Once Around Tortola

We get our first glimpse of delights to come as our plane makes a wide circle on its approach to Tortola’s Beef Island airport. Spread out below us are turquoise seas and a flotilla of boats sailing up and down the Sir Francis Drake Channel. We land, and the warm tropical breezes of February greet us as we walk across the tarmac. Clearly, nothing important has changed in the British Virgin Islands since I last sailed here with my wife, Rita, and son, Sam, two years ago.

Our check-in at the Footloose Sailing Charters base in Road Town is a simple affair: a chart briefing in the office followed by a look over our 42-foot catamaran with Gilbert, the dockmaster. Luna Sea has plenty of room for the three of us plus the three friends who are joining us; best of all, there’s a big fridge for the essential liquid refreshments. We have arranged to board on Friday evening so we can get an early start on Saturday morning; this gives us a chance to do some provisioning and get everything stowed away for a quick exit in the morning. Janet, Steve, and son Devon Sinni have also arrived early, and we sort out the sleeping arrangements—one family in each two-cabin hull means a degree of privacy for all.

The orientation of the islands to the trade winds—usually north of east in the winter—means that it is best to plan a week’s cruise loosely based on a counterclockwise circumnavigation of Tortola. Gentlemen don’t go to windward (if they can help it), and, as Janet points out, it’s preferable that your gin-and-tonics stay where you put them. This would be a serious consideration if we weren’t on a cat.

We start with a visit to the Baths, on the southwest tip of Virgin Gorda, to ease everyone into island mode. Despite our early arrival, the mooring field looks full—until another boat leaves just as we approach. The Baths, with its boulders and rock pools and golden sands, is a unique spot, probably the most visited place in the BVI. Our foray through the underground caverns is much appreciated by the boys (and their parents), and our effort is rewarded with a swim in crystal-clear (and far less crowded) Devil’s Bay.

After a late lunch on board we head for the Bitter End Yacht Club, where we’re lucky to find an empty mooring tucked well out of the way near the shore—a bargain at $30 for the night (plus launch service), since an additional $3 allows you to use the resort’s showers. We’d discussed having dinner ashore—the Pub and the Clubhouse are open to all—but tiredness (and being well into island time) finds us dining at the cockpit table after drinks at Bitter End’s hospitable bar, watching the sun sink below the hills off our bows. There’s not a green flash in sight.

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