A charter trip in the British Virgin Islands is best done with a combination of planning and flexibility, as many options will present themselves. Here we will suggest a seven-day cruise itinerary for the British Virgin Islands, a ten-day itinerary, and a two-week cruise itinerary. Each itinerary should be viewed as suggestions. You decide what activities you would like to do. Flexibility and options are keys to having a wonderful time in the BVI, and many options will present themselves.
You will find that it is easy to structure seven, ten, fourteen or more day itineraries for your sail in the British Virgin Islands. Better yet, one of the nicest things about sailing in the British Virgin Islands is that you will have options every day as to what you want to see on that day. We suggest that you structure a tentative itinerary for your whole trip but then you remain flexible with respect to how that is actually executed. For example, we have found that the companies from which you charter your boat will often have late and interesting information as to what to do or see. Conversely, especially during the summer season, they may have information suggesting certain business establishments are closed and you can quickly restructure your trip.
Of course the departure point for your itinerary depends upon which charter company you are renting and whether you are starting in the British Virgin Islands or, perhaps from the U.S. Virgin Islands. Nonetheless we can suggest an itinerary that can be an excellent starting point.
You should expect that your charter company will start your trip with the briefing. Depending on your qualifications, part of this briefing may have the intent of assessing your safety and abilities in the boat. All such briefings will include a chart briefing structure to your trip. This is when you can expect that the charter company will share with you the favorite things to do around the islands and suggest a route or routes for you based on your group, what the weather is currently, and any events that may be taking place in the islands.
In the “old days”, we would always start with Cruising Guide to the Virgin Islands. This is a handy book and often you will want to own it to help with your memories. However, these days it is available free online and you can download it to your computer or tablet before starting your trip. Copies may be purchased in advance from CruisingGuides.com or downloaded from OnlineCruisingGuide.com. These guides can be extremely useful in planning your activities and getting an aerial view of harbor entrances, buoys, anchorages, and other points of interest.
After having picked up your boat, received your briefing, and provisioned your boat as required, you will want a short sail to a beautiful anchorage to kick off your trip– perhaps with a rum punch. If you pick up your boat in Tortola, a natural first day’s stop and perfect anchorage is straight across the channel at the Bight at Norman Island.
The Bight is well protected and with many moorings. You can plan on barbecuing on your boat or on going ashore at one of the two restaurants located there. Historically, the floating bar (the Willie-T) was the more party oriented restaurant/bar whereas Pirates (a beach bar and restaurant) was a bit tamer. We tend to moor away from the restaurants, which is quieter, and closer to the Caves and Indians for diving. These are both great snorkeling and diving spots and should not be missed. There are national parks mooring buoys at these locations that can be temporarily used for free.
After snorkeling, headed up toward Salt Island. Salt Island is so named because salt was collected from a dry lake bed on the island for many decades. It was originally sold commercially. When we were there in 1983, an elderly woman was still selling salt from the island to passing boaters. Most of the few inhabitants on the island were directly related to her, and we found her fascinating to talk to. Ever the capitalist, you could take a picture with her (this is before the word Selfie was invented) for a small fee.
Diving or at least snorkeling on the Rhône is a not to be missed experience. The Rhône, caught in a major storm, sunk in 1867 and lives in relatively shallow water.
After your dive on the Rhône, head on up to Cooper Island. We always plan on lunch or dinner at The Cooper Island Beach Club. This is also a great location for introductory SCUBA classes. On several occasions we’ve met dive companies there to certify our guests. Please be aware that anchoring is generally prohibited at Cooper Island and holding is terrible for anchors anyway. Now there are many mooring buoys that you can pick up at Cooper Island, but, as always, if use plan on overnighting there you should make sure you are early enough to get mooring.
As a cautionary tale, in our first trip there in 1983, a major blow came up just after midnight. There were no permanent moorings at that time, and boats were slipping anchor all over. A boat from our same charter company ended up on shore holed through the side. Even though the BVI are a wonderful cruising ground, you still must ensure that you are safe and well moored.
In our view, every trip to the British Virgin Islands should include a visit to The Baths.
The Baths is an unexpected and beautiful assemblage of volcanic boulders seemingly piled haphazardly on a beautiful beach and crystal clear waters. There are literally hundreds of passages amongst the boulders with small pools of water and sand. There are also beautiful beaches on both sides and numerous hiking trails through the boulders. Because the baths are a unique site on Virgin Gorda, you should plan on leaving early to ensure being able to pick up a mooring.
