The BVIs are legendary as the best sailing in the world. The turquoise Caribbean waters dotted with lush, mountainous islands are considered the yacht charter capital of the world – with 50+ islands to explore, BVI’s four largest isles are Tortola, Anegada, Virgin Gorda and Jost Van Dyke. Located 60 miles east of Puerto Rico, and just east of the US Virgin Islands, the entire British Virgin Islands comprise only 59 square miles. Cruising aboard a charter yacht, or your own boat, you can easily reach spectacular bays with just a few hours sail thanks to consistent winds and typically clear sunny weather. This Caribbean archipelago of BVI is yachtsmen friendly, English speaking, with dozens of secure harbors and gorgeous cays, and the best anchorages in the world.
NOTE: This BVI review is from our December 2016 visit, the British Virgin Islands anchorages and resorts have been severely impacted since the September 2017 Hurricane Irma.
Charter a yacht, with a reputable charter company out of Tortola. If you fly into St Thomas, take a 10-minute cab from the airport to Edward Lydon Marine Terminal for a 90-minute Tortola ferry to Road Town Harbor, the capital where most BVI yacht charter companies are based. Catamarans are the prevailing yacht choice for sailors in these waters, for their smooth sailing (read: no heeling) dual hull stability plus their livability with beamy deck space, and spacious main salon between the two pontoons that house the cabins and heads.
Hire a Captain. This will save you time, and optimize your cruise in the BVI. Your Captain will know where to go and when, and consequently where not to. Also, Captained Charters can have the boat all provisioned on your arrival from your shopping list, with the necessary registrations and permits, paying your National Park fee for example – to access the beautiful beaches, marine parks, and preserved islands. Our Captain, of Black Rock Sailing School, knew the best anchorages, the happenings at each harbor, like Wednesday karaoke at Bitter Ends, and visiting The Baths when no cruise ships were there. If you are an inexperienced boater and sailor, your captain provides critical instructions and a more relaxed, safe week of cruising, read: not stuck on Anegada Reef. Our Captain provided on board lessons for ASA certification 101 and 103 while under sail, the best kind of “education on vacation.”
Provision properly in Road Town. Tortola’s local super markets are well stocked for provisioning, products you’ll recognize from home, plus French and Ausie wines, local Caribe beer and quality inexpensive Rum. Smaller ports and harbors will be more expensive as you go. Plan your meals ahead with a list to organize your shopping, your stowing of food aboard and your daily menu as you cruise. You can even pack staples from home like coffee, breakfast bars, snacks, sunscreen and bug spray (yes there are bugs in the BVI including Zika).
Charter Tips BVI’s
Plan your Passage. If you have sailing experience, and you barefoot charter, polish your knowledge and study navigational charts before departing, having an approximate itinerary and chart plan (with wiggle room variance for wind and weather and crew). See our guide to the best anchorage in the BVI. The BVI Tortola tour is basically going around the islands clockwise or counterclockwise from Road Harbor. The prevailing wind is typically from the East.
Beware in the BVI. Much of these brilliant blue waters are unmarked, and unyielding. You can easily put your boat and crew in harm’s way amid coral reef and hazardous rocks, or by anchoring poorly, the list goes on. The Caribbean code alone: Dark blue sail through, brown you could run aground, is a good tip – but you should always know your location and depth by both chart and instruments.
BVI National Parks have gorgeous beaches, caves, and coral. Enjoy the provided moorings by day, but most parks do not allow overnight stays or anchoring. Park rangers can impose big fines. Beach flags for BVI Marine Parks are as follows: Yellow – open but use caution, Red – dangerous seas, Purple – dangerous marine life present, ie: jelly fish. Bring snorkel gear or ask your charter company to loan mask and fins and a dinghy so you can access remote cays and beaches.
Go Remote and Go Resort. Enjoy some quiet remote anchorages and moorings, and mix your “camping on water” with a few resort moorings or dock slips for crew morale. After anchoring one night under the stars in a secluded bay, spend the next day at Bitter Ends, Peter or Scrub Island Resorts where you can enjoy beach chairs, hot showers, “real” bathrooms, and dining out.
Take Pictures, Leave Nature. The Virgin Islands represent a very delicate eco-system. Snorkel, sail and savor the beauty, but show the utmost respect to this precious environment. Don’t touch the coral, or taunt the fish, don’t dump things off the boat, and don’t be trashy. On your voyage you will have opportunities to pay to throw away your trash properly, and to pump out in designated areas. You can bring home a few sea shells and washed up coral from the beach, but don’t disrupt marine life and nature – leave it as you found it.