Sailing the Islands of The BVI
The British Virgin Islands are well known as the “Sailing Capital of the Caribbean”. Sailors delight in the ability to easily navigate from one island to the next often by sight alone. Steady trade-winds, sun-soaked scenic anchorages too numerous to count, and pristine white sand beaches are the envy of marine enthusiasts worldwide. The protected Sir Frances Drake Channel offers a clear and well-marked path through the crystal clear aquamarine waters allowing island hoppers to safely take in the sights and sounds of neighboring ports. Read below about the islands of the BVI and the places to visit, from a sailors perspective; Tortola, Norman Island, Peter Island, Cooper Island, Salt Island, Virgin Gorda, Scrub Island, The Dog Islands, Guana Island, Jost Van Dyke and Anegada.
THE MAIN ISLANDS
In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue… on his second voyage for the Spanish Crown, he discovered the British and US Virgin Islands. Tortola, the largest island in the BVI was first coined “Santa Ana” by Columbus himself. Locals might disagree about this historic lore, but the name Tortola (Spanish for turtle dove) did not come to be until the British took over in 1672. The first recorded settlement of the Territory was by Arawak Indians who came from South America, in around 100 BC. Vernon Pickering places the date later, at around 200 AD, and suggests that the Arawak may have been preceded by the Ciboney Indians. They are thought to have settled in nearby St. Thomas as early as 300 BC.
There is some evidence of the Amerindian presence on the islands. Perhaps in seasonal fishing camps, as far back as 1500 BC. Mountains rising from volcanic activity and white sand beaches surround the highest populace in the BVI. Almost 24,000 people live and work in and around the principal settlement of Road Town. Tortola is well known for its historic sites, beaches such as Smuggler’s Cove and Cane Garden Bay, and marine activities like sailing, surfing, scuba diving & kiteboarding.
Not to Miss on Tortola: Sage Mountain State Park, Smuggler’s Cove, Nanny Cay, and Trellis Bay.
Norman Island offers one of the safest and most scenic harbors in the British Virgin Islands. The main anchorage known as “The Bight” offers charter yachts a mooring field sheltering boats from strong winds. The bay is large and has a very new restaurant on the beach. Enjoy happy hour at The Pirates Bight and watch the sunset with your feet in the sand. After dinner, swing by the new famous Willy-T, a pirate-themed floating bar/restaurant. At Privateers bay the water is very calm in perfect conditions for water sports including kneeboarding, wakeboarding, water skiing, tubing, and SUPing. There are quite a few hiking trails to explore this legendary island.
The Caves around the corner are known for pirate treasure found hidden in shallow caves. Swim in and around these spectacular SCUBA dive and snorkel sites such as the Caves and the Indians. This pretty island has gravel roads for walking/hiking and also has moorings in other bays including, Kelly’s bay, Soldier bay, Benures Bay, and Privateers bay.
Not to Miss on Norman Island: The Willy-T, Pirates Bight, The Caves, and The Indians nearby.
Peter Island is just South of Tortola and offers numerous safe anchorages in tranquil bays. Great hiking/walking trails round trip includes a row of colorful Adirondack chairs to soak in the views with a water station. Snorkeling on the reefs lining the bays and beaches will not disappoint. Water sports in calm conditions will thrill and there are many pristine beaches to stroll on and relax on. Honeymoon beach on the far end of Little Deadman’s bay is perfect for an intimate escape. The water is shallow in Deadman’s bay and great for swimming to the beach or Standup Paddleboarding. From higher up on the hills, the views of the Sir Francis Drake channel and the while sails will cheer your soul. Peter Island’s place in history as one of the most vibrant, luxurious, and inspiring places on the planet is in good hands and they invite you to visit and share in the beauty.
Across from Deadman’s beach, you will see Dead Chest Island. Legend has it that the pirate Blackbeard marooned his prisoners and left them without water or food. He did give them a bottle of rum and a cutlass. Apparently, the dead sailors would wash up on the nearby leeward bay, hence Deadman’s bay on Peter Island.
