-shaped Deadman’s bay, sheltered by rich tropical vegetation.
Its bars and restaurants are welcoming day boaters now, but it got its grim name from the bodies of dead pirates that were abandoned at neighboring Dead Chest Island and were washed ashore after fruitless attempts to escape.
The only hotel on the island is the luxurious 52 room Peter Island Resort, named not once one of the “Best Places to Stay in the World and 2 beaches of the island Honeymoon and White Bay are reserved for its clients.
Salt Island, the second one of the Little Sisters in our sailing adventure is a very well known splendid dive site. No wonder, the shipwreck of British Royal Mail RMS Rhone, that have tragically sunk here on October, 29th, 1867 as a result of the strong hurricane, buried at 85 feet, is considered one of the best scuba diving sites of the Caribbean, let alone, British Virgin Islands.
It is also the famed site of the filming of the underwater scenes of the movie “The Deep” with the memorable scene with Jacqueline Bisset diving in a T-shirt.
The remnants of the ship are well preserved and still many details can be seen including the “lucky porthole”, that survived the storm and many years after intact, including the glass. It is brass surface still remains shiny from the hands of divers rubbing it for the good luck.
The island’s name, Salt Island comes from the time when the local population used to harvest salt from its salt lake. Today it has become a great tradition to present Her Majesty, The Queen of the United Kingdom with one pound of salt gathered here.
Sailing from Salt Island to Cooper Island on a yacht, you’ll see an impressive island with rather a grim name, the Dead Chest Island.
According to the legend the Blackbeard himself ( or Edward Thatch) have punished a part of his crew by leaving them on the island, which offered no water or vegetation and any chances for survival, with nothing but cutlass and a bottle of rum each, as the famous song goes: “15 men on a dead man’s chest … yo ho ho and a bottle of rum”.
Cooper Island is the last island of the group that we usually stop during our charter yacht trips at BVI. It is famed for its nightlife, so usually after a busy day exploring the neighboring islands, we stop here to enjoy what its nightlife has to offer. It’s Manchioneel Bay offers around 30 mooring balls, but it is so popular towards evening, that it helps to arrive earlier
It is a popular stopover for sailing yachts before heading to Virgin Gorda.
Compared to a series of small and cozy islands Virgin Gorda will seem big, as the third largest of the British Virgin Islands. It is said That Christopher Columbus himself has named the island The Fat Virgin because of the profile of the island reminding of the lying woman lying on the side.
The largest populated area of the island is called the Spanish Town, or the Valley, with Yacht Harbor Marina at its heart. It has been the capital of the territory up until 1741 when it moved to Road Town.
From Gorda Peak, you will enjoy the majestic view of the island and neighboring islands. You might also enjoy the ruins of abandoned Old Copper mine, a part of the national park. Folklore suggests that they were originally dug by the Spanish in search of silver, but there is no historical evidence to support it.
The Copper Mines construction was initiated after the territory came under the British control, in 1837 and its first shaft was sunk in 1838. But in 1862 it was already closed. The original Cornish miners that worked there, settled on the island. And the site of the copper mine ruins now makes a nice stop for tourists exploring the island.
The Baths of the Virgin Gorda
The best-known attraction of the Virgin Gorda is The Baths. Once the site of major geological drama, granite boulders, and lava outcroppings create a dramatic setting for the ultimate beach experience.
North Sound, one of the great harbors of the world lies at the northeast end of the island. It is well protected by 4 islands and connected reef system creating an over 3000-acre playground for watersports.
The marinas of the Sound are equipped for mega yachts, which frequent the area.
Unlike its sisters, this island owes its existence to coral reef and limestone. That explains why it is so flat with the highest elevation only at 28’. Its name, “anegada” in itself is Spanish for flooded.
The island is truly spectacular with its sugar white pristine Caribbean beaches and offering the magnificent show of colorful reef inhabitants. Offering so much to enjoy it is sparsely populated with most of its inhabitants (under 300 people) living in The Settlement, it’s only village.
It is frequented daily by about 200 visits exploring it as part of charter boat cruises, private sailing yachts, catamarans or tourists staying at nearby islands.
The 18-mile (29 km) long Horseshoe Reef, the longest barrier coral reef in the Caribbean, and fourth largest on earth is guarding the island, but also makes navigation of Anegada a challenge. Although you will see charter sailboats around, bareboat charter companies tend to prohibit to enter the vicinity of the reef.
And it is a well-grounded concern! Horseshoe reef had, indeed, cause hundreds of shipwrecks, with HMS Astraea in 1808, the Donna Paula (1819), the MS Rocus (1929) among them.
In order to protect the reef, the government has made anchoring on Horseshoe Reef illegal.
Anegada is known to show off its wildlife in all its glory. The large salt ponds to the west of the island attracted thousands of Caribbean flamingos in 19th throughout mid 20ies century. Unfortunately, the beautiful birds were hunted for their feathers and meat and have disappeared by 1950.
In 1999 the salt ponds were recognized a Ramsar Site and as of 2016 the beautiful birds were reintroduced in the area with flock now boasting around 200 flamingos. The number of visitors to the area is kept to a minimum not to disturb the birds.
Jost Van Dyke
Little is known why one of the main of the 4 British Virgin Islands bears the name of the Dutch privateer. Although the Virgin Islands came under the British domain in 1672, Jost Van Dyke does not show on the map of the domain up until after 1717.
Despite the name suggesting another pirate adventure, the island has always been quite peaceful with residents earning its living with farming and fishing.
Another revenue source was charcoal- making, which was needed for the production of rum and sugar. Between 1920 and 1960 over 20,000 tons of charcoal were exported to the US Virgin Islands. The coal production was also a social gathering, where women would bake bread and breadfruit and the men play dominoes while watching the fire burn
Altho little known, the island’s prominent inhabitants included William Thornton, the architect of the Capitol Building, and John Lettsome, founder of the London medical society.
Bar hopping at Jost Van Dyke
When it comes to visiting the island, the most popular spot is Great Harbor, or Belle Vue – the beach strip lined with bars and restaurants, among which is Foxy’s Bar is a destination since 1960. Great Harbour is one of the busiest parts of the British Virgin Islands with thousands of boats clearing through its port annually.
In the White bay nearby, there is another popular spot – Soggy Dollar bar, well known for the invention of cocktail Painkiller that is well associated with tiki bar culture. Not a secret anymore,
The Painkiller recipe is simple: –
- 1 to 4 parts blend of Pusser’s rum,
- 4 parts pineapple juice,
- 1 part of coconut cream
- 1 part orange juice
*well shaken and served over the rocks garnished with a generous amount of fresh nutmeg on top.
If you were approach Jost Van Dyke from the east side – Foxy’s Taboo is another famous lunch restaurant, bar, and gift shop with a dock available for day boaters. It is complemented with natural rock formation, with a name of the bubbly pool, where bubbles are created from by the force of the waves crashing against the rocks.
Ready for your perfect British Virgin Island vacation?
The British Virgin Islands offer a truly unforgettable charter boat sailing experience with a perfect mix of lively bar culture and pristine nature and beaches. It is the true adventure not to be missed. Especially exploring the BVI with the flexibility of charter sailboats for private groups. Check out our next trip to BVI.