Paradise Found by Captain John Borden
St. John and the British Virgin Islands
18.21 N.Lat / 64.48 W.Lon
The British and American Virgin Islands are, by far, the most popular cruising grounds in the Caribbean. There are few other places in the world where you can visit a different island every day of your vacation, all within protected waters and only a short sail between shores. Both novice and seasoned sailors find chartering a crewed yacht to be economical, educational and incredibly enjoyable. Available yachts range from 50 to 150 feet in length and are fully equipped with all the comforts of home. They carry water sports equipment for wind surfing, water skiing, snorkeling, jet skiing and even scuba diving. Licensed captains and crews will have a vast knowledge of local waters, knowing the best coves, beaches, reefs, dive spots, fishing areas, and even places to spot humpback whales during the winter run.
Gourmet meals prepared on board are part of the all-inclusive rate, and food preferences are arranged prior to boarding. A typical week’s charter in the Virgin Islands originates in St. Thomas, where you’ll meet the crew, board the yacht and set sail for the smaller, less developed island of St. John.
St. John is three quarters United States National Park and has a number of beautiful beach lined coves. The island’s small village of Cruz Bay has a unique variety of shops and restaurants. From Cruz Bay you can rent a jeep or go horseback riding through the mountains in search of sugar plantation ruins, scenic overlooks, and ancient petroglyphs left by the Arawak Indians.
Sailing through the Sir Francis Drake Channel, where you’ll find yourself surrounded by the British Virgin Islands, is truly spectacular. Norman Island, just east of St. John, was the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s epic novel Treasure Island.
There is an interesting group of caves at the west end of Norman where you can snorkel, and the marine life is fantastic. The fish are so tame they’ll eat bread right out of your hand. While Norman Island is completely deserted, there is an impressive replicated pirate ship, the WILLIAM THORNTON, moored in the main bay, which serves food and grog. The bartender concocts several specialty drinks which he jokes gets their bite from a splash of the ship’s bilge water.
If you’d like to dress up for an evening out, your next stop is the Peter Island Yacht Club and Resort, featuring local musicians several nights a week. The resort’s beach at Dead Man’s Bay is one of the most beautiful in the Caribbean, and a perfect place for a late night stroll under the stars. Dead Chest, the tiny island just out from the beach, was made famous by Black Beard the pirate after he marooned fifteen of his men there with only a bottle of rum (“drink and the devil had done for the rest…”).
Neighboring Salt Island is host to one of the top ten wreck dives in the world. The RHONE, an old British mail ship, sank in 1867 off the west point of the island. The stern of the royal steamship settled in 35 to 40 feet of water and today is perfect for beginning scuba divers. The wreck is great for snorkeling too. Swimming through the bow of the Rhone, one witnesses a dance of light and darkness, surrounded by the tropical fish, sponges, and coral which have made the wreck their home.
It is commonly believed that the huge granite boulders on the south end of Virgin Gorda, the eastern most island in the chain, were carried all the way from southern Appalachia during the last great ice age. The amazing boulders which form the Baths are set upon a picturesque white sand beach. There is nothing else like them in the Caribbean. Clear, warm water pools form within the natural stone arches with abundant underwater life dwelling amidst the submerged masses of rock.
The north side of Tortola, the largest of the island group, boasts some of the most beautiful bays in the world. Cane Garden Bay, a very popular spot among sailors, boasts a palm lined beach in which are nestled several lively beach restaurants. Facing to the northwest, towards Jost Van Dyke, Cane Garden Bay is the perfect spot to take in the bold hues of the Caribbean sunset. The bay is filled nightly with a mixture of music and laughter, as visitors and locals dance barefoot on the beach.
There are so many islands, and so much to see and do, one could spend quite a few weeks sailing the Virgins. In the three plus years my wife and I sailed about these islands, we always found somewhere or something new on each of our charters. The Virgin Islands are indeed precious and should remain protected as a natural treasure.