Revisiting the BVI Post-Hurricane

As the islands continue recovering from Irma, explore them aboard a sleek yacht

BY BILL FINK — Winter 2019

he drink may be a Dark and Stormy, but the Caribbean night is cool and calm. Just offshore of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, waves from a gentle breeze bob our catamaran slightly as we lounge on the top deck. It’s just enough motion to clink the ice cubes in our cocktails as the wind rustles the leaves of the palm trees ashore.

A little more than a year ago, the scene was radically different, when Hurricane Irma wreaked devastation on land and sea across the Caribbean and particularly in the BVI. I’m here with friends for a seven-day Moorings journey aboard a luxury crewed charter yacht to experience how this British Overseas Territory has recovered from the disaster and to find out if the magic of the islands still remains.

Sharing the Simple Life

“Irma completely destroyed us,” the manager of the Soggy Dollar beachside bar tells me as he whips up another of its signature Painkiller pineapple-rum-coconut cocktail. It’s a new day, a new island, and a new cocktail for our group after making a short sail from Tortola to Jost Van Dyke.

“The bar roof was gone, the walls were gone, even the big trees were all gone. But we were up and running a week later — if you can call a wooden box and a bottle of rum up and running,” he says, laughing.

Near us, a flotilla of sailboats and power yachts anchors close to the shore. Dozens of happy yachters lounge on the beach, float in bathtub-warm waters with drinks in hand, or chat up fellow sailors at the bar. Gazing at the scene, I realize all a good BVI beach bar really needs is a wooden box and a bottle of rum (with the box probably optional), precisely what makes sailing the BVI a joy. Here, it’s not about a search for the fanciest resort or the trendiest nightclub; rather, it’s about the sense of community between the “yachties” — young and old, couples, friends and families, newbies and veterans. They relish sharing the simple experience of sailing coastal blue waters, relaxing on white sands, and imbibing colorful juices and cocktails to the soundtrack of reggae and yacht rock under a backdrop of an orange marmalade sunset.

You’ll see a similar sailor-driven, rum-fueled renaissance leading the post-Irma rebuild all over the BVI. The re-roofed, ramshackle Foxy’s bar a few beaches over on Jost Van Dyke still hosts folks dancing through the night, wobbling back to their boats by dingy in the early hours. The old bar-barge of Willy T’s sunk in the storm, but a new one relocated off of Peter Island has cases of tequila and its “Not a Good Idea” second-floor jumping platform. Local shops and restaurants have reopened and resorts are slowly coming back on line, but off the coast of still-empty shores and rebuilding villages, self-sufficient sailors
lead the way.

BVI beach. PHOTO BY ADAM ROHRMANN.
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In Catamaran Heaven

While the BVI allures with its basic island charm, you can still have luxury while afloat. As I’m finding, all you need to enjoy the simple life is a fully stocked, air-conditioned, 58-foot-long, three-level catamaran, with captain, cook, and steward, and sleeping room for 10. It’s enough to make you shout “yo-ho-ho!”

Though my charter setup sounds extravagant, if a group of family and friends shares costs, the price compares favorably to a luxury resort. My trip came to about $450 per person per day, including food and drink and plenty of pampering. Call our boat a floating resort, with comfortable cabins, all the water toys you could want, from kayaks to snorkels to paddleboards; days full of scheduled activities; gourmet meals accented with appetizers at cocktail hour; music; TV; Wi-Fi; and easy access to a giant swimming pool called the Caribbean Sea. If the pace gets too fast, relax on the boat’s front “trampoline,” sit on a beanbag reading a book, or doze off, rocked to sleep on gentle Caribbean currents.

While the Moorings charter fleet suffered heavily during Hurricane Irma, with more than 70 percent of its BVI charter fleet sunk or damaged, the company has rebounded with new and repaired boats getting delivered with the speed of, well, a hurricane. With many of the BVI’s land-based resorts still in recovery mode, lodging at sea truly represents the best way to experience these waters now. Besides, at a land-based resort, you can’t go to sleep next to one island’s beautiful beach and wake up in front of a different one!

Another joy of sailing the BVIs: the sense of freedom as you embark on a voyage of discovery with the ability to change course or destination or timing at a moment’s notice — all within the relative safety of calm seas between the chain of islands that make up the BVI.

Below-deck coziness. PHOTO BY ROB KAMHOOT.
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Nature at Its Best

Beyond the bars and the boats, the spectacular natural setting — even after Irma’s impact — reigns as the BVI’s real attraction. The blue water with its stunning transparency makes you feel like you’re walking on the sea floor when still floating 20 feet above it. Return visitors will notice fewer trees and less greenery, but the lush landscape is growing back quickly.

For our trip, we arrive with a loose itinerary that hits all the major spots of the islands, tailored with the insider knowledge of our Moorings captain, who has been sailing these waters for almost a decade. As the weather varies or our moods change, so does our course. In a sheltered bay off Norman Island, we snorkel the waters around “the Indians” rock chain, with blue parrotfish and yellow angels ignoring us with a certain deep-sea stoicism. Divers aboard sign on for a scuba expedition to see the famed Rhone shipwreck and a host of larger fish life.

Swimming to shore on Virgin Gorda, we explore the unique Baths rock formations, 100-ton granite boulders that shrugged off the effects of the hurricane like a light breeze. We take a quiet break to appreciate the majesty of the Baths’ water-filled “cathedral” cave formation.

We beachcomb long expanses of white sands on low-lying Anegada Island, cooling under palm trees with fruity drinks. To finish the day, we join in a huge beachside lobster feast, a culinary highlight well worth a sail to this outermost island.

Our week continues with kayaking to empty beaches, hiking to hilly inlands, paddleboarding around glassy-smooth bays, and plenty of ad hoc snorkeling explorations. But among all this activity, it’s tough to top the simple pleasure of sitting aboard the yacht with friends each evening, drinks in hand, watching phenomenal Caribbean sunsets and choosing where our next adventure will take us.

Details: In destinations around the world, the Moorings offers a wide variety of sailboats and powerboats for charter, either crewed or bareboat for experienced sailors interested in doing it on their own. Our BVI trip sailed on a six-cabin Moorings 5800 Legacy catamaran. The six-night, seven-day, all-inclusive crewed trip for 10 ranges in price from $25,000 to $35,000, depending on season and availability. 800-334-2435; moorings.com

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