Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Sailing The British Virgin Islands

By Kristy McCaffrey

“Who is staring at the sea is already sailing a little.”
~ Belgian author Paul Carvel

I am not a sailor, but I recently lived the life of one. Last month, my husband and I sailed on a private catamaran around the British Virgin Islands, or BVI as the locals refer to it. And we fell completely under its spell.

The Moorings dock at Road Town, Tortola, BVI.

We sailed on a crewed 5800 yacht with The Moorings, one of the largest charter companies in the world. Our starting point was Road Town, located on the island of Tortola. Although many people fly to nearby St. Thomas, located in the U.S. Virgin Islands, we opted to connect through San Juan, Puerto Rico, which required a brief flight in a propeller plane to Beef Island.

Our plane from San Juan, Puerto Rico,
to the British Virgin Islands.

The airport at Beef Island, Tortola, BVI.

All told, it took us two days of travel at the beginning and end of our 5-day sailing adventure, but it also meant that we had time to adjust to the time change (thankfully only three hours) as well as regaining our land-legs before heading home.

Our international crew: Chef Kay, Captain Derek,
and Steward Grant. (Kay was from Jamaica, Derek
from the U.K., and Grant was from South Africa.)
Eight of us boarded our catamaran on a Sunday morning and were greeted by our Captain, Derek, our cook, Kay, and our steward, Grant. The entire crew was professional, friendly, and made our entire week an unforgettable vacation. Each of the four couples had their own private cabin that included a private bath and adequate closet and cabinet space, but be sure to pack using a duffle bag as those are easier to stow.

Leaving Tortola for our 5-day sailing adventure.

On a side note, one benefit of visiting the BVI’s, at least for Americans, is the use of U.S. Dollars, U.S. electrical outlets, and a strong wifi and cell service connection our entire trip. This made it easy to stay caught up on work (although we certainly did as little as possible), and enabled us to remain in contact with our children, always a plus.

Our boat, the Laurel Lee. In the back, you can
see one of the main deck cabins.
The same cabin from the other side.

The boat had six cabins in total, with four on the lower level and two on the main level that included a forward-facing door that led to the bow. The top deck had a full flybridge complete with a helm station and wet bar, making it our main hangout for the week. The outdoor aft dining area could accommodate all of us, and the crew decorated it with a different table setting for each meal. It’s these little touches that really added to the enjoyment of the trip.

The flybridge. Very comfortable and the best place to be
while sailing (helps with seasickness).

The outdoor aft dining area. To the right you
can see our motorized dinghy, used for
shore excursions.

We had latitude in choosing our itinerary, but for the most part we let Captain Derek guide us, since he knew the islands far better than us. Our first stop was Cooper Island, population 44, not including the wild goats roaming the shoreline. At most of our stops, we were moored off shore and could use a tender to visit dry land. However, we were so close to the beach of Cooper Island that my husband and I jumped in the water and snorkeled over.

Our boat. We had the use of paddle boards
and a 2-person kayak.

Most evenings, we were moored offshore.

There's nothing like the wind in your sails.

Speaking of snorkeling, we had many great opportunities to view a diversity of fish and coral. We enjoyed the grasses of Cooper Island, the expansive Diamond Reef (near Scrub Island), the unique Caves of the privately-owned Norman Island, and the starkness of the Indians (the last two only accessible by boat). We also clambered through the rocky boulders and pathways of The Baths on Virgin Gorda, and enjoyed our parking spot at the dock at Leverick Bay (which meant we could come and go from the boat as we pleased). It was here that we had a fleeting encounter with Sir Richard Branson, the billionaire CEO and founder of the Virgin Group (which includes Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Mobile, to name a few). He owns nearby Mosquito Island, as well as the much smaller Necker Island, both of which are a short boat ride from Leverick Bay. As we dined that evening, we caught a glimpse of him as he arrived to pick up a passenger in a small speedboat. The area is so beautiful that we can well understand why he chooses to live here.

