When is the Best Time to Visit the British Virgin Islands?

A typical day representing the best time to visit the British Virgin Islands

If you’re planning a yacht charter to the British Virgin Islands, you should consider the four different sailing seasons:

  1. High season: December to March

  2. Shoulder season one: April to June

  3. Peak hurricane season: July to October

  4. Should season two: November

My recommendation? The best time to visit the British Virgin Islands is during shoulder season one (April to June). We enjoy predictable weather, longer days, steady wind speeds, fewer crowds, and cheaper charter prices.

Below, I summarize each to help you make your decision. If you want to learn more about weather and marine resources for the British Virgin Islands, check out this post.

BVI Climate and Average Weather by Month

Jan
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
Jun
Jul
Aug
Sep
Oct
Nov
Dec
Wind Speed (kts)
15.2
15.1
14.1
13.4
13.5
15.0
16.0
14.8
12.9
12.2
13.8
15.2
Wind Direction
NE
NE
E
SE
SE
SE
E
E
SE
SE
NE
NE
Daylight (hrs)
11.2
11.6
12.1
12.6
13.0
13.2
13.1
12.7
12.2
11.7
11.3
11.0
Precipitation (in)
0.4″
0.4″
0.3″
0.9″
2.1″
1.3″
1.2″
1.6″
2.8″
2.8″
2.5″
1.1″
Avg. High Temp.
83°
83°
84°
85°
86°
88°
88°
89°
88°
87°
86°
84°
Avg. Water Temp.
79°
79°
79°
80°
81°
82°
82°
83°
84°
84°
82°
81°

BVI high season (December to March)

This is the busiest and most expensive time of the year. Hurricane season is over, and the annual pilgrimage of cruising boats has made it’s way from mainland U.S. and Europe to enjoy the warm Caribbean winter.

Expect crowded mooring fields and frustrated skippers who lost the Boatyball lottery.

Days are shorter (~11 hours vs ~13 hours in the summer).

Most notably, you can expect the Christmas Winds: several days of strong winds (15-30 knots) created by strong high pressure systems in the Atlantic. Make sure you know how to reef those sails!

Wind is usually out of the E to NE and less precipitation falls this time of year.

Double rainbow over Anegada in the British Virgin Islands
A typical BVI day in Anegada with some cumulus clouds and the occasional shower

BVI shoulder season 1 (April to June)

This is my favorite and I believe the best time to visit the British Virgin Islands for sailing trips. We’ve been to the BVIs 3x in May. The crowds have thinned out somewhat and the weather has become more settled.

Expect easy 10-15 knots from the E to SE and an occasional shower to cool things off.

BVI peak hurricane season (July to October)

It can be hot, the trade winds lessen (5-15 knots), and tropical mischief can be brewing.

But, you might have the place to yourself. On the flip side, however, some establishments are closed, so keep that in mind if you are planning to hop around the beach bars.

This is the wet season thanks to developing low pressure systems.

Benures Bay Sunset at Norman Island, British Virgin Islands
Don't worry, you can expect epic sunsets year round in the BVIs

BVI shoulder season 2 (November)

This is my second favorite time to sail in the Caribbean and the British Virgin Islands.

Again, the crowds haven’t arrived yet and the weather tends to be settled – similar to April-June.

Trades blow 15-20 knots with wind direction from the E to NE.

The biggest downside of this time of year is the shorter. It can make a difference if you plan to spend long days on the water. Otherwise, not a big deal!

Thanks for reading my post about the best time to visit the British Virgin Islands! If you enjoyed it, please subscribe or check out some of my other articles, such as this one about sailing to Anegada.

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.

Top 10 Mistakes to Avoid on a Yacht Charter Trip

mooring mistake with a single line through the pennant eye

Photo: catamaran with one line to secure to the mooring ball. This method can easily break the line and cast the yacht adrift. 📸 Sean O’Leary

We all make mistakes.

That’s part of becoming a seasoned yacht charter skipper.

But, want to get a head start? Read these and you’ll be ahead of 75% of other skippers.

I also suggest you pick up a copy of the Smarter Charter – lots of good practical chartering advice. I usually give it a scan through as a review before my next trip.

These are my top 10 mistakes to avoid on your yacht charter trip, some of which I’ve had to learn the hard way.

  1. Arriving to your anchorage too late
  2. Entering off-limits, red lined areas
  3. Running a single line through the mooring ball
  4. Not conserving water
  5. Forgetting to pull the dinghy line in when mooring
  6. Ignoring weather reports
  7. Sticking to a planned itinerary
  8. Leaving your fenders out
  9. Letting your engines run unattended
  10. Racing through a mooring field
Cane Garden Bay | Read about an incident below that happened here as the result of arriving too late

Arriving to your anchorage too late

Don’t be that crew that pulls into the mooring field while everyone else is relaxing over a sundowner, or worse, after dark.

