The Best Way to See the British Virgin Islands

By: Caribbean Journal Staff - May 28, 2015

Above: a Moorings 48-foot catamaran called “Friend Ship”

By Alexander Britell

IT’S TWO O’CLOCK on Prickly Pear.

Lal has just made us some ti’ punches with the last bit of Rhum St James left on the island. It’s not a bottle that will be delivered soon again.

The water is still, the sand the kind of hot that ignites your soles and urges you to return soon to the waves.


Above: the island of Prickly Pear

This is not a big island. There is nothing here except Lal and the bar. And some goats around the corner, who do not drink Rhum St James.


This is the place where the hero goes at the end of the film after the big score — the place that inspires heists and novels and journeys.


The place where you look out past the sand and see the hills and blues of the North Sound of Virgin Gorda and feel that you are in a special corner of the world.

The place that makes you ask “how did I ever get here?”

It’s not as hard as it might appear.


This was my first time sailing with The Moorings, that great journey-facilitator that sends out fleets of Prickly Pear-seekers across the Caribbean and beyond.

A charter like this is the best way to see the British Virgin Islands, the place that has more berths than beds, the undisputed charter sailing capital of the Caribbean.

Many islands are about the destinations; here, it’s about the journey, about the island hopping. One island is never enough. We did eight in one week on our 48-foot catamaran called Friend Ship.


Above: “The Indians”

This was a bareboat charter, just the four of us, all of whom had sailed before in one manner or another. This was my first beyond Hobie cats, though I was, before I knew it, helping with the moorings and managing the dinghy and the rigging.


Above: The Bitter End Yacht Club

After a night at shore in Tortola, we began the trip heading to The Indians for a snorkel, and then Norman Island for a Pirate Punch and then a rendezvous with penguins at Willie T and then to Cooper Island for what was the best meal of all the seven days.

That would become the daily ritual: an early departure for one mooring, then a lunch on the boat or ashore, then another beach, then another dock. Then a late meal.

Nights were dinners on land, taking the dinghy and tying up and having fish somewhere, or conch fritters.


Above: Saba Rock and Eustatia Island

One night Bitter End, another Saba Rock. Another at Yacht Club Costa Smeralda, the outpost of Sardinia’s most famous yacht club that serves Italian-Virgin Gordan fusion.

It is a wonderful ritual. After a day, time stops mattering. We began to ask for a reminder of what day it was. The second time you ask that question is a delightful feeling.


Above: the YCCS Marina

Because on this Moorings boat, the restraints of land, the busy routine, do not exist.


We began to ask for a reminder of what day it was. The second time you ask that question is a delightful feeling.”


These are full days — multiple islands, multiple dips in the water. New places and lights. No wasted moments.


Full days like this are the only weapon against the speed of time.


Above: the North Sound of Virgin Gorda

Because at the end of a day on the boat, the time of rum and laughter and quiet, it has been far longer than a day. But it feels effortless.


Above: the floating bar known as Willy T

Bareboat sounds daunting, but it is not. If you’ve sailed, you can learn quickly or have The Moorings teach you. Or you can have a crew and make an easy, comfortable trip even easier.


Above: Sandy Spit

Because it is worth it.

The British Virgin Islands are not about land. You can visit a resort, of which there are some great ones here.


Above: the Cooper Island Beach Club

But if you want to see this place and understand it, to snorkel the Indians and visit a bar called The Fat Virgin and marvel at Sandy Spit, you can only do it by boat.


Above: Friend Ship

This is an archipelago with the best sailing in the Caribbean, and it is a place that makes one feel like an explorer.

Every time you take the dinghy to shore, you feel as if you are the first to discover the island. You aren’t, of course, but it is new to your world.


Above: Norman Island

And the dinghy becomes its own adventure, hopping on, steering, navigating unknown docks — one becomes the Minister of Dinghies, or so we coined it.

We took our dinghy on the final day to Jost Van Dyke, the little island of two world-famous beach bars, The Soggy Dollar and Foxy’s, the former the home of the perfected Painkiller.


Above: a painkiller at the Soggy Dollar Bar

Jost is a gentle island, rugged and undeveloped, with chickens roaming free and nothing to hear except the beach bars.

It is a kind of hajj to a bar that is famous but kept close to the chest by all who visit, a painkiller pilgrimage.

Except on a trip like this there is not pain, so instead the little blue and white cup introduces you to the hammocks on the beach.


Above: Sunset in Trellis Bay

These places are why we sail, why we travel. The places that are explored but each and every time grant us the feeling of discovery.

On this kind of trip you discover them and end up on the beach, holding a cup, bobbing in the sea, slowly etching away the days of the week.

And one island turns into another, days into days, dinghies into dinghies.


It’s two o’clock on Prickly Pear.

But the question isn’t “how did I ever get here.”

It’s when did we get here?

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