Final Preparations for a Yacht Charter Trip

Boat Trip Planning - watching the weather models

We are just weeks away from my next bareboat yacht charter trip – this one is a bit different. The plan is to sail the US Virgin Islands and Spanish Virgin Islands, including a couple deepwater crossings to and from St Croix (weather permitting!). We are also going to do a lot of fishing from the catamaran.

You can read more about my plan in this post, Sailing to St. Croix.

I’ll post some regular updates at the Yacht Warriors instagram account if you’re interested in following along.

To ensure a smooth, and (hopefully) stress free trip, we are always busy with final plans and preparations in the days leading up to a trip. I thought I’d share some of what I’m working on.

Boat Trip Planning - watching the weather models
A possible disturbance popping up that could affect our sailing itinerary | Source: Tropical Tidbits

Watching the weather like a hawk

The trend is your friend. This is especially true when chartering during hurricane season. While November is well past peak season, disturbances can still spin up.

In recent days, I’ve consistently seen several storms showing up on longer range weather models. One has turned into Potential Tropical Cyclone 15 which will move on to the west and be a non-issue for us.

There is, however, another weak disturbance that could bring 30 knots of wind during the middle of our trip.

It’s too early to tell exactly what impacts it could have, but I like to watch the trends and see how the forecast evolves. If confidence builds for that scenario, we’ll want to make sure our itinerary includes an anchorage where we can hunker down for 24 hours or so.

As we get closer to our departure day, I’ll start watching NOAA’s 5-day marine forecast. This should give you a good idea as to conditions you are likely to experience.

Weather routing on a crossing to St Croix
Example of what an unfavorable forecast could be crossing to St. Croix, with moderate SSE winds | PredictWind

For the crossings to and from St. Croix, we may need to adjust our itinerary for days with more favorable conditions. Or, we may have to cancel those plans all together. Under what conditions would I want to change those plans?

  • 20+ knot winds – this could make for a rough ride

  • Light wind, less than 10 knots – we don’t want to motor

  • Unfavorable wind direction – while the trades tend to blow out of the NE in the fall/winter, they can be bent further into the SE or S with passing disturbances

At the base on a previous charter trip getting ready to board, this one at Scrub Island in the BVIs

Final communications with the charter base

I always like to try and connect directly with the charter base if possible, in the days leading up to our departure. You’ll need to try and find the right contact – it’s usually not the charter specialist that helped book your trip.

There are two objectives:

  1. To try and position ourselves first in line for the charter briefing the morning after our sleepaboard. This can be the difference between leaving the dock at 9:00, or departing two hours later at 11:00. This doesn’t always work, but you miss every shot you don’t take.

  2. To confirm boat equipment, such as portable a VHF radio, rod holders, gaff, type of grill, etc.

For the first time, we are experimenting bringing our own frozen meats with us

Getting the crew involved

As the skipper, don’t try and do everything yourself! Most people love to help out and enjoy getting involved. Here are some activities I’ve delegated for this trip.


This is a great one to delegate to one or two crew members that have some logistics savvy.

By this time, we usually have finalized our menu plan and detailed list. The final step is coordinating for delivery of the food, beverages, and booze.

Or, there may be certain items that may need to be picked up in person. Each sailing destination is different.

For the US Virgin Islands, our crew decided delivery of everything with one company to be the best option since we have late arriving flights. If we had arrived earlier, you can really save quite a bit by shopping in person. We are paying extra for the convenience factor.

The USVIs also have several options where you can order online and just show up for curbside pick up – a good compromise.

We are also trying our hand at bringing frozen meats with us for the first time. We picked up some filets from Costco and pre-cooked some other meals like taco meat and chicken. TBD if it is going to be worth the extra effort ahead of time!

fresh mahi caught on a sailboat during a bvi yacht charter
Mahi we hooked previously on a trip in the Virgin Islands

Fishing licenses & regulations

There’s a lot to navigate when it comes to fishing in the USVI and Spanish Virgin Islands. There are federal waters (>3nm offshore), territorial waters, and the Virgin Islands National Park. Each has its unique license requirements, seasonal closures, and bag limits.

Additionally, there are numerous marine parks and protected areas that we’ll be passing through, such as the Coral Reef National Monument, East End Marine Park, and Hind Bank.

While at this point we are all familiar with the various rules, we have one crew member that is our designated expert to help make sure we fish lawfully throughout the trip.

Clearing customs into Culebra

We are required to clear customs when entering Culebra (Puerto Rico) from the USVI. Since we are all US citizens, this can be accomplished remotely with the CBP ROAM App.

One crew member has taken the lead in getting the app setup with the correct vessel and passport/known traveler numbers.

While I’m focused on navigating through the Ensenada Honda channel and getting us anchored, they can begin the check in process with CBP.

Sailing to St Croix: East End on St Croix USVI
View of the east end of St Croix with Buck Island in the distance

Buck Island Permit

We are going to sailing south to St. Croix, and one of the attractions is the Buck Island Reef National Monument. To visit though, you need anchoring permit.

I had a crew member help by obtaining the vessel registration and submitting the permit to the National Park Service for approval.

Sailboat Fishing Guide: How to Fish from a Sailboat

Mutton snapper caught while trolling in the Virgin Islands

Sailboat fishing is one of my favorite activities during our boat trips. Fortunately, many of the most popular sailing destinations like the Bahamas and British Virgin Islands (check out my BVI specific fishing tips or Exuma fishing guide) are also excellent places to fish.

Even if you aren’t an experienced angler, with a little planning you can have a lot of success. Here’s what you need to know to catch some serious fish and turn your yacht into a fishing sailboat.

Table of contents:

Fishing tackle and equipment

Northern Exumas Wahoo
Wahoo we caught with a diving lure in the Exumas

To rent, or to bring your own?

On our first few trips, we rented fishing equipment, but now we bring our own quality gear. A few things to consider…


Most charter companies should have an option to rent a rod, reel, and small tackle box for around $20/day. They will also provide a rod holder and gaff. Check in advance if they offer this option and what is included. You should expect to bring your own lures and additional fishing tackle.

