The British Virgin Islands (BVI) have long been a hotspot for sailors. With the perfect mix of tropical sun, mind-blowing marine wildlife, and easy, line-of-sight sailing, it’s not hard to see why the islands are so popular.
Cruising these waters is always a true pleasure and there are plenty of sights to see and things to do to please every sailor (and landlubber) alike. Whether you are sailing in the British Virgin Islands with your own boat, joining a sailing trip or chartering a yacht, the British Virgin Islands promise an epic sailing holiday.
The British Virgin Islands
Nestled in the heart of the Caribbean, the British Virgin Islands is an archipelago known for its captivating blend of turquoise waters, white sandy beaches, and vibrant island culture. The archipelago consists of around 60 islands and cays, with the four main islands being Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Jost Van Dyke, and Anegada.
The BVI is renowned as one of the world’s premier sailing destinations. Its consistent trade winds, line of sight navigation, protected anchorages, and proximity between islands create ideal conditions for sailors. The annual BVI Spring Regatta and Sailing Festival is a major international sailing event that attracts participants and spectators from around the globe. Established in 1972, this annual event has grown to become one of the Caribbean’s most prominent sailing regattas.
In addition to sailing, the BVI offers a range of activities. Snorkelling and diving enthusiasts can explore vibrant coral reefs. Hiking trails lead to breathtaking viewpoints, and water sports like kayaking, paddleboarding, and kiteboarding are popular. Nightlife and beach bars on islands like Jost Van Dyke offer a lively atmosphere for those looking to socialise and unwind.
Best Time to Sail in the BVI
The dry season is the peak tourist season in BVI due to the pleasant weather. During this period between December to April, the trade winds are consistent which provides excellent sailing conditions. Seas are generally calm, and rain showers are less frequent compared to other times of the year. Clear skies and warm waters are perfect for snorkelling, diving, and enjoying the beaches.
The shoulder seasons are May and November and is another good time to visit this popular sailing destination. These months both offer a mix of good weather and fewer crowds compared to the peak season, however, May can be slightly warmer and muggier than peak season. November marks the transition from the rainy season to the dry season. While there might be some residual rain, conditions generally improve as the month progresses.
If you plan to sail during the hurricane season (June to November), it’s important to be aware of the higher risk of adverse weather. If you do choose to sail during this period, take proper precautions.
Why BVI is a Popular Sailing Destination
The BVI’s weather is characterised by its tropical climate, with temperatures ranging from the mid-20s to mid-30s Celsius. The trade winds, known for their consistency, contribute to enjoyable sailing experiences, providing a reliable Force 4 from the northeast.
In BVI you’ll find clear waters with good visibility and navigation aids, such as buoys and markers, which help sailors identify hazards and stay on course. Access to well-equipped marinas, ports, boat rental services, and repair facilities in the area provides convenience, peace of mind and support to sailors during their journey.
The British Virgin Islands are really visually appealing with diverse landscapes, including beautiful coastlines, secluded coves, and interesting islands which enhance the overall sailing experience. The proximity of islands and the availability of routes with manageable distances make it possible to explore multiple locations within a reasonable timeframe.
Add to that a well-developed sailing culture and community, and you have the makings of an excellent sailing destination. Events, regattas, and local knowledge-sharing enhance the sailing experience and contribute to the overall atmosphere and appeal of British Virgin Islands sailing.
Top Anchorages, Moorings and Marinas in the BVI
The British Virgin Islands offer a variety of anchorages, moorings, and marinas to choose from. Some popular spots to stop off on any BVI yacht charters include in the following.
The Bight at Norman Island: Located in the southwest of Norman Island, The Bight offers clear waters and exceptional snorkelling at “The Caves.” It’s a peaceful spot with nearby provisions and dining.
Great Harbour, Jost Van Dyke: Situated in Jost Van Dyke’s northwest, Great Harbour is known for its lively beach bars. It’s a social hub with provisions, restaurants, and a vibrant atmosphere.
White Bay, Jost Van Dyke: White Bay on Jost Van Dyke boasts a stunning sandy beach and the famous Soggy Dollar Bar, creator of the “Painkiller” cocktail. It’s a serene escape with dining options.
