British Virgin Islands (part 1)

From the Spanish Virgin Islands (part of Puerto Rico) we passed just north of two of the three US Virgin Islands (not part of Puerto Rico, but part of the US), St. John and St. Thomas. St. Croix, the third US Virgin, is well to the south. We would have liked to have visited the US Virgins, but needed to get some warranty work done in the British Virgin Islands prior to welcoming our next group of holiday makers aboard the Panache B&B.

Panache is a Leopard 48 Catamaran, manufactured by Robertson and Caine in South Africa. Two-thirds of R&C’s total annual production (all catamarans) is purchased by Moorings & Sunsail Charters. They have bases all over the world where you can rent a catamaran or a monohull for a week or more. Road Town, the capital of the BVIs, is home to the Moorings/Sunsail’s largest charter base in the Caribbean (about 400 cats/monos). So this is where we headed to have our maintenance work done.

Within a couple of days of clearing into the BVIs, my mother, Anne, sister, Elizabeth (“Buff” or “Liz”) and her husband Richard (“Rick”) stepped off the plane and were ready to start their 2-week tour – once their luggage caught up with them. The luggage arrived a couple of days late, but just as our work was being completed – perfect timing.

Benny and I previously chartered a 40-foot Leopard Catamaran for two weeks in the BVIs in 2007 with our kids and the McHale family. Our itinerary for that trip worked out very well, so we decided to basically retrace our steps. The BVIs is one of the most popular cruising areas in the Caribbean and for good reason. It has many islands with safe harbours that are close together. This means the travel time from one anchorage to the next is short and the seas are relatively calm since they are surrounded by many islands.

We started at Norman Island, then visited Peter and Cooper. At Cooper Island, we pulled out our inflatable lounge chairs, towed them to the beach and sat at the waters edge, enjoying the warm sun and slightly cooler sea lapping at our toes.

We overnighted in a marina at Spanish Town, on Virgin Gorda and went to the must-see national park site, called “the Baths”. It’s an extraordinary jumble of enormous boulders, some 40 feet across, that are stacked on top of one another as though arranged by giants.

At the north-eastern end of Virgin Gorda is North Sound, a large and excellent harbour. You enter through passages between smaller islands that complete the almost circular enclosure. One of the islands is owned by Richard Branson, but try as they might, the girls didn’t get a glimpse of him.

On the south side of North Sound is Leverick Bay, a marina and mooring ground. We had been told by other cruisers that their Pirate Show was not to be missed. So we snagged a good table during “Happy Arrrr” and ordered up a treasure chest of nachos and “marrr-garrr-itas”. The show was indeed “en-tarrr-taining”, particularly the part where the Anne and the girls were up on stage swigging rum from a bottle with the pirate himself.

Stay tuned for part 2 of the BVIs next week ......

Background on the BVIs:

The first European sighting of the Virgin Islands was by Christopher Columbus in 1493 on his second voyage to the Americas. Spain claimed the islands by discovery in the early 16th century, but never settled them, and subsequent years saw the English, Dutch, French, Spanish, and Danish all jostling for control of the region, which became a notorious haunt for pirates.

As with many Caribbean islands, sugar cane became the main crop and source of foreign trade, and slaves were brought from Africa to work on the sugar cane plantations. The islands prospered economically until the middle of the nineteenth century, when a combination of the abolition of slavery in the territory, a series of disastrous hurricanes, and the growth in the sugar beet crop in Europe and the United States significantly reduced sugar cane production and led to a period of economic decline. As with most of its Caribbean neighbours, the BVI economy is now based primary on tourism.

The BVIs is a British Overseas Territory (similar to Turks & Caicos) and its population of about 30,000 are British citizens.

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