Ye be warned: don’t expect quality gear – we’ve had a lot of problems the few times that we’ve rented. The equipment gets a lot of use and tends to be poorly maintained.

Renting is the cheaper option if you aren’t serious about fishing. Buying your own equipment is an investment that will take a couple trips to payback.

For smaller reef fish, the rented equipment should be just fine! If you want to go after the bigger pelagic deepwater fish, consider bringing your own setup.

Bring your own gear

The biggest factor to consider with bringing your gear on these fishing trips is the added headache of dealing with the airlines. You’ll need to check your rods and potentially pay an extra fee. United, for example sometimes tries to charge $200 if the container is over a certain length. If you have preferred status with an airline, you might be immune.

You should also plan to check fishing tackle and filet knives.


I have two, 6 foot jigging rods that I bring. If you have a local fishing store (mine is Fishing Tackle Unlimited), ask them what they’d recommend – there are lots of options. You can get away with shorter rods for trolling – it might help save you money on airline fees.

I like the jigging rod since you can use it for lower speed trolling, jigging, and bottom fishing. If you bring spinning reels, you can also use them for casting.

I use this Plano rod tube to transport my rods for every trip – it’s affordable, fits several rods, and is adjustable depending on the length you need.

Plano Rod Tube (TackleDirect)

This is the Plano rod tube I use to transport my two rods. It's made it through 8 airline flights now.

Plano Rod Tube (Amazon)

This is the Plano rod tube I use to transport my two rods. It's made it through 8 airline flights now.


I use Shimano TLD 30IIAs. This was a recommendation from a friend that does some serious marlin fishing in the Gulf of Mexico.

Here’s why the 2-speed reel is great for sailboat fishing. When sailboat fishing under sail and you land a good size fish, you can’t just stop and you can only slow down so much with course corrections. The 2-speed reel lets you use the low gear to deliver more power to the fight.

Check out the youtube video below of the cero mackerel we caught on a 2022 trip to the USVI and Spanish Virgin Islands. We were sailing in 30 knots of apparent wind and had a reef in the main and jib. At the time we hooked up we were sailing at 9-10 knots and were only able to slow down to about 7.5 knots while we reeled it in.

I have the reels spun with 65 pound braided line (braid) and topped with 80 pound mono line. 

Spinning reels are also great – if you come up on a school of mahi-mahi, stop or slow the yacht, and cast some lures out. Keep in mind if you plan to use them for trolling, you won’t be able to have as much line on them as compared to trolling (or conventional) reels.

Shimano TLD-30IIA reel (TackleDirect)

This reel might be oversized for some of the fish you'll catch, but the 2-speed reel will help when you aren't able to take the sails down and have to keep moving.

Shimano TLD-30IIA reel (Amazon)

This reel might be oversized for some of the fish you'll catch, but the 2-speed reel will help when you aren't able to take the sails down and have to keep moving.

Fishing tackle for bareboat charter trip
Prepping some lures and tackle ahead of a bareboat sailing trip

Other equipment for fishing off a sailboat

For my tools and knives, I use BUBBA products. You’ll get their famous non-stick grip and high-quality materials that will within stand the saltwater. These things will last for years.

Filet knife – I highly recommend bringing your own, well-sharpened filet knife. The boat is unlikely to have a knife sharp enough for the job. You also want a blade that is flexible. We brought this BUBBA knife on our recent Exumas sailing trip and it worked great!

BUBBA 7 Inch Tapered Fillet Knife (Amazon)

Razor sharp and comes with the BUBBA non-stick grip.

Exuma fishing tips: filleting a wahoo in the Exumas
Filleting a freshly caught wahoo in the Exumas

Pliers – I use them to help remove hooks and to cut wire leader.

BUBBA Stainless Steel Pliers (Amazon)

These pliers won't rust and they also come with crimper and cutting features.

Casting net – I do not bring one of these, but you can if you are a serious angler and have an idea where to catch them. Some countries may not allow them, so make sure you double check the rules.

Trolling hooks – bring some #7 or #8s, such as Mustad Big Game Stainless Steel. The stainless steel are more expensive, but are resistant to saltwater. You’ll use these hooks to set up your skirted lures and ballyhoo rigs (if you can find frozen ballyhoo).

Mustad Big Game Stainless Steel Hooks (TackleDirect)

These are the sharpest hooks you can find and the stainless steel will help prevent rusting in between trips.

Mustad Big Game Stainless Steel Hooks (Amazon)

These are the sharpest hooks you can find and the stainless steel will help prevent rusting in between trips.

Bait circle hooks – I like Gamakatsu or Mustad #7s. The circle hooks are best for bottom dropping with live/dead bait. The fish is most likely to swallow the bait whole, and the circle hook helps to prevent the hook from getting stuck in deep. Rather, they are designed to hook them in the mouth.

Gomakatsu Circle Hooks (TackleDirect)

These are great hooks to attach some live/dead bait and set on the bottom. Use the Double Dropper Rig (video below).

Gomakatsu Circle Hooks (Amazon)

These are great hooks to attach some live/dead bait and set on the bottom. Use the Double Dropper Rig (video below).

Live bait net – I’m usually able to catch a couple live bait on sabiki rigs each trip. I keep them alive in this Lindy Bait Tamer. 

Catching live bait blue runners with a sabiki rig
Catching some blue runners for live bait slow trolling | We keep them alive in a bait tank

Here’s a few pictures of a fresh ballyhoo we caught with a sabiki rig after chumming the water behind our cat at anchor. I also rigged this one up with an Ilander torpedo style skirt.

Rigging a ballyhoo during our Antigua bareboat charter
Getting ready to put this in the water while we were sailing between Barbuda and Antigua
Lindy BaitTamer (Amazon)

This one is right-sized for a bareboat charter and has held up over several trips. You can keep it in the water when you are at anchor. When moving, put it in a bucket and change the water every hour to keep the fish alive.

Gloves – I would consider this optional. We usually have a pair on hand to search for spiny lobster. The gloves can make it easier to handle a fish without the help of a gaff or net.

