The British Virgin Islands is one of the finest sailing destinations in the world. Steady trade winds, easy navigation, beautiful scenery, and infrastructure that caters to the sailing experience are some of the reasons it is so popular.
Want to make the most of a week in the islands? I built you the perfect 7 day plan for your sailing trip. Have a few extra days? Check this 10-day plan out.
This BVI sailing itinerary is almost identical to the very first sailing trip we ever took many years ago in the British Virgin Islands (we’ve been four times now).
There is no better place for those new to yacht charter trips than the British Virgin Islands. I talk about why this might be in our yacht charter beginner’s guide.
Why you would love this sailing itinerary:
- It is absolutely perfect if it’s your first time in the British Virgin Islands – this will hit all the hot spots you don’t want to miss
- You are less experienced with bareboat trips
- You prefer not to anchor – you can pick up a mooring ball every night if you’d like
- You love having bars and restaurant options ashore in most anchorages
We’ll sail counter clockwise through the islands – this allows you the protection of the islands when sailing to windward (prevailing trade winds are out of the east). When you are more exposed to the wind waves from the trades, you should have some easy downwind sailing as you head west.
Ok let’s get into it. Here is the summary if you want to jump around.
- Day 1: Get your sailing trip started at Cooper Island
- Day 2: Explore the Baths and then onwards to famous Virgin Gorda Sound
- Day 3: Sail away to the sunken island of Anegada
- Day 4: Easy downwind sailing to Cane Garden Bay on Tortola
- Day 5: Sandy Spit and the Bubbly Pool
- Day 6: Party at the famous Jost Van Dyke beach bars
- Day 7: Cruise to Norman Island for some snorkeling and a floating bar
Day 1: No better place to start the sailing trip than Cooper Island
Cooper Island is a great first night stop since it’s close to many or the charter bases on the southern side of Tortola. You’ll be lucky to get off the dock by noon, so you want an easy, short sail for the crew.
Wrap up your check out procedures with the charter company and raise the sails for a quick one hour crossing over Sir Francis Drake Channel.
Grab one of the many first come first serve (FCFS) mooring balls, or find the one that you’ve reserved through Boatyball. You’ll want to familiarize yourself with Boatyball basics if you haven’t done so already.
There are ~40 balls at Cooper Island, but they tend to fill up fast. Get there early if you can. Anchoring is restricted due to preservation efforts for the sea grass and marine life.
Pour the crew a round of cocktails – you’ve arrive in paradise!
If you have a reserved mooring ball at Cooper, another option is to snorkel the HMS Rhone at nearby Salt Island, and then go to Cooper. It’s a great dive and you can also see much of the wreck snorkeling in good visibility.
Cooper Island Beach Club is friendly to visiting yachts. They have a great rum bar (with a solid happy hour), brew their own beers on site, and have an excellent restaurant.
Important note: you’ll want to call or radio as early as the day before to make reservations for dinner.
Lounge or swim from your catamaran, head ashore, or dinghy to Cistern Point for some snorkeling.
Day 2: Explore the Baths and then onwards to famous Virgin Gorda Sound
Continue north (we’ll be traveling counter clockwise through the islands) and head for a lunch stop at the Baths near the southern part of Virgin Gorda – part of the National Park Trust.
The Baths should not be missed! There are about 20 National Park mooring balls here that can fill up fast. No anchoring. Again it can get crowded, so plan accordingly.
The highlight here is the Caves trail hike through the massive boulders to Devil’s Bay. It is unlike any place I’ve ever been and you’ll want to make lots of stops to take pictures.
Make sure you familiarize yourself with a recent rule change/enforcement at the Baths. Bottom line: the caves trail is one way beginning at Devil’s Bay and all visitors have to pay the entry fee.
Important note: you can’t land your dingy ashore – they have dingy moorings available and then you swim ashore. Also use caution if there is a northerly swell running – this mooring field might be very rolly and swimming ashore, dangerous. Look for the safety flag that is visible from the mooring field – if it is red, do not swim ashore.
