British Virgin Islands | Classic
What really sets the BVI apart is that, although not a particularly large area, one can cruise them for years and still discover new spots to explore every time. That's one of the reasons why those islands are so popular among sailors--fortunately or unfortunately, that is another story!
Having cruised the BVI more times than I can remember, I have not written a cruising log per se, but rather suggestions of itineraries and tips not necessarily found in the cruising guides. You will be able to adjust this information to the length of your stay, your desire to sail a lot or a little, and of course your experience level.
The first text (the one you're reading now) is more the "classic" that you may want to use if your cruising the VI for the first time and/or if you are not yet an experienced charterer. In effect, the classic itinerary mostly includes anchorages where you'll be able to grab a mooring ball ($25/$30 a night at this writing, well worth it for a good night sleep without having to check on the anchor at 2AM!)
The second text — called 'British Virgin Islands: Advanced' — will take you to more unusual, less traveled spots, some of them requiring a little more experience, especially regarding your anchoring technique.
On top of the mandatory nautical charts, we strongly suggest you get your hands on the excellent Virgin Islands Cruising Guide by Nancy and Simon Scott. The book is "a must have" as it gives detailed anchorage approach information and charts, waypoints, and countless descriptions. It even has a section on the Spanish Virgin Islands, off Puerto Rico. (Note: We have no connections with the Scotts.)
You can also download our file summarizing the BVI Best Anchorages. But for now, while you're reading this, just follow with your BVI chart. Later, you can go to the Cruising Guide. Also, do not take our headings and distances at face value. They are only an approximation. Good seamanship requests that you check the information yourself anyway.
Finally, you might want to check Walker Mangum's excellent list of BVI waypoints. (Disclaimer: Use at your own risk, and always double check)
Mooring balls: if you need them, always keep in mind that they are often all occupied by 1530 hours - except in very low season. If you show up after that, you probably will have to anchor. Problem is, in some places there are so many balls that there is barely enough room left to anchor OR the sea bed is not good for anchoring at all. So watch out! Nowadays, there are moorings balls pretty much everywhere in the BVI, whether overnight balls or National Marine Park for day use only. Note that it is always good seamanship to check the moorings ball line to make sure it is not chafed. I always dive on the moorings balls and have a look at the chain underneath.
We hope you will love and enjoy cruising this area as much as we have for many years, without ever being tired of its beauty and diversity.
If you are leaving from the BVI, you are probably doing so from somewhere on the south shore of Tortola: either Road Town, Nanny Cay or Fat Hog Bay. In any case, on your first day, you will probably cast off by the end of the morning after tidying up provisioning and various odds and ends. Therefore, you will be better off going for a short sail and head toward Peter Island or Cooper Island. On the first day, you do not want to sail too much: What you want is get off the marina and go anchor or moor, settle down and take your marks before doing more serious sailing. Peter is a broad reach from any of the departure point, and Cooper is a beam reach.
Peter Island/Little Harbour:
4.5NM from Road Town - Hdg. 175 deg. Mag
3.6NM from Nanny Cay- Hdg. 153 deg. Mag
5.7NM from Fat Hog Bay-Hdg. 205 deg. Mag
Great Harbour, next anchorage over to the East, is only recommended if you have at least 200 ft of chain, as it is pretty deep. There is a possibility that mooring balls will have been installed there, though. Avoid Deadman Bay as an overnight anchorage as it is generally not protected enough and can be very rolly. It is a lovely day anchorage though, with a magnificent beach.
Cooper Island/Manchioneel Bay
6.1NM from Road Town Hdg. 110 deg. Mag
7.0NM from Nanny Cay Hdg. 103 deg. Mag
4.5NM from Fat Hog Bay Hdg. 138 deg. Mag
About Cooper: There is fabulous snorkeling south at Cistern Point (mooring lines for dinghy only) and on the northern reef. The restaurant is very nice, and the renovated bar area always a great ambiance. There are mooring balls there. We strongly suggest you do NOT try to anchor at Cooper. The holdings are not good at all and it can become a dangerous anchorage. I've seen many boats there drag in the middle of the night. Not your idea of fun! So show up early to make sure balls are available. If you estimate your arrival after 1530 in high season, just forget it, they all will be taken.
Day 2: Marina Cay, a pretty anchorage off Scrub Island.
From Peter Island, it's about 10NM with a general Hdg. 047 deg. mag.
