The British Virgin Islands (BVI) have long been associated with sailing. The history of the BVI makes for interesting reading when characters such as Columbus, Black Beard and Robert Louis Stevenson all have an association with these islands. Today it is the Mecca of the sailing world, but why?
1. The trade winds
The Christmas trade winds are fairly constant, usually around 7 to 15 knots whilst sometimes reaching 20 knots. In the summer months, wind speeds can become quite unpredictable and therefore challenging your skills in different ways.
The Christmas winds are very popular with sailors because they can really practice their existing sailing skills whilst learning new ones. These usually occur anytime between early December through to the beginning of March. This phenomena is caused by high-pressure centres in the mid Atlantic, bringing with them gusting winds of generally 20 to 30 knots but which have been known to reach 35 to 40 knots and come in very short bursts. The seas are busier during these months, but there is still lots of space for everyone.
2. The 50+ islands which make up the British Virgin Islands?
Because the cluster of islands that make up the BVI are so close together it makes for great wind channels, ideal for sailors, kite surfers and other water sports. It’s easy to travel between them, giving you lots of sailing & mooring options; you can choose to be on the water for an hour or 2, full day or island hop for a week or longer.
One of the main advantages of so many islands are the numerous bays that you can choose from every evening. It is possible to find secluded bays and coves far away from the madding crowds or alternatively pick up a mooring ball in ‘the party bays’.
4. Minimum Tidal Shifts
While the BVI seas make for picture perfect views, The tidal range is very small, 12 –18 inches (one to two feet) including the variation of level due to atmospheric pressure and dominant winds, therefore easy to plan for and navigate.
5. What else makes BVI so great to sail around?
As the capital of the sailing world, the BVI is well equipped for yachts both big and small. There are many marinas, docks, chandleries, boat services and charter companies throughout the islands. Some marinas to help you plan….. Hodge’s Creek, Village Cay, Nanny Cay, Soper’s Hole on Tortola. Bitter End & Spanish Town Virgin Gorda.
For a online BVI Cruising Guide click here - and make sure your boat has a hard copy on board (Charter boats usually do, but it’s always worth asking the question).
Out on the water you will find everything you need for fantastic sailing. The National Parks provide mooring balls at all the popular spots where you might want to snorkel or explore the islands. The buoys at all Marine National Parks are for daytime use only (limited to a 90 minute maximum stay). The buoys are colour coded for different uses. Park rangers float around from time to time and may ask to see your permit, so keep it handy.
White Buoys: Non-commercial vessels, for daytime dive use only.
Orange Buoys: Non-diving, day use only
13" Yellow Buoys: Commercial dive vessels only
18" Yellow Buoys: Commercial vessels or vessels over 55 ft.
Blue Buoys: For dinghy use only
There are buoys at some of the resorts that can be used overnight. For example, Cooper Island, is a great stop for the night - good restaurant and a fabby little rum bar to visit. However, be sure to get there early, and I would recommend before 3pm although even this is sometimes too late.
Look out for Deliverance at Cooper, Norman and Peter Island.
'Top up' provisioning once you’ve left the marina isn’t too had. All the marinas have supermarkets even though some are more like little corner stores compared to mainland stores you may be used to. You will also find skips where you can pay to dump your rubbish (trash). Some bays that don’t have skips ashore have a dingy collection. If visiting Norman, Peter or Cooper Island, call "Deliverance" on VHF channel 16. They will pick up garbage from the yacht for $2.50 per bag. They also sell ice, fabulous fresh baked goodies and even ice cream if you are lucky!
Everyone who sails in BVI falls in love with the place - some love it so much they move here, aka me! :-)