Sailing the British Virgin Islands
Sweet Sailing conditions from Saint Martin to the British Virgin Islands
A steady breeze pushed us nicely along on a starboard broad reach as we leave Saint Martin behind us. Then the night came and the most incredible clear sky appeared above us. The stars were bright like little lightning bulbs and the Milkyway revealed its nebula with the colorful clouds and glare clearly visible.
We enjoyed this epic view accompanied by the sound of Ellidah cutting through the water in the following seas. It is moments like this where you realize how enjoyable and rewarding sailing is.
Garret and I ended up getting sleepy at the same time and laughed at the fact that one of us should have knocked off a few hours earlier in the night, but that was fine. We slept on shifts, and before we knew it, the night turned into day.
With the daylight, we were getting the first glimpse of land as we sailed through the Round Rock passage with Ginger Island to port and Round Rock to starboard. Conditions on this 90 NM passage were superb and it was the nicest sail I’ve had in a while. We were now both excited to spend some time sailing the British Virgin Islands!
After getting through the Round Rock passage, we adjusted our course towards Road Town in Tortola which is the capital of the British Virgin Islands. On the agenda for the day was checking into the country before heading off to explore the smaller islands around. There was a full moon party coming up and we couldn’t miss that!
Sadly I managed to drown my phone not long after we returned to Saint Martin and many of my pictures from sailing the British Virgin Islands are gone. Luckily we got some good drone shots and some pictures from the action cam. Also Garrett sent me some he took with his phone, so it will have to do for this post.
Some practical information about the British Virgin Islands
The Virgin Island archipelago is divided into two territories. To the east lies the British Virgin Islands, often referred to as the BVI’s which is British overseas territory, and the US Virgin Islands often referred to as the USVI’s to the west which belongs to the US. They are located in the Leeward Islands of the Lesser Antilles in the West Indies just to the east of Puerto Rico.
The British Virgin Islands consists of over 50 islands with Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Jost Van Dyke, and Anegada being the biggest. Tortola is home to the capital named Road Town which is a small town with just above 15.000 inhabitants.
The anchorage in Road Harbor were busy when we arrived and are full of mooring buoys. There were however plenty of space to anchor in front of the mooring field or further east on the sand bank next to the cruise ship dock. We also saw some people anchored inside the harbor next to the marina, but I can’t say for certain if it is legal to anchor there.
Checking into the country in Road Town
To check in, you have customs, immigration, and police at the ferry dock and you can easily reach it by dinghy if you make sure not to get in the way of the ferries that run very frequently in and out. The guards at the ferry dock will tell you to not lock your dinghy when you arrive in case they have to move it. We didn’t question this as they promised to look after it for us.
The check-in procedure can take a bit of time and after speaking with several friends who also checked in, the price will vary depending on who you meet and at which time a day you arrive. Arrive too late, and you have to pay an overtime fee. They do take credit cards, but I would highly recommend bringing cash. The local currency used is the US dollar, not the British pound surprisingly enough.
Road Harbour Anchorage
Because of the ferry traffic in and out all day, this isn’t the most comfortable spot to anchor. It is noisy and busy and the water is murky and doesn’t look appealing for a swim. There are however good grocery stores in town and a brilliant huge and cheap laundromat making it a strategic place for a stop. The locals are friendly and there is nightlife going on in several bars and restaurants around town.
Jost Van Dyke
We didn’t want to spend too much time in Road Town and decided to head up to Jost Van Dyke for the full moon party at the famous beach bar Foxy’s. After we were properly checked into the country, we lifted the anchor and headed off. As we arrived in Great Harbour in Jost Van Dyke, we realized that we weren’t the only ones ready for some full moon rum punches. We had been told that most of the anchorages we would encounter sailing the British Virgin Islands are filled with mooring buoys that cost 30$ a night to use and this anchorage was no exception.
I prefer to use my own trusted anchor for free instead of paying for a mooring buoy that might be in questionable condition so we headed in between what seemed like hundreds of boats to try and find a spot to drop the hook. After circling around for a while and trying to set the anchor further out in a too rocky spot, we gave up and decided to head around the corner to White Bay instead.
White Bay is beautiful, less busy but also filled with mooring buoys. There are also shallow reefs making it a bit on the tight side to anchor in between the mooring fields. We couldn’t find a good spot to drop the hook so we ended up biting the sour apple and took a buoy for the night. The sun was on its way down and we were excited to check out Foxy’s!
