It had been over five years since I last navigated the pristine waters of the British Virgin Islands on a bareboat charter. Our previous trip in 2019 unfolded after the devastating one-two punch of hurricanes Irma and Maria, with the islands’ lush vegetation still stripped and suffering from a prolonged drought.
Anticipation hummed and we were eager to see the rejuvenation of nature and to revisit the local communities that have resiliently rebuilt.
This year’s BVI bareboat charter marked the third chapter of what had become an annual retreat of sorts – a motley crew of close-knit friends seeking camaraderie, adventure, and the thrill of the catch against the backdrop of these beautiful islands. Three of these crew members were boat trip newbies, and I was excited to introduce them to what would surely be, one of the best trips they’ve ever taken.
For this expedition, we teamed up with a gear sponsor that’s as passionate about the ocean as we are – Florence Marine X. This brand, helmed by the legendary 2x world champion surfer and Olympian, John John Florence, embodies the spirit of sea lovers. I’ve been decked out in their clothing on several charters now, and I was thrilled to bring them aboard.
Check out how the gear held up over on the Florence website: Field Notes.
The BVI charter motley crew
Joining us was one of my good friends from my days in the Marines. We had served together and shared a beachfront house in San Diego in between deployments to Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Middle East. It was great to have him aboard. Two of the other crew members were also vets in the Army who had served together.
We slipped our dock lines, and our Lagoon 46 eased out into the Sir Francis Drake Channel. With reports of mahi mahi in nearby waters, we set our fishing arsenal, ready for the hook-up!
BVI sailboat fishing
With a wide beam, a sailing catamaran makes a great fishing vessel, and the Lagoon 46 proved to be the ideal chariot, her twin hulls cutting through the Caribbean blue with grace. We had all the trappings of a seasoned fishing outfit—a trio of trolling rods in a formidable line astern, a hand line thrown into the mix for good measure, and a makeshift bait tank made from a cooler and portable aerator.
Lighter winds during the first half of our trip meant we had to fire up the iron sails and motor a course towards our first stop – the island of Jost Van Dyke (JVD) and the famous beach bar scene at White Bay. En route, it didn’t take long for us to land our first fish on a 4-inch rainbow bubbler – a good-sized little tunny that we tossed back.
With spirits high, we dropped anchor just feet from the palm-lined shore in front of the Soggy Dollar Bar – the birthplace of the painkiller cocktail. We toasted the start of our adventure over a round of the local concoction and enjoyed lunch at Hendo’s Hideout, which makes some of the best food around.
After lunch, we cruised along JVD’s rugged north shore, taking in the late afternoon scenery. Our trolling efforts paid off with another little tunny and a cero mackerel joining our catch. The cero, prized for eating raw, was promptly thrown in the cooler, destined to become a fresh sashimi appetizer for our evening at Diamond Cay.
Off to Anegada, the sunken island
Our second day broke with settled weather and clear skies, and we set a course for the sunken island of Anegada, my favorite place in all of the BVIs. On our way, we hooked our first mahi mahi of the trip while trolling over the old wreck of the Chikuzen. Already, this was turning into the best week of fishing I’ve ever had in the British Virgin Islands.
Anegada loomed on the horizon, a coral oasis juxtaposed against the typically mountainous archipelago of the BVIs. Its allure isn’t just in the landscape but in the palpable sense of seclusion it offers. With a sparse number of visiting yachts dotting the horizon, we almost had the island to ourselves, enhancing the already captivating old-school Caribbean charm.
Upon mooring, we rendezvoused with Kelly, a local guide who knows Horseshoe Reef as one of his own. The fourth largest barrier reef in the world beckoned, and Kelly’s expertise was evident as he navigated us deftly between coral heads at a thrilling 25 knots.
Our drift dives in the coral gardens were vibrant and teeming with life. These reefs, in my opinion, have the best snorkeling of anywhere in the BVIs. Unfortunately, lobster season was closed because we saw some real monsters teasing us from crevices in the coral.
We couldn’t depart from Horseshoe Reef without paying homage to Conch Island, a living monument to the mollusk’s historical significance in the BVI. Its mounds of bleached conch shells, cast aside by fishermen over decades, were a testament to the island’s marine bounty and a striking, if unconventional, piece of local history.
While the light winds that week were a sailor’s bane, they were a fisherman’s blessing, granting us smooth access to the coveted north drop near Anegada. Known for record-breaking blue marlin, it’s a fishing spot steeped in angler lore.
Depths here fall off sharply from a couple hundred feet to thousands. Currents help upwell nutrients in this area, which draws in baitfish…and their predators.
Our target species? Wahoo, a prized catch known for its speed and delicious eating. We rigged some larger lures in the hopes of getting one of these screamers to pull some drag off our lines.
Just outside the channel to the Setting Point anchorage, we were surprised by a jumping mahi, hooked in just 20 feet of water! What a great start to the day. On the drop, we had glassy water, and we trolled along a weed line, where we landed another mahi and several barracudas.
Upon our return to Setting Point, we headed ashore with our sea legs for some land-based exploration. The north shore of Anegada unfurls miles of pristine white sand beaches, a serene contrast to our morning of fishing excitement. Though many local establishments were still closed, the tranquility of the off-season added to the north shore allure.
BVI bareboat charter sailing bliss
The remaining days of our sailing trip were a blend of showcasing the BVI’s iconic locales to our newcomers and chasing more angling exploits.
We glided into Cane Garden Bay, where the pastel-colored houses always offer one of the most picturesque settings in the BVIs. Sunsets here are also spectacular. At The Baths, we crawled through the monstrous granite boulders strewn across the beach, each crevice a gateway to another secluded nook or natural pool.
North Sound greeted us with its tranquil waters, an amphitheater of green rolling hills surrounding one of the Caribbean’s finest natural harbors. At the Indians, we free-dived along the sheer walls of the rock pinnacles, teeming with marine life. And on our last evening, our escapades reached a crescendo at the infamous Willy-T’s, a floating pirate ship-themed bar.
Our final fish count? 24!
- 4 mahi
- 2 cero mackerel
- 5 little tunny
- 4 jacks
- 8 cuda
- 1 reef shark
Definitely the best fishing I’ve ever had on a sailing trip.
In the end, our trip wasn’t just about the tally—it was a voyage of camaraderie, the laughs, forging new memories, and in the words of Jimmy Buffett, the profound joy of being “out on the sea for adventure”.