Sabiki Rigs – for catching bait fish. I usually bring 2-3 since they can get tangled and break easily.

Weights – you’ll want a couple for bottom dropping. The deeper you drop, plan to go heavier.

Swivels – you’ll attach these to your primary line to quickly swap out pre-rigged lures. Look for ~75+ pound rated ball bearing swivels with snap connections.

Wire leader – we attach 2 feet or so of steel leader often when trolling since we catch a lot of toothy fish (barracuda, mackerel, and wahoo). This will help you catch more fish and lose fewer lures. Check out Malin Hard-Wire stainless steel leader. No. 6 to No. 9 will do. Check out this youtube video that shows you how to rig up a wire leader with the haywire twist.

Malin Stainless Steel Leader (TackleDirect)

Attach a copy feet of this leader to your rigs to prevent line breakage from tooth fish (like wahoo).

Malin Stainless Steel Leader (Amazon)

Attach a copy feet of this leader to your rigs to prevent line breakage from tooth fish (like wahoo).

Fishing techniques and the lures to bring

Trolling lines are in the water - this is what our setup looks like

What is the best way to go fishing from a sailboat? These are your best options.

Trolling from a sailboat for bluewater sportfish

Most of our fishing is done when we are underway. It’s fun to always to toss a line knowing something could hit your lure at any time.

This is also the best way to cover a lot of distance, do some offshore fishing, and hook up on some game fish. We also do it in 30 feet of water too!

We bring our own rod holders to clamp on to the railings – not all sailing yachts come with them and the charter company may not have spares.

Amarine Rod Holders (Amazon)

These are an affordable option for clamp on rod holders in case you want to bring your own.

King mackerel caught in Key West
King mackerel caught while trolling with a ballyhoo rig and Ilander lure skirt

We will usually pull one line at the top of the water (or slightly below) and a second 10-20 ft deep using a diving lure.

At the top, we use Iland Ilander Trolling Lures with weighted heads to keep the lure just below the surface. We use the 8 1/4 inch length and I like blue/white, pink, and black/purple. Get a variety! If we have dead bait such as ballyhoo or mahi belly, we will rig the skirt with them.

Iland Ilander lure (TackleDirect)

This is a great all-around surface lure that you can often catch mahi, tuna, and king mackerel with. Blue/white, pink, and black/purple are my favorites.

Iland Ilander lure (Amazon)

This is a great all-around surface lure that you can often catch mahi, tuna, and king mackerel with. Blue/white, pink, and black/purple are my favorites.

Iland Ilander Flasher Series lure (TackleDirect)

Try a couple of the flasher skirts as well - the reflective mylar helps to attract some fish species.

Iland Ilander Flasher Series lure (Amazon)

Try a couple of the flasher skirts as well - the reflective mylar helps to attract some fish species.

Fathom Offshore Calico Jack Slant (TackleDirect)

This Fathom lure has a tapered nose that creates great swimming action. It also comes pre-rigged on 12' of mono and includes a stainless steal hookset.

Check out this video on how to rig a ballyhoo for a skirted lure.

For the second rod, we’ll use an artificial diving lure. I like the Rapala X-Rap Magnum and the Yozuri Bonita (look for them in 5-6 inch sizes). They have great action and will dive 10-20 feet below. These are your best bet for catching wahoo.

Yozuri Bonita lure (Tackle Direct)

This has been my most successful diving lure recently, and I caught my first wahoo with it. In 6 3/4 in size, try the Flying Fish, Red Black, and Purple Black.

Rapala X-Rap Magnum lure (Tackle Direct)

Try these in a variety of depths from 15-40 feet. I like Hot Pink, Bonito, and the Green Mackerel colors.

Shark bait in the Exumas
Yo-Zuri Bonita lure (Flying Fish) on a fish that we didn't reel up fast enough!

Experiment with distances – we like to mix it up, and there is no perfect formula. We usually put one line ~75 feet out and the second ~125-150 feet behind the sailboat. You can mark the line with a sharpie to help you quickly get lures back in the water after checking them.

If you notice lots of sargassum seaweed in the water, check those lures frequently and clear them if necessary. While this can be frustrating, the good news is that mahi mahi like to hang out under seaweed lines.

Catching sargassum
This is going to happen to you! Check those lines often.

Casting for mahi-mahi or tuna on the surface

This technique has worked for us a couple times. I also see it successfully done all the time on deep sea fishing charter videos such as StanzFam.

The idea is that while trolling in deeper water, you might come across a school of mahi or tuna. What do you look for?

  1. Birds or a disturbed water surface. This usually means the birds and fish are attacking a bait ball. Go join in on the action! They are in a frenzy and will eat anything.
  2. Mahi-mahi love to hang around weed lines or other floating debris. It is said they don’t like the sun very much. Get close to investigate – you can often see them in clear water.

Stop the boat, toss in some lures, and quickly retrieve them with the reel. This is best done with a spinning reel, but it can work with conventional reels as well. Bring a couple popper lures such as the Rapala Magnum Explode.

If you have live bait, even better!

Here’s a variation of this technique: you just caught a mahi. If you can stop the sailboat, see if it’s friends come to investigate. They sometimes do!

Mahi hook up in the Virgin Islands
Schoolie mahi-mahi caught on a recent trip along a weed line using an Ilander lure
fishing a large sargassum patch on our sailboat in Antigua
Jigging on a large sargassum patch near Barbuda

Bottom dropping for reef fish species

Occasionally we’ll stop over a reef and drop a couple lines down to target snapper and grouper. You can even use this technique when at anchor.

We use two hooks on a dropper loop knot and put on some live or dead bait (even if it’s a piece of raw chicken). This video is a great overview of how to tie the knot.

Drop it down and wait for that monster grouper to hit your line!

This technique is hit or miss when sailing. Most fishing boats or fishing charters that use this technique have a sonar fish finder to help them target the fish. Doing it on a sailboat is somewhat of a guessing game, but it has worked for us before. Try and find something with good bottom structure if possible.