From Cooper, it's about 5.5NM with a general Hdg. 355 deg. mag.
Both distance and hdg. are as the crow flies and are somewhat irrelevant since in both cases you will be probably beating hard --however less if you sail from Cooper. If you left from Peter, Cooper will be an excellent lunch/snorkeling stop. Grab a mooring ball, they are free if you not staying overnight.
Marina Cay is a lovely little island, with plenty of mooring balls, a nice open restaurant and a tiny beach. Just watch the approach around the marker showing the large reef surrounding the island. If you have to anchor, do so either along the inside of the south part of the reef, or behind the north part of it. It's not deep and holdings are good. You can get water and fuel there too. The snorkeling is nice along the reef of Great Camanoe, slightly west of Marina Cay. If moorings are full, go across to Trellis Bay, a very protected anchorage with moorings balls.
Day 3: Virgin Gorda / North Sound
Total distance: about 13NM - 61 deg. Mag to Mosquito Island then 170 deg. Mag into the sound. Here, you WILL be beating all the way no matter what, so this one is a fairly long leg. Leave early to make the Sound by 1500 and make sure to get a mooring ball. If it is the high season or a holiday, that ETA is the latest we recommend. On your way up there, you have 2 possible stops:
- The famous Baths at the southern point of V.G. with the mysterious boulder rocks, fabulous snorkeling, and intriguing caves - a MUST do.
- Mountain Point, the NW tip of VG, with great snorkeling, but slightly tricky anchoring. So check your charts.
Whatever course you're following, if you are becalmed south of the Dogs, you will often find more wind if hugging the west coast of V.G., all the way from the Baths to Mountain Point. Just watch for a barely emerging rock breaking out due west of Colison Point, north of Spanish Town.
When entering the North Gorda Sound, you have to be very careful. Do NOT attempt to pass between Mosquito Island and V.G., and do NOT shoot straight for the Sound after rounding Mosquito: You would be going straight to the reefs! Enter ONLY between the green and red buoys (remember, Red-Right-Returning) between Prickly Pear and Colauhoun Reef as there are big treacherous reefs at the entrance and all around. If I enter under sail, I also turn on my engine at this point and keep the main up, as a routine matter of safety to navigate between those reefs.
After passing the last buoy though, reward yourself with a couple of exhilarating tacks inside the Sound, where it is always windy with flat waters.
Grab a ball either off Vixen Point at Prickly Pear, or in front of the Bitter End resort. The south part of the anchorage, along with Biras Creek is pretty hot as it gets no air. If you want a cooler temperature, moor on the north side of the anchorage (left side when facing the resort) or off Saba Rock.
If you HAVE to anchor, try to find room along Prickley Pear's south side or off Saba Rock, where the depth can be manageable. Other areas are too deep unless you have 200 feet of chain.
There is plenty to do in the Sound, but here are my (subjective) favorites:
- Cocktail hour on the terrace of the Biras Creek resort: Unforgettable sunset if the weather is clear. No short pants allowed after 1800!
- Renting a Hobie Cat Wave from the Bitter End and zoom back and forth for a couple of hours.
- Using the Bitter End pool.
- Using the beaches of the resort, where they let you use the lounge chairs and facilities if you'd like.
- The Saba Rock restaurant
- The old boat models displayed in the Pusser's store at Leverick Bay.
- Breakfast at the Bitter End restaurant. By the way, I use to like the other meals there, but not any more: it has become quite overpriced and well under my (however reasonable) quality standards. However, if you have dinner there, their launch will shuttle you back and forth so you do not have to use your dinghy.
- Current weather forecasts at the Harbor Master's.
Lastly, you can get provisioning, water and fuel at the Bitter End, and at Saba Rock.
Day 4: West End / Soper's Hole
From the North Gorda Sound, it is about 23NM - 230deg. then 255 deg. mag. down the Drake Channel, all the way to West End. It is a downwind sail so it should not take you more than 4 hours at most. Enter in the cut between Frenchman Cay and Little Tatch.
Plenty of mooring balls there too and there is almost nowhere to anchor (too deep) except in the NE corner where the depth is reasonable.
West End is not an anchorage where you will swim and snorkel. Although kind if windy because of the funnel effect, it just is a lovely place, with very nice shopping, a couple of nice restaurants and a beautiful sunset from the anchorage. As a bonus, if you need to give phone calls with your cell phone, you will catch the AT&T signal from St. Thomas there and thus escape Boatphone's high rates.
