"If I were on my boat, I wouldn’t go out today,” says Harry from the wheel. Of course he wouldn’t. Harry and Lyn Wey—friends, neighbors and lifelong sailors—keep their boat in Maine, where even a tiny splash could freeze you in the winter. Harry, who is on his first Virgin Islands charter, hasn’t quite tuned in to the essential facts of Caribbean sailing: any splash will be as warm as bathwater and even with the tradewinds somewhere in the 20- to 30-knot range (and always from the east during our week last February), no water is likely to reach over the high sides of our Moorings 4000 catamaran. Welcome to BVI cat sailing, Harry.
When, Where and What to Sail
THE BASIC DECISION. If you live in New England, as we do, any winter day spent sailing in a warm climate is a gift. If you’ve never sailed in the Caribbean before, the British Virgin Islands is usually a good place to start. This is the cruising ground that defines modern bareboat chartering: reliable winds from the anticipated direction, enough protected anchorages to accommodate winter crowds and more services for sailors than anywhere else you’ve ever cruised.
THE BOAT DECISION. Despite their years of sailing, Lyn and Harry had never cruised on a catamaran. With such an ideal opportunity to make the introduction, we went for it. Our 40-footer had three double cabins; one of these served as their closet, while the forward cabin my husband, George, and I shared had an extra bunk in the forepeak to accommodate our overflow. The cockpit space was generous, as was the galley—big enough for two to cook, and big enough for two (others) to do the washing up. It’s fair to say that all this space was a revelation. So was the comfort underway.
THE MOST IMPORTANT DECISIONS. If you’re sailing, you’re hungry. What would we eat, and how would we acquire it? We’re frugal New Englanders, and Lyn and I both like to cook. First decision made: we printed out The Moorings’s long provisioning list and found we couldn’t make such important choices without actually looking at the options. Having arranged for a sleep-aboard the night before our charter began, we decided to take the extra time to self-provision for almost all our meals and wisely left the elaborate tropical drinks for the beach bars.
Planning Your Route
I think a charter that will be written about should have a theme, and I thought I’d come up with a good one. With a Moorings skipper on board for three of our seven days, we will go on a hunt for less-visited anchorages, some of which are skipper-only stops. Note that all charter companies can provide a skipper at your request (paid for by you) for all or part of your charter. For the Weys, of course, going where others usually don’t won’t be particularly meaningful, but I’m attracted to the idea of using local knowledge to find new and maybe better snorkeling spots and anchorages with a more spectacular view or better walks ashore. The beach bars of the BVI, I hasten to say, are well known to all and are always accessible from a convenient and secure anchorage—local knowledge not required.
THE ANCHORAGE HUNT. We start by sailing over to Cooper Island because it’s a reasonably quick trip from The Moorings base on Tortola. We have to eat lunch somewhere, and every charter should start with a snorkel. Manchioneel Bay is flat and calm, and the swim down the bay to Cistern Rock is quick and painless. Note to self: Keep in mind that eventually, you have to swim back, and you may not have noticed that little push from an incoming current.
Local knowledge takes us to Cam Bay on Great Camanoe Island, which has recently been named a national park. Most charter companies place Nancy and Simon Scott’s Cruising Guide to the Virgin Islands on their boats or send you one before your charter for planning purposes. The cruising guide mentions the bay’s “tricky entrance,” which is reason enough not to try it yourself with a chartered boat unless you have well developed reef-spotting skills. The scenery is lovely, the bay is quite sheltered, and it’s not far from Monkey Point and White Bay on Guana Island, two of my favorite snorkeling spots.
Given the blustery conditions, we turn down the skipper’s offer of sailing the roughly 15 miles north to Anegada. It would have been a quick ride back, to be sure, but upwind all the way there. We vote for his second suggestion: stopping for lunch and a swim at Long Bay, behind Mountain Point in the northwest corner of Virgin Gorda. It’s a lovely place for a visit, but not secure enough for spending the night. He guides us to an anchorage on the west side of Eustacia Island for the night; it looks a little iffy on the chart, but we have no problems at all.
THE LESSON. Fortunately, we learn it again, the easy way. It’s wise to do your homework. List the must-see places and the must-snorkel-there places and the must-eat-there places so you won’t be disappointed, then be ready to change your plans without regret. But if you’ve done enough sailing to validate you as a charterer, you know that plans are made to be broken where wind and waves prevail.