Sailing in the Caribbean – We scrawled on the wall!
Spotlight – The British Virgin Islands: Sailing conditions - Average wind speeds 15-25 knots, tidal range 12-18 inches, temperature always in the 80's - hot hot hot!!
The British Virgin Islands, an archipelago in the Caribbean consisting of 4 main islands and lots of smaller ones. Tortola is the main Island and Road Town is the Capital.
I first visited with my husband about 12 years ago when my parents offered to have the kids for a week. we wondered whether a week would be long enough. Funnily enough due to the compactness of the sailing area, this is plenty of time if that is all you can manage and we have been going back ever since, a total of 8 times so far.
Our first sailing trip was nerve racking to say the least, we had some limited coastal level sailing experience, but apparently that was enough. We started with a flotilla which are great for a first visit to a new destination, you sail your own boat along with another 10-12 boats, there is a Flotilla Skipper, a Hostess and an Engineer for any breakdowns, you have a briefing each morning and then you are let loose on your own, meeting up at a set destination usually for a meal with the other crews. It is good fun and reassuring when your experience is limited knowing that there is a team on call for any problems.
We found that after our first flotilla in the BVI’s we were happy to go solo and charter, this way you are not restricted by an itinerary being set for you. The sailing is not too challenging if you go in season (November – May), you may get caught in the odd squall but you can usually see them approach and they are fairly easy to steer away from, or put a reef in and get a free warm deck shower. The islands are also very close indeed and you can get from one island to the next easily within an hour or two.
A few things to remember, the currency is $USD and buoyage is the opposite to the UK (red right returning is a good phrase to remember if you are British). Don’t try to fish without a licence, the fines are heavy, your charter company will tell you where to get one. Whatever luggage allowance your main airline allows you, Liat (the connecting flight) will only allow 20 kgs, check this before you pack as this may be subject to change.
Mooring is easy too, most overnight stops you can anchor or pick up a mooring ball. Because there is hardly any tide you have a fixed mooring ball with a pickup line, these usually cost about $30 USD per night collected by the nearest bar, some even offer free water and ice as part of the deal. There are a few marinas around the islands if you are willing to pay extra for walk ashore, so don’t be too daunted by the size of the charter boats, you will find a 40+ footer or even a catamaran easy to handle in the BVI’s even short handed. Your charter company will give you a charter briefing and tell you where you can provision etc. Provision on line and have your shopping delivered straight to your boat ready for your arrival. The vibe is easy and relaxed, the local customs are to greet and pass the time of day before making your request in a shop or ordering food. This goes down well. Deck shoes not required, one pair of flip flops will cover everything. Once you dinghy ashore you are met by beautiful, white sandy beaches, palm trees and rum!
The islands boast three of the top 20 beach bars in the whole of the Caribbean – Soggy Dollar Bar, Foxy’s and Bomba’s. The Willy T on Norman Island is also a must and there is usually a serious party going on, pirate style!
Eating out, there is something for everyone, top restaurants with awards for fine dining to Burgers and chips. A favourite of our is a roti which is a Caribbean flat bread stuffed with Chicken or goat Curry, with mango chutney on the side, simply delicious washed down by the local beer – Carib. As usual with islands there is no shortage of seafood, conch (pronounced conc), conch fritters, lobster and the catch of the day.
If you are a proper sailor and are looking for a decent sail, you can head past Necker (Richard Branson’s island) to Anegada, a mainly flat island which at its highest point is only 8.5 meters. This means that the first thing you spot on your passage are the palm trees. There are plenty of restaurants on the island and you’ll get a great welcome. Anegada is famous for its lobster.
Other things to do - There are lots of Scuba companies, snorkelling is amazing with beautiful fish, Sting rays, barracuda and you may even spot the odd turtle. At the beginning or the end of your trip you can take a taxi tour of the island. Diamond stores are in abundance in Road Town. Trellis bay lays at the bottom of the runway and as well as having a number of great Caribbean bars and restaurants is also famous for its full moon party. Marina Cay is a must visit. You can say hi to your folks from the web cam in the phone box on the jetty. The Baths on Virgin Gorda are fabulous (a grotto of meandering caves and rock pools.
Travel takes a little planning, you can fly into one of the hubs like Antigua and then fly into Beef Island on Tortola on Liat Airlines. Don’t get phased by a long wait between your main flight and onward flight, remember, you are already on holiday. If you find yourself with a few hours between connections then why not take advantage of a little excursion. We flew into Antigua, asked the taxi drivers for some advice about where we could go in the time allowed and took a trip to Dickenson Bay on Antigua for a couple of hours. Hopefully this will start you off in the right frame of mind for your Caribbean adventure.
I hope I have whetted your appetite for a trip to the BVI’s, I’ve only really scratched the surface but I hope you have a taster of what the British Virgin Islands are all about which is chilled, fun and gloriously hot at 30+ degrees every day with a ‘y’ in it.
There are many charter companies to choose from. We chartered with BVI Yacht Charters www.bviyachtcharters.com the Team will be really happy to help you!
Written by Chrissie Capel (Boatshed) View my profile http://www.boatshed.com/contact-chris-capel
Crew on the last holiday - Chris (Skipper), Steve (First Mate), Nikki (Competent Crew), Paul (Incompetent Crew by his own admission), Ian and Julie (both Crew) - We scrawled on the wall and promised in writing to revisit in 2016!