Boat Chartering With The Family In The BVI's

By Chris Edmonston

Photo of a 46-foot catamaran in the B.V.IA 46-foot cat in a BoatUS flotilla proves to be the perfect way for this family of seven to charter, offering confidence-building peace of mind.

Honestly, the idea of picking up and flying my family to some tropical destination to charter a boat always daunted me. I worried it was too far, too pricey, or beyond my captain skills. Still, I'd linger on the magazine ads, and quietly dream. My wife Stephanie and I have five children between us (and over us, under us, around us!) between the ages of 5 and 17, so traveling as a family is always an expensive adventure. But my charter dream became a reality when The Moorings hosted a "BoatUS Flotilla" in the B.V.I. at a special BoatUS member rate. A flotilla of sailing catamarans and power cats going around the islands, led by a boat of Moorings staff, made perfect sense. We'd get to meet fellow members and have the security of traveling in an organized group. Most of my barriers dropped away. I signed us on for the June trip. To read more about the boat Chris Edmonston's family chartered, and tips for making your charter experience better, see, "Boat Chartering: Crunching The Numbers".

Soon after arriving at The Moorings base in Tortola, after four hours of flights, we were on our boat, had explored the base, bought provisions, and were enjoying a complimentary cocktail hour for the BoatUS Flotilla. At the captain's meeting, we went over areas of interest, where to be cautious, and reviewed our itinerary. One nice feature of this flotilla was that we could choose to follow along with the group, or go a different route. Over the course of the week, several boats broke away to explore other islands, or stayed longer at a favorite spot, catching up to the group for dinner here and there.

The Virgin Islands look just like the ads, only a thousand times better, with rich tropical foliage over the hills, the smell of the sea, and ocean breezes. Most islands are heavily reefed, and mooring or anchoring is done at specific anchorages. Depending on when you arrive at an anchorage, mooring balls might be in short supply, or nonexistent. So going with the flotilla was helpful, as The Moorings staff scouted ahead and guided our 12 boats to spots they'd saved for us.

Our first landfall was Cooper Island, seven miles across Sir Francis Drake Channel. You'd think you were in a lake. All around are protective islands. For the next five days we island hopped from Cooper to Marina Cay, on the back side of Tortola, then to Virgin Gorda to visit the Bitter End Yacht Club for the obligatory Pain Killer, and on to Leverick Bay Marina for a great dinner with live entertainment.

Day three took us to Anegada, the only limestone and coral island in the B.V.I., so different from the others, and my family's favorite stop. We rented a pickup for the day and drove around looking for the famous flamingos, stopping at Cow Wreck and Loblolly Bay for what I'd say are the best beaches and snorkeling in the islands. It's said that the pace of island life is slow, with things operating on island ime. The pace on Anegada takes that to a whole new level. Time crawled along, which was just perfect for a vacation. The island is sparsely inhabited, so finding a quiet spot on any of the powder-white sand beaches was easy. And for dinner, the tradition on Anegada is to have a spiny lobster dinner, which we had at the Anegada Yacht Club, grilled on the beach under a star-filled night.

After Anegada, we sailed and motored to Guana Island for an afternoon of snorkeling at Monkey Point, then on to Cane Garden Bay on Tortola's north side for a group dinner at Quito's, where we enjoyed live music and a "hairiest leg" contest, which our kids loved. Next was Sandy Spit, just off Jost Van Dyke, with its great views, impossibly clear water, and great snorkeling. We finished up at Great Harbor and the world-famous Foxy's beach restaurant. Each island had its own vibe, and Jost Van Dyke was the most touristy. Ferries brought people over from St. Johns and St. Thomas, and the bar scene was hopping — the opposite experience of Anegada.

Our last day brought our boat to the Indians, a great dive spot, and to Norman Island's caves. Finally, reluctantly, we finished up at the island's great anchorage, the Bight, and then this incredible family vacation was over. We'd laughed, rested, pushed ourselves, shared time together away from phones and the crazy pace of our lives at home. Driving the cat had been easy, and the flotilla model perfect for us ... and for my peace of mind. 

Chris Edmonston is president of the BoatUS Foundation.

— Published: December 2014

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