Why We Love the British Virgin Islands
We're back in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), still one of our favourite cruising grounds in the Caribbean!
There are many reasons why we keep returning to the BVI when our schedule allows:
- The beautiful natural islands. We’ve been coming here since 1985 and there has been very little intrusive development.
- There are numerous protected anchorages as well as good marina facilities if you want them.
- There are numerous restaurants and beach bars if you don't feel like cooking on board. Reservations taken via VHF radio! They really cater to boaters here.
- English is spoken so communication is not an issue.
- The grocery stores are good although pricier than other Caribbean Islands but they offer a good selection and have high end specialty items due to the charter boat industry here. You can order provisions online from grocery stores such as Rite Way Food Markets and have them delivered right to your boat. There are decent yacht services and chandleries too.
- The snorkeling and diving is great and good sites are convenient to anchorages. The dive operations offer “rendezvous dive services” where they will pick you up from your boat, provide gear, and take you to an interesting dive site. Check out Sail Caribbean Divers. There are over 100 sites in the islands within a small area.
- It’s easy eye-ball navigation since the islands are all close together so stress-free. It’s a nice break after lots of challenging navigation these past few years.
- It’s peaceful. Rarely do you hear an airplane or a siren (unless you're around the main island of Tortola).
- Large mooring fields have been installed in popular places so anchor-dragging issues and conflicts have virtually disappeared. Yet there are plenty of quiet places for experienced sailors to anchor, if you prefer.
- People love to sail here! Many are on a week's bareboat charter and they want to sail every minute they can! There are regattas and rendezvous and beautiful mega-yachts. The atmosphere is always festive. You are surrounded by people who are happy and active and having a good time - but they fall asleep by 10 PM :-) It's a boat show everyday!
So having said all that, let me tell you what we’ve been up to since we got here.
The start of this year's visit to the British Virgin Islands was on Wednesday February 26/14 when we set sail from the French/Dutch island of St. Martin/St. Maarten at 6:30 AM headed for the BVI. We had delayed our departure several times waiting for a part for our Mastervolt generator to arrive but it never came so we finally moved on. (More on the happy ending to this story later.)
We normally do the 80 nm offshore sail across the Anegada Passage from St. Martin to BVI within daylight hours averaging 7-8 knots but Distant Shores II had been in the soupy fertile waters of Simpson Bay Lagoon for several weeks and the hull and propellor were seriously caked with barnacles and other interesting marine growth.
Sunset with still miles to go to reach Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands (BVI).
This, in conjunction with the light flukey winds we had that day (see Paul's Tech Blog on this), slowed us down so much that we didn't make landfall in Virgin Gorda, BVI, until 9:00 PM so ended up sailing in, in the dark. Luckily we have been here many times so arriving in the dark was not an issue.
After coming through Necker Passage we entered the well lit channel into Gorda Sound and anchored off Prickly Pear Island in the protection of the reef where we soon fell fast asleep.
Gorda Sound, also called North Sound, in the British Virgin Islands
In the morning we motored over to Gun Creek, within Gorda Sound, with our yellow “Q” flag flying on the starboard halyard indicating to the customs and immigration officials at the office there that we needed to clear in. Unfortunately the customs officer was in Spanish Town for a morning meeting so the very courteous female immigration officer said if we wanted we could take a taxi to the Spanish Town office just a few miles over the hill and down the road and clear in there or she could handle our passports and we could come back in the afternoon and speak to the customs officer when he returned. We checked the price of the taxi and it was going to be $17 US/person one way or $68 for the both of us for the whole trip! So we decided to wait.
No problem we had barnacle-scraping to do in the meantime!
Once cleared in ($25 fees), we anchored off Saba Rock Resort, an amazing little boutique resort built on a tiny island within Gorda Sound. They have moorings too for $30 per night which includes 250 gallons of water for your tanks and a bag of ice, which is not a bad deal.
They also have free open high-speed wi-fi which we appreciate the use of so support them by showing up for Happy Hour ($3.50 for a beer or Painkiller rum drink. A big difference from $1 Happy Hour beers in Grenada but what a location!) and occasional meals.
This first night we had a reunion at the resort with cruising friends, Richard and Lavinia Maggs of MV Partners, who we had met earlier in the season in Carriacou, Grenada.
