After nearly 2 months in the British Virgin Islands we have seen most of the islands and many of the anchorages. There are a few that I would still like to do, but some are better suited to the summer prevailing winds, and our attention span is running lean now. It is time to move on and experience new places.
Our favourite spot is likely Norman Island as we have spent a lot of time here. The hiking and snorkeling are great, the bight is a very protected anchorage and Benures Bay provides a nice quiet spot to anchor away from the crowds. While the pictures don’t do it justice, and sadly most of the boats never even get see the views (it only takes a 20 minute hike to get to the first peak and back, or a couple hours if you are like Magnus and I and keep going)
The North Sound where we stayed on several occasions is a great resort area and the hiking there is fantastic too. Instead of the views of the island chain that can be seen at Norman Island, you instead look out to the unobstructed Atlantic and watch the waves that have travelled hundreds or thousands of miles crash on the extensive reef. It is hard not to pause and watch this natural beauty and think about returning from Europe one day with those trade winds and waves.
Cane Garden Bay is another beautiful spot that ranks high on my list of favourites. We spent a few days there just before Christmas and hearing the Christmas music on the beach helped tremendously to remember what time of year of it was. While there, I climbed some of the local streets with Magnus to seek great views and get a feel for how the locals live. Sometimes it was difficult to see which places were rental villas and which may be occupied by locals.
Magnus doesn’t know how good he had it. This is a mother with her pups.
400 year old rum distillery. Wasn’t open when we went.
Magnus meeting the locals.
Even though the beach gets busy with cruise ship guests during the day, it still has a nice feeling. Just watch out for those north swells, or even stronger than average trade winds as this can make for a rolling night at anchor.
We only spent New Years at Jost Van Dyke, and if time permits in our last week here, we may head back for one more to experience it at a more normal time. Unfortunately I didn’t get the camera out while we were there, but I sense it is a great place to unwind, although partying seemed to be on most peoples minds based the folks we met on the beach. Magnus made it clear he much prefers to meet kids than drunk college girls who find him cute and insist on saying hello.
So after two months here, what is our take?
The British Virgin Islands have a beautiful location, some stunning landscapes consistent weather, warm water for swimming and some great snorkel sites. The sailing is pretty easy, deep enough water and enough visual landmarks to navigate easily. There is no need to sail for more than a few hours at a time so you can spend some time ashore supporting the local economy. It is the perfect spot to go for a boating vacation as you can swim, sail, relax and enjoy eating out.
There is something to be said for being able to hike up one of the islands and look out to the open ocean to the east and see the beautiful ocean colours from the reefs that protect the shorelines.
Or you can hike to the top of a fabled spyglass hill where pirates and privateers used to watch for ships and see the island chain and the sailboats speckled across the water.
The water temperatures are perfect for swimming and the coral is stunning and in many places you can snorkel from your anchored boat.
Plus there are many beach bars or restaurants that provide social opportunities and time to unwind if you choose, although we have met more interesting people simply by kayaking around some of the smaller anchorages and chatting with those on their own boats.
I should also mention that most places have been widely pet friendly which has been great for cruising with an active dog. Some locals are nervous of dogs that bite and you notice they will steer clear when you pass them on the street, but a few will ask about Magnus as they aren’t used to seeing fluffy longer coated dogs here.
I would definitely return some day and very glad we came, but, we are getting the itch for change. Many of the most protected anchorages are setup for purely tourism. Once you’ve been to one island with a beach bar/resort you’ve almost seen them all. Each one presumably serves the best ribs, chicken, fish or lobster in that anchorage. Great when you are on vacation, but it starts to gets old or expensive when you are cruising and you start to crave more anchorages where there is a balance between local culture and lifestyle and tourism.
We have found lunches out to be more cost effective and because the charter fleets are usually jumping between islands at that time, have found a much better ambiance. Surprisingly, the best quality food we had for a lunch was at Willy T while Neptune’s Treasure had the best get away from it all atmosphere of the places we tried.
There are few secret spots to get a break from the crowds so don’t expect peace and solitude once you arrive, unless you are willing to roll profusely through the night. I miss Georgian Bay for this reason, but respect that I am currently warm and that is the price to pay.
All in all, this was a natural, easy first step into cruising a foreign country and we will carry many great memories. Perhaps the best part is it will drive us to visit areas less travelled by sailing fleets with hopefully the reward of a stronger cultural experience in our future travels.
And of course, a recap of the BVIs wouldn’t be complete without some stories of the credit card captains (for the non sailors following our travels you really only need a credit card to get a charter boat down here).
Anchoring seems to be one of the biggest challenges for charterers and it amazes me that on several occasions we have seen boats attempt to anchor by putting out about 10’ more chain than the water is deep and then seem baffled when they drag a few minutes later. I’d love to know which next generation anchor they have their own boat, as if they work with that little scope, I want one too.
My favourite was watching a 50’ monohull raise his sail while on the mooring and then proceed to back up under power with the main sail fully out with the battens firmly kinked around the shrouds. Then, once in the open, he put the engine in forward and turned through a complete jibe with nobody on board even paying attention. Luckily for that captain, the wind lulled and he was on a big boat so the boom was above everyone’s head. Maybe he was just trying to bend the battens back?
Another good one Jeff! I’d like to hear more stories about the credit card captains!
I have an even better one about the owner of one of the big crewed cats…. downright scary… You could see the poor captain shaking his head, but at the same time powerless because the owner figured that by being able to get the financing for the boat he obviously knew how to use it by default.
Great update! We love the pics. We were laughing when you mentioned late lunches vs. dinner as we found the same when we where there last. Where are you headed to next ?
They definitely have perfected the art of extracting cash from the vacation crowd here… We’ve done well at avoiding mooring balls and after our first week just occasionally eating out.
US Virgins Islands are up next and in February we will head to the Spanish Virgin Islands followed by Puerto Rico.
Thanks again, Jeff, for your update. Your 2014 recap illustrated to me why you are there, and I am not: the amount of preparation you were able to do on your vessel is beyond my ability/knowledge/skill and (now) ambition. Just getting all the VC17 off alone is (1) too much or (2) too expensive a job! With your skills, cruising may be forever in your life!
You are coy enough not to divulge whereto you will sail now. Suspense! We look forward to discovering where you hare headed! All the best,
Hmmmm…. correction…. now that I read some of the comments, I see you’re moving over, ever so slightly, to the USVI and then moving further west. I am still wondering about your longer term plan to be in the Bahamas, and your plans for the hurricane season.
We are going to make the long trek to Cape Breton next summer. Our route hasn’t been determined yet as we are contemplating what parts of the coast to see on our way north and what we could see if we continue south next winter
As far as lack of anchoring skills is concerned, I am reminded that many “boaters” really never anchor anywhere in their home waters but just sail around and return to dock, or to another marina. Hence, they have no clue and apparently haven’t even bothered doing a little bit of reading on the subject. We once met a (power)boater at Frying Pan, rafted on to someone else, who was from the U.S. and, on Lake Michigan had never once anchored and now that they had moved to Burlington and had the boat in Georgian Bay, it was their first ever experience with it.
I agree that anchoring is not something many boaters have much experience with likely explaining what we see here on occasion. We’ve found it be tricky at times ourselves as the anchorages are more exposed so you have to have a good set to deal with the wind. Right now we getting 25 knot gusts and I am glad I have stretchy snubber to absorb shocks. Not mention that I wouldn’t want anything less than my 45 lb cqr even though many have said it is oversized for the boat