We like people. Really, we do. We especially enjoy meeting and socializing with other cruisers and island locals, but typically we are happiest when we are able to drop the hook in the more isolated corners of the archipelagos we visit. Seeking this kind of seclusion is what led us to spend months in the northern parts of the Abacos and in the Jumentos/Ragged Islands of the Bahamas.
Arriving in the BVI – the charter sailboat mecca of the Caribbean – during high season, we were challenged to find remote stops that would satisfy our desire to be away from the pack, yet close enough by dinghy to the main attractions of the islands. The BVI has an obsession with mooring balls. Depending on the time of year, locale, and day of the week you will be hard pressed to find an empty one, and have even more difficulty finding a spot with enough swing-room to anchor near them. At $30+ per night for these moorings you might expect something in return; hot showers, laundry, wifi, a pool, general access to a marina’s facilities. We found in all but one case in the BVI (Leverick Bay Marina in Gorda Sound, Virgin Gorda) you get zilch.
Now, I’ll admit, grabbing a mooring ball early enough in the day to sit on the bow with a cocktail and watch the “shit show” as a dozen chartered catamarans jockey for the few remaining balls can be quite entertaining, but $30 can buy a lot of painkillers! Why not save your money and get away from the madness?
In all of the following ten locations, mooring fields are either nonexistent or were almost empty. In some cases, we were the only boat anchored. Timing your arrival to these places to avoid the multitudes is essential. Most charter customers arrive on Saturday, and make a counter-clockwise loop around Tortola beginning, and often ending, at Norman or Peter Islands. They usually arrive in Gorda Sound on Tuesday, making Wednesday the most ridiculously crowded day at Anegada, before traversing the top of Tortola later in the week. If you keep this cycle in mind, you should find peace and tranquility at all of the below anchorages.
1) Norman Island – Privateer Bay
Because almost everyone who goes to Norman wants to be in The Bight to party on the Willy T, the smaller bay just around Treasure Point is often close to empty. The benefit of this is not only are you a very close dinghy ride to the famous schooner/bar (where I think you can still acquire a free t-shirt by jumping naked from the stern), but you are anchored even closer to the Caves.
There you’ll find excellent snorkeling with a free dinghy mooring system for easy access. There are day moorings for your big boat near the Caves, and a few overnight moorings close to shore, but anchoring was easy in 20 feet of water in the southern part of the bay. It was perfection when the eastern trades were blowing.
2) Peter Island – Deadman’s Bay
We were drawn by the pristine, white, palm-lined beaches, and the complete lack of mooring balls, but were hooked after treating ourselves to lunch at the Peter Island Resort bar. There’s nothing like being brought to tears by a steel drum band playing John Lennon’s “Imagine” while sipping a rum punch in paradise.
The guidebook warned of uncomfortable roll should the swell be from the north, which it was, but we slept like babies for three nights. Anchor close to shore on the east side and enjoy the turtle show.
3) Cooper Island – Haulovers Bay
If you want to avoid the overwhelmingly crowded mooring field at Manchineel Bay, this one is for you. Lovely in all but southern winds and swell, this less popular anchorage has good snorkeling right from your vessel, and a short hike up the hill allows for a spectacular shot of your lone boat at anchor. Drop your hook in 20 feet in the northern part of the bay to stay clear of that reef in the southern portion, and dive in! Onshore, the Cooper Island Beach Club serves a mean painkiller!
4) Salt Island – Salt Island Bay
I’m pretty certain the only reason people come to this bay is to snorkel or dive one of the most unforgettably beautiful wrecks in the Caribbean, The Rhone. Broken apart in a late-season hurricane, the 310 foot ship has had more than 150 years to amass a stunning variety of coral, sponges, fish, and other marine life.
It, and the nearby reef, sit in water from 20-80 feet, making it an easy site to explore by divers and snorkelers of all levels. The wreck lies in Lee Bay, on the western end of Salt Island, but the moorings there fill up quickly. Anchoring instead in Salt Island Bay offers you plenty of room and good holding, with easy access to the dinghy mooring system near The Rhone.
This site is a “must see”. We’ve dived it four times and still look forward to returning.
5) Virgin Gorda – Valley Trunk Bay
If you thought the mooring field at The Rhone looked packed, just wait until you get to the Baths! This natural boulder formation draws everyone, from liveaboards, charterers, and land vacationers, to cruise ship passengers by the boatload. There’s good reason. Beams of sunlight scatter through the pools of water among the enormous rocks, creating a stunning effect. Watching the fish, squid, and other creatures dart in and out of the openings between the granite boulders is most entertaining. When you’re done snorkeling, grab your shoes and swim to the beach where you’ll find the entrance to a trail that leads under, over, and through the smooth stones. It’s a remarkable hike.