Jigging for bottom fish

This technique also targets bottom fish. Drop your jigging lure and let it sink close to the bottom. Once it’s down, pull up quickly once or twice and then let it sink back down. You can also try this in different directions.

For lures, Tady Lures are a great option. I also like Berkeley Fusion Bucktail Jigs – try the 3 ounce version in pink colors.

Little tunny caught trolling near Key West
Little tunny we caught trolling in ~40 feet of water

Where to fish while sailboat fishing

The obvious answer for me is: anytime we are sailing or moving the boat!

If you are trolling in less than 60 feet of water, you are likely to only catch mackerel, barracuda, and potentially some reef fish like mutton snapper.

To turn your sailboat into a sportfishing boat, let’s head for deeper water. I like to use the Navionics Boating App to help plan our routes. The Sonar Chart and Relief Shading layers help you pinpoint bottom structure and shelfs where the water quickly drops off.

You can have a lot of success trolling over bottom structure – anywhere that might provide a habitat to fish. Where there are small fish there are sure to be bigger fish. Also look for non-dangerous wrecks on your charts.

Drops are where the water can quickly fall of from 100 feet to thousands in a short distance. Troll back and forth over this if it will fit in your itinerary. The BVIs, Spanish Virgin Islands, and Exumas all have drops that you can fish during your charter trip.

The picture below is from our sailing trip to the Spanish Virgin Islands where we had a great fishing experience. We caught mahi-mahi, mutton snapper, yellowtail snapper, king mackerel, barracuda, and more. We also did pretty well on a recent bareboat trip to Key West.

Each pin represents a fish caught during that morning we sailed around the eastern end of Vieques. We weren’t able to reach the drop farther south (black and purple shading) due to sailing conditions (the trades were really blowing), but we trolled over the shelf drop and other bottom structure.

Fishing route in Vieques
Trolling route around the shelf area at Vieques in Puerto Rico | Pins represent fish we caught (source: Navionics)

We've caught one, now what?

Well first, get it on the boat!! Our setups described above are usually strong enough to pull the fish straight up onto the steps on the back of the pontoons of our catamaran. We don’t usually worry about the line snapping

If you are sure you’ve landed a keeper, you can also grab it with a gaff to make sure you don’t lose it at the boat. I have not seen many of these on charter boats, but you can ask for one if you rent gear.

For hook removal, we simply use a pair of pliers and gloves. The goal is to get that fish back in the water as soon as possible if it’s catch and release.

How to fillet your fish

I think the absolute best resource to learn is by watching videos. Captain Nick Stanczyk is the expert I turn to. Check out his youtube channel StanzFam. He usually filets fish at the end of every episode, and the videos are really fun to watch.

Filleting a mahi mahi caught in the Virgin Islands
Fileting a mahi at the swim ladder

These are the fish that we would keep if caught:

  • Mahi-mahi
  • Tuna (yellowfin or blackfin)
  • Wahoo
  • Snapper
  • Grouper

There can be some varieties of these, so just be sure you are keeping the good eating ones. For example, a little tunny looks similar to bonito, but are not good eating at all. Check out my guide to the different types of fish in the Virgin Islands. Most of these fish can be caught all throughout the Caribbean.

If you are fishing in areas with ciguatera poisoning, double check local guidance before eating any reef fish.

We always bring supplies to make fish tacos and ceviche (yellow tail snapper is great for this). Simply grilling up some filets with olive oil, garlic, and lemon is also hard to beat.

Fresh caught ono poke bowl
Fresh ono (wahoo) poke bowl from our recent Exumas trip

If you’ve enjoyed this post and are new to bareboat charters or sailing vacations, check out our starter guide here.

Thanks for reading my post about sailboat fishing! If you enjoyed it, please subscribe or check out some of my other articles, like this one about the fish of the Virgin Islands.

Sailing from Key West to Dry Tortugas: What to Expect?

Sailing from Key West to the Dry Tortugas

A trip to the Dry Tortugas should be on everyone’s bucket list. History, seclusion, and pristine natural beauty are top reasons to go.

Each year, this National Park only gets around 55,000 visitors – most of them arrive by daily ferry aboard the Yankee Freedom. Some visitors also arrive by exclusive sea plane tours.

But there is a better way to visit! Take a private boat to the Dry Tortugas enjoy the multi-day adventure. Don’t have one? Charter a yacht as a bareboat or crewed charter instead.

There didn’t use to be many options for crews wishing to bareboat charter a sailboat from Key West to the Dry Tortugas. However, recently Florida Yacht Charters has partnered with the Moorings and maintain a Key West base. The cruising grounds to the Dry Tortugas are now available to us all!

I took advantage of this last year to during a 5 day adventure to go boating to the Dry Tortugas and back. It was an incredible trip with several of my closest friends. You can check out the details on my trip report post.

Planning on sailing from Key West to the Dry Tortugas? Here’s what you should know:

Squalls near Dry Tortugas
Year round you can expect to dodge an isolated squall or two

When should you go boating to the Dry Tortugas National Park?

I did this trip in August…and I would not recommend boating to the Dry Tortugas this time of year (doable maybe if you have reliable air conditioning aboard). South Florida is then very hot and the wind is also at it’s weakest and most variable. I slept on the catamaran trampoline every night it was that bad!

I think the Spring or early Fall are the best time to take a private boat to the Dry Tortugas. Why?

  • Less risk of tropical mischief

  • The heat is less intense and the weather is more settled

  • There is less risk of cold fronts which can barrel down with intense winds and squalls

  • Fishing in the fall as the water cools offers great chances at catching wahoo along the drop

Weather is the biggest factor to plan for. You want your best chance of a settled weather window. Aside from the anchorage at Fort Jefferson, there are really very few protected anchorages along this route.

Pool Dock at Stock Island
Our catamaran at the pool dock at Stock Island Yacht Club before heading out for the Dry Tortugas

How many days to plan for on your boating trip?

Unless you have a speed boat, I think the minimum number of days to plan for is a week. Here’s what that sailing itinerary looks like:

  • Day 1: arrive to Key West and overnight on your charter boat in the marina

  • Day 2: early am departure for Boca Grande. If you have time, grab a mooring ball for some snorkeling at one of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary sites along the way: Western Sambo, Eastern/Western Dry Rocks, or Sand Key are good options.