Full Moon Party
Coming from Saint Martin, the party capital of the Caribbean, we had high expectations for the full moon party. It seemed like the pandemic had put a big damper on the crowds here though and even if the country was open for entry, it wasn’t as busy as we were told it usually is.
That didn’t stop me and Garret.
We headed around the corner to Great Harbor and parked the dinghy at the pier next to Foxy’s and went to have some dinner. Like usual, we made some new friends and before we knew it, the party was in motion and shots were on the table.
A little bit later when I went to the bar to get some beers, I suddenly spot a person that looked familiar. I wasn’t sure who it was, but the person came up to me and asked: “Robin? What are you doing here?”
Then I remembered. It was Adam! A guy Ingrid, Filip, and I met the previous season when we were sailing in Zakynthos in Greece. Adam was then on the crew of a super yacht and he introduced us to the rest of his crew and gave us a glimpse of life on a superyacht with a round tour and everything! Now he was chartering a catamaran and sailing the British Virgin Islands with his family.
Anyways, it was funny to see a familiar face on the other side of the world and many beers, drinks, and stories from previous adventures were exchanged. Since we now were in a big group of people, the full moon party ended up being a success with great fun.
Enjoying Normand Island
With the full moon party away, we spent a few more days enjoying the stunning White Bay before sailing down one of the smaller islands to the south called Norman Island. There is a huge anchorage called The Bight with plenty of space to anchor in between the hundreds of mooring buoys. The bay is beautiful and is also home to the famous floating bar, Willy-T. You may recognize this place from the picture on the front page.
Just to the north of the bay is a little island called Pelican Island and next to it, a reef with a big rock sticking up called The Indians. This is a popular spot for snorkeling and diving and I can understand why. The marine life is rich and the snorkeling superb!
We took the dinghy out for a day trip and enjoyed the diverse colorful fish swimming around the healthy corals. I read somewhere that Pelican Island is a turtle nesting spot, but sadly we didn’t see any turtles when we were there.
After snorkeling, swimming, and drinking strong rum punches at Willy-T’s for a few days, we headed over to the nearby island to the northeast called Peter Island.
The Tranquility of Peter Island
This island is still to this day one of my favorite spots in the entire Caribbean. Not just because the island is beautiful, but because it is remote, small and the water is incredibly turquoise and clear. The anchorage is flat calm and extremely well protected. And no expensive mooring buoys!
I was also looking forward to meeting up with David on Bobbie G which I sailed together with in the Mediterranean during my first sailing season. David and I were neighbors in Yacht Port Cartagena in Spain when the pandemic started. We spent the winter in lockdown at the marina together with other cruisers and became good friends. When the restrictions were lifted, we sailed up to the Balearic Islands and cruised around them together for a while with each of our crew before we parted ways in Menorca. I continued east towards Italy, and he went west to prepare for the Atlantic Crossing.
You can read more about our sailing adventures together in the Mediterranean here:
Sailing and Exploring the Balearic Islands: Formentera
Sailing and Exploring the Balearic Islands: Ibiza
Sailing and Exploring the Balearic Islands: Mallorca
Meeting old and new friends
We met up with Nico and his girlfriend after anchoring up next to them in Little Harbour. Nico and his girlfriend were french and at the end of their sailing journey onboard their boat. We quickly became friends and not long after, he told us that he had a wakeboard but not a fast enough dinghy to pull it with.
Luckily, our dinghy Ellie is more than up to the task and we rigged ourselves up for some awesome water sports and had great fun. I got hooked on wakeboarding that day and I am getting one of those before kicking off next season for sure!
David and his girlfriend Nadia showed up the next day and anchored up next to us. I jumped in the dinghy and went over to catch up. David served gin tonics as per tradition and I invited them over the next day for rum and coke, also per tradition. We introduced them to our new friend Nico and he then told us that he had seen some big lobsters the other day while freediving at the other side of the bay.
Catching food from the ocean
It was decided to go on a mission to catch ourselves a lobster meal the next day and have a BBQ at the beach later in the evening.
And so we did.
David, Nico, Garret, and I spent most of the next day freediving and looking for a delicious lobster. Nico was by far the most skilled freediver and it didn’t come as a surprise that he was the one to get the jackpot.
We went to the beach that night and gathered everybody for a private little BBQ beach party and the beast was marinated in garlic butter and big enough to feed us all. Such good times! We ended up spending quite some time in this anchorage before we were ready to move off.
Garret had an old friend from his firefighting career that was going to join us. And the day after that, Sophie was flying in from the UK to join us as well and we planned on picking them up in Beef Island which is conveniently close to the airport with just a 5 minutes walk.
