SEVENSEAS Marine Conservation & Travel Issue 21, February 2017 - Page 37

he colors of the Virgin Islands are unlike any place on the planet. Above the surface, protected coves of blue-green

water and white sand are compliment by purples, reds, and oranges underwater of healthy marine ecosystems. Regardless of which world you prefer to spend your time, this unique part of the Caribbean’s Leeward Islands is sure to meet your expectations. And arguably one of the best ways to experiencing the Islands is cursing at a comfortable 5 knots and heeled over 10 degrees on one of many bareboat chartered sailboats hailing from the U.S. and British Virgin Islands.

Bareboat chartering in the Virgin Islands is no different than bareboat sailboat chartering in most places around the world. Bareboat sailboat charting is a simple concept; typically chartered sailboats are privately owned and managed by a chartering company that maintains the boat during its chartering life and facilitates the entire chartering process. In the Virgin Islands there are many different chartering companies to choose from with Moorings ( and Sunsail ( by far the two biggest. But if you do your homework and explore many of the smaller bareboat operators, you’ll see there is a wide range of options to pick from. Beyond the different types of boats, such as deciding on a monohull or catamaran, and latest comforts and options, be sure to consider some of the less-considered selling points when selecting a charter operator, including location. Many of the bareboat chartering companies operate from the British Virgin Islands, though most flights arrive on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. This means sacrificing sailing time dealing with water ferries and in customs queues. Alternatively, sailing out of the U.S. Virgin Islands allows time to explore some beautiful parts of St. John and pass through British Virgin Island customs at several ports of your choosing.

Another advantage of smaller bareboat companies is the superior customer service, which can make all the difference when something does not work properly before you shove off (which happens all the time on boats). While smaller bareboat operations may have fewer boats in their fleet, the overall variety of boat types tends to be better, allowing you to find the right boat at the right price point. Lastly, if your dates are flexible, it’s always good to see if prices vary based on the season. One smaller bareboat operation that is highly recommended is CYOA Yacht Charters ( Beyond a great selection of boats and reasonable prices, they are conveniently located minutes from the airport on St Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands and are walking distance to a major grocery store, allowing you to significantly reduce prep time before shoving off.

While no Virgin Islands sail is complete without a few rum drinks from the many iconic bars and restaurants, there are many natural attractions that are also well worth a visit. As you plan your sail, consider these more off the grid places.

Long Bay, Jost Van Dyke (18.451824, -64.723365)

With White Bay and Great Harbour being the main attractions that draw folks to Jost Van Dyke, paradise has not yet been lost in Long Bay, located on the eastern edge of Jost Van Dyke and Little Jost Van Dyke. Home to only a two restaurants, Long Bay is a long ways off from the often crowded popular attractions such as Foxy’s and Soggy Dollar on the western side of Jost. But what really makes Long Bay special is the kaleidoscope of blues and greens that make up the cut between the two islands. From above water, this playground of seagrass meadows, healthy corals, and mangrove stands, is hard to remove from your memory once you’ve seen it. And if you’re lucky, you can often catch a rainbow towards the northeast following early morning squalls over the Atlantic. From the mooring field, the cut between the two islands is just a quick swim or SUP. Be sure to keep an eye out for small reef sharks, rays, and diving brown boobies.

If you’re fortunate to have a sizeable east-northeast swell, the waves passing through the cut between Jost and Little Jost can get quite rideable on a SUP - knee to waist high depending on how far out you go. If you’re using a leash, just be careful that it doesn’t wrap around a coral head and pull you off your board. Of all the places to SUP surf in the Virgin Islands, the cut between Jost and Little Jost is arguably the most scenic and unforgettable.

Sandy Spit (18.450077, -64.709084)

If Long Bay does not sound enticing enough already, you only need to turn 180 degrees to see the quintessential Caribbean island – Sandy Spit. With an area of less than 0.002 km2, Sandy Spit is literally what comes to mind when you think of being stranded on a deserted island. Ringed by pure white sand and only a handful of tropical trees, the island is a popular attraction for good reason. There are no permanent moorings for charter boats, the bottom is mostly sandy and anchoring is not too difficult. Due to its exposure to the east, the area can be quite windy so it’s best to arrive mid-morning before the sea breeze picks up (and the crowds arrive from neighboring islands). Despite the fact it only takes five minutes to walk around the whole island (or perhaps because of it), the island is definitely worth visiting.