Marquesas Keys sunset
Sunset over the Marquesas Keys
  • Day 3: sail the rest of the way to the Dry Tortugas and explore Fort Jefferson at Garden Key after most of the tourists have left for the day on the ferry.

  • Day 4: head over to Loggerhead Key for the day. Snorkel the Windjammer wreck. Return to Garden Key in the evening (you aren’t allowed to stay overnight at Loggerhead).

  • Day 5: early am departure to head back east. Overnight anchorage at the Marquesas Keys.

Key West anchorage behind Wisteria Island
Fish tacos at Garbo's
Fish tacos and a cold beer at Garbo's
  • Day 6: final leg back to Key West. Anchor close to downtown for some nightlife or spend the night back in the marina.

  • Day 7: checkout and travel day.

Dry Tortugas sailing route
Our sailing route - we made a stop at the reef and did some fishing along the drop
Fort Jefferson at the Dry Tortugas National Park
Exploring Fort Jefferson in the evening after the crowds have left for Key West

Sailing route from Key West to the Dry Tortugas

How far is the Dry Tortugas from Key West?

It’s approximately 80 nautical miles to the Dry Tortugas from Key West. If you are on a sailing charter vacation, plan for two days to get there and the same for the return. Yes, that can be done with a very early am departure, but don’t plan on checking out until mid morning. You know the drill with those check-out briefings.

It’s a great sail! The water is beautiful and the fishing is excellent.

With prevailing winds, you are most likely to have a downwind sail on the way there. Returning to Key West, you might be beating to windward and it might make sense to throw in the towel and motor.

As far as planning guides go, I picked up a copy of the Water Way Guide for the Keys. We also relied heavily on Garmin Active Captain for anchoring advice.

Water Way Guide Florida Keys (Amazon)

This is a useful guide to help plan your trip to the Dry Tortugas or elsewhere in the Florida Keys. Aside from navigational info, there is good discussion about activities to enjoy in each area.

Drone shot of Garden Key and Fort Jefferson at sunset
The anchorage at Garden Key | We were one of two boats on this visit, when it is quieter, but also hotter

Anchorages along the route

Main anchorage near downtown Key West

I like this anchorage at the end of the trip. Celebrate your final night and share stories about your adventures boating to the Dry Tortugas during a night on the town.

Boca Grande Key

Boca Grande is next up. In settled conditions, you can anchor in ~10 feet to the west of the popular beach (Boca Grande – 2 on Garmin Active Captain). You will swing some on the tide here as it flows between the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf Stream at about 1 knot.

You can also anchor further up the channel that leads to the interior of the key, but be prepared for 180 shifts and swings on the tide.

Boca Grande Key Sunset
Great sunset over the Marquesas Keys as we anchored at Boca Grande

Marquesas Keys

The final anchorage before you reach the Dry Tortugas (and you still have about 50 miles to go) is the Marquesas Keys. It is less protected than Boca Grande, so keep that in mind if you are planning around some weather events.

Anchor within a few hundred yards of the beach. If the bugs are bad, you can venture farther out – look for the Brown Pelican anchorage on Active Captain which is about a mile offshore.

king mackerel near key west
Good sized king mackerel we hauled in using an Iland Ilander lure
Little tunny caught near key west florida
Little tunny caught in about ~40 feet of water

Fishing on the way to the Dry Tortugas

You have great chances at catching fish boating to the Dry Tortugas. Depths range from 40-60 feet along the way – expect to catch king mackerel, little tunny, and barracuda.

I also like the idea of fishing the drop which will take you on a slight detour south if you can afford the time. Here you’ll have better chances of landing tuna, mahi, and wahoo.

There are also several spots to bottom drop, such as at Rebecca Shoal – here you have decent chances of hooking snapper and grouper.

Before you enter the park boundaries, make sure you stow away your equipment. Park rangers also ask you to report any catch that you are bringing into the park. You can do this on Channel 16.

Dodging lobster trap buoys

For me, the most frustrating part of this sail is the obstacles created by the lobster trap buoys. They are everywhere and you will find them along the length of the entire route. Perhaps this was because I visited at the start of lobster season (early August through March), but I’ve heard they are out there year round.

Unless your yacht has excellent visibility from the helm station, you should plan to post a bow watch to help you identify them. Unfortunately, frequent course adjustments was required for us. Not fun!

If you really want to avoid dealing with some of them, your only option is to venture farther south to the drop.

Thanks for reading my post about sailing from Key West to the Dry Tortugas and making it all the way to the end! If you enjoyed it, please subscribe or check out some of my other articles, like this one about my recent trip report sailing to the Dry Tortugas.

UPDATE 6: Dry Tortugas Re-opens to Visitors After Hurricane Ian

Dry Tortugas National Park takes direct hit from Hurricane Ian

On Tuesday evening, September 27th, major Hurricane Ian made it’s first US landfall, marking a direct hit to the Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida.

The storm had been strengthening steadily after crossing western Cuba, with sustained winds of 120 mph as the eyewall passed directly over Garden Key and Loggerhead Key. Heavy rains and storm surge also directly affected all areas of the 100 square mile park.

Current status of Dry Tortugas Hurricane Ian storm damage assessment and re-opening

On Thursday, September 29th, National Park Service (NPS) staff began to assess storm damage with a flyover of the the main Dry Tortugas attractions, including Garden Key. It was noted that there was significant damage to the ferry docks and visitor boat slips at Fort Jefferson..

The NPS deployed the M/V Fort Jefferson on Friday, September 30th, with a team to further assess damage and commence clean up efforts.

