The Beautiful Blue of the BVI
by Rosie Burr
It’s hard to believe that my husband, Sim, and I have been sailing in and around the Caribbean for nearly a decade and barely touched the British Virgin Islands. Put off by stories of mobbing charterers hijacking peaceful bays with their raucous babble and bad anchoring techniques, and anchorages full of costly moorings, we had always found that the rest of the Caribbean had so much to offer, so why bother?
But what fools we have been.
The BVI can be expensive but they don’t have to be; the clearance fees aren’t prohibitive, especially when you consider what these multiple islands have to offer in terms of sailing, snorkelling and hiking, and sheer natural beauty. Some bars and restaurants are pricey but many are not, the same as in all the Caribbean islands. And it’s true that many BVI bays, especially the popular ones, are full of mooring buoys at exorbitant prices, but we always found places to anchor. We lucked out with the weather, too, having settled conditions the entire time were there.
Every day you see the white canvas of unfurled sails as dozens of charter boats dash from one destination to the next. The Sir Francis Drake Channel acts like a super highway as yachts race about. And it’s hard not to get caught up in the same mad dash when your time is limited; visiting yachts are allowed to stay for just a month, unless you choose to import your boat, and there is so much to see.
We started our whirlwind tour of the British Virgins at Spanish Town in Virgin Gorda, our boat, Wandering Star, laden down with stores from St. Maarten to avoid some of the higher prices here. The anchorage is easy with good holding in soft white sand, the Customs procedures efficient. The marina village offers everything from fuel dock to supermarket, shops, restaurants and bars. The views out to the west across the Sir Francis Drake Channel are stunning.
With over half a dozen islands and scores of anchorages in the BVI, there are many places to be visited. We tried to avoid bays with mooring buoys, instead choosing as our theme less-visited anchorages with good snorkelling possibilities. In Virgin Gorda, Savannah and Pond Bays were peaceful spots with reefs all around to snorkel (unless a swell runs in from the north and the bay becomes untenable). Richard Branson’s private Necker Island and Eustatia Sound, Peter Island and Norman Island are all fabulous. Walks and hikes ashore can also be found, whether it be a stretch of sandy beach, a short track to a lookout point with magnificent panoramas, or trails within the national parks.
There is no doubt that the highlights of the British Virgins for us were The Baths and Devils Cay. If we had not seen anywhere else this trip I would not have been disappointed. We had been advised to get there early — so we did; in fact, we were the first boat there. We would have been the first ashore to explore the caves, too, but a charter boat’s crew had dropped their boat hook and then run over a mooring, wrapping the pick-up line around the boat’s propeller. They needed our help.
Ashore, The Baths are stunning, with myriad little coves and grottos amidst the huge boulders and rock pools that have stood there for centuries, scattering shimmering light this way and that as the sun rises over them. The beautiful changing blue hues out across the bay are breathtaking. Underwater the sea is glass clear, the snorkelling a delight.
In Tortola you have a heady mix of lively ports like Road Town, where the cruise ships visit, and smaller harbours like Trellis Bay where yachts are packed in like sardines, mooring buoys back-to-back, and any anchoring space squeezed into tight corners with shallow depths or on the outer limits where water is deep or unprotected. Tortola’s northern coast is stunning. The whole area is a great place to go gunkholing, if the swells permit.
Occasionally it was frustrating to arrive towards the end of a day to find that the anchorage described in a guidebook barely exists when you need to keep clear of the moorings. Maybe we are too conservative in our anchoring. But we would always find another bay just around the corner or on a neighbouring island that was nice and calm, and we would be all alone wondering why no one else was there; maybe because it was not mentioned in the guide book!
It was impossible for us to see everything. We ended up finding a little piece of heaven on Norman Island called Benures Bay and it seemed to hit the spot. We stayed there longer than we planned, at the cost of exploring other places. Maybe it was the good holding with little swell rolling in; maybe it was because there were no mooring buoys taking up the bay or perhaps it was the wonderful snorkelling with abundance of fish and coral gardens waiting for us below the water’s surface. Maybe it was the deep blue of the sea, where even in 15 metres we could clearly see the bottom.
This is what strikes us about our entire BVI trip — how blue the sea is. Even on the greyest day the water was so clear and blue and inviting, with the green hills of distant islands undulating in the background. It sets the tone; the snorkelling is some of the best we have seen in a long time. Although there was dead coral there was also plenty that was alive. Brain coral, sea fans, sponges as well as all sorts of worms, starfish and molluscs, the seabed was literally littered with them.
Don’t let any negative stories put you off cruising these Virgins — you will truly be missing out on something very special. Sim and I may not have seen everything the beautiful blue BVI holds this time around, but one thing is for certain: we will return.
Rosie Burr and her husband, Sim Hoggarth, formerly aboard Alianna, a 39-foot Corbin, now sail Wandering Star, a 44-foot custom steel cutter. Visit their blog at www.yacht.alianna.co.uk.
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