Returning to the British Virgins

Normally when I have some free time I start planning my next trip. But, thanks to Covid-19 I found myself cancelling the already made plans. No worries, if I can’t plan new ones, I’ll just re-live the ones I already had.

Nanny Cay at sunset

My daydream-de-jour is the sailing trip I took to the British Virgin Islands with my favourite sailing buddies last December. I sailed this paradise before the Hurricane Irma and watched the destruction it brought on the telly with horror and sadness. Needless to say, I was anxious to go back.

The route from Istanbul to Tortola is somewhat indirect. One must first fly to Gatwick and then to Antigua and finally to BVI via Saint Maarten. It’s not an uncomfortable journey but still, I’m waiting for the ‘Beam me up, Scotty’ days to come.

My husband and I arrived a day ahead of the rest of our group to spend time with Cem, a skipper friend who moved to BVI some years back. We spent the night at Nanny Cay, my favourite marina in Tortola. Hotel accommodation in Tortola is still not up to scratch, most places are in various stages of renovation. Luckily, Nanny Cay operates a small but comfortable hotel. After catching up with Cem and touring the island we had dinner at marina’s restaurant by the seaside with shrimp kebaps, mahi mahi and Anegada lobsters. Washed down with painkillers, a cocktail made from coconut milk, ananas & orange juices and lots of dark rum, with a sprinkle of freshly grounded nutmeg, everything was finger licking delicious. 

The effects of Hurricane Irma are still visible

The BVI are everybody’s idea of how Caribbean should be, it’s almost unreal. It has islands full of white sand beaches and palm trees, stunning sunsets, rum cocktails and private islands for the uber rich. And they have a history filled with pirates and lost treasures.

Once these islands were the playground of pirates and privateers and their stories, both real and imagined, are part of the charm of the West Indies. Situated right on the trade route from Europe to South America, the BVI were especially popular and attracted most notorious pirates like Calico Jack and Captain Blackbeard.

So many islands, so little time

Thanks to its armada which controlled the Americas and West Indies, Spain ruled the world at 16th century. They basically pumped the wealth of the continent to Madrid and pirates were the only obstacle on this extremely profitable route. Afraid to challenge the mighty Spanish Armada directly, the English, French and Dutch courts started handling ‘letters of marque’ to the pirates, offering royal pardons in exchange for a part of their plunder of the Aztec & Mayan gold . This was how the government sponsoring pirating, in other words privateering (buccaneering for French) was born.

The most famous privateer of them all was Sir Francis Drake, aka El Draco, a pirate turned privateer who was so successful in bringing the Spanish gold to England, he was decorated with a special medal by Queen Elisabeth I and later defeated the Spanish Armada as an Admiral of the British Empire. Today his name is given to the main sea channel connecting the Atlantic Ocean with the Caribbean Sea.

Roadtown, Tortola

Sailing the BVI is both easy and challenging. It’s easy because except for the hurricane season, the gentle trade winds provide ideal sailing conditions. It can also be demanding because the whole area is teeming with reefs, some quite shallow. Night sailing is a no-no and mooring can be a challenge if you haven’t reserved first.

Day 1 Joma Marina, Tortola

First things first, the boat. We rented Kalm Waters, a 44ft Fountaine Pajot catamaran from BVI Yacht Charters, based at the Joma Marina, Road Town. Small and efficient team, top quality boats, zero fuss. The boat itself was equipped with all the bells and whistles one could think of, even a coffee grinder so we woke up to the aroma of fresh espresso every morning.

Sunset colours

The rest of our friends arrived, just in time to check-in to the boat and sort out the provisions shopping which is very advanced in Tortola compared to other parts of the Caribbean. We had ordered the basics in advance and only bought the fresh produce from a supermarket nearby. A reminder : when you order in advance, never ever ask them to deliver the items into the boat unless you want to spend your holiday with a bunch of bugs. Ask for a delivery to the pontoon, open the boxes on shore and carry every item onboard one by one. Tedious, but essential.

For dinner we went to the Charlie’s at the Moorings Marina at Wickhams Cay. It’s a popular spot by locals and tourists alike, so making reservations is a good idea. Even so, like most places Caribbean, they operate on island time, which has nothing to do with timezones and a lot to do with mentality. You are there to enjoy a nice time with friends, so sit back and enjoy. The drinks will arrive when they arrive and the food will follow eventually. When they finally arrived in the form of juicy steaks and groupers we were equally grateful and starving.

