At noon on January 20th, inauguration day in the United States, something very special happened. We glided across an invisible line in the water in an area called “the Narrows” and we entered foreign territory! This was not some grand political statement on our part, just a fun coincidence caused primarily by a weather window that allowed us to actually sail east to explore the amazing cruising grounds of the British Virgin Islands, better known simply as the BVI.
We have been here before, and loved it, but on both of our previous visits to the BVI, we were under a strict vacation timeline, and had to return home to work after what seemed like a way-too-short vacation. This time, our schedule was our own. We could linger in anchorages for days and watch the charter boats scurry about to try and see it all in one week – like we had done ourselves twice.
The luxury of time cannot be overstated. Since our plan was to stay here for less than a month, and then return again in a few weeks, we decided to limit our exploration to just the northern islands, and save the south for our next visit. This allowed us to get a much better appreciation for each location, hang out with locals, and just relax and absorb the breathtaking beauty of the BVI.
I should back up a bit and explain why the BVI are immensely popular with sailors, especially those chartering a boat for a short time. The BVI consist of the main islands of Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada and Jost Van Dyke, along with over fifty other smaller islands and cays. Because of their proximity, you are never more than a few hours away – usually much less – from your next island destination. The winds are usually very predictably from the east, making navigation easy to plan. On any given day, you can see hundreds of charter boats sailing about the islands.
After a quick stop at the BVI Customs office to fill out the requisite forms and pay a whopping US$19, we were cleared into the country. Back aboard Pura Vida we raised the BVI courtesy ensign and pointed the bow toward the island of Jost Van Dyke – just “Jost” to the locals (pronounced Yōst). Specifically, we headed for a picturesque and diminutive anchorage known as “Sandy Spit.”
Over the next few days, we dinghied about most of the harbors on Jost, and had to stop at a few famous establishments: Foxy’s, Corsair’s, and the Soggy Dollar Bar. The Soggy Dollar’s claim to fame, other than being named for the wet currency beachgoers use to buy drinks, is the invention of the “Pain Killer,” a devilishly sweet and deceivingly strong coconut cocktail topped with fresh ground nutmeg.
Our friendly bartender at Foxy’s, Leon, saw our camera, and we struck up a conversation about photography. Leon is a professional photographer, and told us that if returned at 5pm, when his shift was over, he would drive us to his favorite spot for wedding pictures (you can see his work here). We returned at the appointed time after walking along the beach and meeting other locals, and were treated to a short trip to one of the most spectacular locations atop the steep island right as the sun was starting to set.
After a few days, we sailed east to our special place! It’s a magical place. It’s a tiny place. It’s marked with a big “don’t go there!” sign on the carter company charts because of its tricky, shallow, coral-filled entrance. It’s our favorite place! It’s called Cam Bay.
Cam Bay may be the tiniest bay on earth. Entering this bay must be done with plenty of sunlight to properly read the reef. The charts are no help, but if you make the effort to enter, it is simply blissful. A coral reef protects you from the waves. You can snorkel right off your boat and see stingrays, lobster, conch, turtles, starfish, coral, barracuda and all kinds of other tropical fish. Cam Bay feels like home. Don’t tell anyone about Cam Bay, we want to keep it a secret!
Our next overnight stop was supposed to be near the celebrated “Baths” of Virgin Gorda, but after anchoring in huge seas for a couple of hours and being life-size Weeble Wobbles (look it up kids), we bailed, and sailed north to the protection of North Sound, Virgin Gorda (which means “Fat Virgin” in Spanish and was so named because Columbus though the island looked like a large reclining woman). Once there, we dropped anchor in complete isolation and flat seas in Robin’s Bay. We also found out that, not far from us, the Obamas were vacationing at Richard Branson’s Moskito Island.
The winds howled for several days, so we were forced to stay in North Sound and sample the wares of all the local bars and restaurants. We checked out places that we had to skip on previous trips, like the Bitter End Yacht Club and Saba Rock Resort. While the entirety of North Sound was a beehive of activity for several days, our little anchorage was a slice of solitude.
After the weather quieted, we slipped out of Robin’s Bay, raised all our canvas, and headed west. With the trade winds at our backs, the journey back to St. Thomas, USVI, was swift and smooth. As the sun started to dip on the horizon, we turned toward the familiar lights of Charlotte Amalie Harbor with the anticipation of the delivery of our much-awaited new generator, and reconnecting with friends and family.
This is not the end of our BVI journey! We’ll return in March to meet friends and explore the southern islands. This place just has a way of drawing you back. Next time, however, we’ll be continuing east when were done.