From The Baths, there are two obvious options for the overnight. We usually had head on up the channel to the North sound area of Virgin Gorda. There’ll be a bit more on the North Sound in a bit, but it is worth noting that the airport for the BVI is on Beef Island, which is part of Tortola, in this general area. If you are meeting people at the airport or if part of your crew is leaving early, this is a great opportunity to load or unload your boat within walking distance of the airport.
Day 4 and Day 5:
The North Sound is the most developed area of Virgin Gorda. There are a number of marinas, restaurants, and hotels available for your use. Probably the best-known watering hole is The Bitter End Yacht Club. Saba Rock is also unique in that the island is literally a fairly small rock island entirely covered with a bar, restaurant and resort.
You can easily plan on spending two or three days in the North sound area. There is a hiking trail that goes up over the top of Mosquito Island and ends up at a secluded beach that might be to your taste.
Richard Branson’s private island (Necker Island) is also located here. You should not try to approach Necker Island in your boat both because it is private and because it is surrounded by coral heads. Free ice and water are available at both the Saba Rock and Leverick Bay marinas if you use their moorings, and you are usually able to use the Leverick Bay swimming pool.
This brings you to a major decision point in your trip. The most unusual island in the British Virgin Islands is Anegada. While the other British Virgin Islands are volcanic in nature with mountains and surrounded by deep waters, Anegada Island was formed from coral and is only a few feet above sea level. As a consequence, Anegada Island cannot be seen as you start your sail to it. Anegada Island has few inhabitants and only a few businesses, but it has some of the most spectacular beaches in the BVI.
If you do visit Anegada Island, you will need to be cautious on your approach to avoid coral heads and shallow waters. In these days of GPS, that is much easier than it used to be. But you should ensure that your charter company allows you to sail to Anegada Island before attempting it. Assuming you do visit, there is one obvious point of approach with moorings. You should take a mooring there and dinghy ashore. From there it’s easy to catch a cab to take you to some of the more spectacular beaches on the west end of the island or to a restaurant or beach bar.
Day 7 (or 8 or 9):
Depending on the length of your trip, it is probably time for you to start working your way back to home port. Most of the sailing from here is downwind or on a broad reach; sailing will be easy and comfortable. If you haven’t stopped at Trellis Bay already this would be a good stop and an opportunity for a good dinner at the Last Resort. There are also some small craft shops along the edge of trellis Bay and a couple smaller restaurants that often have excellent food and are not so besieged by tourists. You might even have an opportunity for a cocktail next to a flaming steel ball set out in the water as a piece of art.
We usually also make a snorkeling stop at Monkey Point (a National Park), where there is a lot of sea life easily viewable. There are only a few moorings here, but we usually don’t have any trouble finding one available.
Continue toward Jost Van Dyke, with a likely stop at Sandy Cay. Sandy Cay is a tiny, post-card island completely surrounded by sandy beaches. Caution that anchor holding can be iffy.
Be sure to stop at Foxy’s at Great Harbor on Jost Van Dyke. Foxy is well known for his live music and barbeques. Overnight mooring (or anchorage) are best in Great Harbor. You can take your dinghy around the point into White Bay, for a drink.
Sydney’s Peace and Love is in the next bay over. Sidney’s daughter is running the place now. It still has an honor-bar (you pour your own drinks and mark them in a book). We’ve had excellent lobster here. Hopefully the quality and friendliness will remain unchanged.
Day 7 or 8 or 9 or…:
A short sail from Jost Van Dyke takes you back to the Northwestern shore of Tortola at Cane Garden Bay. Cane Garden Bay is a beautiful harbor with many shore activities (restaurants, water sports, etc.). We’ve even had exercising horses swimming around our boat. Stanley’s is the best know restaurant here.
The Next Day:
Sail to the West end of the Tortola and Soper’s Hole. This is the most commercial harbor you will encounter, but it is well protected and there is on-shore shopping and dining. Soper’s Hole is also an entry point for those visiting the BVI on boats, so be sure to check in if you are required to do so.
Depending on when and where you need to return your boat, you may choose to spend your last evening the same place you spent your first evening: the bite on Norman Island. First, it’s quiet and a very beautiful place. Secondly it’s only a short sail from there to most of the places one might return a boat on Tortola. In any case, you will find that charter boating in the British Virgin Islands is one of the most perfect vacations you can plan. Enjoy your trip to the BVI.