The British Virgin Islands lay just east of the US Virgin Islands but offer more sheltered waters and more protected anchorages. Most navigation is line of sight and the distance between anchorages is typically just long enough to work up a thirst for the next stop. In general, the BVI is more low key as opposed to the hustle and bustle of St. Thomas, USVI. The pace is slower but the sailing can really be exhilarating as you tack back and forth up the Sir Francis Drake Channel.
From the lush mountains of Tortola to the flat white sand beaches of Anegada and from the huge granite boulders of The Baths on the beach at Virgin Gorda to the laid back beach bars on Jost Van Dyke, the 60 plus islands and cays of the BVI are known as “Natures Little Secrets”.
Tortola, the largest of the British Virgin Islands, is the center of commerce and government for the British Virgin Islands. The terrain is mountainous and lush and there are anchorages with beautiful, sandy beaches on the north shore and many marinas tucked into the shore all around the island.
The main hub is Road Town / Road Harbour. While this is a place to meet your yacht charter and crew, there are some spots like the Virgin Islands Folk Museum where you can see ancient Indian artifacts and Fort Burt, built in 1776, that overlooks the harbor for site-seeing.
Located on the north shore of Beef Island, Trellis Bay is a protected anchorage that not only serves as a staging point for those traveling by air to and from the BVI but also is home to The Last Resort, a funky and fun restaurant / bar located on Bellamy Cay, a tiny islet in the middle of Trellis Bay. On any given night, the live entertainment may include singing dogs, donkeys, bands and full moon parties. This is a required stop. Ashore, there are also plenty of interesting things to see such as the artists at Aragorn’s Studio, coffee and internet café’s, beach bars and restaurants.
Marina Cay, almost totally surrounded by reefs, has a rich and interesting history still evidenced by some of the buildings on island. Read Our Virgin Island by Robb White to learn the trials, tribulations and joys that he and his bride experienced turning this secluded rocky islet into their home over 50 years ago. No longer primitive, Marina Cay now boasts a full service fuel dock, bar, restaurant and Pusser’s Company Store.
A picture perfect beach with palms draped over the white sand, Cane Garden Bay is littered with an assortment of rockin’ beach bars all having live entertainment. While this is a family-friendly beach during the day, it is also a party anchorage that can get loud by night so don’t go here if you’re looking for peace and quiet in the evening. Stanley’s Welcome Bar is one of the originals and still around after 25 years. There is a dinghy dock so you don’t have to take a spill landing on the beach in swells.
Soper’s Hole / West End is a port of entry and busy stop for ferries from St. Thomas, St, John and many other BVI ports. This anchorage is well protected but very busy with both commercial and pleasure vessels. You will find Soper’s Hole Wharf and Marina which offers anything you might need for last minute items. Pusser’s Landing offers waterfront dining with two restaurants and bars and a Pusser’s Country Store. There are also a number of clothing and jewelry shops, dive shop and even an ice cream parlor. On the other side of the Bay past the Customs dock, the Jolly Roger Inn serves delicious frozen fruit punches.
Jost Van Dyke
Jost Van Dyke is a small (only 4 miles long), high island just north of Tortola with a total population of about 200 lucky residents. It is largely undeveloped with “Main Street” being the beachfront full of little shops, bars and restaurants. This is the epitome of “toes in the sand” casual as you will rarely see anyone wearing shoes.
White Bay is the westernmost bay and has a drop-dead gorgeous white sand beach that is home to the quaint White Bay Sandcastle cottages, the infamous Soggy Dollar Bar and a handful of eclectic shops. The Soggy Dollar Bar is the birthplace of the Painkiller, a fruity rum drink that will make the hammocks a welcome spot to “lime” as the sun sets after a long day of fun swimming in the crystal clear waters, snorkeling on the reef close offshore and partying with friends. You can also get a flying fish sandwich (tastes a bit like chicken). On the other side of the Bay, Ivan’s Stress Free Bar offers an even more (if it’s possible) laid back atmosphere with an honor bar. Truly stress free. Due to the close quarters, this makes a better day stop than overnighter. Watch out when landing your dinghy ashore as the surf has a habit of fouling the best landing techniques and dousing all on board – thus the name Soggy Dollar.