The park service has installed two impressively long dinghy mooring lines at the two bays that lead to the trail. Anchor a half-mile north in Valley Trunk Bay to avoid the mooring frenzy. **NOTE** During northern ground swells the Baths may be closed by the park service. In that case, Valley Trunk Bay is also unsafe. The Park Service flies a large flag at the Baths to indicate the conditions. Avoid this anchorage when the red flag is flying.
6) Virgin Gorda/Gorda Sound – Drake’s Anchorage
On the north side of Virgin Gorda is the enormous, and protected on all sides, Gorda Sound. One can spend many days here bouncing from bay to bay, and we did! Moorings abound, but there are many places to anchor in solitude, if you don’t mind sometimes being as far as 2 miles from bars and restaurants. Our new favorite is Drake’s Anchorage, on the northwest side of the sound, east of Richard Branson’s private Mosquito Island. The large reef to the north and east provides protection in even the strongest winds. We had this place all to ourselves, except for the occasional boat delivering workers to the island.
Leverick Bay Marina and Hotel is nearby, offering great food & drink, entertainment, WiFi, laundry, and a grocery store. A $30 mooring there gets you 100 gallons of water and a bag of ice.
Another peaceful anchorage, closer to the Bitter End Yacht Club and Saba Rock resorts on the eastern side of Gorda Sound, is Robin’s Bay. This bay was also all ours for several nights. Anchor on the eastern side for the best holding.
7) Virgin Sound/Prickly Pear – Eustatia
One more new favorite locale for us, thanks to the recommendations of friends on s/v Grateful, s/v Mamo, and s/v Party of Five, is the shallow, crystal clear, conch-filled waters north of Gorda Sound. Sandwiched between Prickly Pear and Eustatia Islands, and surrounded by reef, this large anchorage is a little piece of heaven. There will be other boats there, but not many, and you’re near enough to Saba Rock for happy hour. Eustatia is private, but you can dinghy ashore to Prickly Pear to enjoy some beach time, and/or a hike to enjoy spectacular hilltop views.
8) Great Camanoe – Cam Bay
Without question, this small bay is our favorite anchorage in the whole of the BVI. We first discovered it years ago on a charter trip, returned again on charter number two, and counted the years until we could venture back on our own boat. We love it so much that we gave ourselves two precious nights on a ten-day charter to enjoy this slice of paradise. On ¡Pura Vida! we allowed even more time.
Because it’s off-limits by some charter companies, you will usually find yourself all alone. If boats do enter, they rarely stay overnight. The entrance is about 200 feet across, and between two stretches of shallow reef. Have a lookout on the bow! Once you’re through, take a right and drop the hook behind the reef in 10 feet of water. Do not anchor in the entrance, blocking it off to other cruisers. This not only makes you a jerk, but you won’t benefit from the protection of the reef. Nearby are Scrub Island and Marina Cay. Both are worth checking out, but you’ll probably be too content to bother leaving your boat. I almost didn’t mention this anchorage because I’m loathe to give our secret away. If we show up and you’re there, we have dibs!
9) Tortola – Brewer’s Bay
Up on the high, western side of Tortola you’ll find one of the most popular cruising destinations in the BVI – Cane Garden Bay. You will be very hard pressed to find a spot to anchor here. Other than in Trellis Bay, I have not seen a more crowded mooring field. Grab a ball for the day (free everywhere for day-use) and grab a bite to eat and a drink or two at Myett’s or Quito’s, then bring your boat northeast a couple of miles to Brewer’s Bay for the night. It’s big, it’s shallow, and it’s full of coral for snorkeling. Walk the beach road to check out the old windmill, then cool your heels at Nicole’s beach bar. In settled weather, Brewer’s is close to perfection.
The shallows are full of baitfish, so grab a cocktail and watch the pelicans and boobies do an acrobatic show close to your boat.
10) Little Jost Van Dyke – Manchineel Bay (yes, another one)
In moderate north or northeast winds this bay is excellent for two reasons: It’s protected by land and coral reef (just enough to hear the waves crashing over the top as you sleep), and because these are the conditions that make the Bubbly Pool so much fun!
The Bubbly Pool is accessed by following the path from Foxy’s Taboo, a 5-minute dinghy ride away. As you maneuver through the crowded mooring/anchoring field at Diamond Cay/Long Bay you’ll be glad you anchored where you did. Wear good walking shoes. Take the half-mile trail to the pool, and be wowed as the waves rush through, and tumble over the boulders soaking you where you sit. Later, reward yourself for your hike with a drink from Foxy’s Taboo!
This list barely scratches the surface. I could probably bore you to tears by adding another ten anchorages to it. Considering that a shift in winds and waves can make bays on the south sides of these islands accessible and calm, you’ll find that you have even more options to escape the crowds. The BVI is perhaps the busiest charter area in the world, certainly the Caribbean, but that doesn’t mean you cannot find solitude and your own, private slice of paradise.