The hike is short, but you’ll want to take your time to enjoy the scenery – plan for at least an hour roundtrip.
If you want to grab lunch or a drink, hike up the hill to the Top of the Baths.
Make your way up and into Virgin Gorda Sound (North Sound) through the marked channel. It’s one of the finest, protected harbours in the world.
You have a lot of options – I’d suggest heading for the mooring field at the eastern end where the Bitter End Yacht Club and Saba Rock have recently re-opened after the devasting Hurricane Irma of 2017.
Another popular area to pick up a mooring ball is Leverick Bay.
Head ashore to check out these famous establishments, but don’t feel bad if you prefer to enjoy the scenery from your sailboat. It’s beautiful there and the sunsets are fantastic.
Day 3: Sail away to the sunken island of Anegada
Even if it’s your first sailing charter in the BVIs, I still recommend sailing offshore to Anegada. The channel entrance is well marked, there are plenty of mooring balls available, and most charter companies permit the trip. I talk more about navigating to Anegada and what to do once you’re there in this post.
While it’s only a 2-3 hour sail, it feels like you’ve reached a completely different sailing destination. Whereas the rest of the Virgin Islands rise sharply out of the sea, Anegada is known as the sunken island.
It’s a coral island that reminds me of the Exumas, and you’ll be rewarded with some of the finest, secluded sandy beaches in the world.
Get an early start from North Sound to allow plenty of time to explore ashore. On your way, wave to Sir Richard Branson at Necker Island to starboard.
We like to arrange for a car rental (mokes are the best!) for ultimate flexibility. You can also take a taxi to the beautiful beaches on the north shore.
We like to start at Flash of Beauty and Loblolly Bay for some snorkeling – it’s the best in the area. Flash of Beauty is a great option for lunch.
Later in the afternoon, grab a drink at TIPSY’s and stroll the gorgeous sandy beach. Jump in the ocean for some lagoon-style swimming.
Instead of the beaches, you could also do a tour of Horseshoe Reef – the 4th largest barrier reef in the world, part of what Anegada is made of. We used Kelly for a tour and can’t recommend him enough. He was able to get us some lobster that we cooked the next day on our catamaran.
You can arrange to have the tour operator meet you right at your sailboat.
Back at the anchorage at Setting Point, take a siesta back aboard your yacht, or sample the quality of the Bushwackers at the many bars/restaurants.
All of them offer excellent, fresh caught Caribbean lobster for dinner. In most cases, you’ll want to make a reservation earlier in the day
Wonky Dog, Potter’s, and Lobster Trap are all great options.
Day 4: Easy downwind sailing to Cane Garden Bay on Tortola
If you like fishing – today might be your best day to get the lines in the water. On your way back to civilization, you can troll over the wreck of the Chikuzen – there are a lot of big fish that hang around the wreck. These are the techniques we use to fish while we are sailing and I also wrote some BVI specific fishing tips.
I like Guana Island for a lunch stop. Monkey Point has good snorkeling or if you are looking for more of a challenge, try anchoring at Muskmelon Bay. I talk about it in my secret BVI anchorages post.
Cane Garden Bay is a quintessential Caribbean bay with it’s pastel colored houses and palm tree lined beach.
This is a great day to re-stock on provisions if you are low (inevitably we always run out of something). Bobby’s Supermarket is a well stocked grocery store you can walk to from the dinghy dock.
If you are low on fuel (you shouldn’t be) or water (you might be depending on your crew), the dock at the northwest end of the bay can help you out.
Pro tip – pick up a mooring ball at the back end of the anchorage. It’s a longer dinghy ride ashore, but you’ll be rewarded with an unspoiled view of the sunset over Jost van Dyke to the west.
Important note: this anchorage is also affected by northerly swells, so have a backup plan if there is one forecasted.
Day 5: Sandy Spit and the Bubbly Pool
Take your time in the morning – you aren’t going far. Mosey up north and drop the hook at the anchorage to the west of Sandy Spit – it’s a idyllic uninhabited white sandy island.
