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.
Here are some of the changes that are afoot and what you can expect from a BVI yacht charter trip in the future.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Travelling to the British Virgin Islands feels 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, chiefly because the airport runway is too short. (Update: on June 1, 2023, American Airlines landed the first direct flight from Miami. Don’t expect this to solve the problem. Each flight only carries ~80 passengers.)
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.
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
Larger catamarans are taking over the British Virgin Islands
OK, not literally, but the trend is your friend.
It seems to be two-fold:
Catamarans in favor of monohulls
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.
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.
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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 (Update: Waypoints has since cleared the majority of their USVI fleet to visit the BVIs)
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.