Not to Miss on Peter Island: Deadman’s Beach, Peter Island Resort and Spa, Honeymoon beach, and White Bay.
On your luxury charter yacht vacation, Cooper Island Beach Club is a popular overnight or lunch stop. There are quite a lot of mooring balls which makes it very easy to get you close to the fantastic on-site restaurant, and lively rum bar. Cooper Island is more than just a pit stop. Its 10 eco-luxe guest rooms and laid-back atmosphere attract honeymooning couples and families with young children.
This very accessible island offers protection from stronger trade winds. Nearby is Cistern point where the snorkeling is rewarding after your captain will tie the tender to a small mooring ball and if you feel like it, snorkel back to the yacht and look out for the abundance of Hawksbill turtles feeding on the grassy seabed.
From this protected beach, it may be more convenient to leave non-divers ashore while your dive-master or dive company ashore takes you to Salt Island nearby for one of the best Scuba dives in the Caribbean. Explore Wreck Alley – Marie L is a cargo boat that was sunk – along with the Pat and the Beata – with the sole purpose of creating excellent underwater scenery for divers; located on the south-western side of Cooper Island, this site is very close to a reef wall magnificently coated with some of the most vibrant colored corals.
Not to Miss on Cooper Island: The Beach Club, The Rum Bar, Cistern point for snorkeling, and the boutique.
The islanders who lived here relied heavily on the salt pond before refrigeration and harvested salt before the rainy season.
Ships would stop here to stock up on salt before their long journeys. Salt Island is most notable for the wreck of the Royal Mail packet steamer, RMS Rhone which sank in a hurricane on 29 October 1867 after she was driven back on Salt Island while attempting to head to safety at sea. Most of the ship’s crew were lost. Many of the bodies were buried in a mass grave on Salt Island which is a short walk from the main beach and can be easily seen today. A wide circle of stones is laid upon the grave.
After residents rushed to help survivors from the Mail Steamer which ran aground on Black Rock, the Queen of the United Kingdom granted them indefinite stay in exchange for 1 pound of salt every year payable to the Governor of the British Virgin Islands.
Not to Miss on Salt Island: The Rhone National Marine Park, and the salt ponds.
BVI tourism didn’t take hold until the 1960s when a few enterprising young fellows recognized an untapped gold mine. Virgin Gorda was central to this mission with the development of Rockefeller’s Little Dix Resort. Today Virgin Gorda is one of the BVI’s main tourist destinations highlighting geologic wonders like “The Baths” – a vast field of volcanic boulders which houses tidal pools, tunnels, grottos, and arches. Ferry services and small airlines service the island.
Not to Miss on Virgin Gorda: The historic Copper Mine, The Baths, Saba Rock, Spanish Town, Leverick Bay, and an Island tour.
Scrub Island is a special resort on a postcard-perfect private island in the British Virgin Islands. Drop-dead gorgeous location, it’s on a private island with an included ferry to the airport and back. Your charter yacht can dock here for a day pass to this spectacular stop-over.
Lots of walking paths, especially a loop that takes you to the other side of the resort. Here lays a beautiful beach overlooking a shallow reef. Catch the breeze and a few rays while you lounge in a deck chair with a cocktail. The swim-up bar on the upper level of the marina overlooks the marina and Marina Cay in the distance. It is only a short ferry to the BVI Airport (EIS) and it is complimentary. There is a slide for anyone looking to splash in the pool below the upper pool. The Spa is located overlooking Cam Bay on Great Camanoe Island.
Diamond reef across from the marina offers great Scuba and snorkeling tours. For the avid Bone-fisherman, Cam Bay reef is easy to wade and you might ever catch the elusive Permit fish.
Not to Miss on Scrub Island: Walking around the island for views, the swim-up pool bar, and the luxurious resort.
