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The BVI's Baths on Virgin Gorda

By Mark Stevens

Photographs by Sharon Matthews-Stevens

We’ve bridled our bowline to a mooring ball in Trellis Bay just off Tortola in the British Virgin Islands.

My friend, Dave Anschuetz, fires up the Force 10 on the pushpit of our chartered Moorings boat, a Beneteau 43.3 named “Teranga.” Down below, my wife tosses a salad while Dave’s wife, Barb, marinates chicken. 

Topside, I survey our surroundings while I concoct my own take on the iconic (and insidious) Painkillers we were drinking like water two nights ago on Jost Van Dyke.

Wind riffles the water with white lace frills; casuarina trees on nearby Sprat Point flutter like feather dusters. On shore, a couple of hundred metres away, the vendors in an artisans’ village are closing up shop for the night. A few other boats swing around in tandem with us to face the wind.

Barb climbs up into the cockpit with hors d’oeuvres. I hand her a drink. She looks out toward Guana Island, toward the distant indigo humpbacked ridge of Jost. She looks back at me, smiles. 

“This,” she says, “is paradise.”

And we’re parked here for the night.

 

The BVI's Little HarbourFAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD

Trellis Bay was not Plan A. This morning reality stepped in with big waves and a howling nor’easter. Since we were crossing north of Tortola from Jost, making for Virgin Gorda, open to the elements and prevailing winds, the weather forced itself upon us like the office party boor.

It turned out to be a really nice anchorage – get out far enough and it’s peaceful, but it’s also convenient if you want to go ashore to eat or just to sample the libations on nearby Bellamy Cay.

And I’m prepared to wax philosophical, given that last night we overnighted in complete solitude.

This is my fourth BVI charter. At first that meant uncovering new secrets (no mistake their motto is “Nature’s Little Secrets”); this time it’s more a question of new takes on old friends (and maybe just one new little secret). 

Case in point: we’ve always lunched at Sandy Spit – my favourite Caribbean beach – just east of Jost Van Dyke.

This time we choose an anchorage nearby – Manchineel Bay between Little Jost Van Dyke and Green Cay – that scares off a lot of charterers (it can be unsettled in southwest winds).

Those of a more lubberly ilk are making a mistake. According to Joe Russell and Mark Bunzel, authors of Cruising the Virgin Islands, this area boasts “some of the most scenic spots in the Virgin Islands.” 

Green slopes are pin-cushioned with cacti, surreal stone sculptures formed by wind and waves shelter us, our only company a few diving pelicans and two other boats with skippers as perspicacious as I. And next morning we beat everyone over to Sandy Spit.

Best yet, it’s reputation ensures that most of the fleet has chosen to battle the wakes of the omnipresent ferries over in Great Bay.

The BVI's Shops at Trellis BayWe, meanwhile, sleep the sleep of the just.

Far from the madding crowd.

 

THE FAT VIRGIN

After resting up in Trellis Bay, having revised our float plan, we raise sail and skim the waters of Drake Passage for Virgin Gorda.

Some say Columbus named it because the island reminded him of a reclining saint called Ursula. My theory is he wanted to impress Queen Isabella with how many islands he’d discovered. In the legend Saint Ursula had an entourage of 10,000 virgins. 

Either way, I’m always impressed by the Fat Virgin, whether I’m hanging at the great dockside bar at the Virgin Gorda Yacht Basin, the pool at the Top of the Baths with the best view of any swimming pool in the Caribbean, or taking in the surreal beauty of granite caverns nuzzled by waters bath-tub warm inside and turquoise blue outside.

But it’s North Sound and Drake’s Anchorage inside the Sound that I love the most when it comes to parking for the night. 

If Drake’s was good enough for such an illustrious privateer, it’s good enough for me. And when you snug down in the lee of Mosquito Island there (turn hard to starboard once past Colquhoun Reef) you’re still far from the madding crowd.

Add in two mooring fields further east, hard by a couple of great beaches, oft idyllic and seemingly populated by as many sea turtles as boats, an easy dinghy ride (depending on where you choose to moor) to dine at the posh Bitter End Yacht Club or a quirky restaurant on Saba Rock that’s really nothing but sun, sea and side orders of conch, and you know you’ve found paradise.