Picking up more crew in Beef Island
Beef Island lies just east of Tortola and is connected to the main island by a bridge. After anchoring Ellidah up in Trellis Bay, we headed to shore to pick up Garret’s old friend.
Ned Greenleaf is from the US and had previously sailed a bit on a catamaran, but never a monohull. He is also an experienced diver and loves to be in the water so he was excited to join us for some new adventures. The next day we picked up Sophie Ferguson who flew in from the UK. She is also an experienced diver and was looking to get some sailing experience. We were now 4 people onboard Ellidah and the vibe was pretty awesome.
Trellis bay however like so many other places in the Caribbean was devastated by Hurricane Irma a few years ago and is sadly not a nice spot anymore like it used to be. The four of us had a nice night out with sushi before we headed off to the next island the following morning.
Virgin Gorda lies to the east of Beef Island and to get there, you have to beat against the tradewinds. It isn’t far, but heading directly upwind is usually not super nice, and this trip wasn’t an exception. But as salty sailors, we didn’t complain about a few hours of wet ride with tacking, and we managed to find a good spot to anchor up outside of Spanish Town. With two extra heads onboard, we needed to get more provisions and this was a good town to get some.
After having a walk, an ice cream, and getting the provisions onboard, we called it a night and decided to head up north the following day. The forecast spoke of some nasty wind coming in and the west side of Pear Island looked like a nice spot to sit out the weather.
The anchorage west of Pear Island is well protected and is a nice spot to chill out for a bit. Nothing is going on on the island itself, but we wanted to check out the famous Saba Rock resort and The Bitter End Yacht Club. Also, the reef on the entrance to the north is supposed to be good for snorkeling. However, the weather that was forecasted came in and gave us 30-knot winds and rain showers.
It was too rough for a comfortable dinghy ride upwind to Saba and we weren’t really keen on checking out The Bitter End either in that weather. Instead, we went snorkeling and swimming for a day before we decided to lift the anchor and head back down south to Spanish Town again.
The Baths and Devil’s Bay
On the southwestern part of Virgin Gorda lies what might be one of the most famous attractions of the British Virgin Islands called The Baths. The Baths are made up of huge granite rocks scattered along the beach down towards the southernmost bay called Devil’s Bay. This place is incredibly beautiful and of course a very popular tourist attraction.
The four of us packed up for a day trip adventure and jumped in the water to swim over to the official entrance to The Baths and climbed up on the beach next to Poor Mans Bar. This place is definitely worth a visit for a glimpse of an awesome natural wonder!
Our friends Geir and Emil aboard Libertine II were also in the British Virgin Islands and we decided to sail away from Virgin Gorda and meet up with them. They were on their way to White Bay on Guana Island which is a privately owned island with an incredible white sand beach.
It was cool to catch up with Libertine II and its crew and we spent a few days together enjoying the stunning beach and the deliciously clear water around us. Sadly, our 2-week visa was about to expire and we had to start looking for a weather window to exit the country.
Sophie used to work as a dive instructor in the British Virgin Islands and had friends in Road Town. We all decided to sail back to Road Town together to have a farewell party and catch the coming weather window back to Saint Martin a couple of days later.
Back in Road Town
The four of us from Ellidah and the two from Libertine II went to meet up with Sophie’s friends and we had some food together in a restaurant in town. Her friends told her about a cool beach party in Cane Garden Bay on the other side of the island and we all managed to arrange some taxis to get there.
This beach club was pretty cool. Live music, lots of people, and flat calm waters on a pristine beach lit up by the colorful lights from the club. We made some new friends during the night and invited everybody to join us for an afterparty back on Ellidah when the beach club was about to close. We managed to get a lift back to Road Town and ended the night with great fun onboard after some interesting logistics back and forth with the dingies.
Checking out and leaving the British Virgin Islands
The following day we checked the forecast again. We wanted to head straight to Antigua, but the forecast didn’t look great. We knew it was going to be a bit of a beating to get back southeast and hoped for light northeasterly winds.
However, the forecast spoke of easterlies turning southeasterly over the next few days and also increasing with some decent swell. It would be easier to point to Antigua, but it is more than twice the distance so we decided to head back to Saint Martin and wait there for a better weather window.
Garret was also going to head off for his next adventure and Saint Martin was a convenient place for him to fly out. So then it was settled. We checked out of the British Virgin Islands and sailed down to our favorite spot on Peter Island to relax for the day before we set off back towards Saint Martin in the evening.
It was going to be a tough, wet and uncomfortable sail.