Island hop this cruiser’s paradise in which scenery, characters and proximity appeal to novice and experienced boaters alike.
The dinghies approached us as if they had suddenly materialized on the water, before we even had a chance to grab onto a mooring. Time to pay up the mooring ball fee, we thought. Instead the men broke out singing. “Oh, what a beautiful morning,” belted out Sacko Sam under the high noon sun. That’s the kind of unforgettable welcome you get in the British Virgin Islands, where the serenity of the islands, majestic sceneries and colorful characters charm and invite you for a new adventure, no matter how many times you’ve cruised their turquoise seas.
In early August the Southern Boating crew composed of my family and friends took off for a seven day cruise aboard two powercats from The Moorings charter fleet, the 514PC and the 393PC. The trip was to give us quality time together, and while one cat would have accommodated all 10 of us, I had an ulterior motive: a learning experience for the younger generation (my children) to learn to navigate, read the waters and charts, monitor the onboard machinery, and master anchoring and mooring techniques. In short, they would man their very own vessel in unfamiliar waters. From the distance of my powercat, I watched (as a proud father, teacher and captain) as they gained confidence and at times took the lead, guiding them when necessary.
After a quick stop in Road Town on Tortola (The Moorings’ base) to pick up our powercats, we departed for this archipelago of 60 islands, where one seemingly hops from island to island—a boater’s cruising paradise (and an ideal learning ground).
First on our journey: an easy and short southeast cruise to Cooper Island less than 7 nm away—a perfect way for the crew to familiarize itself with the vessels, take the dinghies out and relax in the crystal waters.
A mechanical issue on the 51′ powercat—a fizzling air conditioner due to trapped seaweed in the intake—had us cruising uncomfortably under high temperatures for a bit, yet failed to derail our plans. One of The Moorings’ certified technicians—who are scattered throughout the islands and readily available—quickly met us at our next stop, immediately identified and fixed the common problem as we explored (our minds at ease) The Bath and its gargantuan boulders on the south end of Virgin Gorda Island. The dazzling granite boulders, reminders of the island’s volcanic origins, form natural sheltered pools and scenic grottoes. Take the dinghy around a bit before you pick a spot to start exploring or be prepared for a lot of swimming to go around the boulders. We spent the evening docked at Bitter End Yacht Club, where we feasted at its landmark Clubhouse Steak & Seafood Grille, a favorite rendezvous for visiting boaters for its sea-to-table approach.
It was right as we arrived on Anegada Island—the longest jaunt of our trip—that the serenading men in their dinghies met us, their songs meant to lure us to their eateries and the island’s specialty: lobster. Sam, the jubilant chef of Potter’s By The Sea won us over, and after making our dinner reservations arranged for a taxi to take us to Loblolly Beach on the north shore for an afternoon of snorkeling on the Eastern Caribbean’s third largest continuous reef—where baby octopi, monster lobsters and yellowtail fish inhabit the vibrant corals. We made a quick stop at Flash of Beauty Beach, an improvised shack-like bar with its self-service refrigerator—as if walking into someone’s back porch straight from the seas—where the owner, a woman from Trinidad and Tobago decked out in a muumuu, sandals and head wrap entertained us with tales from the island. Wild goats and cattle roamed the flat and dry terrain, interspersed by marshes, where hundreds of bright pink flamingoes gathered on the road back to Potter’s By The Sea. As the sun came down, the simple and colorful shack house with its wooden picnic tables came to life with strings of lights dangling from the tin ceiling. Sam danced and sang by the grill. T-shirts and flags from previous visitors hang on the roof. We added our own decór contribution and left a Southern Boating shirt behind.
While Great Dog Island was our next intended destination, the lack of available moorings led us to Kitchen Point on George Dog. There, the trees’ long branches shot out and seemingly braided with one another to form natural trellises, where visitors left balanced stacks of rocks behind—we added our own. We docked at Scrub Island Resort & Marina on Scrub Island, reveled in their salt water two-level infinity pool—the slide takes you from the top level with pool bar right to the bottom—and shopped at the many boutiques before enjoying a scrumptious dinner of fresh seafood at Tierra! Tierra! under the stars. Back at the docks, a real spectacle awaited us as jellyfish and tarpons glided in the waters lit by colorful underwater lights.
We encountered yet another character on Brewers Bay on the northern coast of Tortola. Miss Lou, a petite woman in her 70s with weathered skin and a knack for captivating anecdotes, owned yet another small bar along the white sandy beach. It was as we sat enjoying our drinks, taking in the view of the mountains and recounting Miss Lou’s stories that we almost lost one of our dinghies—not pulled nearly far enough on the sand, it gave in to the waves that took it hundreds of yards away. (It does happen to the most experienced of boaters.)
We moored on Jost Van Dyke’s Great Harbour and strolled along the waterside road with its bars, gift shops, dive shops, small markets, and a fresh drink at Foxy’s Bar. The next day we moved westward to White Bay, home of the famed Soggy Dollar Bar, where patrons linger to play a game of ring toss. We finished our cruise with a visit to Norman Island known for its legends and tales of pirates and treasures, where more snorkeling awaited us within the dark caves of Treasure Point.
The laid-back vibe of the B.V.I. and the proximity of the islands invite you to abandon your agenda and just go with the flow. Whether the lack of moorings, the weather, your crew’s change of heart—or their newly gained confidence—allow yourself to hop from islets to cays and coves, take in the scenery, and discover the B.V.I again and again through the eyes of its most colorful characters.
The Cruising Guide to the Virgin Islands 2015-2016
Cruising Guide Publications; cruisingguides.com
Bitter End Yacht Club
Virgin Gorda Island
Scrub Island Resort, Spa & Marina
Soggy Dollar Bar
Jost Van Dyke
Jost Van Dyke
Potter’s By The Sea
By Skip Allen and family, Southern Boating, November 2015