Ten thousand islands? I think not.

The BVI's snorkelling Sufficient allure to keep you coming back to North Sound? Without a doubt.

 

A TABLE FOR FOUR

Chances are you’ve already availed yourself of dinner ashore – whether you were serenaded by Foxy over lobster or did the catch of the day at Bitter End’s Clubhouse Steak and Seafood Grille – but after you trim sails for a broad reach down the Passage you should douse them when you get to Cooper Island.

We pull up there late one afternoon, grab a mooring ball, jump overboard, snorkel with turtles, hover over the reef at Cistern Point, dry off, and dinghy ashore.

Something about the vibe here makes this spot irresistible. Maybe it’s the tarpon floating aimlessly beneath our hull, moving graciously aside when I dive into the water. Maybe it’s the vista of other sailboats, their masts decorated by cumulous clouds painted bubble gum pink and lavender by the dying sun, boats that are foreground for voluptuous indigo islands reclining in the distance.

Or maybe it’s just the ambiance of the restaurant at Cooper Island Beach Club, where the tables are positioned to face the sunset, where the bar is festooned with sparkling Christmas lights, where couches recline on beachside decks, where we wait for a seat while I grin at the waiter like I’ve just found a parking place in paradise.

“Table for four, please,” I say. “With a view.”

 

The BVI's North SoundLITTLE HARBOUR, BIG APPEAL

On other voyages here I’ve bonded with Peter Island numerous times, drifting off Deadman’s Bay, docking for lunch at the really upscale resort.

But I never stopped at Little Harbour until Edward Tyson, the Moorings chart briefer for this trip, told me about it. “Great overnight spot,” he said. “Funny that more people don’t do it.”

Great green mountains reach heavenward south of the anchorage, sheltering waters that reflect both the emerald shades of these peaks and the periwinkle blue of the skies overhead. A dilapidated dock ashore lets you tie up and climb the heights to discover the ruins of a tobacco plantation. 

Tonight we sleep in a gentle cove in a perfect bay, no raucous music, no dinghy trip for dinner, just pork sizzling on the Force 10, a mouth-watering aroma swirling seductively about the cockpit, the lights of Road Town across the Passage glittering like storefront Christmas displays.

“Perfect little anchorage,” Tyson told me a week ago. “Great for your first night or your last night.”

That comment stays with me next morning as we fly across Drake on a beam reach at seven knots, headed for Tortola. It haunts my thoughts as I turn over the helm to my friend Dave and go forward to sit with my wife in the sun and the breeze, happy that I’ve found a little harbour with big appeal but saddened at the prospect before me.

Last night we parked in paradise. Tonight we return to winter.

 

Cruising Guide to the Virgin Islands

• No surprise that there is a wealth of charterers in the British Virgin Islands – this is where it all began. Check out www.moorings.com or www.sunsail.com . If you want to feel right at home (minus the windchill) book with a Canadian-run company called Conch Charters. (www.conchcharters.com)

• If you want to get off the boat and explore ashore check out www.bvitourism.com for all things BVI.

• Must-dos for your chart table include Cruising the Virgin Islands by Joe Russell and Mark Bunzel and the Cruising Guide to the Virgin Islands by Nancy and Simon Scott (www.cruisingguides.com ).

 

Long-time CY Contributors Sharon Matthews-Stevens and Mark Stevens have chartered much of Canada, most of the Caribbean and even Europe. They've won numerous awards for their stories and photos. To see more of their work, check out travelwriteclick.com.

 

Photos:

Photo 1 - Surreal and strangely beautiful, the Baths on Virgin Gorda are a must-do stop, though too rolly for overnighting.

Photo 2 - Little Harbour in Peter Island is a great overnight anchorage, particularly on the first or last night of your charter.

Photo 3 - A number of shops line the shore on Trellis Bay, a nice place to drop the hook after a passage from Jost Van Dyke.

Photo 4 - The BVI’s boast some great snorkelling spots. One great waypoint is The Indians. Another, shown here, is the water off the Baths.

Photo 5 - One benefit of lashing to a mooring ball in North Sound on Virgin Gorda is the chance to dine ashore at Bitter End Yacht Club.