The Dog Islands
The Dog Islands originally received their names from sailors who heard barking when they moored there and assumed that they must be dogs. However, the barking noises were made by Caribbean monk seals. The sailors also regarded the Caribbean monk seal as a good source of fresh seal meat, and as a result, they are now extinct.
The other rumor has it that pirates hid the loot on these little islands and placed dogs here to fend off nosey intruders. These gems are named George Dog, Great Dog, West Dog, East Dog, and little East Dog. George Dog is rated in the cruising guides as a good beginner scuba site. It is all that and more. Pristine coral, unbroken spires vibrantly alive. Countless reef fish, and gorgeous sponges; all in 20 to 15-foot depths. This makes it easy to snorkel or dive.
This reef area is virtually pristine. If you decide to try it, your captain will pick up a mooring on the western portion of the lee of the island. From there you drop almost directly on the coral. A Scuba dive can be a circle just north of the mooring and covered probably no more than 30 yards. You can easily spend an hour in this small area due to the abundance of marine life.
Not to Miss on The Dog Islands: The group of all the Dog Islands is perfect for snorkeling and Scuba Diving.
While you have your own private luxury cabins on your charter yacht, you are welcome to enjoy the beaches without entering the resort. Hiking along the ridge at sunset on the point of Muskmelon Cay is a must for the adventurous traveler.
The nearby Monkey Point is easy to reach by kayak or tender from the anchorage at White Bay in the lee of the island. Here you will not be disappointed snorkeling around the point and you will often see huge schools of blue tangs and beautiful coral.
Not to Miss on Guana Island: This private island offers the most beautiful soft sandy beach lined with palm trees and snorkeling at Monkey Point and Muskmelon Cay.
Jost Van Dyke
Named after a pirate, Jost Van Dyke’s rugged scenery and folklore are sure to awaken your adventurous spirit. With about only 300 permanent residents, this tiny island is full of history, lore, and secrets. Favored local cuisine includes barbecue, fresh fish, and lobster. Don’t miss the Great Harbour party on Halloween and New Year’s Eve at Foxy’s Tamarind Bar. Yachts from all over the world stopover to join the adventure and fun.
White Bay nearby is lined with beach bars and restaurants. The whitest sand, the bluest azure waters, and fun, and the sun with a shade underlined palm trees can only be described as “Paradise”.
To the East lies Little Harbor famous for lobster dinners and there is a pretty little anchorage at Diamond Cay and Foxy Taboo’s beach bar/restaurant will offer a welcome stop to and from the “Bubbly Pool” where you can frolic in foaming water washing over huge rocks into a little pool.
Not to Miss on Jost Van Dyke: Great Harbour, visit Foxy’s, try “The Painkiller” at the Soggy Dollar Bar, or swim in “the Bubbly Pool”.
Anegada is the BVI’s coral atoll, the only island that is not formed from volcanic activity. Although it is the second-largest island in the archipelago, it is the most sparsely populated of the main isles. Tourism and commercial fishing keep this island afloat. Fisherman on Anegada provides most of the catch for the rest of the British Virgin Islands as a whole. Its miles of shore flats also make it a popular destination for bonefishing. It is home to the largest barrier coral reef in the Caribbean – the fourth largest on Earth! Visitors access the island via a charter yacht, small airport, ferry, or private boat.
Rent a scooter or jump on the back of an open-air taxi to take you to some of the most remote beautiful beaches in the BVI. Snorkel the barrier reef, kite-surf, or throw a frisbee at Loblolly beach, Cow Wreck Beach, or Anegada Reef Hotel and enjoy a delicious lobster meal with your toes in the sand while the stars move overhead to the sound of whistling pine trees.
Not to Miss on Anegada: Horseshoe Reef, Secluded Sandy beaches, Cow Wreck Beach, Nutmeg Point, and the Conch Island.