If some future billionaire idea-man in the mold of Richard Branson set his mind to creating a perfect venue for bareboat charters using 24th-century terra-forming technology, the results would look pretty much like the British Virgin Islands today. Rated like hotels, the BVIs are a perfect five for chartering.
That being the case, I’ve chartered several times in these waters and have spent a great deal of time thereabouts in my own boat and in boats of friends. So the challenge for a writer is how to render something so familiar in a way that is fresh.
I had a plan with two components. One, we would invite a non-seafaring, stay-at-home couple and gauge their reactions to life in Paradise aboard a state-of-the-art luxury power cat. Brilliant idea, but doomed for reasons that must remain unsaid. My second notion, however, would turn out to be a complete success.
We would go to Anegada.
Anegada is the odd island out in the Virgins. It is the only inhabited island in the archipelago built on coral rather than a volcanic formation. In other words, it is low lying and very much resembles a Bahamian island. In fact, “Anegada” means the “drowned land,” in reference to the fact that its low-lying shores make a poor landfall. Attached to Anegada and stretching for more than 15nm is Horseshoe Reef, a graveyard of wrecks from the age of sail that provides islanders with a bounty of lobster and fish.
But there’s another difference besides topography, as we were to learn in our conversations with the Anegadans we met along the way. The BVIs are a bustling place with all the trappings of prosperity and, dare I say it, urban sophistication. Anegada, though also reliant on tourism, supplies the rest of the small nation with lobster and fish. Her people are modest, hardworking and straightforward, not unlike our own Midwesterners.
An ideal BVI charter lasts at least a week or 10 days. But, due to my heavy schedule, our time was essentially a long weekend—four days under way with a day at each end for air travel to and from the United States. The BVIs are great for sailing charters, and had this been a sailboat charter, just four days would have been a waste of travel time. But we were under power with the ability to go a comfortable 10 knots regardless of wind direction. Being able to cover more distance makes all the difference.
We began our cruise after an entertaining briefing by the manager at the MarineMax Vacations base at Hodges Creek Marina on Tortola. The marina is a modern facility with a good restaurant on-site and another a couple hundred yards down the road.
We slid away from the docks, using the differential maneuvering of the twin 110hp Yanmar diesels, and set a course across Sir Francis Drake Channel for a day anchorage off “The Baths.” A must-do for any BVI charter, The Baths are a very special accident of nature. One small picture-perfect beach connects to another picture-perfect beach through a network of partially submerged, cave-like spaces (terra?)formed by giant boulders lying up against one another.
BIRDS OF A FEATHER
After lunch we headed for Leverick Bay, where we picked up a mooring. Used to be anchoring could be difficult in the BVIs because some of the ground had been scoured by the charter fleet or because the
anchorages were just too deep. Now moorings are available in just about every popular anchorage for $30 a night. Leverick Bay literally rocks, thanks to its reputation for great live music. Unfortunately, we arrived on one of the in-between nights. We’d make up for that later.
After breakfast we set a course for Anegada, the most remote of the BVIs, a whole 11nm distance. On our way we passed Necker Island, which belongs to the aforementioned Sir Richard Branson, who benefits from the BVI’s lenient tax policies.
In the olden days of BVI chartering, Anegada was often off limits. The tricky reef entrance was beyond the skill of many a weekend warrior. But since then, two things happened—the miracle of GPS, manifested on our 382’s chart plotter, and the installation of channel marks. Not taking any chances, we followed in the wake of a freight boat calling on the island.
Sometimes it’s hard for denizens of the working world to wind down on a charter, especially when it’s as abreviated as ours would be, but if it were to happen anywhere, it would be at sleepy Anegada. We took a
taxi ride—really a pickup truck with seats in the bed—to the world-famous Loblolly Beach for some easy reef snorkeling and cocktails at the laid-back Big Bamboo Bar.
En route to Loblolly, we kept a lookout over the salt ponds for the Caribbean flamingoes that have been restored to the island. The ponds once teemed with the colorful birds, until they were decimated for their edible flesh and fancy feathers. Our driver sensed he had bird fanciers aboard and stopped the truck when the distant flock was abeam. He gave us a bearing and handed up a pair of binoculars.
