The British Virgin Islands survived the one-two punch of Hurricanes Irma and Maria last September. The pictures after the storms were unbelievable. Buildings demolished and boats stacked like matchsticks. Rarely has a hurricane sat over the area for hours with winds well over 200 mph. Some say, if the rating existed, this should have been a Category 6 hurricane. Seeing the extent of the damage one questioned if they could ever recover.
Yes! You Can Still Have a Great British Virgin Islands Charter Vacation
Devastated by Hurricane Irma – The Recovery Begins #BVIStrong
The islands are recovering, and you CAN have a great Virgin Islands charter cruise. It will be more like the Virgin Islands were 40 years ago. Fewer boats in the anchorages, small beach bars, and still the same beautiful warm clear blue water. Some now call it “Vintage BVI,” the British Virgin Islands the way it used to be.
- Despite the damage and with reduced services, you can have a memorable and beautiful British Virgin Islands charter vacation.
- The waters are still warm and clear blue, the hills are green, the palm trees are growing back, and some of the beach bars and restaurants are now open. The major resorts are closed and will be rebuilt, but it will take years. Meanwhile, the British Virgin Islands are beautiful and relaxing.
- The people are warm and friendly and happy to welcome you to their special islands.
- Most of the mooring balls survived the hurricane and are still in place.
- Many of the charter companies have special deals. This is your chance to participate in the recovery of the beautiful British Virgin Islands, Still Nature’s Little Secret.
A Late December Charter Trip to Survey the Islands
We were not sure what to expect on our arrival at the Beef Island airport on the island of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. While we saw the pictures posted on the web before the trip, it was still shocking to see overturned boats in the harbors from the air as the plane landed. On final approach, I noticed about 14 boats washed up on the beach in Trellis Bay. On the taxi ride, we passed rutted roads and downed power lines with crews still working to restore power. Passing Paraquita Bay, the typical hurricane hole (meaning safe moorage for a hurricane) showed the extent of the damage to the fleet of charter boats, boats were broken and sunk.
Out of the approximately 900 charter boats in the BVI, some 600 were underwater or heavily damaged.
The boats stored in boat yards were toppled from their stands like dominos. The problem is not just repair and replacement, but also how does an island country dispose of 600, roughly 45’ and more, fiberglass vessels? I stopped at Hodges Creek Marina and could not believe the damage to the charter fleet there. Beautiful catamarans were in all stages of damage.
I had my taxi driver stop at the base for Moorings and Sunsail. One of the management team saw me taking pictures and momentarily stopped me until he recognized me. He proudly told me that the Moorings crew will have 100 charter boats repaired and out on the water for the busy holiday season out of their fleet of 390 charter boats. Looking at the situation, one could only imagine what it took to get parts, and labor lined up to do this.
Our departure base for Virgin Traders Motor Yachts at the Nanny Cay marina looked promising with some boats ready to go.
The marina still had wrecks in the water, and most of the docks were gone with new docks on the way. One can imagine the instructions, “… take the Port side of the overturned catamaran on the way to the fuel dock…” Peg Leg’s Landing restaurant was open. Well, the elegant upper restaurant was gone, but a grill was set up by the popular bar and was serving lunch and a dinner menu featuring a full lobster with up to 4 different side dishes for $26. It was pretty special to dine on the beach as the sun set. This set the tone for the rest of our charter. Many places have interim food menus. The trip would be more casual but still beautiful and fun.
We had a chance to spend some time touring the beautiful waters of the British Virgin Islands on a Virgin Traders motor yacht, courtesy of David and Patty Ryan and their family, co-owners of a Virgin Traders yacht.
Their boat made it through the hurricane, but only because it was blown on top of one other Virgin Traders yacht that did not survive. Most of the Virgin Traders fleet was heavily damaged. The neighboring charter company, Horizon Yacht Charter lost most of their fleet and did not appear they would open in time for this holiday season. TMM was still closed. MarineMax had a large part of their fleet operational and was working out of the Scrub Island Resort, which is a convenient shuttle boat ride from the airport. Conch Charters seemed to have lost much of its fleet, and its building did not have a roof anymore. Voyage Charters in Soper’s Hole was recovering, but the colorful and beautiful marina was destroyed. At the Soper’s Hole dock, D’Best Cup had an outstanding breakfast and lunch menu. Pusser’s Soper’s Hole was just opening up starting of course with their bar with food to follow. The Harbour Market was destroyed, but the building was cleaned up and seemingly getting ready for renovation.
Is it possible to have a great British Virgin Islands charter vacation?
Yes. If you are planning a trip in the next couple of months, you can have a great vacation, even while the islands are in recovery. There are a few special beach restaurants open for business, and the swimming and anchorages are beautiful. I will describe our trip and the destinations to plan on visiting in my next post. There are about 7-8 beach bar and restaurants open for business, and they are happy to see visitors. Fun too. Most importantly, the natural beauty of the British Virgin Islands is still there. While the palm trees and hillsides were stripped bare, they are now about 1/2 way back to being their lush green. The reefs were not impacted, and the snorkeling and diving are excellent.
