Sailing the British Virgin Islands
By Candyce H. Stapen
Searching for a laid-back, boating getaway where the snorkelingís fine and most of the time ďdress for dinnerĒ means putting on a clean T-shirt? Then head to the British Virgin Islands, a nation of more than 60 islands, counting the small, uninhabited cays, where you can find hundreds of protected coves within a radius of 80 nautical kilometers.
These safe anchorages have attracted sailors for centuries, including pirates who reputedly scrambled ashore at the BVIís many secluded harbors to bury their booty. Ever sing ďYo-ho-ho and a bottle of rumĒ on a long family car ride? Legend has it that the ditty was inspired by the BVI islet where the notorious Blackbeard marooned 15 of his fellow swashbucklers along with one sword and a single bottle of rum.
Tortola, with the more than 700 bareboats, one of the Caribbeanís largest fleets, is the best place to charter a boat. The Moorings, as well as other outfitters, provide bareboats for those knowledgeable and willing to embark on their own voyages. You are responsible for provisioning and navigating your own boat.
For those who canít or donít want to be bothered hauling anchors, hoisting sails and heaving supplies onboard, the Moorings and other companies offer captained and crewed, multi-day charters. Typically, these come with a chef who cooks and a deck hands who cleans.
Whether on your own or guided by an old salt, a BVI sailing adventure literally lets you follow the wind. You glide through the glistening turquoise waters and visit sandy beaches inhabited by few others.
Snorkelers enjoy exploring the Caves at Norman Island and the Indians, a series of rock pinnacles near Pelican Island. At night, safe in a cove, savor the stars, the moonlight and the gentle lapping of the waves against the boatís hull.
A popular lunchtime destination for yachters is White Bay, on tiny, four-mile-long Jost Van Dyke. Those who donít arrive on their own vessels come by ferry from nearby Tortola. Boaters like the calm swimming waters and the sugar soft sands not to mention the snacks and drinks at the Soggy Dollar Bar. The beach shack eatery takes its name from the wet bills proffered by the sailors who wade ashore.
The barís famous drink is the Painkiller, a mix of Pusserís dark rum, orange and pineapple juice, coconut and nutmeg. The owners insist that the noted Caribbean cocktail was born at the Soggy Dollar.
The most popular after lunch activity at White Bay is swaying to the breezes in one of the palm-tree shaded hammocks strung along the sand. However, if you want more activity, snorkel and scuba outings as well as an all-terrain vehicle trip up and down the dirt paths of the islandís hilly center depart from White Bay. Just be sure to book these in advance.
The BVI is also a good place to learn to sail. Even if you donít know your aft from your rudder, you can learn basic boating at the Bitter End Yacht Club, Virgin Gorda. The resort offers an extensive array of hands-on sailing classes for never-evers and novices. Knowledgeable sailors can perfect skills or simply take a boat from the resortís fleet for a day outing.