There were a half-dozen other charter boats and a handful of cruising sailboats at the anchorage. Because of our shallow catamaran draft, we were able
to anchor closer to the beach restaurants. That would be the only time we used our ground tackle. We relaxed, and made our reservations, which are very nearly mandatory if one expects to dine out in the more “rural” islands.
Anegada is famous for its lobster, but it’s not famous for cheap lobster.
Every restaurant menu was the same. Lobster: $50. That’s OK, we were on vacation, and everything down island is more expensive than back home. We chose Neptune’s Treasure for dinner,
one of 10 or so eateries on the island. We ate on the deck overlooking the beach. Joanne and I split our
meals. She got grilled fish, and I got the grilled lobster. The food, the service and the atmosphere—all fabulous.
Anegada had successfully set our internal clocks to “island time.” Now it was party time.
Our next stop was Trellis Bay. This is the BVIs’ longtime liveaboard anchorage, oddly juxtaposed at the end of the airport runway on Beef Island. I’d spent some time here as a poor sailor and thought I’d introduce my crew to The Last Resort, a restaurant and nightclub built on a tiny island in the middle of the bay. The only way to visit is to come by dinghy or swim.
Three of the four of us (a clue!) had a great evening listening to a fine musician and a raucous sing-along audience, including the guests on a visiting megayacht who knew every word and gesture to “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and a septuagenarian Welshman who did a superb impression of a prancing, pouting Mick Jagger—right down to the puffed-out lips. Then his son came out and did his own Jagger bit, announcing that dad had taught him when he was a toddler. Wild night. Fun memories.
The next afternoon we headed back to base to relax and prepare for our morning departure. The weather had been perfect, the boat had performed flawlessly, the scenery had been gorgeous, the food good, the musicians talented. It reminded me of something I like to say—and sometimes almost believe. Chartering is far saner than owning a boat.
BVIs A Perfect Five
1. They are beautiful—with lofty mountains, bold rocks, sandy beaches, aquamarine waters and plenty of palm trees.
2. They are compact. The BVIs comprise four larger islands and 32 smaller ones that form an arc just 40nm long.
3. They are easy. The islands form a barrier around a central waterway, Sir Francis Drake Channel, protecting against ocean swell. And even many of the smaller islands have restaurants and live entertainment.
4. They enjoy good weather—sunny but not too hot. Perpetual trade winds make sailing exciting and keep you cool at night, without turning on the air conditioning.
5. They are close. From the United States, access to the BVIs is easy via St. Thomas or Puerto Rico.
MarineMax Vacations and the 382
The MarineMax 382 power cat is the kind of boat you could own yourself, a reasonable couple’s cruising boat. She’s a customized Aquila 38 designed by naval architects Morelli and Melvin of Los Angeles and built to a high standard by Sino Eagle Yachts in China.
As a charter boat, the 382 is well suited for two couples or a family with two kids, since it features identical staterooms with en-suite heads in each hull. (Hint: When assigning quarters, remember that the genset lives in the starboard hull, so whichever couple loves the a/c more deserves that side. Truth be told, the sound is well mitigated and also very unlikely to bother other boaters in an anchorage.)
Sliding glass doors integrate interior and exterior cockpit spaces for socializing. And in fact, with its spacious flybridge, this is an excellent design for warm weather cruising in general (clearly less good in cool, wet places). Besides seating for the gang, the flybridge also has a standard electric grill.
The 382s are for sale in a MarineMax leaseback program based on the highly successful Moorings ownership plan. Finance the $419,000 purchase of a 382, with a down payment of 15 or 25 percent, and place the boat in charter.
MarineMax covers all expenses and sends you fixed monthly payments that cover the $3,143 monthly mortgage (plus some additional cash). Owners get nine weeks of free chartering in the BVIs for the five years of the program. In the end, the owner has a balance of $232,645 or $179,219, depending on the initial down payment, with 10 years left to pay.
It may sound like economic voodoo, but the Moorings has been turning over boats in this manner for more than 40 years. MarineMax Vacations may be new on the scene, but it does not lack credibility. MarineMax Vacations is a division of MarineMax, a huge U.S. boat dealership company representing more than 20 major brands. And it’s no secret that many of the Vacations staff are Moorings veterans, recruited for their expertise.