Cane Garden Bay, Tortola: Found on Tortola’s northwest, Cane Garden Bay offers a crescent beach, live music, and water sports. It’s a lively spot with provisions and beachside amenities.
Manchineel Bay, Cooper Island: Nestled in Cooper Island’s central BVI, Manchioneel Bay is a tranquil retreat with a resort, beach bar, and snorkelling gear rentals. It’s a peaceful place to unwind.
Leverick Bay, Virgin Gorda: Find both safe harbour and comfort at Leverick Bay’s moorings. Enjoy a range of amenities, including dining, shopping, and even a freshwater pool for relaxation.
Saba Rock, North Sound: Secure moorings in North Sound lead to vibrant marine exploration. Dive into the wonders of North Sound while anchored in this picturesque area.
Scrub Island Resort, Spa and Marina, Scrub Island: Discover indulgence and luxury with moorings that grant access to Scrub Island Resort’s upscale offerings. Experience the perfect blend of relaxation and sophistication in this private island setting.
Nanny Cay Marina, Tortola: Tortola’s Nanny Cay Marina offers comprehensive services, dining, shops, and boat facilities, making it an ideal charter base.
Yacht Club Costa Smeralda (YCCS), Virgin Gorda: YCCS on Virgin Gorda provides luxurious dining, spa services, and secure moorings, offering a refined island living experience.
Leverick Bay Marina, Virgin Gorda: Leverick Bay Marina combines comfort with amenities like dining, provisioning, shops, and a pool, enhancing the Virgin Gorda adventure.
Soper’s Hole Wharf and Marina, Tortola: Soper’s Hole offers shopping, dining, provisioning, and marina services in a charming location on Tortola’s west end.
Ways to Sail in the BVI
There are many ways to enjoy sailing in the British Virgin Islands.
Bring Your Own Boat
By bringing your own private yacht to the BVI, you enjoy a personalised sailing adventure with the freedom to explore at your own pace without a time limit, discovering hidden coves and unique anchorages. However, this is not an option for everyone as the boat will need to do the long passage from its home port.
If you have sailing experience and the necessary certifications, you might want to consider chartering a bareboat yacht instead of bringing your own. With this option, you will be responsible for sailing, navigating, and managing the vessel on your own.
Get a Skippered or Crewed Charter
In a skippered charter, you charter a yacht with a professional skipper who handles the sailing, navigation, and safety. If you wish, you can help with sailing the yacht in this scenario.
For the ultimate luxury try a crewed yacht charter. Here you rent a yacht along with a professional crew that includes a captain, chef, and possibly other crew members. The crew takes care of all aspects of sailing and onboard services while you relax and enjoy the journey.
Join a Sailing Trip
Joining a sailing trip in the BVI means sharing the excitement with a group of like-minded adventurers, guided by experienced sailors. If you’re an individual or a small group, you can book a cabin on a larger yacht as part of a crewed charter. You’ll be sharing the yacht with other travellers, and a crew will handle sailing and services.
If you want a more hands-on approach you can join a working passage. All crew members share duties, including cooking and cleaning, fostering a sense of teamwork and camaraderie.
Our Recommended Sailing Route
With so much to see and do in the British Virgin Islands, it’s difficult to decide where to start, where to go and what to see. This 7-day itinerary is the perfect mix of adventure, “liming” (relaxing in local speak) and great social experiences.
Day 1: Nanny Cay to Cooper Island
Start your charter with an easy sail but packed with adventure. The first stop is just over 6 nautical miles away at Salt Island Bay. The island itself might not look out of the ordinary, but it’s what’s beneath the surface that matters. After dropping your anchor, hop in the tender and take your snorkelling kit around “The Point” and you’ll see a line of small mooring buoys. Tie up and go snorkelling.
This bay is the location of the sunken RMS Rhone – a 19th-century Royal Mail steam packet. She was wrecked off the coast of Salt Island in the British Virgin Islands on 29 October 1867 in a hurricane, killing 123 people. The wreck is in shallow water, so no need for a dive tank to explore what’s left, you just need a snorkel. After snorkelling, head back to the boat and sail over to Cooper Island and enjoy an evening at the Cooper Island Beach Club, just over 1 nautical mile away!