Provisioning, water and fuel available, as well as Custom clearance and ferries to St. Thomas and St John.
Day 5: Jost Van Dyke / Great Harbour
It is about 4NM - 326 deg. mag. from Sopers. Short distance, but you can have a leisurely day, and have your lunch stop at Sandy Cay, or Sandy Spit.
- Sandy Cay is a small island with a beautiful beach, a lovely nature trail with tropical plants and, up the trail, a magnificent view over the cliffs.
- Sandy Spit is a minuscule uninhabited island, directly 1NM north of Sandy Cay. It is probably one of the most photographed islands in the Northern Caribbean and has been the background of countless commercials, since it really looks like the Robinson Crusoe's place! Exercise extreme caution when approaching from the South as a large reef surrounds the island. Snorkeling there is pretty nice along the reef between Sandy Spit and Green Cay.
When arriving in Great Harbour, you can anchor pretty much anywhere in the northern part of the cove, in 15/30ft. of water. Holdings are not great though, so make sure you snorkel over your anchor to check it is properly set.
At Jost, the action is ashore, and it is famous for its beach restaurants and parties. You can read all this in the Cruising Guide, but you will certainly want to go to Foxy's, although I have found that, since Foxy Callwood retired, Pirates's food is now far superior (tested May 2013).
Less famous, but definitely worth the detour, is "Christine's Bakery" where you will find delicious fresh breads to restock your boat with.
On Jost, there is something worth seeing called the "Bubbling Pool". The restaurant nearby is "Foxy's Taboo". Foxy's Taboo is on the east end of Jost Van Dyke, in the corner near Little Jost. There are some mooring balls there.
Take your dinghy in the the shore north of Foxy's Taboo and walk north. Just before you get to the small hill on the northeast corner of the island, there is a path leading to the left (west). Follow that path (less than 1/4 mile) and you will arrive at the Bubbling Pool. It is formed by waves coming through a cleft in the rocks on the north shore of Jost Van Dyke. When waves come in, they break over the rocks and the resulting bubbling water gives the pool its name. It varies in size according to the wave activity, but it is a pretty little spot. Take a camera as you can get pictures of your group in the pool from the rocks above.
And last but not least, form Great Harbour, you can take your dinghy and go to White Beach, possibly the most beautiful beach in the BVI, with the legendary "Soggy Dollar" Bar - another must.
Day 6: Norman Island
From Jost Van Dyke, it is about 12NM and a general heading of 128 deg. mag. After passing Little Tatch, you will fight some current and sometimes headwinds if the wind is southeasterly. So this is not necessarily a short trip.
Norman is famous because it is believed to be the "Treasure Island" from Robert Stevenson- although there is a controversy there!. But it has always been surrounded by numerous stories of pirates and buried treasures.
The anchorage is at the Bight, where they have installed mooring balls. You want to arrive there relatively early as you definitely will go snorkeling at the Caves, situated at Treasure Point. It is one of the best snorkeling sites in the BVIs. You can go with your dinghy from your moorings ball to the Caves, where you can grab another ball, as it is forbidden to anchor anyway.
At the Bight, you will find the famous "William Thornton" nicknamed Willie T., an old boat which serves as a restaurant and a bar and can be noisy and rowdy at night. But it is worth being seen. The W T has a dinghy dock.
On the beach, Billy Bones is a recently renovated bar/restaurant located on the eastern part of the Bight, where food and ambiance are fairly nice, albeit not cheap..
Back to the base. If you are going back to Road Town or Nanny Cay, with a little luck, it is a reach back to the base.
To Road Town, it is about 7NM - Hdg. 007 deg. mag. To Nanny Cay, it is about 6NM - Hdg. 350 deg. mag.
This is a very simple and easy itinerary of the BVIs. Yet, it will give a beautiful idea of the classic anchorages, and "must-see" of those great islands. Thus, it is best suited for first-time BVI charterers. You can always skip a leg, and spend a day relaxing instead of sailing. Usually, we like to do that at the Bitter End, because of all the extra activities.
Now, if you feel more adventurous, or if you have already chartered there, you can read/download our BVI log #2, which will take you to less traveled places, and a little more difficult sailing.
We hope you will love and enjoy cruising this area as much as we have for many years, without ever being tired of its beauty and diversity.