Dry Tortugas National Park Re-opening Updates

  • Ferry service resumes on Monday, October 10th, as announced by the NPS
  • Limited camping spaces are now available
  • Park waters are currently open to private vessels, but the boat slips remain closed
  • As of Sunday, October 2nd, sea plane tours have resumed for visitors
  • The interior of Fort Jefferson is now open to visitors
  • If you plan to visit park waters by private vessel, keep in mind that many buoys and boundary markers might have been damaged by Hurricane Ian – they have not yet been inspected
Fort Jefferson damage from Hurricane Ian
Trees damaged by Hurricane Ian on Garden Key 📸 NPS
Clean up efforts underway at the boat slips 📸 NPS
Fort Jefferson days after taking a direct hit from Hurricane Ian in the Dry Tortugas
View of Fort Jefferson, looking south, taken from the flyover on Thursday, September 29th | NPS
Hurricane Ian damage to Fort Jefferson
Trees of the Fort Jefferson interior parade grounds sustained notable damage, stripped of their vegetation | NPS
Dry Tortugas National Park takes a direct hit from Hurricane Ian
Close up view of Hurricane Ian's eye, passing directly over the Dry Tortugas | Source: RadarScope

With a direct hit from the eyewall of Hurricane Ian, the NPS will make sure that key park features such as Fort Jefferson are deemed safe again for visitors before the Dry Tortugas National Park completely reopens.

Subscribe to the Yacht Warriors for updates on storm damage and Dry Tortugas re-opening dates.

Hurricane Ian Dry Tortugas before and after photos

Thanks to a tip from a Yacht Warriors follower, we can begin to identify some of the damage that may have occurred to the Dry Tortugas from Hurricane Ian. NOAA released some imagery taken several days after Hurricane Ian passed.

I compared some of the before and after imagery. Check it out below. My overall assessment? It doesn’t look like there was any major structural damage visible from satellite photos. Shifting of sand, damage to docks, and vegetation damage look like the biggest culprits.

Of course, a birds eye view is nothing compared to what the NPS will learn in the coming days with their crew on the ground.

Dry Tortugas and garden key before and after photos from Hurricane Ian
Notable changes are visible to Bush and Long Keys from Hurricane Ian storm surge | NOAA & Google Maps
Garden Key before and after photos from Hurricane Ian including Fort Jefferson
A zoomed in view shows some damage to the camping area and boat slips at Garden Key | NOAA & Google Maps
Dry Tortugas Garden Key ferry dock damage from Hurricane Ian
Some damage from storm swell to the Garden Key dock is visible, but many decking boards are still in place | NPS
Hurricane Ian before and after photos from Loggerhead Key in the Dry Tortugas
There are some visible changes to the shape of the sand bars at Loggerhead Key | NOAA & Google Maps
Close up before and after Hurricane Ian photos of Loggerhead Key
The only visible damage I could identify to Loggerhead Key is the dock on the east side | NOAA & Google Maps
Hurricane Ian damage to Loggerhead Key in the Dry Tortugas
Close up view of the damage to the Loggerhead Key docks from Hurricane Ian | NPS

History of Dry Tortugas and hurricanes

This is by no means the first hurricane to affect the park since construction of Fort Jefferson commenced on Garden Key in 1846.

Most recently in 2017, Hurricane Irma damaged a ~50 foot section of the moat wall and deposited large amounts of sand within the moat and piers. It’s worth noting that Hurricane Irma was not a direct hit – it passed ~90 miles to the east, at Cudjoe Key.

Damage to the moat wall from Hurricane Irma in 2017 | Source: NPS

Hurricane Ian continued to strengthen to a very dangerous category 4 storm with sustained winds of over 155mph. It made a second Florida landfall in the afternoon of Wednesday, September 28th, near Cape Coral, Florida.

If you want to learn more about the Dry Tortugas, read my post about sailing from Key West to the Dry Tortugas or my yacht charter trip report from August 2021.

Fish of the Virgin Islands

Fish of the Virgin Islands

The fish of the Virgin Islands are similiar to what you can expect elsewhere across the Caribbean, from the Bahamas to Grenada.

Many of them, are delicious eaters, and others, fierce fighters.

If you’re planning a yacht charter or are thinking about booking a fishing trip, these are the fish you are most likely to encounter in the Virgin Islands. That includes the British Virgin Islands, Spanish Virgin Islands, and US Virgin Islands.

If you want to learn more about fishing techniques in the Virgin Islands, check out my tackle and fishing technique recommendations here.

Offshore fish of the Virgin Islands

Location: north and south drops, or in the deep water between St. Thomas/St. John and St. Croix.

Offshore is my favorite place to fish in the Virgin Islands. We typically head out to the north or south drop and troll back and forth in 200 to 600 feet of water.

Since we are usually sailing, we’ll have two lines out – one surface lure such as an Iland Ilander skirt. The second is a diving lure such as the Yozuri Bonita.

Here are the offshore fish species you can expect to catch:


Exuma fishing tips: filleting a wahoo in the Exumas
Here I'm fileting a fresh caught Wahoo to prepare it for sashimi and poke bowls on the catamaran
Fresh caught ono poke bowl
Wahoo poke bowl

Wahoo is by far my favorite eating fish that we catch. It’s great as sashimi and in poke bowls, or grilled up in fish tacos.

The wahoo fishing is always better in the fall, beginning in November, although it’s possible to hook one anytime of the year.

Since they claim to be the fastest fish in the ocean, they are also a lot of fun to fight. On my last trip, a huge one ran out most of my line and then snapped the 80 pound braid!

We’ve always had more success with wahoo using diving lures that swim 15+ feet below the surface of the water, such as the Yozuri or Rapala X-Rap Magnum.

Mahi Mahi (dolphin fish)

Filleting a mahi mahi caught in the Virgin Islands
Shot of me filleting a schoolie mahi mahi caught on a shelf area near the South Drop

Mahi are unmistakable with their shades of green, yellow, and blue.

You can catch mahi year round, in the shelf areas, as well as offshore.

Look for floating debris or sargassum – they don’t like the sun and enjoy shading themselves beneath. If you can see them, stop the boat and cast a popper lure near them. They can’t resist.

Mahi always become great candidates for fish tacos on our yacht charter trips. They are also excellent sauteed and crafted into a sandwich.


