British Virgin Islands Recovery

By Bernadette Bernon

A season after two hurricanes whacked the British Virgin Islands, what should a charterer expect?

A panoramic view of a BVI coastlineA panoramic view of a BVI coastline. (Photo: Getty Images/Guido Amrein)

In March 2018, my husband, Douglas, and I chartered a 38-foot sailboat from the Sunsail base in Tortola, BVI, to see for ourselves what chartering was like the season after two back-to-back category 5 hurricanes had devastated these islands in September 2017. We visited less than a year after the charter described in Susan Shingledecker’s companion story "Family Boat Charter In The British Virgin Islands", which took place before the hurricanes.

Here's an update.

Tortola had one of the largest chartering fleets in the world — both sail and power — and the archipelago is a legendary playground for boaters, with spectacular protected anchorages (almost all with mooring balls for boaters' use!), easy eyeball navigation between islands, wonderful people, and a seductive island beach vibe. Flying in over Tortola, we could see some damaged boats that had been beached in the hurricanes, in particular Trellis Bay. But to our relief, when Douglas and I arrived in Tortola, we found it buzzing with the energy of rebuilding. Hotels were open again. The chartering bases were already building back their fleets by bringing in new boats from other bases; the foliage was again lush and green, with flowers blooming everywhere.

We'd find the quieter islands to be as beautiful as ever as well, with only the occasional beached boat to remind a visitor what happened here.

Perhaps the greatest gift for boaters during the 2018 season, and we'd expect the same to be true for one more year at least, was that there was a miniscule fraction of the normal number of charterers We felt great sympathy for the locals who lost so much, and whose economy is centered on tourism. Douglas and I had many anchorages to ourselves — a real anomaly, as anyone who's been to the popular BVI knows well. Fleet sizes won't be up to pre-hurricane levels in 2018—19 either.

Being There

Douglas and I stocked up at the impressive supermarket near the Moorings/Sunsail base. Our itinerary was loose. We were looking for peace and quiet, powder-white beaches, good snorkeling, and a few locally owned restaurants. Leaving Tortola, we sailed over to the Bight at Norman Island, passing the famous Indians rock formations rising straight up out of the sea and surrounded by coral, with their day moorings for easy snorkeling.

Anchoring at the back of the fleet in the Bight, we watched the sunset and dinghied ashore for a fresh fish dinner at Pirates. This bay is the usual home of the infamous Willie T, mentioned in Susan’s article "Family Boat Charter In The British Virgin Islands". The party barge and restaurant was destroyed by the hurricanes, but at press time a new Willie T was back in business, now located at Great Harbor, Peter Island.

Bernadette Bernon and husband, DouglasBernadette Bernon and husband, Douglas.

Next, we sailed east to a lovely anchorage behind the reef at Savannah Bay on Virgin Gorda's west coast. Our 5-foot draft found a sweet spot in the shallow anchorage; if we'd had a skinnier-draft catamaran or powerboat, we'd have puttered farther up into yet a more remote anchorage for an even more beautiful hideaway. Ashore were some damaged vacation homes in the midst of roof replacements.

From Savannah, we sailed up around the north tip of Virgin Gorda, then anchored in Leverick Bay — a bustling place with a bar, restaurant, and live music. In the far distance, our binoculars revealed a sobering sight, the remains of the Bitter End Yacht Club and resort, decimated beyond repair.

This was our kicking-off point for an early departure to the coral island of Anegada, the highlight of our trip. Only 12 miles north from North Sound in Virgin Gorda, it was a gorgeous sail past the wave-swept Dog Islands, culminating in a snaky yet clearly marked Anegada entrance channel, and an anchorage of the lightest turquoise. We ate lobsters ashore at the Anegada Beach Club — be sure to dinghy in and order them in person before 1 p.m. so the proprietor can go get them — and were invited back the next day, when the chef offered to drive us over to the other side of the island.

Next morning, we hitched a ride over and were dropped off at the little Anegada Beach Club resort. Walking over a set of dunes, our jaws dropped. For miles to our left and right, under a perfect blue sky, we had this stunning beach completely to ourselves. We swam in the cool, clear water, walked, relaxed, and decided to linger in Anegada yet another day.

The BVI is such an easy place to charter. If you're looking for people and night life, there are fun anchorages you'll love. But if you want anchorages to yourself, you'll find plenty of those as well. Just ask your charter representative when planning your charter, or at your skippers' briefing on the day before your charter, then take it all with a grain of salt. Different weather and swell conditions may make some of your choices unrealistic, yet open you to treasures you hadn't even planned on.

This was our third and best trip to the BVI over the years. On previous visits, we'd already enjoyed The Baths and other famous BVI landmarks. We'd visited the very cool Aragorn Studio on Scrub Island, and loved White Bay on Jost Van Dyke. This year's trip was more about taking each day as it came. The local people were so gracious and grateful that we'd come down to support them by spending our vacation dollars there. If you ever dreamed of going to the BVI, now is an ideal time to do it. 

— Published: October/November 2018

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