Why you should try charter sailing in the British Virgin Islands

Sparkling waters, cool breezes and all the snorkeling and cocktails you could ask for. Embrace the freedom of sailing through the British Virgin Islands on a private chartered catamaran.

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“TIt’s time to take off those monkey suits and put on your swimwear. The playful request is courtesy of Captain Richard Hallett, a South African from Zimbabwe who, along with his wife and first mate Shannon, is the crew of the 50ft Moorings catamaran my family has chartered for a nine sail. days in the British Virgin. He is. We’ve been on our yacht for an hour when the suggestion is thrown to our two school-aged sons. Unsurprisingly, the challenge was met with flying colors. So after a 30 minute cruise to Norman Island from Road Town, Tortola (the capital of the BVI, our starting point after flying into its Beef Island airport), we anchor off a calm bay called Treasure Point and we are preparing to dive inside three caves at water level. Almost immediately we come across colorful schools of parrotfish, yellowtail snappers, and striped sergeants major, as well as vibrant clusters of orange coral that the boys love to take photos of with my underwater camera.

Back on board, our captain offers us two options: a sunset in a chic restaurant by the water called the Bight or cocktails and a cliff jump at Willy T, an oil tanker transformed into a floating dive bar, where you can draw spirits from six o’clock. person “shot-skis” (long wooden snow skis with shallow holes to fit shot glasses). We go for the latter and take the plunge, which ends up being the first of the many on-the-go choices that set the mood for this kind of vacation. “The beauty of BVI,” said Captain Richard later that night, “is that you can steer your boat in any direction and have an amazing experience just a few sails.”

Indeed, just like the Choose Your Own Adventure books that I loved as a kid – the ’80s series where you take on the role of the protagonist and make choices to determine the outcome of the plot – so does it. the same goes for those great sailing vacations that we ‘ve found ourselves on. If you decide to dive the wreck, turn to page 51. If you want to sail to the beach bar, turn to page 86. The only difference is that instead of the italics at the bottom of each page, our choices are handpicked by our seasoned captain, whose encyclopedic knowledge of the territory is already proven.

Left: Cow Wreck Beach Bar, where we stopped for a rum punch.  Right: the Baths, a labyrinth of rocks on Virgin Gorda formed by an underwater volcano.

The other advantage? Now is the perfect time to charter a yacht in the Caribbean. Thanks in large part to the pandemic, the BVI is eerily calm right now, which means you’ll find empty anchorages, secluded dive sites, and slices of white sand beaches that will fill all your Tom Hanks. Castaway fancy. Add to that the opening of a handful of brand-new (or recently improved) resorts and restaurants across the land and you’ve got a recipe for, dare I say, the perfect Caribbean vacation.

The next morning we feast on French toast, bacon and fresh tropical fruit, one of three meals a day which, along with booze and water toys like paddle boards, kayaks and a 12 foot outboard – motor dinghy – is included in a Moorings charter with crew. So, mimosa pineapple poured, we await the captain’s daily briefing. He tells us that we can dive in a nearby archipelago called the Indians (widely regarded as one of the best dive sites in the British Virgin Islands); search for ballast stones, sea glass and natural salt crystals on Salt Island; or explore the white sands of Cooper Island, a 480-acre islet that’s home to a small, family-friendly resort, but not much else. We raise our hands for the three of us and set off in the BVI breeze.

After a full day of unhindered exploration, even our dinner later that night is a surprise choice. As we are anchored off Manchioneel Bay on Cooper Island, we are greeted by a local fisherman who walks by our yacht and asks if we would like some freshly caught lobster. It’s a request my wife and I can hardly pass up, so we’re handed two clawless crustaceans, which Shannon expertly cooks in the kitchen, with garlic mashed potatoes and prosciutto-wrapped asparagus.

We didn't see another soul at Sandy Spit, a one acre cay surrounded by clear blue water.

This is how things go for the duration of our trip, but some choices, it must be said, are easier than others. “Are we going to go back to Virgin Gorda, Daddy?” My eight year old son Tyler asks. My family was there for the last time in 2019, on a similar crewed charter which created memories galore, so we asked the captain to sail northeast en route to the BVI’s third largest island, as well named because Columbus thought it looked like an overweight woman lying on her side when he discovered it in 1493.

After an almost obligatory walk through the baths – a watery maze of boulders the size of a school bus formed by an ancient submarine volcano – our lunch options on land are presented to us: a barbecue on top of a hill called Hog Heaven where the panoramic view, we’re told, is as good as the smoked brisket, or the fresh seafood and island-inspired tapas at Sugar Mill, a beachfront restaurant at the recently reopened Rosewood Little Dix Bay. . This is one of our toughest decisions so far, but the payoff comes as soon as we dig into tuna belly plates. tataki and seafood paella at a cool table by the sand in Little Dix.

In fact, the resort is one of a trio we are visiting who have either shone or completely rebuilt their properties following the devastating effects of Hurricane Irma in 2017. Reopened in December 2020, this Caribbean Grand Lady received a massive $ 200 million renovation. – a Herculean effort to restore its rustic-luxurious look as Little Dix was practically blown away by the storm. Another was Saba Rock, a luxury resort on an acre bay where Captain Richard and Shannon took us for a cocktail one evening. And the third was Oil Nut Bay, a 300-acre community on Virgin Gorda’s North Sound where its sprawling villas (including some that rent $ 30,000 a night) looked chicer than ever.

“So where to go? Captain Richard asks after returning to the yacht. At this point, we realize that wherever he suggests, the jackpot will likely be hit, so we rely on his expertise and sail north, past schools of wild dolphins and above galaxies of starfish. golden. Today’s destination is Anegada, a flat atoll where we snorkel in a beautiful coral area aptly named Flash of Beauty, eat blackened mahi-mahi tacos at Anegada Beach Club and drink rum punch at Cow Wreck Beach Bar while the boys play on its seemingly endless beach.

It turns out to be yet another adventure-filled day; Of course, Richard has a few other anchors in his arsenal that underscore the territory’s current throwback vibe. He sailed us west to snorkel at a popular dive site called Diamond Reef, a place that is usually teeming with shallow-water divers, but today there isn’t another swimmer in sight. Next, we drop anchor off Sandy Spit, an uninhabited one acre cay that’s only home to three spindly palm trees, piles of sun-drenched corals and my family of four. Then he crashes us off White Bay on Jost Van Dyke, and we’re happy to be one of only four boats in a cove that’s normally packed with charters. We can’t believe our eyes, so after swimming to shore we head for some nutmeg pain relievers and throw rings at Soggy Dollar Bar, a beloved BVI rum shack where we barely have to wait for our second (and third) round of cocktails.

With seven days behind us, our charter has officially reached critical mass on the adventure ladder, so the captain asks one last question for the end of our trip: we can stay overnight in Jost or sail to Tortola for dinner. on the back deck in a secluded bay called Smugglers Cove. Still a sailor, my wife chooses the cruise, so the four of us climb the stairs to the fly bridge, where we enjoy the wind in our hair, the sun on our faces and a final champagne toast to a destination filled with glorious choice.

In the British Virgin Islands, a four-cabin crewed Moorings catamaran starts at $ 2,500 per person per week, meals and alcohol included; unmanned, rates start at $ 1,375 per person.

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