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5 Ways the British Virgin Islands’ Vibe is Changing

Lounging on the trampoline in the British Virgin Islands

The British Virgin Islands were devasted by the hurricanes of 2017.

They since come roaring back only for the recovery to be held back by Covid.

But hang on, the 2021-2022 season looks to be a record breaker. Restrictions eased and crews leapt at the chance get back on the water.

Popular anchorages have been crowded, more than ever.

Legendary establishments such as the Bitter End Yacht Club are back in business.

The painkillers are flowing in White Bay, Jost van Dyke.

Despite this resurgence, the British Virgin Islands’ vibe is gradually changing. Good or bad? I’ll let you decide. If I sound like a pessimist, don’t be alarmed. I love the BVIs and I’ll be back for years to come.

white bay east side jost van dyke
A typical day at White Bay, made busier by the visiting cruise ship

BVI mooring fields are becoming more crowded

The British Virgin Islands is benefiting from a booming yacht charter industry. Interest in sailing vacations is higher than ever.

As the global bareboat charter capital, the BVIs are feeling those tailwinds strongly.

This is great news for the local economy and the industry as a whole.

But gone are the days of finding your own remote piece of paradise in the BVIs. I know of a couple secret spots, but I have to keep those to myself! I’ll let you in on a few others in this post about secret BVI anchorages.

If you’re in a mooring field, expect to have lots of neighbors, close at hand. So, choose your ball wisely.

Navigating the often crowded mooring field in Setting Point, Anegada

Boatyball is also a more recent development. Some would argue they haven’t added any new mooring balls, rather just replaced existing balls.

Regardless, expect balls to be packed in as tightly as might allow in the future.

Mooring fields that went into disrepair after the hurricanes are now coming back online.

Other beautiful places, such as Benures Bay, that used to be anchoring only…now have mooring balls. This is bad news if you prefer to anchor in (relative) solitude.

Best advice to avoid the crowds? Try and visit in the shoulder seasons (April-May, November). Or better yet, squeeze a trip in during the summer.

The old Saba Rock in the BVIs before the 2017 hurricanes
A view of the old Saba Rock on my first bareboat charter trip over 10 years ago

Resorts and iconic beach bars are catering to the masses or going upscale

I’m too young to have experienced what the undiscovered BVI vibe used to be 30+ years ago.

One symptom of development and progress? Many of the local, old school beach bars are disappearing or being replaced.

After the 2017 hurricanes, when places such as Saba Rock or the Loose Mongoose rebuilt, they went upscale, likely due to the capital that came in to make the rebuilding happen.

Other well known iconic spots such as the Soggy Dollar Bar or Foxy’s now cater to the crowds that often come with visits from cruise ships.

painkillers at the soggy dollar bar in white bay jost van dyke
Tour boats leaving at the end of the day in White Bay
Tipsy's by Ann on the north shore of Anegada, where you can still find that old school BVI vibe

If you’ve been to the Soggy lately, you’ll notice an abundance of USVI day tour boats that crowd the beach.

So can you still find that old school vibe? The good news is, yes! You just need to know where to look. The best spots are going to remain secret, for good reason, but they’re out there.

Anegada, however, is still clearly a winner in this category. The old school vibe, from what I understand, can still be discovered.

Local bars on the beautiful north shore beaches and at the anchorage in Setting Point still dominate, and defend that vibe.

Cape Air Cessnas, one of your options for the puddle jumper flight to BVI
Cape Air Cessnas at SJU, one of your options for a puddle jumper flight

Travelling to the British Virgin Islands is becoming more difficult

You might think ease of travel would be important for a country who’s GDP is supported by the yacht charter industry.

But that’s just not the case! In recent months, it’s actually trending worse. BVI’s fault? No idea, but I would make it a priority.

Getting to the BVIs has always been about jumping through hoops. And yes, there is still no direct flights from the USA or Europe and likely never will be. They just don’t have the space to do a runway extension similar to what St Thomas, USVI did about 20 years ago. 

You’re committed to a full day travel affair on both ends of your trip.

Recently, the smaller regional airlines have encountered staffing difficulties, leading to many delayed and cancelled “puddle jumper” flights – these are the short trips from nearby San Juan or St. Thomas, USVI.

With only a few of these a day, a cancelled flight can lead to an entire lost day sailing the British Virgin Islands. Ouch! Throw that planned itinerary out the window.

Axopar water taxi

Alternatives to flying into the British Virgin Islands

So is there a better way to arrive? Yes, and here’s your best option.

Many people prefer a direct flight from the USA to St. Thomas. Once you arrive, skip the public ferries who’s schedules are difficult to keep up with and are often late.

Book a direct water taxi from the likes of Island Time or Chillout Charters. They will pick you up in Red Hook, handle clearing you into BVI Customs while you stay on the boat, and then deliver you directly to your marina.

It will all take 1-1.5 hours.

Sit back, relax, and enjoy a cold beverage along the way.

A couple words of caution:

  • You’ll pay up for this option $$$$

  • Some are limited to 6 passengers, so if you have a larger crew, you may need to book two

Eustatia Sound Anchorage
One of the recent catamarans I took out in the BVIs, a Lagoon 450

Larger catamarans are taking over the British Virgin Islands

OK, not literally, but the trend is your friend.

It seems to be two-fold:

  1. Catamarans in favor of monohulls

  2. Bigger is better

I get it, and I tend to fall into the group that prefers a bareboat charter aboard this type of sailing yacht. I explain my feelings in this catamaran vs monohull post.

The market is simply responding to what crews prefer these days.

Bareboat charter in the BVIs on a monohull
The first boat I captained in the BVIs: a 33 foot monohull

I captained my first sailboat on a 33 foot monohull, and my latest: a 54 foot catamaran. Every yacht charter since the first has been on a 45 foot cat or larger.

We find the bigger cats more appealing for a number of reasons:

  • Extra lounge space: flybridge, trampolines, etc.

  • Large crews that can spread out

  • Better stability, and galley above the waterline

  • Most will come with the features to keep the crew at ease: AC and water makers

So if you’re with me, this is a great development.

Here’s why you might not like it: things that go bump in the night. Mooring fields are getting increasingly crowded and catamarans, by nature, have a much wider beam.

In most trade wind prevailing conditions, this is not an issue. But if the breeze falls or there is a back winding scenario, it’s possible for yachts to get rather close for comfort.

BVI and the USVI, a view of the Narrows
A view of the Narrows, with BVI on the left, and USVI on the right (St. John)

BVI-flagged charter vessels only

This might be a lesser point, but it’s worth taking into account.

It’s not impossible, but recent BVI regulations have made it extremely difficult for charter yachts to clear into the country.

They’ve created enough paperwork and bureaucracy to make it not worth the effort.

Why would this be an issue? Some crews used to charter out of the USVI (or elsewhere) and cruise throughout the Virgin Islands (Spanish, US, BVI), clearing in and out of customs along the way.

So if that was your plan, just make sure you have the latest information.

Why did the BVI government do this? I think they lost a lot of revenue during Covid when the USVI enjoyed a resurgence of yacht charter tourism. The BVI charter vessels mostly remained dockside. It was simply a move to protect their vital industry.

Thanks for reading my post about 5 ways the British Virgin Islands’ vibe is changing! If you enjoyed it, please subscribe or check out some of my other articles, like this one about the perfect week-long BVI sailing itinerary.

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