Yellowfin tuna

Yellowfin tuna are also easy to identify with the yellow markings and distinctive sickles. They can get quite large, compared to their cousins the blackfin and skipjack. Skipjack can be distinguished from blackfin with their horizontal stripes on the belly.

Tuna can be targeted by trolling using skirts and diving lures. If you see birds attacking a bait ball, that’s also a good sign tuna can be near.

Yellowfin is the best eating tuna, but all three are worth eating. Straight up with some soy sauce or cooked rare is the way to do it.



Blue marlin hooked up

Honestly, I’m not ever intentionally targeting marlin. If we ever caught one it would surely be released. I really don’t want to have a several hour battle either since we usually have a lot of ground to cover on our sailing trips (such as my crossing from St. Croix to Culebra on my Fall 2022 trip).

They can be caught in the Virgin Islands though, and it’s great fun if you have the right equipment and sportfishing boat.

Try pulling some bird teasers behind the boat to help raise them to your lures.

The size of the marlin that can be caught on the north drop is something of legends. You can also encounter marlin in the deepwater between St. Thomas/St. John and St. Croix.


Sailfish are typically caught for catch and release beginning in the fall months when the water begins to cool.

If you know where to look, you can see them surfing swells at the surface when their distinctive sail breaks the water. Anglers can then target sailfish by casting a surface lure or live bait to them.

Inshore Virgin Islands fish species

Location: shelf and reef areas, <150 feet

Inshore areas are great for bottom dropping, drift fishing, or fishing off the back of the boat while at anchor.

If shallow enough (I’m only a beginner at spearfishing), we’ll hop in and try and shoot with with a Hawaiian sling or speargun.


Catching barracuda in the Caribbean

This is, without a doubt, the fish we catch most frequently while trolling. They just can’t resist my lures, I guess!

They are fun to catch, but not the ones we want to eat. With the potential for ciguatera poisoning, especially the larger ones, we always release them. 

Another reason we don’t eat them? They smell…apparently the meat doesn’t but their skin is another story.


King mackerel caught in Key West
King mackerel we caught in about 50 feet of water

I’ve yet to catch a spanish mackerel, but for some reason we have hooked plenty of king mackerels. You can tell the difference since the spanish mackies have distinctive yellow spots.

We recently caught a cero mackerel on our USVI and SVI trip – it made excellent eating! They look pretty similar to spanish mackerels, but have a distinctive stipe.

Spanish/cero mackerels are the better eating fish. King mackerels are oily and require a different type of preparation, such as by smoking.

Toothy fish, similar to the wahoo and barracuda, you’ll want to use a wire leader if you think you might hook one.

Bonito (little tunny)

Little tunny caught near key west florida
Little Tunny that I caught and released using a Iland Illander surface lure

Another fish on my list that we catch and release. I’ve just heard the meat is not that great to eat. They are shaped like tuna, but you can identify them by the squiggly dark lines on their back.


Jack caught in the Virgin Islands
Jack we caught with a surface lure while trolling over a reef in 50 feet of water

There are many different types of jacks. I think some are good eating, but I don’t have a sharp enough eye yet…we typically catch and release them if we hook one.

They can be caught while trolling and also while spear fishing.


Small grouper caught in the US Virgin Islands
Small grouper we released in Culebra

Grouper is one of my favorite fish to eat.

Again, there several species, such as the black grouper and red grouper. You’ll want to make sure you are in compliance with fishing regulations. Sometimes there are certain seasons for these type of fish.

Also make sure you don’t keep any goliath groupers – they are typically off-limits all year round. Worth checking out the nassau grouper too, they are sometimes off-limits.

Groupers are best hooked while spearfishing or bottom dropping.


Snapper we caught in the Spanish Virgin Islands

Snapper is another great eating fish. The three most common you might encounter are yellowtail, mutton, and mangrove.

I’ve hooked both mutton and yellowtail before while trolling over a reef, but they are easier to target by spearfishing or bottom dropping.

Yellowtail snapper also like to congregate underneath your yacht. You can even chum the waters to attract them with leftover meal scraps. If you see this, put on some light fluorocarbon leader and some dead bait – you’re likely to get a bite quickly!


Tarpon under the yacht in the US Virgin Islands

You’ll often see tarpon in marinas near the areas where they throw fish scraps. In the British Virgin Islands, they like to hang out at Saba Rock, where they do a daily feeding.

These are definitely not eating fish – the meat doesn’t taste very good and the tarpon are quite bony.

You might, however, catch one if you drop a line down with dead bait in your anchorage. They are ferocious fighters and fun to catch!


Catching lionfish in the Exumas
Lionfish we speared on a reef in the Bahamas
Fresh caught lionfish ceviche
Lionfish ceviche appetizer on the boat - delicious!

Lionfish are in invasive species and can be taken any time of year. They don’t get very big, but the meat is excellent!

Spearfishing is the way to catch these suckers. For beginners, they make excellent targets since they aren’t afraid and don’t try to evade you (since they have no predators).

Check out my post about lionfish ceviche that we recently made in the Exumas. It has some cautionary notes about removing the venomous spines (painful but not life threatening).

Spiny Lobster

Fresh grilled Anegada spiny lobster
Fresh grilled Anegada spiny lobster on the boat | We got these from a local since tourists are not allowed to take them

Ok, not a fish, but worth mentioning.

Make sure you check local regulations, they differ, for example, between the USVI and BVIs. In the BVIs, tourists are not allowed to take them at all.

When in season and legal, we use a tickle stick and net to coax them out of their hideouts. A snare is also a good method.

Nothing beats fresh spiny grilled lobster with an epic Caribbean sunset (we’ve tried boiling too – grilling is better!).

5 Ways to Experience Norman Island, British Virgin Islands

Norman Island British Virgin Islands | 5 Ways to Experience

You can’t go on a BVI yacht charter without a stop at Norman Island in the British Virgin Islands. It’s a must for any BVI sailing itinerary.

So-called Treasure Island’s focal point, The Bight, is one of the largest and well-protected mooring fields in the British Virgin Islands. There are plenty of balls here – no need to race that other catamaran for the last one as you might be tempted to in some other BVI bays.