Norman Island (18.313366, -64.624365)

Heading northeast from the US Virgin Islands, the first of the “Little Sisters” islands that frame the southeastern edge of the Sr. Francis Drake Channel is Normal Island. Despite being uninhabited and privately owned, it is still one of the more popular stops in the BVIs. Normal Island is rumored to be the inspiration of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island and the pirate theme extends into real life thanks to the famous Willie T’s floating “pirate ship” restaurant. If playing pirate over rum drinks is not your thing, you can look for pirate treasure while snorkeling through a series of natural caves on the south end of the island. The caves can become quite popular with snorkelers by late morning and early afternoon, so your best bet is to moor nearby the night before and dingy over after a morning coffee. Swimming in the caves alone is an incredible experience not to be missed. Don’t forget to say hello to the school of small squirrelfish that hide in the shadows just inside the main cave. And be sure to take a break from snorkeling on the rocky beach near the caves and take in a beautiful sunset over the USVIs looking westward.

Cooper Island (18.385092, -64.515285)

What Cooper Island lacks in specific natural attractions, it makes up for in natural luxury and relaxation at the Cooper Island Beach Club (www. The Cooper Island Beach Club is a small eco-friendly resort that caters to landlubbers and moored sailing guests. With rental SUPs, kayaks, and diving equipment on site, there are plenty of activities to keep you busy. But with a delicious restaurant, two bars, and a coffee/ice cream shop, it’s a great port of call mid-way through a sailing trip – especially when you begin to crave a good cup of coffee and some solid ground. The best feature at the club is the large television behind the main bar that livestreams an underwater scene from a camera a short distance off the dingy dock. In case you’re still undecided about Cooper Island, check out the livestream video yourself at The mooring field off the Cooper Island Beach Club is shallow and mostly seagrass, making it a great place to snorkel and catch the occasional sea turtle or tarpon at sunset.

Cane Garden Bay (18.427587, -64.660676)

No good sail itinerary is complete without a stop in Cane Garden Bay, on the north side of Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands. Unlike the many sleepy Caribbean coves frequented on a sailing trip, Cane Garden Bay is a relatively bustling port-town. But there is a good reason it is a popular tourist attraction – the Bay’s crystal clear waters and perfect white sand beaches are truly breathtaking. If Cane Garden Bay does make it on your future sailing itinerary, do your best to time your visit when cruise ships are not in Road Town Harbor across the mountain. The telltale sign of cruise ship passengers heading into town is hundreds of beach chairs lined up along the beach early in the morning.

While the mooring area of Cane Garden Bay is not great for snorkeling, the bay it is typically quite flat and a good place to swim, SUP, or just float around on an inflatable swan. But if the swell direction is right, the rocky point break along the portside of the channel into Cane Garden Bay is a popular Caribbean surf spot. Several webcams and forecasts keep an eye on this break, so it’s always worth checking a few days in advance of your trip if surfing is a high priority on your BVIs agenda.

On land, Cane Garden Bay has many restaurant and bar options – with almost all right on the beach. If rum is your thing, also be sure to take a trip east out of town to the local distillery. There is also a relatively good grocery store in Cane Garden Bay to replenish your boat.

The Virgin Islands are teeming with fantastic attractions, many of which are uncrowded and stunning. More than a typical vacation though, planning ahead on a sailing trip always pays off. It’s never fun sacrificing precious beach, snorkel, or rum time under sail, unless of course, your main goal on a Virgin Island sailing adventure is, well, sailing. When in doubt on where to go, local knowledge always trumps advice sought online. And be prepared - life in the Caribbean moves slow, very very slow. It’s always important to remind yourself to embrace the local vibe and be patient when your trip does not go as planned. What’s great about spending a week living on a sailboat is that the Caribbean slowness seeps into your life without trying.

Andrew Hume is currently Director, WWF GEF Agency and has worked for WWF based in Washington, D.C. since 2013. Andrew comes from a marine science research background, having participated in multiple scientific research cruises and field campaigns around the globe during his undergraduate and graduate studies in Environmental Science at the University of Virginia and as a research assistant at the Scottish Association for Marine Science in Oban, Scotland. The main focus of his research centered on observing impacts of physical forcing and hydrodynamics on biogeochemical cycling in benthic marine environments. Some of his work is published in peer-reviewed journals. More recently, Andrew has worked in marine conservation and policy with the Office of International Affairs at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Marine Ecosystem Services Program at Forest Trends. Prior to his current position at WWF, Andrew was an International Waters Specialist at the Global Environment Facility (GEF) as part of the World Bank Junior Professional Associate Program. Andrew has also consulted for multiple United Nations agencies with GEF project design.


February 2017 - Feature Destination