Bareboat Sailing BVI -The British Virgin Islands
British Virgin Islands Sailing – Want to try bareboating? Sailing BVI is a great place to start.
Tom said: Our first bareboat sailing trip. I’m hooked! I want more.
Sheila said: I want more too, but with no A-holes!
Sailing BVI in the Caribbean…it had always been on our wish list.
It sounds dreamy, but it also seems so mysterious and complicated, and you can’t really do it alone…. you need friends and sailing knowledge. Then, out of the blue, we get an invitation to join a group of sailing friends (friends of friends) on a group trip to the British Virgin Islands. They knew we were rookies, but invited us anyway (thankfully!). There would be 3 catamarans and 12 couples, at least 3 of whom were qualified bareboat skippers.
We didn’t know any of these people very well, but we had lots of email exchanges and a group get together months before the trip. We found that we had a lot in common and that these were really fun, interesting folks and travel junkies. They were well organized with plans for provisioning, entertainment, diving, sailing itineraries, assigning sailing duties, and more. They were also safety conscious. This was going to be fun!!
A lot of research and planning went into our sailing itinerary. Most sailing charters are for 7 days and the charter companies recommend tried-and-true itineraries to use as a starting point. Our trip was for 10 days, so we had lots of opportunities to explore some of the lesser visited islands and secret coves. We tried to include as much variety as made sense. Our itinerary had to be modified a little on the fly due to some minor mechanical issues and weather, but this is what we did:
Day 1 – Gathered at Soper’s Hole Marina for skipper orientation, safety review, and boat check. Got the news that it was going to rain hard for the first four days, OH CRAP!! Provisions delivered, inventoried, and put away. OFF WE GO!! A little boat testing in open waters with just a light rain and then head to our first destination – Norman Island (a.k.a Treasure Island). Our boat and one other arrive just before sunset. The lead skipper’s boat ended up at the wrong island (safely). He didn’t even realize HE WAS LOST! He never heard the end of that. The rain stopped and, other than brief showers, it didn’t rain for the rest of the trip (happy the forecast was wrong). We enjoyed a fun group dinner ashore at the Pirate’s Bight.
Day 2 – Reconnected with the lost boat and teased them mercilessly. Snorkeled at Treasure Point caves, then sailed to Cooper Island. Some had dinner ashore at Cooper Island Beach Club while others cooked on board.
Day 3 – Two boats motored back to Tortola for minor repairs, then sailed to Virgin Gorda where we had dock reservations in Spanish Town – Showers, re-provisioning, and dinner at The Rock.
Day 4 – Explored The Baths of Virgin Gorda, a nearby beach with huge granite boulders lining the shore. Lots of exploring the trail between the rocks and fun snorkeling. This place is on many “must see” lists and we agree it belongs. That evening, all three boats tied together for a Cinco de Mayo party with yummy Wahoo sushi – good times!
Day 5 – Explored the North Sound of Virgin Gorda. Small group rendezvous with a dive company for a 2-tank dive. Diving was just ok. Dinner at the Bitter End Yacht Club.
Day 6 –More exploration of Virgin Gorda. Mooring at Leverick Bay. Dinner at Jumbie’s (all you can eat BBQ) and local holiday celebration with colorfully clad stilt walkers dancing on the beach to loud Reggae.
Day 7 – Takeover of the Sand Box beach bar on Prickly Pear Island where clothing was an option. Sailed to Trellis Bay on Tortola, location of the infamous full moon parties. Alas, it was not a full moon, but we thoroughly enjoyed our evening at the Last Resort restaurant and bar.
Day 8 – The group split up for different activities – some wanted scuba, some wanted day sailing, some just wanted beach time with a little snorkeling – so with a little boat switching, everyone was accommodated. In the afternoon, we convened at the Scrub Island Resort Marina dock and were given a tour (with yummy appetizers and a pool overlooking the sea).
Day 9 – Long sail to Cane Garden Bay on Tortola (beautiful beach with lots of shopping and beach bars). Pot luck dinner on board to use up most of the leftovers.
Day 11 – Returned to marina, cleaned the boat, disembarked. We ferried to St. John, USVI.
It’s always a little unpredictable when a group of friends spend time together on a small boat with very little privacy.
Everyone was getting along well for the first half of the trip. Then that changed. One couple reverted to college fraternity days and acted like drunken jerks. They became combative, uncooperative, rude, uncompromising, mean and just plain A-holes. It certainly put a damper on the second half of the trip. They were a last minute addition to the trip (replacing a couple that had to cancel), so they were not as well-known to the group and had not attended the pre-trip gathering. We like to think we can get along with just about anybody, but there are exceptions. CHOOSE YOUR BOAT MATES WISELY!!!
Where is the British Virgin Islands (BVI)?
It is in the Caribbean Sea southeast of the Bahamas and just east of the US Virgin Islands (which are just east of Puerto Rico). BVI consists of 16 inhabited islands and over 20 uninhabited islands. All the islands combined are only 59 square miles, most of which is taken up by the main island of Tortola. To get there, you can either fly to Tortola and take a taxi to the marina or fly to St. Thomas in the USVI and take a ferry to Tortola (very close to the marina).
Tom said: Side note for grammarians – “The British Virgin Islands” is a country and thus singular from a grammar perspective, but it sure looks weird to write “Where is the British Virgin Islands?” It took me a while to get over it, but I have.
Turns out, The British Virgin Islands is ideal for bareboat sailing. They really cater to sailors and sailing vacations. They have multiple sailboat charter companies and several companies that help with provisioning and renting water toys like kayaks, paddle boards, and scuba gear. Their geography is perfect for sailing with lots of small scenic islands to choose from, easy anchorages with lots of mooring balls (for a small fee and well worth it). They generally have consistent trade winds and light seas, perfect for novice skippers. The snorkeling is good and the scuba diving is ok. Most islands have at least one restaurant – some high end, some family friendly, and some rowdy. And most islands have at least one beach bar (from mild to wild) as an option. Of course you always have the option of cooking your own meals on board and making your own party (or just lounging on the trampoline or deck gazing at all the stars).
We found the food to be quite good at all the restaurants we tried. Prices were fair and fresh seafood was plentiful. The beach bars were fun and very casual. We learned a new drink (for us) called the “Pain Killer” with lots of rum and fruit juices (coconut, pineapple, orange)…a bit too delicious. It lived up to its name. Some BVI watering holes are world famous. Now, when Tom wears his “Foxy’s” tee-shirt in public, he frequently gets smiles, comments and fun stories from strangers.
After sailing BVI, we and another couple extended our trip by staying a couple extra nights on St. John in the US Virgin Islands. St John is worthy of a vacation in itself and we will be back.
We definitely enjoyed our first bareboat experience. So much so that we have helped organize 5 more trips with the same group (minus the A-holes) – to Greece, Belize, French Polynesia, Thailand, and 2016 will be The Grenadines. Bareboat sailing is such a great way to experience a country. We have made lifelong friends that we thoroughly enjoy and we’re grateful they keep inviting us.