As we flew into St. Thomas Airport in late May to start a week-long yacht charter in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), I was apprehensive but excited. The BVIs are one of my favorite places, and this would be my fifth yacht charter in the area. I had been following the stories of devastation from Hurricane Irma, but what would it be like to witness the aftermath firsthand? I was quickly put at ease when our driver Amir pulled up outside the airport, offered us a cold Carib beer and whisked us off to Red Hook to catch our water taxi to Tortola. As we passed through the town of Charlotte Amalie, where many houses were still covered with tarps, Amir explained that his own house had been destroyed and they were almost finished rebuilding it. Rebuilding and resilience became the themes of our week.
Day One – Tortola:
I traveled with my husband Doug and our friend Brett, and as soon as we reached the American Yacht Harbor in Red Hook, the Dolphin Water Taxi crew took over, processing our paperwork for U.S. customs, ferrying us to Tortola and processing our paperwork for U.K. customs once we arrived. The boat ride between St. Thomas and Tortola takes about an hour and is a great way to transit to the BVIs. A ground taxi was already waiting to escort us on our final leg to Nanny Cay Marina, site of the new MarineMax Vacation Headquarters. Like most of the marinas in the Virgin Islands, Nanny Cay sustained damage from Irma, but the facility was not just up and running but bustling with many repairs already completed and many more underway. The team at MarineMax showed us to our boat, a beautiful new 36-foot Aquila Powercat with two Mercury 250 HP outboard engines. The craft was designed for charters, and every inch of space was put to good use, with an open layout and two identical cabins. It was perfect for the three of us. We stowed our luggage and coordinated provisioning from RiteWay, then walked to the marina’s beach bar to devour delicious wings and fried shrimp, washing it all down with our first nutmeg sprinkled rum punch. Now I knew we were in the BVIs!
Day Two – Norman Island:
We decided on an easy first day to get accustomed to the boat, so we headed from Nanny Cay across the Sir Frances Drake Channel to Cooper Island, about an hour away. After two attempts I grabbed our mooring ball in Macchionell Bay, then we quickly lowered the ladder and jumped into the gorgeous turquoise blue water for our first swim. Immediately, the stress of the long travel day melted away. We dinghied over to the Cooper Island Beach Club for lunch, which looked as if it had fared well during the storm. Their diving operation and restaurant were both thrumming with activity. We ordered cheeseburgers and fish and chips as well as a refreshing rum punch spiked with prosecco, then headed back to our boat to start our journey to Norman Island where we would moor for the night. During our sail, we passed Peter Island, where we would have stopped to check out the new location of the legendary Willie T’s, but it was still a week away from re-opening. We easily secured a mooring ball in the bight at Norman Island, near where the old Willie T’s had washed up to shore, and splashed into the water for our first snorkeling adventure. The dark black with neon yellow stripes and electric-blue fish were incredible. Dinner that night was at the Pirate’s Bight Restaurant, rebuilt after Irma and in full swing. The service and food were excellent — yellow-fin tuna with soy-wasabi sauce, grilled wahoo, fantastic Key lime pie. Back aboard our boat, we turned on the underwater lights and quickly attracted several enormous tarpon.
Day Three – Jost Van Dyke:
After a 6:00 a.m. rise and a light breakfast, we dinghied over to Norman Island’s enchanting caves, made famous by Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic, “Treasure Island.” I couldn’t visit the island without snorkeling in the caves to try to spot scary sea creatures! We sailed early to our next stop, Great Harbour at Jost Van Dyke, where the iconic Foxy’s is located, and we knew that the harbor would be full by evening. We then dinghied around the corner to Jost’s White Bay, which must be one of the most gorgeous harbors in the world. We beached our dinghy and almost sprinted to the Soggy Dollar, birthplace of the Pain Killer cocktail. Just eight months after being decimated by Irma, the Soggy Dollar was hopping, with happy throngs of people shore, and splashed into the water for our first snorkeling adventure. The dark black with neon yellow stripes and electric-blue fish were incredible. Dinner that night was at the Pirate’s Bight Restaurant, rebuilt after Irma and in full swing. The service and food were excellent — yellow-fin tuna with soy-wasabi sauce, grilled wahoo, fantastic Key lime pie. Back aboard our boat, we turned on the underwater lights and quickly attracted several enormous tarpon. day three JOST VAN DYKE After a 6:00 a.m. rise and a light breakfast, we dinghied over to Norman Island’s FALL 2018 71 enchanting caves, made famous by Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic, “Treasure Island.” I couldn’t visit the island without snorkeling in the caves to try to spot scary sea creatures! We sailed early to our next stop, Great Harbour at Jost Van Dyke, where the iconic Foxy’s is located, and we knew that the harbor would be full by evening. We then dinghied around the corner to Jost’s White Bay, which must be one of the most gorgeous harbors in the world. We beached our dinghy and almost sprinted to the Soggy Dollar, birthplace of the Pain Killer cocktail. Just eight months after being decimated by Irma, the Soggy Dollar was hopping, with happy throngs of people waist-deep in the water enjoying cocktails. Later that night, dinner at Foxy’s proved that that institution is also completely back up and running in true form. As usual, the dance floor was packed!