Why cover this for a Northwest boating blog?
Many in the Northwest and BC enjoy the warm clear waters of the Caribbean in the winter. Like the Northwest, boating in the British Virgin Islands is some of the best cruising in the world. For this reason, I author cruising guides for both places. For early 2018 we will be releasing an interim book in electronic and print form: Cruising the Virgin Islands – On the Road to Recovery.
This book will be updated every six months and will have tips and itineraries for a beautiful British Virgin Islands charter and updates on what places are open for business. We will have more about cruising in the British Virgin Islands posted on Waggoner eNews and on this website over the next couple of months as the islands recover.
Here is a quick recommended itinerary that will work from Nanny Cay or the Wickham Cay Moorings/Sunsail base:
Norman Island, The Bight
Pirates is open for lunch and dinner. They brought in a lot of sand for the beach and it is beautiful. Food and drinks are some of the best in the island.
The Willy T is stripped and on the beach and its future is uncertain. We were told the owners are looking for a new vessel appropriate for the honor of being the Willy T.
Peter Island is still pretty. The club is closed for at least a year. The marina in Sprat Bay is closed. The other anchorages on both sides of the islands are still an option.
Cooper Island Beach Club has said they will open in April. Construction work is ongoing.
The anchorage appears open and the snorkeling at nearby Cistern Point should still be good.
Virgin Gorda. The Baths are still beautiful and the crowds are less. You may even easily find a mooring ball mid-day. Top of the Baths restaurant is open.
The Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour in Spanishtown is open but the docks are destroyed. There may be some moorage available on the main dock fingers. The Fuel Dock is open but did not have gas the day we were there, they did have diesel. The Bath & Turtle is open in what is left of the shopping center. A grocery store nearby has provisions. Taxis are standing by and can take you to The Baths.
Gorda Sound. The great news is Leverick Bay has rallied and has the bar, restaurant, pool, Spa and grocery store open. Pussers may open soon. The fuel dock is still being rebuilt. There are mooring balls available. We anchored one might in Drakes Anchorage near Richard Branson’s properties. He took a lot of damage to his homes and guesthouses.
Saba Rock and The Bitter End are gone for now. The damage is shocking with the building flattened or missing parts. The mooring balls at The Bitter End are taped – indicating they are not open. Saba Rock mooring balls are not taped. The view of both is depressing after many happy visits over the last 30 years. Biras Creek is closed. The Yacht Club Costa Smeralda & Marina is gone – gone! No docks. The workers were working on the clubhouse.
Oil Nut Bay has meal service started. Call to check their schedule.
Trellis Bay. There some 14 boats on the beach and nothing is open. Aragorn’s looks ok but there is a lot of clutter and a boat on the beach. The Fireballs are still there almost ready to go. Jeremy Wright’s Kitchen has a boat on the beach that almost went through the restaurant. The Trellis Bay Market is serving food but the grocery store has not been re-stocked yet. There is a new temporary dock in front which you can use to drop off guests at the Airport. Lots of new concrete was being poured just before Christmas. De Loose Mongoose is destroyed. All the decks and the kitchen is gone. The main building is heavily damaged.
Anegada. Many of the businesses, bars, and restaurants are open. Worth the trip.
Cane Garden Bay. Some of the beach bars are attempting to open on selective days like Myetts, but all places had significant damage.
Sandy Cay. The green growth is coming back but the island lost some sand and appears smaller. Still a beautiful stop.
Jost Van Dyke is recovering!
In Diamond Cay, Foxy’s Taboo is only a foundation, but the anchorage is clear and beautiful.
In Little Harbour, Sidney’s is struggling to open. Harrison’s was hit when the ferry broke loose and flattened the building.
Great Harbour. Foxy’s is open. Many of the flags and license plate memorabilia are still attached to the roof! They have a new stage and their kitchen is serving lunches and dinners. Foxy himself was our dinner entertainment.
Corsairs is being rebuilt. Other places on the beach are starting to come back.
The iconic white Customs and Police building took a lot of damage when it lost part of its roof.
White Bay is alive and kicking. Hendos Hideout looks like nothing happened due to its new design and construction. They are serving at the bar with breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Great beach too. Next door is a cleaned up and repaired Soggy Dollar Bar serving food and, of course, Painkillers…other businesses are in the process of rebuilding.
We will have more information in future posts, but you can see how you can have a very good and fun itinerary and at the same time help the British Virgin Islands get back on its feet. You will experience the islands the way they used to be. The crowds are less, mooring balls are available, there is no problem with provisions or getting fuel if you plan correctly. Water for the boat may be a challenge and you may need to conserve water for showers if your boat does not have a water maker.
Special thanks to Dave and Patty Ryan, Alexia Lucas and others for supporting and assisting with this survey trip.