Day 2: Cooper Island to Leverick Bay
Today we’re going to up the mileage a little bit. Leave Cooper Island at sunrise and set sail just 5 nautical miles to Spring Bay on the south of Virgin Gorda. Ashore here is where you’ll find the famous “baths” – a collection of impressive granite boulders that look like they’ve been dropped on the beach by giants! As it’s one of the biggest tourist attractions in the BVI, it’s worth jumping in the tender and having a walk around them before the crowds descend around lunchtime.
Back on board, it’s time for a 6 nautical mile sail to the North of the Virgin Gorda. Here, you are spoilt for choice for evening anchorages, including Leverick Back, Prickly Pear Island and Saba Rock.
Day 3: Leverick Bay to Anegada
We’re heading to Anegada for the first longer passage of the charter sailing holidays. Leave early to beat the rush and catch the best spot to anchor! The passage out of the bay can be tricky, so keep an eye on your navigation. Once clear of the reefs, you’ll pass Richard Branson’s “Necker Island” to starboard and then head North to Anegada.
Anegada is 11 miles long and unlike any other island in the BVI, it’s flat! Cooled by steady trade winds, its white sand beaches are long and quiet. As well as being home to a flock of pink Caribbean flamingos, the island is surrounded by shallow waters, so is perfect for snorkelling. In the evening, you’ll be treated to a small selection of great bars and restaurants – Big Bamboo being one of our favourites!
Day 4: Anegada to Trellis Bay
At 18 nautical miles, this is the longest passage of the charter. Heading southwest, aim for the gap between Scrub Island and Great Camanoe. If you fancy staying in a marina for once, Scrub Island is a great choice, but head half a mile further on and book a berth at Pusser’s Marina Cay. This tiny island really packs a great punch. They’re well-stocked for a good mid-charter provision – and if you have a couple of kayaks or SUPs, the reef to the southeast of the island is fantastic to explore. Pushing on just one more nautical mile you’ll get to Trellis Bay. Don’t be put off that it’s at the end of the airport runway, the island is only served by a small number of small commercial aircraft that stop just after dark. What you’re here for though (if you’ve timed it perfectly) is the legendary “Full Moon Party”.
Day 5: Trellis Bay to Jost Van Dyke
Now’s time for a real “Robinson Crusoe” moment. Leaving Trellis Bay, weave your way through the islands, corals and reefs and head downwind to Jost Van Dyke. En route to drop the hook off “Sandy Cay”. This tiny island could be straight out of any depiction of a deserted treasure island. Anchor to the southwest for the best shelter and take a tender ashore for that real marooned experience.
After escaping Sandy Cay, either head to White Bay on Jost Van Dyke and grab a drink and bite to eat at the famous “Soggy Dollar Bar” (named so as you have to swim ashore to get to the bar, so your dollars are soggy when you arrive!) or alternatively, head back over to Tortola and anchor in Cane Garden Bay for an unbeatable sunset and some Reggae beats at Quito’s Gazebo.
Day 6: Josh van Dyke to Norman Island
No visit to the BVI is complete without a visit to Norman Island. Just over 10 nautical miles from Jost Van Dyke, Norman Island is home to some of the best snorkelling and kayaking in the Caribbean. Make sure you have time to explore The Indians and The Caves with the Great Bight. The island is also home to the infamous “Willy T’s” floating bar. Warning, As the sun goes down, it can get a little rowdy and jumping naked off the top deck becomes common practice. If this isn’t for you, head ashore to Pirates Bight at the northern end of the bay for a more “civilised” send-off.
Day 7: Norman Island to Nanny Cay
On the final day, it’s a gentle close reach back over to Nanny Cay Marina. And what a week it’s been. It’s time to put up your feet and have a massage and a ‘painkiller’ cocktail before heading home via the Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport on Tortola.
The British Virgin Islands have long been one of the top sailing destinations in the world, and it’s easy to see why. With so many amazing islands to explore, incredible snorkelling, sights, wildlife, culture and an easy-going vibe, you’ll want to go back again and again. Sailing around the BVI is one of the best ways to see this tropical paradise, so bring your own boat, charter a yacht or join a sailing trip and experience the magic of the British Virgin Islands.