Tortola, British Virgin Islands
Sailing BVI Tortola Reviews
Dec 10, 2006
Chartering a sailboat and sail around the British Virgin Islands is an exciting and fun vacation. It can be inexpensive compare to staying on land and it gives a lot of flexibility as to where to visit. Some of the best spots at the BVI are waterbound.
I have been there three times. The week long trip usually starts with a short sail to Norman Island from Tortola. If you leave by early afternoon there is enough time to stop by "The Indians" for some great snorkling before arriving at Norman Island. If this is your first charting experience or if you have an inexperienced crew, this leg of the trip is a good time to get yourself comfortable with the boat and practice some sail/boat handling with your crew. Norman Island is known for nightlife at Willie T's. This is a floating bar that can pack quite a crowd at night. If you like partying/drinking/loud music, moor your boat close to it otherwise if you like a quiet evening, it would be wise to find a mooring on the other side of the bay. Before 2006, you could jump off the top of Willie T's naked should you had enough to drink but that changed last time I visited when jumping is no longer permitted. The top of the bar now takes on a more intimate setting for more private conversations should you be in the mood. Be warned that most people leave Willie T's pretty drunk and they still have to drive their dinghy back to their boat. Bring light with your dinghy and be careful driving drunk!
A sailing practice that will make for a relaxing enjoyable chartering experience at the BVI is to be "ahead of the crowd". That means setting sail a bit earlier than most people in the group. If you are going to BVI during offseason or starting your chartering mid week, this is not that big of a deal. During peak season however there is usually a large group boats traveling more or less towards the same destination each day. You don't want to be the last ones arriving at the next destination each day because all the good mooring spots will be taken and anchoring can be very tricky at some of the locations. I have seen someone's boat's anchor break loose at the middle of the night each time I was there. Rafting is not recommended by chartering companies and I don't recommend that either because the mooring balls are designed to hold ONE boat only, in a strong blow the mooring balls can break loose if you put two boats on it.
Next day, hop over to Cooper Island, but before you do so make sure you head over to the western side of the Norman Island to check out the caves before setting sail. There are about three day mooring balls there but don't stay too long if you want to catch the afternoon dive at the R.M.S. Rhone leaving from Cooper Island around noon. Going to Cooper Island you can either take the southern outside route or the standard inside channel route. I have done both, the outside route can be a lot of fun if you want to do some sailing, the water is a bit more exposed and you get a taste of open water, watch out for leeshore. I don't recommend this path if you are inexperienced and/or have crew susceptible to seasickness. Squeezing between Salt Island and Cooper Island, entering the Cooper Island bay from the south is pretty neat however. Diving the R.M.S. Rhone is a real treat, I highly recommend it if you can dive, make sure you bring your dive card. There are several dive companies that can take you there. We have used Dive BVI in the past who has a base at Cooper Island.
The next popular spot is the Bath on Virgin Gorda. It is a must stop location at the BVI. The scenary there is absolutely picturesque and it has some of the most spectacular beaches at BVI. Plan to get there early to catch a mooring ball. We spent as long there as we could at the Bath before heading to Marina Cay to spend the night. (overnighting at the Bath is not allowed!) It is tempting to linger at the Bath but you really want to catch a mooring ball at Marina Cay or Trellis Bay before it gets dark. I'd leave the Bath by 4pm at the latest. Marina Cay has very tricky anchorage and trying to anchor there when darkness set is NOT fun. Remember if you are not confident with your anchoring, be prepared to stand a night watch.
Next destination is Virgin Gorda (~2.5 hr sail), but first stop at the Dogs for some awesome scuba diving/snorkling! Leave EARLY and you can have hours of fun there. The mooring situation is pretty tight though, there are very few mooring balls at the Dogs. I usually spend the morning there and leave for Gorda Sound by early afternoon. Virgin Gorda is a beautiful island and you can easily spend an extra day here if you have time. The standard route to enter Gorda Sound is via the North Channel. There is also a West Channel but I do not recommend it unless you have a Catamaran and not afraid to go through very shallow reefs! Once inside the sound, there are several destinations worth stopping by. The Bitter End Yacht Club and Saba Rock are some of the famous ones. You can get fuel, water, supplies here. Nightlife is good.
After visiting Virgin Gorda, for those who have the time and sailing experience, you should head over the island of Anegada, 14 miles to the NE. I have not been there myself but have heard nothing but good things about it. You'll need to clear this leg of the trip with the chartering company in advance. Watch out for shallow reefs once you get there.
The next destination is Cane Garden Bay. It's a nice long sail on the north side of Tortola, takes about 4 to 5 hours, but it'll offers a wonderful view of the island of Tortola. If you time things right there is the Caribbean Music Festival that's hosted at Cane Garden Bay which can be very entertaining. Getting off the boat and go for a hike on Tortola offers a beautiful view of the bay and Jost Van Dyke in the distance.
Sail to Sandy Cay and spend the morning there before heading over to Jost Van Dyke. The beach alone is worth it! Night life at Jost Van Dyke can be fanastic. Here is where the world famous Foxy's is. Dance away the night!
For the sailors, the sail upwind from Jost Van Dyke through the channel and back to Norman (or Peter Island) on the other side of Tortola can be a lot of fun. If you have multiple boats in your party, this would make a real nice race. Also you want to make your crew work hard before sailing back to Tortola. Spend an easy night at Norman Island, finish up the remaining of your provisionings and get drunk one more time. On the last day you have an easy sail to Road Town. Clean up the boat and say goodbye to your friends.
As always I'll end my review saying it's best to travel with someone you love and share your passions.
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