The Virgin Island’s Hidden Nuggets of Beauty.
For many charter boat sailors the week’s cruise around the British Virgin Islands involves a predictable route. It often entails sailing to a mooring area, usually with a beach bar/restaurant; arriving early to ensure a mooring ball is available and then watching latecomers throw their arms in the air in despair when all mooring balls are taken. The next day an early departure is essential to arrive at the next spot for a similar situation. Although this scenario may be satisfactory for some it precludes many of the BVI’s wonderful, often secluded and magical destinations.
As a long time sailor, I have sailed to many of these hidden gems. As a matter of fact I enjoy going off the beaten track, adding to the feeling of adventure and spirit. Where do I like to go the best? In the BVI there are so many places to choose from, picking just a few can be a challenge.
One of my favorites is Fallen Jerusalem. The Baths is unique to the BVI. It is an enchanting destination but is often crowded with no available moorings. Nearby Fallen Jerusalem has similar topography with giant granite boulders and a calm and peaceful feeling. At North Lee Bay there’s room for about two yachts and mooring balls have been installed.As in all National Parks anchoring is prohibited. The small sandy beach is a short dinghy ride and is perfect for setting up a base before snorkeling around the underwater boulders. The plant species species Acacia anegadensis (Poke-me-boy) was thought to be endemic only to Anegada, but with its recent discovery on Fallen Jerusalem its range has been increased. Fallen Jerusalem was declared a National Park in 1973 and is a recognized nesting area for several sea birds including the relatively rare red-billed tropic bird. As with all bird sanctuaries tramping over the island is discouraged. A visit to Fallen Jerusalem is very much dependent on calm weather conditions and even then the current must be factored into any excursions.
Then there’s Mountain Point. Virgin Gorda’s Mountain Point and the shore between it and Long Bay is a favorite of mine. It has three mooring balls, one for scuba and two for snorkelers. There’s a fine patch of sand closer to Long Bay where anchoring is possible in 8 to 15-ft of crystal clear turquoise water. A little further to the south is a relatively new reef in 6 to 8-ft, perfect for beginners. On the nearby cliff a fine array of cactus are intermingled with island scrub and the white flowering and powerfully scented frangipani. It is important to anticipate the weather here because fluky winds and north swells preclude it from even a brief stop but in calm weather it may be considered as an overnight anchorage. Happy hour drinks are sometimes accompanied by goats scrambling up and down the cliff face foraging for food.
When I sail up to the North Sound area, I often try to go to Eustatia. Situated at the western end of Eustatia Sound the island offers great protection for overnight anchoring off the southwest tip of the island. You can anchor in about 8-ft in sand. The approach to this quiet anchorage is to arrive at the main channel to Gorda Sound but then to leave Prickly Pear Island to starboard favoring the shore to clear the off-lying reefs. There are beautiful patches of conch strewn reefs to snorkel and last time I was there a nurse shark was lying supine, minding his own business, quite close to the boat. At this location you are securely ensconced in billionaires’ playground with Richard Branson’s Necker Island to the north and Larry Page’s (Google) Eustatia close at hand. On the sand spit just southeast of Necker you can see the three plastic palm trees, placed there to enhance the spit’s scenic appeal. It is still a mystery and a matter of conjecture as to why the conservation friendly Sir Richard had them installed there – but never-the-less they provide a good laugh, an endless talking point and as such, free advertising – the hallmark of a successful business.
I’m equally enamored by Anegada, and when I sail to this low lying island of endless beaches, I make sure to visit Pomato Point. The anchorage is a delightfully quiet spot with miles of pristine sand beach running all the way to the western end of this flat, coral island. Approach the anchorage keeping the distant Jost Van Dyke on your stern while heading for the building with the twin gabled roof. Anchor in 8-ft in sand. Sunsets are spectacular and the green flash is a distinct possibility with a clean and clear horizon. On shore the wildlife consists mostly of birds, but the amusing ghost crabs with their antennae like eyes will scuttle into their holes as you approach.
As you walk the beach you may very well meet up with a stray cow or two, quite possibly the only other human/mammal you will see.
Cam Bay on Great Camanoe’s eastern shore has been designated a National Park since 1999. Access to this delightful anchorage is through a narrow opening at the southern end of the bay with careful eyeball navigation necessary. I generally anchor in sand behind the reef which allows for sheltered water while maintaining cool, trade wind breezes. The shallow reef makes for comfortable snorkeling with snappers, groupers, puffer fish and bar jacks. There is a low isthmus that separates the bay from Lee Bay on the other side. Nearby I enjoy exploring a salt pond where wading birds can be seen along with a small flock of ruddy ducks. At the northern end of the bay and close by the water is a single dwelling and a small sailboat is moored here giving the feeling of quiet serenity.
Guana Island is private but thankfully all the beaches in the BVI are open to the public. On Guana’s lee side at the northern end of the island lies a large horseshoe bay, Muskmelon. The island’s namesake rock protrudes from the southern promontory, an iguana head. This bay has a small beach but most of the shoreline incorporates steep cliffs. The bay is well protected and when possible I don my snorkeling gear and enjoy the many species of corals; pillar, staghorn, elkhorn, brain and star. Soft corals are abundant too as are a myriad of reef fish. Masses of bait fish; silver sides and minnows swim in big schools while large and fearless tarpon patrol the area. Pelicans can be seen roosting in scrub bushes clinging precariously to the cliffs, while surveying their impending meal. The water is clear and cobalt blue with depths up to 80-ft. Recently a few overnight moorings have been installed.
Great Tobago lies about six miles west of Jost Van Dyke. Steep cliffs surround the island making landing on the island difficult and in any case shore excursions are discouraged. Great Tobago is an important nesting site for the impressive frigate birds, those large, forked tail predators with wing spans of up to 10-ft. There is a small bay on the west side with a National Parks mooring ball essentially for scuba divers. You can snorkel from the beach but strong currents may be an issue. There are beautiful coral reefs to the south of Great Tobago but anchoring in coral is strictly prohibited. A cautious sail to the island to view the scenery can make a most pleasurable excursion.
Key Cay, a pretty anchorage on the southwest end of Peter Island is best when the winds are north of east. I usually tuck up into the corner and anchor in about 10-ft. A walk ashore is well worth the effort and Turks head or barrel cacti abound; the small pear-shaped, pink fruit is edible. Just inshore on Peter Island is a salt pond where wading birds can be seen and if you dinghy up to the reef just east of Roger’s Point fine snorkeling can be enjoyed.
The BVI has been blessed with a great diversity of anchorages, marine habitats, and geological wonders. It is so important that we preserve nature’s beauty that care must be exercised at all times. Anchors should only be dropped in sand or mud bottoms; snorkelers and divers must be vigilant at all times so as not to touch or break fragile coral systems and the adage should be remembered, “Millenniums to grow, seconds to destroy.” And to all those souvenir hunters, remember there are those coming after you who wish to enjoy the BVI’s and its magnificent natural world – so please – take only pictures and leave only footprints.