The British Virgin Islands (BVI) are one of the best sailing destinations in the Caribbean, both for crewed and bareboat charters. The calm waters, protected anchorages and warm weather make them ideal for first-time sailors, while even the more experienced yachtsmen will appreciate the short distances and numerous little bays and small anchorages that are perfect for swimming, snorkelling and simply enjoying the sunshine and the scenic views.
The best time to go to the British Virgin Islands is in the winter and spring, from December to May, when easterly trade winds typically blow at 7 to 15 knots. The Christmas winds can reach 25 to 30 knots, but they only blow for several days at a time. During the summer, winds can be predictable, sometimes reaching 30 knots and at other times dying down completely, making sailing conditions less than ideal. From November to March, there can be swells on the northern shores and it is best not to anchor in these spots. The tides are minimal in the BVIs, staying below 18’’ throughout the year.
The trade winds are extremely friendly to sailors, blowing almost constantly at a force of up to 25 knots. The hurricane season officially lasts from June to November, with the highest incidence of hurricanes and stormy weather between mid-August and late October.
The BVIs have a tropical climate, with temperatures varying very little from one season to the next. The daily temperatures in the summer are around 24°C or more and, in the winter, at least 21°C. The months from September to November get most of the precipitation, while February and March are usually the driest.
The British Virgin Islands comprise the four larger islands of Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada and Jost van Dyke and more than 50 other smaller islands and cays. Only about 15 islands are inhabited and most of the population lives on Tortola, the largest island in the group and home to the capital, Road Town.
Tortola has two ports of entry, Road Harbour and Soper’s Hole, as well as a number of smaller ports and anchorages. Road Harbour is a large commercial seaport surrounded by several smaller marinas, including the Fort Burt Marina and the Road Reef Marina, while Soper’s Hole is a scenic port with several restaurants and shops offering food and supplies. The Nanny Cay Resort and Marina is another popular stop on the island for many sailors visiting the archipelago.
The Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour is located in Spanish Town, the main town on the archipelago’s second most populous island, Virgin Gorda. The full-service marina complex houses everything from charter companies, shops and shower facilities to a food market, restaurant and bar. The North Sound, one of the main attractions of the BVIs, offers several lovely anchorages surrounded by resorts and restaurants, while the Bitter End Yacht Club offers amazing views of the sunset.
Anegada Harbour, the main anchorage of the archipelago’s northernmost island, is an excellent place to stop to try the island’s famed lobster and explore its coral reefs.
The Great Harbour is the most popular mooring destination on Jost van Dyke, welcoming sailors to its many small bars and restaurants that line the surrounding beach, while the island’s Little Harbour is a quiet, scenic lagoon that makes a wonderful stop for those looking to enjoy the local atmosphere and food.
The smaller islands also have a number of popular anchorages and ports. These include Deadman’s Bay with the Peter Island Yacht Club on Peter Island, Lee Bay on Salt Island, a popular diving destination, Manchioneel Bay on Cooper Island, and The Bight on Norman Island.
The BVIs offer a little something for everyone. Their beautiful beaches are their main appeal, but each island has a number of other unique attractions waiting to be discovered.
Sailing is a popular sport in the BVIs, with constant breezes and friendly waters offering some of the best sailing conditions in the whole Caribbean. The annual Spring Regatta, held during the first week of April, is a massive event that draws sailors from all over the world every year. It hosts several races each day along with numerous games, live music, parties and other festivities.
The islands are also a popular destination for scuba diving. The wreck of the Rhone, a large former Royal Mail Steamer that sank in a hurricane in 1867, lies at varying depths west of Salt Island. Wreck Alley, a group of four purposely sunk ships next to Cooper Island, an aircraft near Great Dog Island, and many other notable wrecks make the BVIs one of the best wreck diving destinations in the Caribbean. Most of the islands also have spectacular coral reefs and a diverse tropical underwater life, offering divers an endless variety of sights to explore.
Road Town on Tortola is the islands’ nightlife hotspot, with many bars and restaurants offering live music along with local dishes and delicious local rum-based drinks. Jost van Dyke is also known for its many bars serving a great variety of cocktails. The Painkiller, made from rum, coconut and orange juice, the Bushwhacker, a serving of dark rum, Kahlúa, coconut and cocoa cream, and the refreshing No-See-Um, a blend of rum, banana, coconut and pineapple flavours, are some of the most popular ones. Many local bars have their own specialty drinks, offering visitors a unique opportunity for the perfect cocktail sampling holiday.
The islands also offer many natural wonders to explore onshore. The Baths, an unusual geological formation consisting of large granite boulders that form scenic grottoes by the sea, is one of the best known attractions of Virgin Gorda. It is located to the south of the Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour. Gorda Peak offers amazing views of the island’s beaches, coral reefs and nearby islands, while the Little Fort National Park, which harbours the ruins of an old Spanish fortress, is also a wildlife sanctuary. The Caves at Treasure Point on Norman Island and the National Park on Dead Chest Island are excellent spots for diving and snorkelling, while the Indians, a collection of four rocky pinnacles resembling a Native American headdress, are among the best shallow dives in the BVIs.
Anegada’s western shore is the place to go to watch large flocks of flamingoes, while the Mount Sage National Park on Tortola is ideal for hiking. Centered on the Mount Sage volcanic peak, the highest point of the Virgin Islands, it offers scenic views of Jost van Dyke, Sir Francis Drake Channel, Virgin Gorda and the outlying islands.