Day 2 Joma Marina – The Bight, Norman Island 7 Kn

We woke up to a calm day and motored 7kn to Norman Island where we took a buoy at The Bight. The legendary party boat Willie T was back in its place at anchor off The Bight , although the original was destroyed during the Hurricane Irma and this is a new vessel.

When I was a kid, one of my favourite books was Treasure Island by Robert Lewis Stevenson. When I found out that he got his inspiration from the Norman Island, and many of the other places in the novel are scattered around the Virgin Islands, I returned to my childhood.

Blue Tangs at the Caves

After a quick lunch, we took the dinghy to the Caves for snorkelling and met our first barracuda of the trip among the schools of blue tangs, parrot fish, sergeant fish and groupers. When the number of people snorkelling exceeded the number of the fish, it was time to go back and get ready for our first tropical sunset of the trip.

We decided to go to the Pirates Bight for sundowners and dinner. If you are looking for a relaxed evening at a place with nice atmosphere, cocktails on white sands while watching the sunset and delicious food, this is the right place.

Back on board, we spent the rest of the evening watching the tarpons that came to our underwater lights. They were to be our constant companions on this trip.

Day 3 Norman Island – Indians – Cooper Island 11 Kn

Just 1kn off Norman Island are the Indians, a small archipelago of islets and another popular dive and snorkelling spot. There are several mooring balls for daily use and although we arrived quite early in the morning, we still had to wait half an hour to find an empty one.

The shallow waters were alive with fish and beautiful fan corals and we took our time enjoying them. When we got back, the best surprise was waiting for us under our boat, a large and lazy barracuda. Apparently barracudas like swimming under catamarans and this particular one made itself at home until we left.

Our own barracuda

Afterwards, we sailed off to the Manchioneel Bay at Cooper Island. En route, we sang ‘15 men on a Dead Men’s Chest’ at the top of our voices while passing by the isle of Dead Chest where Captain Blackbeard left 15 of his men with a single bottle of rum to die .

That night we dined at the Cooper Island Beach Club. They are an eco-friendly establishment, producing their electricity and water directly from the sun. They also have a micro-brewery and serve only their draft beer. If you’re around, sample their Turtle IPA. They donate a part of the proceeds to the BVI Sea Turtle conservation, so you can feel good with yourself while drinking your beer.

One note on moorings. As most of the Caribbean, anchoring is a no-no around most islands so finding a mooring ball could be a challenge. During the high season it’s not uncommon to see two or three boats racing for the last mooring.

Enter the entrepreneurial spirit of the islanders and this problem is largely solved.

We reserved the moorings through Boatyball whenever we could. They have well maintained mooring balls around most islands and charge a service fee of USD 10 on top of the normal charges which were set at USD 30 this season. In exchange, you spend your day doing whatever you want without worrying about your berthing for the night. It came especially handy at Anegada.

Day 4 -6 Cooper Island – Anegada 23 Kn

Anegada was the reason I went back to BVI. Aptly named ‘drowned lands’ by the Spanish, getting there by a boat could be tricky. It’s not a small island, but it’s extremely flat – its highest point is about 8 meters above the sea level – and the only opening to the anchorage is narrow. If the skies are cloudy or the seas are high, it’s difficult to see the island from afar, let alone the channel entrance buoys. In fact, the first thing you’ll see will probably be the top of the palm trees.

Anegada is actually a flat atoll guarded by the Horseshoe Reef, one of the largest reefs in the world. The reef is famous for its shipwrecks, there are hundreds of them spread around, making it a must-go place for divers. Other things the island is famous for are its lobsters and white sand beaches, so it’s no wonder we divided our time between them.

Cow Wreck beach in the morning

We spent three days at this paradise. If we knew what was coming in 2020 , we would probably spend more.

Couple of notes on Anegada : If you plan to stay more than a day – and honestly, you should – have your water tanks full for there’s no fresh water on the island.

And , especially in high season, reserve in advance a moke, jeep or any form of transportation. Anegada is not a small island and there are lot’s of things to do.

We started early that day and thanks to a favourable 12kn wind we found ourselves zigzagging the entrance of the reef after almost four hours of comfortable sailing.

Lublolly

We directly took a cab to Loblolly’s at the north east end of the island. After a lunch of crab cakes, conch fritters, beer and painkillers at the Big Bamboo we went snorkelling. There’s a paid shower at the beach for USD 3 pp. Considering all that wind, sand and salt, it was money well spent.

