Trip Notes: Bareboating in the British Virgin Islands is a famous winter haven for yachtsmen of all types. In the past decades catamaran sailing and motor yachts have become particularly popular. Enterprising companies like Voyage Cruises , have taken advantage of the demand and rent cruising yachts on several of the islands. At each of the island coves we visited, we saw dozens of both sailing and motor catamarans moored. You’ll find a lot of information about cruising in the BVI available. The main source relied on is called: “The Cruising Guide to the British Virgin Islands” by Simon Scott. It can be easily found on Amazon and is updated every year. Our version had all the latest information regarding local regulations related to COVID. It contains a detailed history of the islands, charts of the islands and coves. Anything you could possibly want to know is in this book and we highly recommend it. Looking to dive: all the best locations, wrecks and dive shop information is explained in detail.
Fortune favored Bob and I when one of our friends asked us if we would be interested in joining, he and his partner and two other couples for a sailing trip around the British Virgin Island’s(BVI). He has been sailing the BVI for about a decade by chartering a 48’ sailing catamaran from Voyage Charters which he is qualified to captain himself. Thus the term Bareboating: means boating without a hired captain aboard. He shares the charter expense with each of the couples. Without a blink of the eye, we enthusiastically agreed to be part of their planned February 2022 trip.
With the exception of one trip to ST. Thomas and another to Puerto Rico, all our other trips to the Caribbean experiences have been aboard cruise ships that stop for a few hours at each island limiting our ability to get to know and enjoy the islands. Sailing to several of the BVI’s aboard a smaller ship with a captain who knew all the best spots the islands have to offer with no hard time schedules seemed like a great idea. And it was!
Due to the experience of our Captain, preparing for the trip during covid was simple. He advised us what time we needed to arrive in St. Thomas and suggested that we fly to Atlanta the night before to ensure we would have no travel glitches the next day. We followed his guidance and stayed in the same airport Marriott as Capt. Robbie and his partner, Sandra, and flew down to the islands on the same flight Sunday morning. The other two couples had made separate plans for arrival.
Two weeks prior to departure, Capt. Robbie sent out a provisioning spreadsheet with the list of food and beverages they typically order with the instructions to add whatever we wanted to eat or drink. The list was already very extensive so we added just a few things to drink and went with their list. For a small fee, the charter company fully provisioned the boat with our entire list inclusive of food for all meals, snacks, and extensive alcoholic beverages.
We were also provided with a 30 page guide of what to expect during our trip. The guide covered everything imaginable including how to pack and what to bring down to water shoes and floats.
As a final preparation Capt. Robbie and Sandra, hosted a get together at their house prior to sailing because several of the couples had not yet met each other. This was a great idea and it help to make everyone more comfortable with each other as it would certainly be an intimate cruise with four couples aboard.
Finally, we had to navigate and plan for all Covid restrictions and regulations in order to enter both St. Thomas and then over to the British Virgin Islands. This required us all to be fully vaccinated as well as to get two negative covid tests within 48 hours of arrival. The first for St. Thomas and the second one for BVI authorities. Luckily tests in our area were easily obtained from a local Walk-in clinic. With our tests, vaccine cards and passports in hand, we had to log onto two different portals within 48 hours of our departure to upload our documents and wait for a green QR code that meant we were eligible to travel to our destinations. It is important to note, that we had to get two codes, one for St. Thomas and one for entering BVI. All this information is available on line, but having it simply laid out for us made it much easier to navigate.
Finally, it was time to head south for our much-anticipated cruise. We arrived in St. Thomas by 2:30 retrieved our luggage and met our pre-arranged van and driver who would shuttle our group over to the private water taxi.
The taxi company would take us to our first destination of Soper’s Hole on west end of the Island of Tortola. This is where Voyage yacht charters is located and where we would clear customs.
(Tip: there are several public ferries which provide transportation from St. Thomas to BVI locations on scheduled runs, however, the water service taxi’s make the journey extremely simple and stress free. Services include seamlessly escorting us through customs and covid protocols without any delay or issues. They provide services both upon arrival and departing BVI back to St. Thomas. Although they cost more, it is a fee well worth paying.)
Once through customs, we were ferried a short distance across Soper’s Hole Bay to the Voyage Yacht charter marina and to our 48’ Catamaran named ‘Electrify’ because it is one of the few boats having a self-propelled generator and water desalination capabilities. Power and water were never an issue during our trip.
Electrified – Our New Home:
We boarded the boat and were assigned our state rooms for the week by Capt. Robbie. The boat has two king and two queen cabins both with a private bathroom and stand-up shower. Accommodations were comfortable but a bit tight. Only one person could stand and move around the cabin at the same time in the queen rooms. However, this was never a problem and only required a bit of communication to work out the logistics. The main salon was a spacious cabin divided in half by a dining area that could accommodate all eight of us and a full kitchen area which included two fully stocked refrigerator drawers, a freezer locker, full stove and oven unit, microwave, toaster and of course the much-coveted blender to make frozen rum drinks famous in the islands.