We spent a couple of days at anchor in Gorda Sound editing and scripting new episodes of Distant Shores, organizing interviews and film permits needed in upcoming destinations, and completing some magazine articles that were due. Paul and I start work early in the morning when its cool and we're pretty disciplined about keeping regular 8-hour work days during the week. I know it looks as if we're just out cruising when you watch episodes of the Distant Shores TV series but it is a job that requires hours and hours of work off-camera. Luckily our mobile field office is a pretty nice place to work!
Sheryl walking along the Biras Creek Trail on Virgin Gorda
When we needed a break we'd get off the boat and stretch our legs on the trails that start from the Bitter End Yacht Club. Guy's Trail and Biras Creek Trail are especially nice. If you like hiking check out Michael Sweeney's guide book, “Get Ready to Get Wet: Top 10 Hikes of the Caribbean” available on the Home Page of his Zero to Cruising website.
On Saturday March 1 we raised anchor and under genoa alone sailed out of Gorda Sound (also called North Sound) through a very shallow cut between Mosquito Island and Virgin Gorda. Most sail boats are too deep to use this cut but our Southerly 49 sailboat has a variable draft keel which we can raise in shallow places so this cut was not a problem for us.
S/V Distant Shores II sailing through the shallow cut between Mosquito Island and Virgin Gorda.
Sadly we saw a motor boat had gone hard aground on the reef there. I guess the captain had misread his charts or was not paying attention to the depths as he approached the cut. Ouch.
Motor yacht aground on the reef outside the Mosquito Island cut.
Our plan for the day was to visit the Digicel phone centre in Spanish Town to get set up with a local phone number and data plan, do a bit of grocery shopping, and continue on to Cooper Island or Peter Island. But when we got to Spanish Town, anchored, launched the dinghy, hiked up the hill to the main road we discovered that everything except the grocery store was closed on the weekends on Virgin Gorda! How quickly we forget when we are continually moving from one country to another. Most places in the Caribbean are open on Saturday but closed firmly on Sunday. Darn. It meant we wouldn't have a phone or mobile internet access until Monday. Then we saw a sign on the door saying that Monday was a public holiday! Nothing happening until Tuesday! Argghh.
We decided to return to Gorda Sound and continue our work anchored at Saba Rock where we could at least be in touch with the world via e-mail.
On Tuesday we tried at the phone centre again and a very friendly woman at the busy Digicel office in Spanish Town got us set up with a local phone number for our iPhone. The sim card was $10 US and had various pre-paid data plans we could attach to it. We ended up buying a plan for 3 Gb for $50 per month. We can tether our computers and devices to the phone which acts as a modem and both be online at the same time using it. For more info visit www.digicelbvi.com
Spanish Town anchorage
We spent the night anchored off Spanish Town which can get rather rolly with the currents and reflecting waves so in the morning we were keen to move on. We had another nice downwind sail and decided to keep going to Great Harbour, Peter Island, one of our favourite anchorages in the BVI since you can swim from the boat right to the reefs along the shoreline for great snorkelling. There's always lots of room to anchor although it's quite deep.
In Great Harbour, Peter Island, you can swim right from the boat to reefs along the shore.
Another nice thing is that you have access to the beautiful Peter Island Resort where sailors are welcome to use the beach, enjoy the restaurants and bars, relax at the spa, and hike the trails there.
Hiking on Peter Island. Paul takes in the view on the Sunset Loop trail.
While anchored at Great Harbour, Canadian friends, Dave and Alex aboard S/V Banyan, sailed in from St. Martin bringing with them the oil pressure sender for our generator that we had been waiting for. We have a Mastervolt Whisper 3.5 generator. The part had finally arrived a few days after we'd left St. Martin and our friends kindly picked it up and delivered it to us in person! Wow! Friends within the cruising community really watch out for each other. We feel truly blessed.
Friends Alex and Dave aboard S/V Banyan arrive in Great Harbour with the generator part we’d been waiting for.
This coming week we'll be visiting other locations around the British Virgin Islands. Stay tuned!
Sheryl and Paul Shard
Aboard S/V Distant Shores II
Great Harbour, Peter Island
British Virgin Islands
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