Dinner was lobsters and wine at the Anegada Reef Hotel. They barbecue the lobsters just a few meters away and you eat on the beach, under the stars. Everything was very delicious and very casual.

A 2-pound lobster is around US 55 at Anegada and if you want to bring your own wine, you pay a USD 8 cork fee.

Next day found us on our rental Mokes (USD 210 for two) discovering the beaches at the West End. We went to Cow Wreck Beach and for most of the morning we were the only people there. We walked and snorkelled and felt extremely grateful just to be there.

We had ceviche and lobster sandwiches for lunch and had a mini shopping spree at the little boutique. Afterwards we went to Anegada Beach Club, a prime location for kite surfers. With its thatched-roof cabanas, it probably provides the most luxurious accommodation of the island. Couple of killer cocktails later we found our way back to Kalm Waters.

We were the only patrons at Neptune’s Treasure that night and what a feast we had. Pam is a great cook and her food is a joy to enjoy and remember. We dined on huge lobsters, fresh French bread and our own wine on the seafront deck. The portions were so big, even the boys couldn’t finish, so they prepared us doggy bags and some banana bread for breakfast.

Next day we rented a jeep (USD 70) from the shop near the petrol station and went back to Cow Wreck beach again. It was almost as peaceful as the day before. At the bar, the old mama prepared fresh painkillers and we took long walks. One of us found a swordfish on the beach. Some horrible person cut its nose as a trophy and left it to die.

We went to Anegada Beach Club for some nachos and quesadillas and toured the island in the afternoon. Another attraction of Anegada is the pink flamingos that paint the rich salt ponds of the island to , well, pink and we saw our fair share of these gorgeous noisy big birds.

We prepared a delicious lobster linguini on board thanks to the leftovers from Pam and had an early night.

Day 7 Anegada — Marina Cay 20 Kn

We sailed towards Marina Cay early in the morning and took a buoy around 11 am. We spent the day swimming and snorkelling – the fan corals were spectacular – and touring with the dinghy to the nearby Great Camanoe island. Dinner was on board accompanied by a large school of tarpons that came to play with our under water lights. They are friendly creatures but quite shy.

Day 8 Marina Cay – Virgin Gorda 14 Kn

After a short stop at Marina Cay to top-up our water tanks, we sailed to Virgin Gorda, a large island full of high hills and hidden coves.

Virgin Gorda, meaning the ‘Fat Virgin’ was said to be named by Christophe Colombus as such, because the island’s profile on the horizon resembles of a fat woman lying on her side. We spent couple of days around the island’s beautiful bays and at nights we sampled its restaurants and bars.

Dinghy Beach, The Baths

Our first stop was the Baths, where we took a free buoy early in the morning. The Baths is an area of natural pools and grottos formed by giant boulders. It’s like a natural fun park. There’s a route formed by the boulders which starts at the Dinghy Beach, goes through many small pools and over rocks, continues at another -slightly less crowded- beach called Devil’s Bay and after more pools and boulders , arrives back at the Dinghy Beach.

It’s very fun , very wet and a must do. Just put on a rash guard on top of your swimming suit and a good pair of wet shoes, and you’re good to go. There’s a restaurant at the top of the trail that serves fresh fruit juices with killer views, so don’t forget to take some money.

In the afternoon we sailed to Leverick Bay at the northern end and anchored close to the beach. En route we had a chance to see the new resorts and villas that was built in the recent years. Most were spectacular, especially the ones on the Mosquito Island.

For dinner we had reservations at Cocomaya at Spanish Town. We had to cross the island at the back of an open truck and it was a bone breaking experience, but when we reached Cocomaya, it was totally worth it. It’s a chic little seaside restaurant and everything, the atmosphere, service and the food are top notch. The quality of the food that they serve can easily be compared to many famous restaurants in world’s major capitals. The menu was fun and fresh and they prepare the best passion fruit margaritas ever. The food came in tapas style portions, so between the six of us, we sampled quite a number of them. Pad Thai, tuna sashimi and ribs were beyond delicious.

Cocomaya

There was music and karaoke that night, but we were feeling tired and had another excruciating island crossing to look forward to, so we left early.

The night was windy , choppy and sleepless. Bad weather finally started to catch up with Kalm Waters.

Day 9 Leverick Bay, Virgin Gorda

We originally planned to tour the Gorda Sound with the dinghy but the weather forecast was not favourable, so we spent a peaceful and lazy day at the Leverick Bay. We managed to find a mooring ball close to the marina. Afterwards went to another shopping spree at the Arawak and the Pussers followed by mahi sandwiches at the Cove Bar. The marina also had a well stocked supermarket where we replenished our refrigerator. We went back to the marina restaurant for a dinner of curry shrimps and live music.

