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Sailing the British Virgin Islands....does it live up to the hype?

Updated: Apr 3



The British Virgin Islands (BVIs) turned out to be very different than I thought they would be. Despite being a popular tourist destination, the BVIs maintain a laid-back and relaxed atmosphere. I was pleasantly surprised by the sparsely populated islands, the slower pace of life, and the opportunity to unwind.

Jost Van Dyke


We motorsailed from St. Thomas, USVI directly to the island of Jost Van Dyke and into Great Harbour Bay. The bay is framed by lush green hillsides dotted with colorful Caribbean homes and swaying palm trees.


The bottom is all rock and anchoring is not great here. The bay is full of mooring balls anyway with one tiny spot to attempt to anchor. We caught a mooring ball.

They look available but they are not.

Mooring Balls

In the BVIS, we were introduced to BoatyBall, which are distinctive bright orange mooring balls. We saw a lot of empty orange balls but they were prebooked online and not available. After only paying $26 a night for a mooring ball on St. John, the Boatyball rate of $55 a night was quite shocking to us.


Fortunately, there are white mooring balls available on a first-come, first-serve basis at $40 per night (already quite pricey) in most bays. We stuck to only grabbing the white ones. We had no difficulty securing an available mooring at any of our stops.


Arriving between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., we discovered that this was the prime time for boats to shuffle around to various bays. The floating white buoys are managed by local bars onshore, they send a guy in a dinghy to collect the fee (in US cash only) in the evening. However, in Great Harbour, they came by the next morning for payment.


Clearing In

Most islands in the Eastern Caribbean use Sailclear.com to start the clearing in process. The people in front of us at Customs and Immigration did not know this. They had a crew member on the boat frantically trying to complete the online form while the captain and some of his crew waited in the hallway.


The customs officers at Great Harbour in the BVI weren't exactly bursting with hospitality. It seemed like they charged for conversation because they barely uttered a word, preferring to just thrust their hands out for the necessary paperwork. To add to the fun, they had us playing a game of building hopscotch, sending us from one structure to the next to pay fees and gather more paperwork, only to return to the same desk we started from. Needless to say, efficiency wasn't their strong suit.


It cost us $82 to clear in for a 2 week visit.


Great Harbour Bay Village

There's not much on Jost Van Dyke. This is Great Harbour.

Besides the Customs House, there are several restaurants/bars, a bakery, a police station and an ATM (which we would soon learn are very hard to come by in the BVIs, especially with money in them!). Dave had this picture taken at Corsairs, a beachfront restaurant/bar.


Dave shaved his legs for this picture!

Great Harbour Bay is home to the famous Foxy's Tamarind Bar, a lively establishment known for its live music, friendly atmosphere, and legendary parties.

This distinguished gentleman greets you at Foxy's.

During our second evening at Foxy's, we found ourselves seated beside a delightful couple from Montreal, Nathalie and Mario, who quickly became our new found friends. We continued to buddy boat together, exploring the wonders of the BVIs.


Nathalie and Mario hanging out with us! This was taken later on Peter Island.

Nathalie and Mario's boat

White Bay

Instead of the sensible option of zipping over in a dinghy or hopping in a taxi to visit the next bay over, we decided to take the scenic route by foot. I wanted to get in more exercise. There is a lot of sitting on a sailboat.


It was only a mile-long walk but the hills were incredibly steep, I'm pretty sure we were defying gravity at some point. And just when we were at our sweatiest, an open-air taxi full of drunk tourists heckled us for walking.


But hey, at least we got our workout in for the day. And the view from the top was totally worth it... once we caught our breath, that is!


White Bay from the road no one walks on...but us!

When we finally got to the beach, that jump in the ocean felt amazing! We didn't even mind when the sky opened up and the rain poured down. We were already wet anyway.


Spring Break for 50-Year Olds

Soggy Dollar

White Bay is home to the world famous bar Soggy Dollar as well as about ten other bars and restaurants. The bay was so full of charter boats, that anchor right on the beach, it was hard to find room to swim.