Great Harbor is just to the east of White Bay and can also be visited after a 20 minute walk. This harbor is a point of entry into the BVI and is the largest settlement on the island. Here, the beach is not the focus – the beach bars are.
This is the home of the famous Foxy Callwood and his Tamarind Bar and Grill. The restaurant serves delicious seafood. Foxy will regale you with his very own raucous and racy tunes and stories during the day and there are live bands entertaining on the weekends. The BIG PARTY is New Year’s Eve. Part of the fun is to get your anchor down early and relax on deck to watch the late arrivals in the anchorage try to eek out a spot. Put out plenty of fenders. Also, well attended are the Halloween Cat Fight (catamaran race) and Wooden Boat Regatta.
To the east of Great Harbor is Little Harbor. Ashore, there is a rigorous hike up the mountain which provides a commanding view of your tropical kingdom. As well, there are three restaurants including Sidney’s Peace and Love which has been serving great local fare for over 25 years. There is also occasional live entertainment. However, the main events here are the lobster feasts with “bugs” freshly caught from Anegada.
This is the quintessential deserted island. Just east of Jost Van Dyke, this 14 acre islet is almost totally surrounded by soft, white sand and gin clear waters that melt into an incredible tropical blue as it deepens. The interior is full of sea grapes, coconut palms and a small pond. There is a botanical tour that encircles the island where you will see Sandy Cay’s only inhabitants- iguanas, bugs and birds. The anchorage is in the lee of the island and should be considered as a day stop only. The snorkeling is great on the breaking reef when the seas are calm.
Columbus named this volcanic island Virgin Gorda, the “Fat Virgin”, due to its profile on the horizon as he approached. Most of the anchorages on Virgin Gorda’s west side (The Beach Coast) function best as day anchorages during the calm summer months or in the winter when the swells are down. These include Long Bay which has a beautiful, secluded beach with great swimming and snorkeling and lots of birds.
The Baths, located on the southwest tip of Virgin Gorda is a required day stop. This collection of huge granite boulders washed smooth by the seas is both fascinating and beautiful as they come together to create rooms and pools that you can walk through and admire the effects of sun, sand, granite and sea.
There is excellent snorkeling at either end of the beach which is lovely albeit crowded with visitors and stalls selling souvenirs. Up the hill is Top of the Baths for food, cold drinks and spectacular views.
Located on the northern end of Virgin Gorda, North Sound / Gorda Sound is very protected from all quadrants and is full of a variety of restaurants, bars, marinas, gift and clothing shops and activities such as diving, deep sea fishing and windsurfing. Below are just a very few of the interesting and inviting locales to visit while in North Sound. You could easily spend an entire week enjoying all there is to do and see in this glorious water-world.
The Bitter End Yacht Club is an active place with restaurants, marina, shark cage, shops, beach, pool and entertainment. The English Pub offers English ales on draft and real English fare such as shepherd’s pie and they purport to “stay open as long as anyone is conscious”.
The Saba Rock Resort is the small islet between The Bitter End Yacht Club on Virgin Gorda and Prickly Pear Island. The neat thing is that the island IS the resort. The restaurant / bar is a great place to sit back and enjoy a relaxing afternoon.
Norman Island is sometimes called Treasure Island as it is believed that the legends of pirates and their buried treasures inspired Robert Lewis Stevenson to pen “Treasure Island”.
The main anchorage on Norman Island is The Bight which is very protected. Pirate’s Bight restaurant / bar at the head of the bay offers West Indian fare and cool rum drinks and live entertainment. For the snorkelers and divers, dinghy around Treasure Point to the Caves and enjoy the large variety of fish.