The spacious back deck area is where we would spend much of our time. Fully shaded it included another eating salon area big enough for all of us, the captain’s cock-pit and a spacious back deck which held our dingy while underway and served as a great swim or sun platform when we were moored. There were two swim platforms on eacxh side in the back, both equipped with fresh water hoses to rinse off after swimming. The bow of the boat had two large trampoline like nets perfect for hanging out in while either underway in calm seas or to relax and sunbathe while in a port.
Getting under way:
We spent the first night at the dock in Soper’s Hole and enjoyed a fun dinner and drinks at Pussar’s Restaurant at the marina. After dinner we went back to the boat to relax and get to know each other better before our journey began the next morning. The drinks were flowing and the music was playing: what a great start to the trip.
The next morning the Voyage Charter crew made sure we had all our provisions and gear (snorkel gear, paddle boards and kayaks are all available for an additional fee). We opted for snorkel gear only. They checked out all our systems and went through a brief orientation and safety briefing. With everything ready, their crew maneuvered the boat out of the marina into the bay and left us on our own to sail to whatever destination we desired. Capt. Robbie to the helm and out the harbor we headed towards our first stop on the east end of Tortola called Trellis Bay where we moored at Saba Rock and Beef Island.
First Stop: Saba Rock
While Bob and I are both experienced handling boats, this was the first time in decades that we had sailed. The afternoons sail was really relaxing as we sailed past the islands with a strong breeze and slightly rolling seas. We had a fairly strong wind from the north so we tacked back and forth until we rounded the corner and headed east towards our destination. A few hours later Capt. Robbie navigating into a beautiful bay adjacent to Saba Rock. We planned to spend two nights here as there were two good restaurants, beautiful beaches and a well-protected bay.
The women all worked together and cooked our first night’s dinner on the boat. The sunset was amazing and Mike, one of the other guests, acted as or DJ for most of the week. He always seemed to pick the best tunes.
The next morning, we woke to sunny, warm but a bit windy weather. We relaxed for a bit and ten took the dingy onto Saba Island for lunch. Saba Rock Resort is a small resort and restaurant built up the very small rock island. Built out of huge sturdy beams, they are designed to hold up through strong hurricane force winds.
The Fun Begins Again:
Lunch was delicious as were the drinks. After lunch, we took a spin around Saba Island on our dingy and returned to the Electrified to relax and chill in the sun. We broke out the cards and played a little poker while watching other sailing yachts arrive and moor for the night. That evening the wind was still blowing but the sunset was magnificent and the moon shone brightly over the water.
The next day we headed over to Beef Island for lunch and spend some time on the beach. This restaurant was also newly rebuilt with an amazing view of the water. We ordered margaritas and our day began. After lunch I rented a paddleboard from the local beach vendor for an hour and had some fun paddling around the island. The winds made for a good work out. I was sure to paddle up wind first so the return trip would be easy. The others hung out on the beach for a while and after a few hours we headed back to our sailboat for afternoon cocktails and dinner.
Cooking on the boat was easy and fun. The crew all chipped in and pulled out some of the many provisions on the boat, decided on a menu and got to it. We found provisions tucked away in every nook and cranny of the galley and sitting area. There was a gas grill on the back of the boat, so the guys cooked the proteins on the grill while we made salads and sides. Someone was always manning the blender and bar, while ensuring the beer and water coolers were full of ice. At each port a tender would arrive daily to collect the nominal mooring fee, provide as much ice as we needed and remove any full trash bags. The islanders were always ready to assist the tourist with supplies, island transportation, T-shirts and drinks everywhere we went.
Next Stop – Anegada Island
After a long night partying, Capt. Robbie was up early to get us underway to our next destination, The Island of Anegada. Anegada is 11 miles long and unlike the other islands it is made of coral and limestone with a max elevation of 28 feet. The island is also known by sailors and other visitors for its famous spiney lobster dinners and fried Conch appetizers.
We worked to make the boat ship shape and then took the dingy over to one a very few docks on the island. There we were greeted by several natives who arranged for an open-air pick-up truck taxi to drive us to the opposite end of the island. On this side, we could enjoy lunch on the beach at any number of small shanty style restaurants. After lunch, we took a walk along the beach and finally spread our towels to lay out on the beach for an hour or so before heading back in the late afternoon. The conch shells are used to create walk ways in the sand from restaurants to gift shops etc. These beautiful shells are available for sale for $15. In the states they would easily sell for over $50.
Anegada is also known for its large flock of flamingos. The taxi made a stop near a large lagoon area where we could see hundreds of flamingos hanging out. The islanders had built an observation stand about 15 feet up so tourist can get a better look at the large flock of flamingos.