So what do I like to do at Norman Island? Check out these five activities for your next visit at Norman Island in the British Virgin Islands.

Willy T at Norman Island BVI
Willy T at anchor at its Norman Island BVI home

Jump off the top deck of Willy T

Yes, the William Thornton (Willy T) might be the most famous attraction at Norman Island, so it’s worth mentioning first. The original Willy T floating pirate ship bar was destroyed during Hurricane Irma in 2017. It now rests on the seafloor near Peter Island as an artificial reef and interesting snorkel site.

The Willy T crew found a replacement in Louisiana, outfitted her, and sailed her back to the British Virgin Islands themselves. It’s now back at anchor at it’s Norman Island home (after a short stint at Peter Island).

Jump in your dinghy and head over to Willy T for a rowdy evening (yes it can get that way!). Just read the Pirate Code that’s posted and you’ll understand why. Drinks flow and the food is actually really good.

Willy T Bar at Norman Island British Virgin Islands

On my last visit, my honor was at stake and I ended up beating a German professional soccer team in a pull up competition. Be prepared for anything!

And of course, make sure you join in the tradition of jumping off the top deck into the waters of the Bight. If you’re looking for something fancier, check out the Pirate’s Bight restaurant ashore and maybe go to Willy T after dinner.

A final tip: if you want some peace and quiet, grab a mooring ball on the other side of the Bight from the Willy T.

One of the beautiful bays you can access by trails on the south side of Norman Island

Hike the Norman Island trails for spectacular 360 views of the British Virgin Islands

Norman Island is actually private, but there are no issues going ashore (at least that I’ve heard). It’s owned by billionaire Henry Jarecki, who also owns the luxury eco-resort of Guana Island (another great place to anchor!). Several developments have been planned over the years, but nothing ever seems to get underway.

That’s good news for all of us that love this largely undeveloped, uninhabited island. One way to enjoy it? Check out the several miles of hiking trails. You can see them clearly on Google Maps satellite.

The easiest place to access them is behind the Pirate’s Bight restaurant. You can also dinghy ashore at Benures Bay to pick up one of the trails.

Most of the trails run along the ridge of the island, offering excellent views of the other BVI islands and the Caribbean Sea.

Keep your eye out for lost treasure that is still rumored to be buried on Norman Island.

Benures Bay Sunset at Norman Island, British Virgin Islands
Epic sunset from our yacht charter trip in 2018, we had the place all to ourselves

Soak in an epic sunset at Benures Bay

One of my favorite anchorages in the British Virgin Islands is at Benures Bay, on the north side of Norman Island. While there are several mooring balls here now, it’s still a great place to escape the crowds of the Bight.

Usually well-protected, it can be a bit rolly if the wind has a northerly component.

Drop the hook in the northeast corner and enjoy this bay by snorkeling, paddle boarding, or by accessing the trails ashore.

But by far the number one reason to visit Benures Bay: the sunsets over Sir Francis Drake Channel. You’ll have amazing, unobstructed view to the west as the sun sets over the Indians and St. John, US Virgin Islands. Grab a cocktail and enjoy the show.

Norman Island Caves British Virgin Islands
Approaching by dinghy for an afternoon snorkel at the Norman Island Caves

Search for treasure at the famous Norman Island Caves

This is one of the best, and most popular, snorkeling sites in the British Virgin Islands. It’s comprised of four caves on the other side of Treasure Point, just outside of the Bight.

There are two main attractions here: treasure lore and fish.

It’s rumored that a fisherman in the late 1800s once found a large stash of gold booty here that was dislodged during a storm, supposedly from the Spanish galleon Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe. True? I’m not sure, but it’s fun to believe it, especially when you’re exploring the caves. This book has all the details about the true story of Norman Island and Robert Louis Stevenson’s fictional tale, Treasure Island.

Norman Island Caves in British Virgin Islands
One of the four caves you can snorkel at Treasure Point

The marine life here also never disappoints. Expect to swim with hundreds of small fish, and the last time I visited we saw two octopus.

You can grab a National Parks Trust mooring ball here with your yacht, but I think it’s easier to grab your overnight mooring in the Bight and just dinghy over.

fresh mahi caught on a sailboat during a bvi yacht charter
Hauling in a mahi mahi on the south drop, caught with a purple Iland Ilander lure

Catch some mahi-mahi at the South Drop

Just over a mile offshore from Norman Island is the South Drop, where depths fall quickly from 100 feet to thousands. This underwater structure helps support abundant marine life from the upwelling of currents, bringing nutrients to the surface.

If you like fishing, this is the most convenient location in the British Virgin Islands to target some deepwater fish. We’ve hooked up on several mahi trolling over the drop and the nearby shelf area. Wahoo are good targets in the fall as the water temperatures cool, and tuna can also be caught year round.

south drop in the bvis
South drop visible just over a mile away from Norman Island | Navionics

Check out my BVI fishing tips for more advice on hooking fish on your next trip including tackle and lure recommendations.

With prevailing trade winds out of the east, I would head clockwise around Norman Island so you are sailing downwind as you fish. It will be much more comfortable for the crew.

Thanks for reading my post about Norman Island, British Virgin Islands! If you enjoyed it, please subscribe or check out some of my other articles, like this one about my favorite, top 10 BVI beaches.

Top 7 BVI Webcams to Check in on the Action

If you ever find yourself dreaming of a yacht charter vacation, get your island fix by checking in on these BVI webcams from some of the most popular British Virgin Island institutions.

painkillers at the soggy dollar bar in white bay jost van dyke

Soggy Dollar Bar webcam (White Bay, Jost Van Dyke)

2022 BVI bars and restaurants closed for hurricane season

Saba Rock webcam (North Sound, Virgin Gorda)

Quito’s webcam (Cane Garden Bay, Tortola)

Agape Cottages webcam (Cane Garden Bay, Tortola)

Pink House Villas webcam (White Bay, Jost Van Dyke)

Thanks for checking out the list of BVI webcams. For more information on the British Virgin Islands, check out other articles and posts from the Yacht Warriors here.