Sailing In The BVI – Sailing has been a life experience for me.  In the early 1970’s I was invited to sail in the British Virgin Islands.  We left from Dick Avery’s Boathouse in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas and cleared into the British Virgin Islands at Jost Van Dyke.  That is when and where my love affair with the British Virgin Islands began.  Needless to say, much has changed since then.   Thousands of people have discovered paradise in these islands.  The placid beauty of Anegada’s shore, North Sound and the Baths on Virgin Gorda, Tortola’s divergent ports of entry at the bustling Road Town, or the picturesque Soper’s Hole at the West End, all tether your soul to the life style here, and entice you to return.

Since the early 70s, we’ve had the opportunity to continue chartering sailboats in the Windward and Leeward Islands.   Our voyages typically include two or more boats laden with friends wanting to experience “the island life”. Charter companies have sprouted all the way to Grenada.   While each of the down island destinations have much to offer, none have the total package found in the British Virgin Islands: nothing rivals the ease of access through Beef Island or the ferry services from St Thomas, established mooring fields with attending restaurants, planned snorkelling and dive sites, provisioning services, fishing guides, and the plethora of charter companies that have spawned in the BVI.

We have chartered boats countless times and as a result have a good purchase on what to seek in a charter company.  Privately owned, brokered boats generally cost less than similar boats from major charter companies.   While a private boat may be well maintained and have amenities not found on charter boats from larger fleets, you are pretty much on your own should a problem arise.  In contrast, large charter companies have a designated crew and chase boat to help you.   However, there seems to be a direct correlation between the size of the charter company and the number of mechanical problems you encounter.  In our experience, the largest charter companies move boats from base to base causing maintenance to suffer inconsistencies.  On a recent charter from a major company, one of our boats had little or no electric power.  The problem?  All the batteries had been allowed to go dry and would not hold a charge.  It was a simple maintenance omission that impeded our vacation for hours while we waited for a chase boat and replacement batteries.

Several years ago we found Horizon Yacht Charters, a moderate size charter company owned by Silva Driver and Andrew Thompson and operated out of Nanny Cay.   Right from the start we recognized the friendly, service oriented ethic woven into this company.   Like all charter companies, Horizon is eager to get your business.  But, unlike other companies, the intensity of service doesn’t fade after you send your deposit.  What sets Horizon apart from other companies is the efficiency of the office staff and their attention to details.

The same attention is imbued in the maintenance of the charter fleet.  Wisely, Horizon has chosen to keep a manageable sized fleet.  All boaters know that regardless of a fastidious maintenance programme; sooner or later something will fail unexpectedly.  I’ve chartered several boats from Horizon and haven’t had a single mechanical failure.  I cannot say the same about other charter companies.

In the infancy of charter services, one had to ship provisions from home and supplement them with local groceries.  Today, the larger companies offer some sort of provision service (full or split provisioning).  Or, you can order your provisions on line through Rite Way, Bobby’s or the Ample Hamper and have them delivered to your boat after you have arrived.  Most of what arrives will be as you ordered.  Sometimes, based upon availability, you will get a substitution for one or more items. If that causes you distress, you can always do your own provisioning.  We have found that ordering on line, and having the provisions brought to the boat, gives our vacation a jumpstart.

I have heard sailors complain about the changes they have seen in the BVI.  Notably, anchorages are getting crowded during the high season.  Over 30 years ago, we anchored in the Bight at Norman Island and had the place to ourselves, along with a herd of bleating goats.  Today, the Bight is full of moorings and supports two restaurants, Pirates and the William Thornton (Willy T).  So, the anchorage appeals to a different crowd.  Instead of your having to cook on board, many of the anchorages have sprouted restaurants that cater to the charter crowd.  But, for those of us who remember the gold dome on Fort Burt, there are other places to get away.  On Norman alone, there is Money Bay, Benures Bay, and Soldier Bay.

Patience Brown, now a retired Sail Magazine editor, once wrote how Anegada was one of her favourite “getaways”.  Indeed, Anegada was once remote.   That has changed.  Now, charter companies put together flotillas from North Sound to Anegada.  Each flotilla is led by a local skipper.  So, to avoid the crowds at Anegada, we now sail there on “turnover” days at the charter bases.  Neptune’s, Anegada Reef Hotel and the Big Bamboo are still quiet on those days.

The sporty and timeless Bitter End Resort in North Sound has the company of Biras Creek, Saba Rock, and Levericks.  They all have mooring fields but in settled weather it is still possible to get away from the crowds by anchoring off Prickly Pear or by tucking in behind Colquhoun’s Reef by Mosquito Island.

From the mooring field at Marina Cay you can witness the heavy equipment on Scrub Island.  Roads are being cut into the hillside and a large construction project is planned.  Diamond Cay by Jost Van Dyke now has Foxy’s Taboo run by Foxy’s daughter, Justine. There are several moorings for overnight guests.  On your way to the bubbly pool there are signs advertising a future condo development on the hillside.

Alas, these scenic islands are all experiencing increasing external pressure brought on by sailors and non-sailors alike.  The British Virgin Islands have been discovered for sure, as evidenced by developmental changes taking place wherever you look.  While it is more difficult to find private anchorages, some still exist if you care to look for them.  In the more travelled waters, National Park and privately maintained moorings are a convenience.  

Having provisioning services and nice restaurants in the more common anchorages are assets.   The friendly people, beautiful islands and the sailing haven’t changed, and that is why more and more of us come back every year.