You never know who you’re going to meet in the British Virgin Islands.
I have to admit, when the boss said I’d be going on a bareboat powercat charter in the British Virgin Islands (B.V.I.), my first thought was, “Again? I’ve already been there twice.” (Pathetic, I know, but at least give me some credit for admitting it.) Then I learned I’d be joining 13 other powercats on a MarineMax BVI Getaway organized by MarineMax of Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri (MMLOO). As a former Midwesterner, boating with folks who are even close to my neck of the woods sounded just too fun to pass up. I was all in.
My group of four opted to fly to St. Thomas, get a hotel and take the water shuttle the next day as we’ve done in the past. If you’ve never been to St. Thomas, the Windward Passage Hotel is close to restaurants, shopping, offers a view of Charlotte Amalie Bay, and the ferry terminal is just across the street and down a block. (Note: Eat in Frenchtown at either Hook, Line & Sinker or The Pie Whole, an authentic New York pizza joint with an extensive beer menu; try the Rogue Mocha Porter or one of the local varieties brewed upstairs.)
In my opinion, a better option is to fly directly to Tortola; flights are more expensive, but you’ll save time and the hotel and water shuttle expense. Besides, the water shuttles are not typically very punctual (i.e. “island time”). Arrange in advance with your MarineMax representative to stay on the powercat the first night at their Tortola charter headquarters on Hodge’s Creek Marina. Also, ask for provisions to be delivered before your arrival if you prefer to cook on board that evening while familiarizing yourself with the boat.
A MarineMax BVI Getaway Done Right
After our shared van shuttle from the Roadtown ferry boat terminal to the MarineMax charter base at Hodge’s Creek Marina, we got to know some of our cruising mates at the welcome dinner, including Monte Richardson of Afton, Oklahoma, who leases a boat slip from MMLOO. This was the first time cruising the BVI for any in their group of five family members. “I had been talking about a family Caribbean cruise but instead, I talked my dad into this, although my sister takes the credit,” Monte joked. They named their 443 Aquila powercat Monarka for the trip, an amalgamation of their names: Monte, Mark, Karen, and the Spanish translation of their dad Arthur, who bought his 2004 44′ Sea Ray from MMLOO.
A MarineMax BVI Getaway enables MarineMax dealers to offer group boating vacations to their customers so that they can experience new and exciting places and connect with others who enjoy the boating lifestyle. “The B.V.I. is a preferred location and our fleet has 32 powercats and 4 monohull sailboats,” says Harry Mountain, Logistics & Operations manager of MarineMax Vacations and Aquila boat sales based in Clearwater, Florida. One of the competitive advantages of MarineMax charters is that Wi-Fi is included on every boat. “It really enables people who are tied to their jobs to stay in touch with the office, reduce email when they get back from a trip and combine work with pleasure.”
Early the next morning, the 14 boat skippers and mates attended the charter presentation—a review for some but interesting and informative nonetheless—while others picked up snorkel vests, fishing licenses, etc. The first destination was only 4 miles across Sir Francis Drake Channel to Cooper Island, where we picked up a mooring ball—get them early when they’re available—and then used the RIB to go to Cistern Point for snorkeling. (Note: If you don’t have good upper body strength to get back in the RIB from the water, bring your own packable ladder unless one of your boat mates is a MacGyver-type who knows how to make one from boat lines.) Dinner at the Cooper Island Beach Club was a B.V.I. first for us and highly recommended.
Mooring balls fill up quickly at The Baths, so we departed Cooper Island early the next morning. Our friends enjoyed the trail through the boulders, and we rewarded our effort with a snack at the top of the trail. We met up with MMLOO salesman Kyle Bargfrede and his wife Mandy of Osage Beach, Missouri, their friends Randy and Anna, and Kyle’s customers Rogie Carlock and Shawn Walker. Kyle has been with MarineMax for five years and, in addition to enjoying a vacation with his wife away from their two toddlers, he wanted to see the charter operation firsthand. “The B.V.I. is amazing, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for most. Instead of a resort destination trip, you get multiple opportunities and adventures,” says Kyle, who owns two boats: one for watersports and another for fishing. “I can now offer my customers something that no other company does. It shows my customers my company’s commitment to boating and the lifestyle. Now that I’ve done this as a group, I can do it by myself with my own group. It’s given me way more confidence.”
The group itinerary included an overnight at the Bitter End Yacht Club, where our Aquila 484 powercat had the far north dock all to ourselves. Our boatmates planned to cook a hot breakfast on board the next morning but the cooktop malfunctioned. Thankfully, one of the MarineMax technicians was traveling with the group—one of the many benefits of this program—and made sure the “operator error” was corrected and our provisions wouldn’t go to waste.
The MMLOO group departed for Jost Van Dyke but we had customized our own itinerary and headed for snorkeling at The Indians. Alas, no mooring balls were available and the water was very rough, so we got settled in The Bight Bay at Norman Island, launched the RIB and headed to the Caves for snorkeling. (There are always options in the B.V.I. so when you charter, plan ahead to know what they are before they need them.) The MMLOO group’s itinerary scheduled them for The Bight the final night aboard, but we knew based on previous trips and personal experience aboard the Willy T—an old ship anchored in the Bight known for loud music, late night parties and raucous partiers—that we’d have a better night’s sleep on a different night.
We waved hello to our new cruising friends as we crossed paths—it’s hard to miss 13 beautiful Aquila powercats in the B.V.I.—on our way to Jost Van Dyke, and picked up a mooring ball in the northern end of Great Harbour, where our B.V.I. cruising guide indicated would be most calm. It was rough and windy outside of the harbor, so we took a cab from Foxy’s dock to White Bay ($40US/roundtrip per couple) and the Soggy Dollar Bar. Our dinner at Foxy’s was predictably delicious, and the chef happily made adjustments for dietary restrictions. We even bumped into Billy Davidson from Cottage Grove, Minnesota, an acquaintance from our boating days there. You never know who you’re going to see when you’re cruising in the B.V.I.
Our custom itinerary included a final day in poolside luxury with a swim-up bar, marina shore power and a gourmet lobster dinner at Scrub Island Resort, a Marriott Autograph Collection property accessible only by boat or helicopter. Cruising was windy and rough on the north side of Tortola, and I was glad to be on the largest powercat in the MarineMax fleet, though all of them handle well. I’m a huge fan of powercats in general, but the Aquila 484 is really designed to impress for both charter and private ownership. The Aquila powercats are designed specifically for power as opposed to sailing cats that have been adapted for power. Though we only had one other couple on a four-cabin powercat, three couples joined Dave Gabert and Jeanie Schmidt of Kansas City, Kansas, on the Aquila 484 they dubbed Old Couples for the Getaway. Gabert had a long-standing relationship with the previous ownership of his dealer in Lake of the Ozarks and now with MarineMax, went on his first B.V.I. Getaway in 2013 and returned with friends for this one. Gabert describes Teresa Riley of MMLOO and Getaway organizer as the “hostess with the mostest” and adds “We stay with them because we like the people.”
All great vacations come to an end, yet even the check-in process back at the MarineMax charter base was enjoyable and relaxed. We simply pulled into an available slip, and the staff handled refueling after guests’ departure—much easier for everyone. The water shuttle from Roadtown back to St. Thomas was the only “rocky” part of the whole trip. Next time the boss sends me to the B.V.I., remind me to take my own advice and fly directly to Tortola.
Story and photos by Liz Pasch, Southern Boating September 2016