Cruises

Sailboat Charters: British Virgin Isles: See the Isles by Sea

Filed Under: Caribbean

Yachties traverse the planet chasing the trade winds in search of that one particular harbor, but there's a reason so many skippers claim the Caribbean as their favorite destination for setting sail.

Whether you're new to sailing your own vessel, an old hand on the open ocean or prefer to charter a boat that's fully crewed so you can spend your time kicking back with boat drinks, the British Virgin Islands are one of the best destinations on the planet for setting sail.

The sheer proximity of the many volcanic islands and cays paired with a seemingly endless array of tranquil bays makes for an exciting itinerary that's guaranteed not to stress you out with the technical side of sailing.

This unbelievably scenic sailing territory is roughly 32 miles long and 15 miles wide, with more than 60 islands, cays and rocky outcroppings to be discovered. But a BVI itinerary doesn't require any open-ocean sailing or knowledge of navigational tools since the islands are all mostly within eyeshot of each other.

You can drop anchor for the night practically wherever you like for free throughout the islands, and it costs a small fee to tie up to an anchor ball for the evening.

And during the shoulder seasons of May and June and August and September, anchorages are largely empty - all the better for frolicking with the reef fish au naturel.

But first things first.

Your sailing skills have a lot to do with whether you opt for a crewed boat, complete with a captain and cook, or choose to do the bareboat thing - rent just the boat, and leave the sailing, cooking and pantry-stocking to you and your personal bevy of first mates.

If you've sailed fairly extensively before and can prove it with a sailing resume, it's easy to rent a bareboat. Many companies, including international yacht charter company The Moorings, have an online application process where you can input your sailing resume and detail your experience to gain approval to sail your own boat.

If you're not qualified, opt to bring a captain on board. Bareboats BVI is another long-standing and respected bareboat charter company with an informative website about renting bareboats and crewed charters in the islands.

You also have to decide what kind of boat to sail. Monohull sailboats - the traditional style - are more fun to sail, but don't feature as much deck space and entertaining area as more stable multihulled catamarans. If you have a tendency to get seasick, don't even think twice - a catamaran is the way to go. Catamarans are also preferred if you plan to dive from the boat, as there's plenty of space for tanks and other scuba gear. In general, sailing vessels available for rent range from about 32 feet to 54 feet long and can accommodate up to 10 people, as long as you're willing to bunk together in the cabins.

It's a good idea to request that your boat be provisioned for the first few days - a service most companies are more than happy to provide before you leave harbor, for a fee of course - so you can concentrate on enjoying the scenery instead of coming up with meal ideas. There are plenty of grocery stops at marinas along the way where you can restock your rations as you go.

Follow Travel Channel's lead, and add these iconic BVI spots to your sailing itinerary, then let the good winds blow you as they may.

Road Town, Tortola
Start your adventure on the largest island in the BVI chain. Road Town Harbour in Tortola is base camp for the largest bareboat yacht-chartering business in the Caribbean, and most folks here have sailing on the brain. Most people reach Tortola's Beef Island Airport by direct flights from Puerto Rico, Antigua or St. Thomas, or arrive by ferry from nearby St. Johns in the US Virgin Islands (there are no flights to Beef Island from the US mainland). It's typical to arrange for a sleep-aboard the first night, whereby you can spend the night on the boat while it's docked on company premises before setting sail the next day (the sleep-aboard price is factored into the weeklong contract at a reduced rate).

Salt Island
One of the best diving sites in the British Virgin Islands is found here at the wreck of the RMS Rhone, a royal packet steamer that sank just off Salt Island during a fierce hurricane in 1867.

The Baths, Virgin Gorda
On the Southern tip of Virgin Gorda is another killer snorkeling spot surrounded by unusual granite boulders and semi-submerged rocks called The Baths. The jury's out on how the out-of-place rocks ended up on this sandy Caribbean strand - some credit the formations to a meteor shower, others say they are the result of long-ago volcanic activity. But there's no disputing the sublime beauty of the tunnels, grottoes and elkhorn coral formations waiting to be explored here.

Bitter End Yacht Club, Virgin Gorda
After exploring The Baths, consider tying up for the night at North Sound to visit the Bitter End Yacht Club, one of the best-known resorts in the BVI. Cocktails, pink and orange sunsets, dancing alfresco and fine dining are all on the menu while getting your land legs back for a night. There's fine snorkeling here, too, and you can rent colorful Hobie Cats for a spin around the harbor.

Monkey Point, Guana Island
Off the ocean side of Tortola, Guana Island is a nature resort set on a private island that once functioned as a Quaker sugar cane plantation. These days, nature reigns, with more than 50 bird species nesting here, as well as unusual creatures such as rock iguanas and red-legged tortoises. Just circumnavigating the island feels like being on safari, with cacti and exotic plants lining postcard-perfect coves. But be sure to tie up to a mooring ball at Monkey Bay on the South end of the island to partake in some of the best snorkeling in the BVI. Since the island is private, you're not supposed to go onshore. But you can spend a 5-star night on your boat beneath a canopy of endlessly starry skies.

Cane Garden Bay
On the ocean side of Tortola, the crescent-shaped beach surrounded by lush mountains at Cane Garden Bay is considered by many sand aficionados to be the most beautiful in the British Virgin Islands. There are plenty of places to drop anchor, too, and the bay's sheltered setting means there won't be waves rocking your boat.

Jost Van Dyke
Just 4 miles long, this largely unspoiled island typifies tropical living, with powder-fine beaches, warm waters the color of liquefied turquoise and iconic watering holes like Foxy's Bar to fuel the fun. It's a real yachtie scene, and you'll rub sunburned shoulders with sailors who have traveled the world on windpower. Be sure to try the drink called the Painkiller - made from dark rum, coconut cream, pineapple juice and other tropical goodies - served at the Soggy Dollar Bar, where guests swim ashore (there's no dock) and buy drinks with their soggy bills.

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