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Exploring The Virgin Islands

It’s January and every boater I know is ready for the sunshine and clear, warm blue water of the Caribbean and I think most would agree that it is hard to find a better place than the Virgin Islands. With a cruising ground that is 35 miles long and 12 miles wide, you will encounter great weather, fantastic diving, quiet anchorages and high-energy resorts with an endless schedule of activities, raucous cruiser bars, cozy beachside cafes and gourmet restaurants.

Exploring the Virgin Islands: Article from Dockside Magazine 2007

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The British and U.S. Virgin Islands offer all of this and the most extensive charter boat fleet in the world. You can choose from a wide variety of boats at a range of prices from over 18 charter companies. And for those of you wanting to relax and enjoy the ride, there are many choices for fully crewed charters offering the ultimate indulgence.

Arranging a charter in the Virgin Islands is easy, the biggest challenge is getting everyone to agree on the dates. The best season for sailing starts in November, just after the end of the hurricane season, and continues through to June. The peak season is the week between Christmas and the New Year, then from March to April when many from the northern climes have had enough of the winter cold, snow and rain. The rates shift with the seasons, so check the charter company websites for specials.

With over 700 boats available for charter, you can choose from a selection of mono-hull or catamaran sailboats, offering two to four cabins in different configurations, and ranging from 32 to 50 feet. If you have guests that are unsure about being on a sailboat for a week or more, one of the catamarans could be your best choice. They sail relatively flat with no heel, and offer plenty of room both above or below deck. If you prefer powerboats, you can select from a full range of power catamarans, displacement and semi-displacement trawlers and speedboats. The distances between the islands are short and speed is not that important.

There are options and levels of comfort for everyone. The rates can range from $1,500 to over $8,000 per week, so it’s easy to find the one that is right for you as most charter company websites detail the specifications and equipment for all of their boats. While the trade winds will generally blow steady throughout your trip, it’s good to know that you can spend a few more bucks and book a boat that is set up with the creature comforts of a quiet genset and air conditioning. The websites will also provide information about itineraries, destinations, restaurants and other attractions to help you plan your vacation.

Charter plans are typically available for 7, 10, and 14 days, but in most cases you may set your trip for any number of days. For many, a 7-day charter could be too short. The first day on board is usually occupied with the boat briefing, provisioning, and the other preparations that are necessary prior to leaving the dock, besides that, it often takes a day or two to wind down from the trip and adjust to a new time zone. A 10 or 14-day charter allows you more time to relax and establish a routine, and gives you the chance to visit more places. It’s easy for first time charter customers to schedule all of the well-known places on their first trip, and never take the time to relax.

7-Day Charter

If you can only get away for a 7-day charter, plan to see the islands along Sir Francis Drake Channel. Begin with a short trip to Marina Cay before taking the passage north to Gorda Sound and a favorite destination, the Bitter End Yacht Club resort. Over the next couple of days make your way down the island of Virgin Gorda the world famous area called The Baths, where large rounded stone formations are set just up from the beach. Next, you can continue on to Cooper Island, or make Salt Island your day stop with a scheduled hike amongst the historic saltpans. If you’re into snorkeling or scuba diving, moor near the wreck of the HMS Rhone where you can snorkel and view the top part of the wreck, resting just 25 feet below. Many of the dive shops offer scuba trips to the Rhone, and for those not licensed, a half-day Discover Scuba Diving program. It is easy to arrange a “Rendezvous” dive trip by hailing one of several dive operators on VHF 16 and then arranging your charter on another channel. They will arrange to pick you up and return to your boat at the end of the day.

Next is Peter Island, where you can moor under the stars in Little Harbour, one of the prettiest places in the islands. In Little Harbour there are no restaurants, just the quiet solitude of the evening sundowner and a meal cooked on board. The next day explore the anchorages of Norman Island that range from Money Bay, with room for only two boats and your own private beach, to the anchorage called The Bight where the mooring field has anchor balls for over 40 boats. At The Bight you can dinghy over to The Caves at Treasure Point and snorkel where legend has it that pirates hid their plunder. The Bight is known as a place for late nights, so if you’re up, you can join the party atmosphere at Pirates on the Beach, or on the world famous William Thornton, a faux pirate ship set up as a restaurant and bar serving lunch and dinner.

From Norman Island continue on to provision at Soper’s Hole on West End, Tortola, after which you will push on and visit the many anchorages on the island of Jost Van Dyke as you come to the end of your 7-day adventure. If you charter for 10 days there are many anchorages and islands to explore on the north side of Tortola such as Cane Garden Bay, Trellis Bay and Marina Cay.

14-Day Charter

When you charter for 14 days you have the choice of a leisurely cruise through the islands with plenty of time to explore the different islands and anchorages, or you can make the 16 mile open water passage to the reef island of Anegada for the excellent lobster barbeque and some of the best beaches in the world. An extended charter will also give you the choice of clearing Customs into the U.S. Virgin Islands to explore the scenic anchorages of St. John. While most of the charter companies are located on the island of Tortola, there are several good charter companies on St. Thomas, USVI that if starting there, would allow you to visit the anchorages of St. John or one of the other smaller islands on the way to the islands in the BVI.

A charter cruise in the Virgin Islands was best summed up by Raul Bermudez, the Vice President of Marketing for The Moorings, the largest charter company in the world, “In the Virgin Islands, the weather is typically fantastic, the boating outstanding and safe. It is a place you can enjoy and return to again and again for one of the best charter experiences in the world.” The clear blue waters and steady warm breezes of the Virgin Islands are beckoning, especially for winter boating.

Published in DOCKSIDE, January 2007


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