The Caves. We were able to swim into three
different caves located along this rocky face.

The Indians. This was advanced snorkeling with a bit of a
current, but the marine life was worth it.

My husband navigating The Baths on Virgin Gorda.

Leverick Bay on Virgin Gorda, BVI.

The view from Hog Heaven Bar, a popular hangout on
Virgin Gorda that overlooks Leverick Bay.

The same view beneath a full moon.

One of our favorite stops was Anegada, the northernmost of the British Virgin Islands. While the islands of the BVI and nearby USVI are volcanic and mountainous, Anegada is formed entirely of coral and limestone, making it flat and low. The name is derived from the Spanish term for the flooded land, tierra anegada, with its highest point only 28 feet above sea level. The main activities here are kitesurfing, horseshoes, and a whole lot of doing nothing. We skipped the traditional lobster dinner that came highly recommended to us because we’d become quite loyal to our own chef, Kay. Her meals were made with fresh ingredients, homemade entrees and sides, and a whole lot of love, and we didn’t want to miss a one of them.

Anegada Island, BVI.

Anegada Island, BVI.

My husband and I in full vacation mode.

Our wonderful chef, Kay, and all the amazing meals she
prepared for us.

A little history of the islands: The Virgin Islands were first settled by the Arawak from South America, but the first European sighting was by Christopher Columbus in 1493. He named them Saint Ursula and her 11,000 virgins. The entire area is still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Irma in September of 2017, but the magic of the place is palpable. In addition to wild goats, there are also wild chickens everywhere. And while I’m a true animal lover, I must admit that the roosters nearly drove me insane with their incessant crowing. They are endlessly annoying and the only saving grace is their gorgeous coloration. But the hens and the chicks are the personification of cuteness and thankfully make up for the cockiness of the boys.

A wild rooster of Tortola, BVI.

A hen and her chick on the beach at Brewer's Bay, Tortola, BVI.

Our last day was bittersweet, because we didn’t want our time on the water to end. Kay prepared a wonderful breakfast (frittata, fresh fruit, crispy bacon, and toast), and then we packed up our rooms before motoring across Sir Francis Drake Channel.

Our last breakfast.

A pretty and cloudy day greeted us, and the sea offered only a bit of chop. Within an hour we had arrived back at Road Town, thoroughly impressed with Captain Derek’s parking job as he expertly maneuvered the giant catamaran while dodging a strong wind. We spent the night on Tortola at a quaint inn on Brewer’s Bay, and I indulged dining on my favorite dish of fried plantains while pelicans and boobies entertained us with their fishing technique: dive-bombing.

Brewer's Bay, Tortola, BVI.

Fried plantains (and my husband's last cigar LOL).

As I think back to my time aboard the Laurel Lee and sailing the British Virgin Islands, the sea continues to whisper in my ear, and I’m certain that saltwater now fills my veins. And for a brief time, I was a sailor.

Sailing the British Virgin Islands. I wholeheartedly recommend it.


  1. So did you paddle board, Kristy? And when are you coming to mi Rancho in Scorpion Bay?

    1. I did paddle board, and I loved it. One of these days, we'll have to come to Scorpion Bay!!

  2. I agree with you whole heartily. It is difficult to get there, but well worth the effort. Being on the boat was like vacationing with your parents (when you were young)... you sit around all day doing nothing until mother calls you for dinner.

  3. I couldn't do it. I get motion sick too easily. But it looks wonderful! I can see why you had such a good time.

    1. I get motion sickness too. I used the wrist bands this time and they worked really well. One of the ladies traveling with us got a patch from her doctor that she wore the entire time. It released anti-nausea medication. She was totally fine. One day you'll have to give it a try!! :-)

  4. Sloping hills of green, lush mountainous terrain, extensive coral reefs and famous shipwrecks sum up the thrills and spills of the British Virgin Islands.

    Visit Catamaran bvi to know more.