About British Virgin Islands
In the northern portion of the Lesser Antilles, due east of Puerto Rico and west of Anguilla, lie the British Virgin Islands. Spread across 150 square km (58 square miles) of blue Caribbean sea, the archipelago comprises more than 50 volcanic and coral islands, including the major islands of Tortola, Anegada, Virgin Gorda and Jost Van Dyke. Some of the smaller islands, such as Mosquito, Necker, Little Thatch and Norman island are privately owned. Saint Thomas, Saint Croix and Saint John are a geographically connected albeit US territory.
The British Virgin Islands, or BVI for short, boast a balmy tropical climate with breezy, easterly trade winds as well as the occasional hurricane. Islanders enjoy a leisurely lifestyle under UK rule by way of a governor appointed by the Queen. Here, most motor vehicles are imported from the US and are equipped with steering wheels to the port side although roadways are navigated on the left, as in the UK.
Top sailing cities
The always lively, ofttimes overcrowded sailing city of Road Town on Tortola island is the capital city of the BVI and a popular stop for cruise ships and sailors. North Sound on Virgin Gorda offers numerous water-sports, including sailing, wind surfing, stand-up paddling, kayaking and fishing. Tie up at the Bitter End Yacht Club to savor a superb meal, or sail a short reach north to Saba Rock where you can moor your vessel overnight. Leverick Bay, also on Virgin Gorda, offers dozens of slips and moorings as well as a full service dock with 110v and 220v electricity.
The marina at Great Harbour on Jost Van Dyke island comfortably accommodates yachts, sailboats, houseboats, fishing boats and other vessels up to 100 feet. The full service marina offers diesel fuel and gasoline, snacks, fishing tackle and other oceanic essentials.
Things to do
If you wish to rent a sailboat in the British Virgin Islands, you’re in luck. Known as one of the premier sailing destinations in the world, the BVI is home to a variety of yacht brokers who can put you aboard a crewed charter, zippy catamaran or bareboat rental.
Fishing anywhere can be a good time. Fishing in the BVI is an adventure. Embark on a deep sea expedition at Soper’s Hole Marina on Tortola and try your luck with marlin, sailfish and black-fin tuna. Alternately, one may rent a houseboat or catamaran and go trolling inland waters to catch a creel of grouper, tarpon, grunt and snapper. Snorkelers find plentiful marine life at Monkey Point on Guana Island.
Where fresh seafood and Creole-influenced cuisine is concerned, no Caribbean country does it better than the British Virgin Islands. Fungi (say it FOON-gee) is made with thick cornmeal and okra and is practically the national dish of the BVI. Order curried veggies, shredded meat wrapped in delicate pastry and callaloo soup at any five-star restaurant in the British Virgin Islands and don’t forget to try tamarind-scented fruit stew for dessert.
The short reach from Road Town across Sir Francis Drake channel to the Bight is easy, breezy and beautiful. Sail past the Indians and Pelican island and drop anchor at the Bight to savor superior snorkeling and sensational sunsets.
The run between Norman island to North Sound is a long upwind sail with plenty of places to stop along the way, so be sure to allow yourself enough time to complete your round-trip excursion during daylight hours.
Most years begin with gusty winds that can blow up to 30 knots for days on end. In February, the winds move eastward. Around June, prevailing winds start to blow in a southeasterly direction and slow to around 10 to 15 knots. Trade winds are weak and weather is unpredictable in September and October. November in the BVI sees more stable weather patterns and gentler breezes. Expect relaxed seas of three to four feet and minimal tidal action when you rent a sailboat in the BVI.
Best time to visit
Not surprisingly, many people opt to hire a boat in the British Virgin Islands from September to November, when the hurricane season has passed and winter holiday visitors have not yet arrived. Room rates, restaurant prices and yacht rental fees are usually lower in late autumn. If you plan to dive BVI waters, skip summer months when underwater visibility is at a minimum. If your sole purpose of visiting the islands is to sail, Grenada Sailing Week extends from the end of January to the first week in February and attracts yachtsmen and sailing enthusiasts from all corners of the globe.
How to get there
Fly into Saint Thomas and hop a ferry or catch a connecting flight to the little airport at Tortola. Flights from San Juan, Puerto Rico are also available. At the time of this writing, no direct flights into the BVI originate in the US.