Day Four – Anegada:
Naturally, we slept in a bit after our night at Foxy’s. I figured a little exercise could help too, so I launched the paddle board, riding into the harbor at a nice clip. It wasn’t until I turned around and faced the headwind that I realized I had my work cut out for me. I definitely got the exercise I wanted! Next stop was Little Jost to assess the Bubbly Pool and the B Line Bar. New mooring balls in front of the B Line Bar made it super-convenient to dinghy close to the Bubbly Pool. Foxy’s Taboo, destroyed by Irma, had not yet been rebuilt, but I heard that they planned to construct a smaller version that would open sometime this summer. The trail to the Bubbly Pool also suffered some damage, and in the end, we could not find a way to get there — next trip, for sure! But the rum punches and ribs at the fully repaired B Line Bar were as delicious as I remembered, and the familiar horseshoe pits and picnic tables remained out front. They expect to open a new dinghy dock and boutique soon. On to Anegada. At about 22 miles, this was the longest leg of our journey. The winds picked up and so did the waves, so we slowed down to 10 knots, arriving after three hours feeling a little woozy but also happy and relieved. “Anegada” means drowned island, and it’s totally flat, known for its large lobsters and very friendly locals. We dinghied over to Potter’s by the Sea to place our dinner order — Sam, the cook, requests everyone place their order by 5:00 p.m. Our grilled surf-and-turn feast was prepared to perfection. day five ANEGADA Because of the winds, we decided to stay another night in Anegada and explore. We rented a Jeep from D & H Rentals and bombed around, stopping at Big Bamboo at Loblolly Beach for a swim in the crystal-clear water and — surprise, surprise — a yummy rum punch. The bar has driftwood pieces that people have carved their names into over the years, and I was glad to see that many of these pieces had survived the storm. Next we drove over to Anegada Beach Club, a nice resort with thatched huts, for a pizza lunch and another ocean swim, then continued on to Cow Wreck Beach Bar & Grill, where we sat on the beach and watched local kids diving for conch. We swung through town to provision for dinner onboard, glad to be cozy on the boat later that night as we saw a storm roll in.
Day Six – Necker Island and Virgin Gorda:
We departed Anegada around 6:30 a.m., because we had a date with Richard Branson’s Necker Island! My friend Captain Ross Lysinger connected me with Gumption, who operates Gumption Adventures and runs tours of Necker. A 74-acre island just north of Virgin Gorda, Necker is available for private rentals (you and up to 21 friends can take over the whole thing) and is focused on living sustainably and protecting the environment. It runs almost entirely on solar. Thanks to Branson’s leadership, part of the island’s mission is committed to saving endangered exotic animals, including lemurs, giant tortoises, scarlet ibis and flamingos. It was amazing to see these animals up close — at one point I had three lemurs on my neck and arms! Even the giant tortoises allowed us to pet their necks. To top it all off, we visited the Great House, which sits at the highest point on Necker and has extraordinary views. Gumption sailed with us to our next stop, Leverick Bay Marina on Virgin Gorda, and we gave him the bags of supplies we’d brought to donate to the schools still recovering from Irma. We learned that Richard Branson and country music star Kenny Chesney have been critical in helping to rebuild the BVIs’ destroyed schools. After five nights of mooring balls, it felt great to be in one of Leverick Bay Marina’s nice wide slips with loads of amenities such as a pool and a spa at our disposal. We hit Hog Heaven, at the very tippy top of Virgin Gorda for a gorgeous sunset and cocktails, then rolled back down the mountain to the marina’s restaurant for a wonderful dinner and bottle of wine.
Day Seven – Scrub Island:
The next day we took a quick cruise over to the posh 300-acre resort Oil Nut Bay, on the eastern tip of Virgin Gorda, where we’d booked a reservation for lunch — which also gives you access to the first-rate amenities including watersports and a large pool. We took full advantage of all the toys, and by the time we sat down for lunch we were starving. Then it was time for our final leg, sailing to Scrub Island Marina and Trellis Bay’s infamous Full Moon Party. At the marina we immediately hit the pool, then prepped for the party, catching Scrub Island’s convenient 10-minute ferry over to Trellis Bay. The full moon party is known for the fire balls made by Aragorn Studios that literally light up the night. We indulged in chicken roti and cold Caribs and soaked it all in.
Day Eight – St. Thomas:
Our trip was almost over — but not before spending some time with JP from Tropical Charters. I’d met JP several years before when he was running Daddy’s Love Shack on Anegada. Now he’s based out of Red Hook and offers day charters in the USVI and BVI. He picked us up from Scrub Island on a 31 Pursuit for a super-smooth and fast transfer back to St. Thomas, where we met Amir for our taxi trip to the airport. As we drove over the hills toward Charlotte Amalie, I reflected on what had been a truly amazing week. The resilience and “can do” attitude we saw everywhere blew me away. The Virgin Islands are truly open for business, and their wonderful people ready to welcome you back! I’m already planning my next trip.
Dolphin Water Taxi offers door-to-door transport with a private land/boat experience from the St. Thomas airport to your final destination in the British Virgin Islands. (dolphinshuttle.com)
MarineMax Vacations helps you spend a week with family and friends experiencing exceptional life moments in paradise. Cruise at your own pace and on your own itinerary when you charter a MarineMax power catamaran in the BVI ranging from 36 to 48 feet (two, three or four cabins). (marinemaxvacations.com) The Moorings is the world’s premier yacht charter company, delivering unforgettable vacations on the water since 1969. The Moorings BVI base is conveniently located in Road Town, Tortola and offers a cutting-edge fleet of spacious sailing catamarans, classic monohulls and stylish power yachts. (moorings.com)
Tropical Charters VI is the best way to book a boat charter in the U.S. Virgin Islands. They arrange day trips on powerboats, sailboats, yachts, deep-sea fishing, water taxi transfers and term charters. (tropicalchartersvi.com) Yacht Retreat has helped families and groups take a crewed, captain-only or bareboat yacht charter or yacht retreat since 1984. Captain Ross brings years of experience and knowledge to your charter. (yachtretreat.com)