Lunch a la Caribbean

Day 10 Leverick Bay – Great Harbour, Jost van Dyke 29 Kn

After another choppy night, we had an early start to Jost Van Dyke. We sailed to the Great Harbour via the Drake Channel. There was a wind warning for boats our size starting from that day, so we wanted to arrive to JVD as early as possible. En route we had up to 20kt of easterlies with waves around 2 meters high.

When we arrived at the Great Harbour , our Boatyball mooring was waiting for us, together with our own complimentary barracuda.

Foxy’s Jost Van Dyke

Jost Van Dyke is well known for it’s beaches, beach bars, and parties at those beach bars. Two of them have grown into famous establishments over the years : Soggy Dollar Bar at the White Bay and Foxy’s at the Great Harbour.

White Bay, JVD

Jost Van Dyke was badly effected from the Irma, in fact they were still trying to raise money to repair the church at the Great Harbour, although the bars and restaurants were in full swing. We took a taxi to White Bay and had a lovely lunch at Hendo’s Hideout. When I first came to White Bay, Soggy Dollar Bar was the only establishment there, so it was good to find more bars on this beautiful and popular beach and Hendo’s was an excellent spot. The menu was Caribbean with an American twist (rum & coke pulled pork, anyone ?) and the cocktail menu was most creative. Their signature cocktail is called ‘Delirious Donkey’ and I can drink their ‘lime in da coconut’ anytime, day and night.

The afternoon passed easily, alternatively swimming, drinking painkillers at Soggy Dollar and dosing off on the beach. There were short showers all afternoon but we were simply too relaxed – should I say drunk ?- to care.

We had some bad food experience at the Foxy’s before, so we decided to try Corsairs for dinner. Just one comment : Don’t. Really, don’t bother.

Day 11 Jost Van Dyke – Little Jost 4 Kn

We motored to Little Jost in the morning and found a mooring ball at Diamond Cay.

There were squalls, in fact the wind never went below 15kt all day. We spent the day swimming, snorkelling and watching the pelicans.

Diamond Cay, Little Jost

There were two little islands around Little Jost before Irma, Sandy Cay and Sandy Spit, the later a tiny slip of land with a few palm trees. I was sad to see Sandy Spit completely disappear and most of Sandy Cay gone.

We took the dinghy to shore and walked to bubbly pools. Afterwards we had drinks at Foxy’s Taboo, a small beach bar at Diamond Cay. Their painkiller was among the best at BVI. That night was full moon and we had dinner on board followed by an impromptu Caribbean party.

Day 12 Little Jost – Great Harbour 5 Kn

We wanted to spend the day sailing around, visiting the islets but the winds were around 20-25kt with heavy showers so we decided to go back to Great Harbour. It turned out to be a good decision, for White Bay was particularly fun that day. There was a live band at Hendo’s to entertain the guests of an anchoring cruise ship. Afterwards, we had one of the most memorable sushi & lobsters dinners at Hendo’s. We were almost at the end of our trip and decided that it would be a long time till the next Anegada lobster. Turned out to be quite a good decision, n’est ce pas ?

The wind was still strong in the evening so we decided to have a couple of night caps at Foxy’s before returning to Kalm Waters. They made sleeping easy.

Day 13 Great Harbour , JVD – Little Harbour, Peter Island 11 Kn

Our last full day. After a short stop to replenish our diesel and water, we sailed to Peter Island. It wasn’t a pretty passage, although the winds were between 15-20 kt, the waves were quite high. Shocking (!) discovery : Catamarans don’t really like side waves.

When we arrived at Little Harbour in early afternoon , we found the bay completely calm. We anchored and took a shore line – a first in these waters – and had a great last day swimming and snorkelling until sundown.

Dinner was supposed to be an all- Italian menu, but when we opened the last spaghetti packages, we found them infested with dead little flies. Yucks ! Luckily we still had some cold cuts, cheese and bottles of wine, so we got creative. It wasn’t the sushi and lobster menu that the boys got used to, but it was as memorable.

Day 14 Peter Island/ Joma Marina – 5k

Check out time to another dream holiday. I know one thing for sure. We’ll be back at the lovely Caribbean sometime soon.

Until then, stay healthy, keep your social distancing and wash those hands !

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