The thing about the BVIs is it's the number one place in the world to charter a boat. Where becoming a "Credit Card Captain" is practically a rite of passage! They don't just sail with their significant other – oh no! To keep costs in check, they gather their entire entourage, resulting in dinghies that are sagging with the weight of their merry crew. It's a sight to behold – 10 people crammed into an inflatible dinghy, navigating the high seas (or at least the bay) with laughter and drinks in hand!

Can you fit a few more people in there?

They have come to party....hard in these large friend groups. White Bay seemed to be the pinnacle of stops for these cruisers. Large pods of drunk, middle age people were everywhere, in the water, on the beach and of course at the bars. It was a rowdy bay.


Soggy Dollar

The Bubbly Pool


Our next bay stop on Jost Van Dyke was Diamond Key. We went here with Nathalie and Mario to experience the Bubbly Pool.


The Bubbly Pool is a natural jacuzzi created by the waves as they sneak through a crevasse in the rocky coastline. It's nature's own fizzy spa, bubbling with sea water! You get the full spa treatment too because the little sargeant major fish like to nibble on the dry skin on your feet!



Cane Garden Beach




We left the island of Jost Van Dyke and sailed 5nm over to Tortola Island and into Cane Garden Bay. The bay is nestled between lush green hills, creating a stunning backdrop against the crystal-clear turquoise waters.


The beach itself stretches along a crescent-shaped shoreline, offering soft white sands perfect for sunbathing and relaxation. The calm and shallow waters make it an ideal spot for swimming, snorkeling, and other water activities.


Cane Garden Bay is also known for its vibrant atmosphere with a variety of beach bars, restaurants, and shops lining the shore. We enjoyed delicious Caribbean cuisine, refreshing tropical drinks, and the best live music we've heard since Annapolis!



Callwood Rum Distillery



The Callwood Rum Distillery is a historic and iconic attraction located in Cane Garden Bay. We took the tour with Nathalie and Mario. Established in the 18th century, it is one of the oldest rum distilleries in the Caribbean and has been operating for generations, passing down traditional rum-making techniques from one family member to the next.


The tour offered us a glimpse into the history and process of rum production in the British Virgin Islands. We saw their sugar cane field, the giant old crusher that squishes the sugar cane, and the troughs the sugar water pours through.



We learned about the distillation process, which involves traditional copper pot stills and wooden barrels for aging the rum.


Our guide, Pope, explained the different types of rum produced at the distillery, and we sampled them including white rum, aged rum, and a flavored variety called The Panty Dropper. It was quite sweet and delicious! It's supposed to be a favorite among women.


We all left with a bottle or two of their rum. We even went back the next morning to see them crushing the cane and boiling the sugar!


This tour and facility were truly authentic, unlike the disappointing "tour" of Captain Morgan on St. Croix. During that tour, a covid-masked attendant briefly explained the rum-making process in a waiting room before leading us to a tasting room, where we didn't witness any evidence of actual rum production at all!


Road Town

We missed out on fully utilizing the ATM on Jost Van Dyke, unaware of the scarcity of such machines in the area. While searching for ATMs on Tortola online, you'll find plenty listed. However, Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated many of them, and they were never replaced.


The remaining ATMs are now only located in the main city, Road Town.

As our money supply dwindled, we faced the challenge of needing more for mooring balls and taxis, which are strictly cash-only. We came up with the not-so-wise plan of walking to Road Town, thinking it would be good exercise. Little did we realize it meant trekking up and over a mountain.


After walking for over an hour almost to the top of the mountain but still not even a third of the way to Road Town, we took a water break. A woman and her daughter stopped their car to ask us what we were doing. When we told her we were walking to Road Town she said, "Oh No! No, you are not. That is crazy! Would you like a ride?"


We gladly accepted her very kind offer and were incredibly grateful when we saw how far we had left to go! She gave us great advice about Road Town and her daughter showed us where the ATM was located. They were very nice people and we were thankful to have met them.


Road Harbour from our lunch spot.

Road Town is the capital and largest city of the British Virgin Islands. The town is situated along the southern coast of Tortola, overlooking Road Harbour, which serves as a hub for maritime activities, including charter rentals and ferry transportation to nearby islands.