Peter Island is just across Sir Francis Drake Channel from Road Town, Tortola. Not only does Peter Island have many beautiful anchorages and world-class diving and snorkeling sites but it is also the home to the upscale but relaxed Peter Island Resort.
Great Harbour, Peter Island is the NEW home of the famous floating restaurant / bar the William Thornton, a 110 foot former oil rig supply vessel named after the architect of the U.S Capital building. You’re apt to find just as many locals as tourists at this popular establishment and your friendly bartender will keep you happy. The “Willie T” has a reputation for getting pretty rowdy on occasion so you might want to anchor or moor farther away of you want peace and quiet. Also, sorry to say that the thrill of jumping off the Willie T is no longer allowed.
Sprat Bay and Deadman’s Bay are associated with Peter Island Resort. Sprat Bay has a marina and moorings available to visiting yachts. Deadman’s Bay makes a lovely day stop when the surge is down. Snorkeling is excellent and the beach is beautiful. The west side of the beach is for resort guests only.
Historically, Salt Island with her salt ponds was an important source of salt for the British Navy. After the wreck of the RMS Rhone, the Salt Islanders tried to rescue survivors and the British Queen, in gratitude to them, gave the island to the residents and their heirs in return for one bag of salt a year in rent. This is still paid today.
The two anchorages, Salt Pond Bay (the settlement) and Lee Bay should be used as day anchorages only due to the surge. A tour of the salt ponds and discussion of how the salt is harvested is available at the Salt Pond settlement.
Lee Bay is a good place from which to launch a dive on the Wreck of the Rhone, one of the most famous dive sites in the Caribbean, being the backdrop for the classic 1977 Columbia Pictures movie The Deep. The RMS Rhone was a 310 foot Royal Mail Steam Packet Ship that went down in a violent hurricane in 1867. Incredibly, the bow section is intact in about 75 feet of water with decking, rigging and propeller also visible. Colorful corals and abundant fish round out this unbelievable dive experience.
Manchioneel Bay is the main anchorage for Cooper Island and home to the Cooper Island Beach Club serving lunch and dinner on the beautiful beach with a sunset view to the west. At the southern end of the bay there is great snorkeling / shallow dive at Cistern Rock. On the southeastern side of the island there is a sheer rock wall that extends down to the ocean floor 70 feet below where you often see sharks.
Also called The Drowned Island, Anegada is unlike any other Virgin Island being formed, not by volcanic influences as are the others, but by the movement of the Caribbean and Atlantic tectonic plates. Located 14 miles north of North Sound, Virgin Gorda across open water, Anegada is only 28 feet above sea level and surrounded by gorgeous white sand beaches and Horseshoe Reef to the southeast.
You come to Anegada for the seclusion, the warm hospitality, the diving and snorkeling, the incredible white sand beaches, the funky bars and the lobsters – AHHHH the lobsters. There’s nothing like a huge, meaty Anegada lobster that’s been plucked from the waters just hours before being grilled over open coals for your dining pleasure while you sip a tropical concoction- all this with your toes in the sand enjoying the view out over the open ocean waters.
Anegada Reef Hotel is a great place to hang out and there are more bars and restaurants along the Main Anchorage as well as many others scattered all over the island. If that wasn’t enough for most mortals, there are also island tours, beach walks (take water and sunscreen as many are truly secluded with no concessions in sight) and shell collecting. Lagoon swimming and snorkeling are beyond belief at Loblolly Beach. The bone fishing on the flats from Setting Point and deep sea fishing at the North Drop are sure to excite even the most jaded angler. Horseshoe Reef, at 18 miles long, is one of the longest coral reefs and is the last resting place for over 300 ill-fated vessels. Diving opportunities are endless. In the interior of the island, the salt ponds provide a habitat for numerous migratory birds and are the site of the re-introduction of the Caribbean flamingo.
So many islands. So many beautiful sunsets. So let’s get started. Come on down and get some sand between your toes.