We returned to the boat for an afternoon nap and showers. That night was the big lobster dinner we were all looking forward to. Just before dinner, a small squall kicked up which had us soaked by the time we motored over to the dock. Ah well, such is roughing it in the islands. We cheerily sat at our table, ordered drinks and snacks and waited for our dinner. The staff were waiting for all the other guests from other boats to arrive as the chef planned on preparing all our lobsters over a hot open fire at about the same time. We had to wait until the others arrived after the heaviest rain was over, but drinks were plentiful and we were on island time so we relaxed and enjoyed the music.
Dinner was delicious! The lobster was tender, the baked potatoes were cooked perfectly and we were all full and happy as we headed back to the boat around 10:30. By then the skies were clearing and we had beautiful moonlight peeking through the clouds. The tunes started playing again and all was good with the world.
The next morning, Capt. Robbie was up early again. We had our longest sail of the trip ahead of us and the weather report was not great. It was lightly raining as we un-hooked from the mooring ball and headed out. Once out in open water, conditions got worse. The wind picked up to a steady 30 knots with higher gusts. Capt. Robbie ordered us to reef in the sails and we put on the motor to cut through the rough seas heading towards Jost Van Dyke. The large catamaran we were on handled the seas really well. Although the boat was rocking and there were a few hard bumps along the way, we all got through with no issues. About 30 minutes away from Jost Van Dyke, the sun came out and the winds settled down to a manageable level. None of us got sea sick which was a bonus. Getting through this storm made us realize Bareboating through the British Virgin Islands is not for everyone. A skilled and experienced captain is required.
Jost Van Dyke:
Mooring in the cove on the south side of Jost Van Dyke was a little tricky. Due to the weather, many of the boats who had overnighted there had decided to stay. The cove was crowded with just a few available mooring balls. The wind was also blowing pretty strong. Capt. Robbie maneuvered us into perfect position to catch the ball and we were secure within minutes. Now we had the luxury of relaxing while other less experienced boaters tried the same thing, some times making several attempts before giving up.
After hanging out on the boat for an hour or so, we headed ashore to have lunch at one of several popular island restaurants. Music was playing and the drinks were again flowing. The sun was shining and a strong breeze was blowing. All I could think of was, we must have died and gone to heaven. This was one of the best vacations we had been on. Beautiful scenery everywhere, no schedule, nowhere we had to go, no worries. Life was good!
The next day, we took a trip via truck taxi to the next cove over where the famous Foxy’s Bar and Grill is located. Foxy’s is well known throughout islands as one of the hot spots for food, fun and drinks. In fact we had visited Foxy’s years earlier on the Caribbean Cruise whe had gone on. After a little shopping for souvenirs and a great lunch, we headed back with the same taxi truck we arrived on. The driver knew it would be worth it to wait for us and she was right. While driving back, we noticed there were many boxes under our seats which we realized stored T-Shirts. She explained to us she used to have a t-shirt shop, but it had been blown away with the last hurricane. She didn’t have the money to rebuild, so she sold t-shirts out of her taxi truck to tourists. That’s all she had to say. The eight of us all bought several t-shirts and hats as well as giving her a big tip. She was smiling as we walked away with our goods.
Back on the boat, a few of us went swimming and others stretched out on the trampoline nets in the bow to take a nap after our extremely tough day.
Heading Back – Where did the week go?
We spent two days at the coves in Jost Van Dyke. The next day we would make the sail back to Soper’s Hole where we would again spend the night before heading back to St. Thomas. The sail back was easy and uneventful. We had a steady wind out of the NW. Capt. Robbie called the dock and as we approached the bay letting them know of our position. They sent a skipper out to greet us and bring the boat safely into the tight marina. The boats are all worth a lot of money so they don’t want to risk anyone making a mistake and damaging one or more of the boats. Can’t say I blame them much.
Overnight, we tried to put a bigger dent into the food and drinks aboard the boat, but there was too much left. The boats cleaning and provisioning crew would make out very well. In fact, the next morning, a few people from another boat just getting ready to leave saw we left a few cases of water and beer on deck and asked us if they could take it. We encouraged them to take anything they wanted including food and many bottles of wine and liquor left on board.
The water taxi was again excellent moving us through US customs and getting us across the sea and returning us safely to St. Thomas. From there, the private Van was there to greet us and take us to the other side of the island to the airport. We arrived in plenty of time to catch all our flights and home we went with lots of great memories.
During our Bareboating British Virgin Islands Adventure, we were pretty laid back in our activities. However, there are many things you can do while cruising the islands of the British Virgin Islands. Available activities include:
- Scuba Diving
- Water sports such as paddle boarding, etc
- Exploring the islands a bit more than we did
- Massages at Fosy’s hole
The Sailing guide mentioned at the beginning of this post has detailed information on all the islands and available activities.
Click to Expand the Pictures below to view the gallery.