Refuge for Yachts and their Crews
by Julian Putley
It has long been known that the BVI is the Sailing Capital of the World but where do all the yachts go when some rest and relaxation or essential services are required? The answer is to the marina. When I first sailed into the BVI in 1971 there were perhaps two facilities that you could call marinas. One was in Road Town in front of The Pub and the other was The Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbor. Now, 42 years later, there are plenty of choices, from unadulterated luxury to easy/convenient. "But why choose a marina?" you may well ask. Well, it's primarily for convenience. To step off your yacht and walk to your chosen destination avoids the need to clamber in and out of a dinghy, having to endure a potentially wet ride and allows you to come and go at will without having to be strapped to a timetable.
It was in 1964 when the BVI's first luxury resort, Little Dix Bay, opened its doors. But one of the provisos was that the local fisher folk would be allowed to use the beach to haul up their boats when St Thomas Bay (Spanish Town) became untenable due to rough conditions. It was this that necessitated the first real marina in the BVI, the one now known as Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbor. It is a full service marina and one of the best protected in the BVI. There are a variety of restaurants nearby and The Baths and other interesting sites are easy to access. General Manager Keith Thomas explained that the facility opened in 1964 and originally had floating docks for the fishermen to tie up their vessels, but now fixed docks and modern amenities are enjoyed by all types of yachts and the ever increasing luxury craft.
Fort Burt Marina on Road Harbor's western shore was Tortola's first facility for yachts. It was close to Drake's Pub, now known as just The Pub and was the watering hole that serviced Tortola's fledgling marina and charter operations. Robin Tattersall came out to the BVI in the early 1960s to take up the post of government surgeon. Together with a partner he also started one of the BVI's first charter businesses, Virgin Voyages, using the docks at Fort Burt. Charlie and Ginny Carey began The Moorings operation here in 1969 with a small fleet of Pearsons with Bill Hirst, later of BVI Bareboats, as manager. In those early days everything revolved around Fort Burt Marina and The Pub. Now the bustling Conch Charters is conspicuous on nearly every dock.
It wasn't long before The Moorings grew out of its present location and required a new marina with room for all the high end services a quality yachting base needs. The Moorings operation moved to Wickham's Cay 2 in the late 70s. It is now sufficiently well appointed to meet the demands of even the most exacting client after a complete renovation in 2009.
Across from The Moorings in Road Town's inner harbor is Village Cay Marina, a centrally located facility and a favorite with the larger charter yachts. John Ackland, with partners, built the adjoining hotel from an innovative design by architect Alan Smith. The marina and restaurant had just been completed when Jimmy Buffett sailed in. He had come from Puerto Rico and due to a breakdown and adverse winds he had taken longer than anticipated and had run out of food. He longed for – even dreamed about – that American iconic dish, a cheeseburger. As soon as he had tied up he and his crew headed to the restaurant, "...we gave particular instructions to the waiter on how we wanted them cooked and what we wanted on them – to which little attention was paid. It didn't matter. The overdone burgers on the burned, toasted buns tasted like manna from heaven, for they were the realization of my fantasy burgers on the trip." From this experience Buffett's mega hit Cheeseburger in Paradise was born and set him on the road to international stardom.
On a personal note, my first boat, purchased in the BVI in 1972 was a 28 ft double ender and it put a new meaning to "fixer-upper." Slowly but surely I got her into sailing condition. Then I sailed into Nanny Cay and there I met sail maker Denny Davis. He had started a sail loft at Palestina and was quickly inundated with orders for sails, sail repairs, awnings, Biminis etc. We made a deal: I would help him with repairs in return for a new main sail. So it was that I got to live at Nanny Cay for several months. There was nothing there at the time but an enterprising Kiwi was just beginning to build a shack, some rudimentary buildings and start some dredging. I well remember the little island sloop at the head of the bay that would load up with fruit and vegetables, sometimes with a cow lashed to the mast, and depart for St Thomas. Thinking back on those days it is almost mind boggling to see the changes that have metamorphosed Nanny Cay into what it is today. Today Nanny Cay is a busy marina complex, base to several charter companies, home to repair facilities, shops, restaurants, villas and a hotel. It hosts the BVI's premier sailing event, the BVI Spring Regatta, and is the home of the youth sailing program.
One of the most popular destinations in the BVI's cruising grounds is Virgin Gorda's North Sound, a beautiful and protected body of water. Here there are a total of five marinas, enough to cater to every demand. Leverick Bay Marina is a full service facility and the only marina in The Sound that is serviced by road to the rest of the island. In the event of heavy north swells much of the west coast of Virgin Gorda is untenable for anchoring but "must see" attractions like the Baths can be reached from here by taxi. The staff is especially friendly and easy going and besides all the normal facilities there's a very good grocery and deli. Jumbie's bar hosts the ever popular "Pirate Happy Hour" show and party. Be sure to check out dates for this fun event
The Bitter End Yacht Club is on everyone's lips when they set sail on a BVI yacht charter. The resort boasts over a hundred craft of varying types that can be used for water sports fun. It has rightfully gained a reputation as the finest water sports resort in the Caribbean and as such has become world famous. Super yachts, mega motor yachts, luxury catamarans and world cruisers tie up stern to and alongside in the new marina. Meanwhile, clearly visible from the waterfront, in adjacent Eustatia Sound, kite boarders jump to unnerving heights while wind surfers carve a wake performing flying jibes and fast tacks. The new facility came about due to damage caused by Hurricane Earl in 2010, which took out all the docks in the marina. Upgraded facilities include new washrooms, wider berths and upgraded power posts. Just opposite the marina is the pub and sports bar with hi def 16'x 12' projection screen TV for special events. Sir Richard Branson's supercat Necker Belle is often seen tied to the marina's T dock.
A new and lavish feature has recently joined The Sound's plethora of yachting amenities. The Yacht Club Costa Smeralda (YCCS) marina caters primarily to super yachts and luxury mega yachts. The floating docks supported by massive pilings ensure maximum comfort and the shoreside attractions do not disappoint. The new clubhouse offers exceptional amenities and hospitality service that echoes the YCCS Porto Cervo, its sister facility. Founded by the H.H. Aga Khan, the club boasts a tradition of excellence including an external bar, pool, wine bar and a restaurant. The décor, lighting and landscaping are also of a very high standard.
Not far from The Sound and close to Tortola's east end is the new marina at Scrub Island. It provides dockage for those with a condominium and there are slips for transient yachts. All your usual marina facilities are here with a Marina Village of shops and services. Disney style attractions can be found in the pool like a water slide and swim up bar. The facility is now designated a Marriott Boutique Hotel and is one of their "Autograph Collection."
At Tortola's West End, Soper's Hole Marina features one of the prettiest Caribbean waterfronts. Quaint shops of cultural design nestle side by side and offer a genuine Caribbean flavor. The docks have three purposes: as a base for charter boats, fueling and watering services and slips for transient yachts. Like many BVI marine destinations the area has seen steady growth and change since the early days when one charter base, Fleet Indigo, operated here and there was just one bulkhead to tie alongside.
The BVI's many and varied marine facilities are world class. They all contribute tremendously to make the BVI what it is: "The Sailing Capital of the World."
Julian Putley is the author of the Virgins' Treasure Isle, the story of treasure buried on Norman Island. He also wrote Sunfun Calypso and the Drinking Man's Guide to the B.V.I.