Swim, snorkel, and head ashore for a picnic.
If you want a detour to do some more fishing- go north of Jost Van Dyke to Kingfish Banks and try your hand at some bottom dropping (allow 2 hours travel roundtrip).
After lunch, the moorings at Diamond Cay are a good option to overnight. You have access to two excellent bars/restaurant – Foxy’s Taboo and B-Line. You can’t go wrong with either. Maybe you should try them both.
The Bubbly Pool is another popular attraction which is around a half mile walk from the dinghy dock at Foxy’s. Waves crash through the rocks here into a pool that you can swim in. Try and time it for high tide – it will be more exciting!
Great Harbour is another overnight option a short motor further to the west. It has many more establishments ashore and will set you well for the festivities on Day 6.
Important note: the mooring balls for Diamond Cay and Great Harbour are both on Boatyball, so consider that in your planning. During the busy season, Great Harbour mooring balls are known to fill up fast.
Day 6: Party at the famous Jost Van Dyke beach bars
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This is your day to just chill – and there is no better place than the beach bars at White Bay on Jost Van Dyke.
World famous Soggy Dollar Bar, inventor of the painkiller, beckons. Check out their webcam for a live look at the action.
You have two options for anchorages. The easiest option is to just stay put in Great Harbour, dingy ashore, and then either grab a short cab, or walk ~30 minutes to White Bay.
You can also relocate the yacht to White Bay, but you’ll need to exercise caution. For some charter companies, White Bay is off limits because squalls and backwinding can easily put boats on the beach – so, check first. It can also get very crowded, and the anchorage is tight – there is not much room for error.
I talk about my concerns in this post and some of the other options you have for enjoying White Bay.
If you are less experienced, I definitely recommend staying on a mooring ball in Great Harbour.
White Bay has two areas – east and west, separated by a shallow reef. The main party area is on the west side.
We are content to just hang out on the beach at Soggy Dollar Bar all day long, sipping painkillers. But you should check out the others if you want to explore!
Hendo’s Hideout, next door, is newer to the scene. The food here is fantastic. Coco Loco, Gertrude’s, and Ivan’s are also worth checking out.
If you haven’t been to Foxy’s back at Great Harbour, it’s a very good option for dinner and late night shenanigans. If you happen to be in the area for a Full Moon Party, don’t miss the bbq and live music.
Day 7: Cruise to Norman Island for some snorkeling and a floating bar
It’s your final day, let’s make the most of it!
Continue east towards Little Thatch Cay, wave to St John, USVI, and grab a mooring ball at The Indians for a lunch stop and snorkel. If you need provisions or want to do some shopping, Soper’s Hole is a good option along your way.
Jump off your sailboat and snorkel all the way around The Indians – four pinnacles that emerge out of the ocean and fosters some great marine life.
After lunch, continue to Norman Island and grab a mooring ball in one of the biggest anchorages in the BVIs. Read more about what to do at Norman Island in this article I wrote.
If you didn’t get enough snorkeling, hop back in the dinghy and head over to The Caves – Normand Island, and in part, this snorkel site is rumored to have inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Treasure Island. There are 3 caves here that make for an awesome snorkel experience.
The legendary Willy T (or William Thornton) resides in the Bight and is a permanently moored bar and restaurant, known for it’s wild times among cruisers and vacationers.
It was sunk during Hurricane Irma in 2017, but was rebuilt and reborn. The last version is now a dive site located on the south side of Peter Island.
I once won a pull-up competition against a team of pro-German soccer (football) players at Willy T’s, but that’s a story for another time.
Grab some food, a cocktail, and be sure to jump into the bight off the upper deck.
Important note: if you want some peace and quiet to sleep, best not to grab a mooring ball near Willy T – pick another part of the anchorage.
The Pirate’s Bight restaurant is another option (you will have time for both if you want!). Not a bad way to celebrate a final night in the British Virgin Islands.