One of the notable features of Road Town is its charming waterfront area, lined with colorful buildings housing shops, restaurants, and businesses catering to both locals and tourists. We strolled along the scenic promenade, enjoying views of the harbor and the surrounding hills. Dave bought a new phone since both of ours were destroyed on St. John.


The heart of Road Town is Main Street, where historic buildings blend with modern amenities. We explored local boutiques offering a variety of goods, from handmade crafts to clothing (I bought a new dress).




Road Town is also home to several important landmarks and institutions, including the Government House, which serves as the official residence of the Governor of the British Virgin Islands.


We returned back to Cane Garden in a taxi after getting out a bunch of cash! It took us 3 tries to find an ATM that actually worked and had money in it.


Peter Island

Peter Island

Our favorite stop in the BVIs turned out to be Peter Island. The main draw for us was that we could anchor. After having our sleep ruined many nights by the blasted mooring ball banging on the side of the hull, we were looking forward to being on the hook instead.


Peter Island is a private island owned by the founders of Amway. There is an exclusive resort on the island but it was closed for renovations. We were only allowed to go on the beach and not explore any further since it was private.


We had this beach to ourselves.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time on Peter Island due to its tranquil atmosphere, with only a handful of sailboats compared to the crowded anchorages elsewhere. Whenever we ventured ashore, we had the beach to ourselves.


We had a fun Bocce Ball tournament. I like the sound of the French version better, Boules, because instead of a white ball, they use a pink ball they call the cochonnet which translates to piglet. Mario and Nathalie kept telling us to throw the little pig! LOL

Rainbow over Peter Island

The snorkeling experience was exceptional! We encountered a plethora of marine life, including vibrant reef fish, graceful turtles, a majestic stingray, lobsters (which Dave and Mario attempted to catch), and a breathtaking Spotted Eagle Ray!


One of the neighboring boats accommodated two French couples who seemed to have a preference for clothing-optional relaxation. Let's just say, we saw A LOT of them while they were anchored next door.


For once, we couldn't spend any money, even if we wanted to, which we really appreciated being way over budget (again)! We stayed here 4 blissful nights.



Virgin Gorda

Our final stop in the BVIs was the island of Virgin Gorda. Virgin Gorda is the third-largest of the British Virgin Islands. It is known for its natural beauty, white sandy beaches, and unique geological formations.


We anchored off Spanish Town and opted for the leisurely 2-mile walk to reach the famous Baths. While we could have easily taken the dinghy or anchored the larger boat closer, I preferred the idea of getting some exercise along the way.


The Baths

This is the iconic "bath" in The Baths.The Cathedral Room

The most famous attraction on Virgin Gorda is "The Baths," a geological wonder featuring giant granite boulders, underwater caves, and grottoes. The Baths make up a maze that leads to secret rock pools and the famous Cathedral Room, a natural pool inside a small cave. It costs $3 to climb through the Baths.


The adventure was both fascinating and visually stunning. In my view, it absolutely lives up to its reputation.


We snorkeled around the outside of the Baths as well, There is a lot of coral and reef fish here.


Someone built this rock castle on the beach.
We enjoyed lunch and the view from Top of the Rock.

Diverging Paths

Our last evening in Virgin Gorda was spent dining with Nathalie and Mario, knowing our journeys would soon take different paths. While they planned to enjoy another day on the island before sailing to St. Martin, we were set to depart for Anguilla the following morning. Our evening was filled with delightful conversation and delicious food at Chez Bamboo, making for a memorable farewell.

Chez Bamboo has delicious sushi!

Clearing Out

The customs officers in Virgin Gorda were much friendlier than their counterparts in Great Harbour. Clearing out was a piece of cake. Again, I had to fill out a departure form on sailclear.com and pay another $12 to leave. We needed the receipt from the BVIs to clear into the next country. We motorsailed into the wind and arrived in Anguilla 20 hours later. Thanks for reading all the way to the end and stay tuned for more adventures to come.

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Patty Malay
Patty Malay
Mar 16

The color of the water is absolutely beautiful. That was one of our favorite things when we were in Turks & Caicos! Stay well and happy travels! Love reading about your journey (if I can)! XO, Patty

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