Most yacht charter trip contracts require you to be anchored or moored at least 1 hour before sunset.

There is good reason for this.

Arriving before daylight begins to fade allows you to safely navigate through the approach. This matters if you have to pass through a channel and identify the markers (such as Cane Garden Bay or North Sound). Or, you want to be able to see where you are dropping the hook – pick the sandy patch, not the coral.

Additionally it gives you time and the visibility necessary to inspect your mooring ball condition or to dive on the anchor.

What can happen if you arrive to your anchorage too late

Here’s a real world example of what can go wrong from an incident that happened at Cane Garden Bay in 2020:

  • The crew of a Helia 44 arrived after dark, tied off to a mooring ball, and then went ashore for dinner or drinks
  • The mooring ball they tied off to? A private, ill-maintained ball not designed for a 44 foot catamaran. If they had arrived with more daylight, they likely would have noticed it was not a regular ball
  • When they returned on their dinghy, the boat was missing 😮 The yacht had broken loose and went adrift. Somehow no one noticed and it drifted past the reef
  • Luckily, it was later recovered off the north shore of St. Thomas, USVI
  • The crew learned an expensive lesson and had to pay a hefty fee for the recovery

Having a backup plan

Another reason to arrive early? What if your Plan A falls through? What if there are no mooring balls available?

You need enough time to be able to execute your backup, Plan B.

This yacht entered the red lined area between Beef Island and Little Camanoe in the BVIs
Off-limits passage between Little Camanoe and Beef Island
This red lined areas has claimed more charter yachts than anywhere else

Entering off-limits, red lined areas

Red lined, off limits areas present serious hazards to yacht charters.

Reefs, shallow water, and exposure to weather conditions such as north swells, to name a few.

Don’t believe me? Check out Groundings of BVI for some examples of the severe consequences that can result.

It’s simple.

Pay attention during your charter briefing and stay out of areas that are red lined. You can read about the more notorious BVI red lined areas here.

Running a single line through the mooring ball

I see this happen often with beginners.

When tying off to mooring balls, they run one line, through the pennant eye, and then tie it off to the cleat on the other side of the vessel..

This is bad practice.

As the yacht swings on wind and tide, the pennant eye acts like a saw on the line. Eventually it can break it loose, setting your yacht adrift.

Better idea? Run two independent lines, one from each side or pontoon. Secure the lines back to the same cleat on either side.

Check out my charter beginners guide where I posted a video about how to properly pick up a mooring ball.

The consequences of your yacht going adrift? Find out what happened to the Sunsail catamaran Panema.

Not conserving water

Ever heard of a navy shower? 

Or better yet?

We like to bring reef-safe shampoo and take a sea shower off the back of the catamaran. Do your final rinse with fresh water.

Many yachts have water makers these days, but not all of them. Relying on a water maker to work for your whole trip is, well, playing with fire.

It’s no fun needing to pull into a marina to fill up your water tanks when you could be offshore catching fish or lazing on a beach.

Brief the crew: use water sparingly. Don’t take long showers. Do dish washing heavy lifting with sea water if you can.

If your water maker is working and you have just a couple days left with full tanks? Go wild! You are water rich.

Forgetting to pull in the dinghy line when mooring

Yup. I’ve done it.

I’ve wrapped the dinghy line around a prop.

Not a big deal, but I did have to spend 30 minutes diving on the prop to cut loose the line. If this happens you should also inform the charter company since there could be unseen damage to the saildrive.

Just make this one part of your crew’s anchor/mooring routine. 

Have someone responsible for pulling in the dinghy so there is minimal slack in the line, every time.

Virgin Islands NOAA Forecast Zones
NOAA marine forecast zones for the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico

Ignoring weather reports

On my first trip to the BVIs, I didn’t pay attention to the weather reports at all during the trip.

That was a big mistake.

Luckily, we had the consistent, beautiful BVI trade wind weather that is often present.

But what if a north swell was running? I could have been caught off guard.

Take it a step further beyond the marine forecast printout you’ll receive (sometimes) at your charter briefing. Check the forecast resources everyday. In most charter destinations, cell phone coverage or wifi should be available most days.

If you are sailing during hurricane season, be even more vigilant.

I talk about which resources I use for by bareboat charter trips in my BVI marine weather post.

Dodging squalls on the way to the Dry Tortugas on a bareboat charter trip
A squally day on a recent trip to the Dry Tortugas, the least of the challenges we encountered

Sticking to a planned itinerary

Be. Flexible.

The boat is going to have a maintenance issue.

Someone of the crew might be seasick.

A day or two of thunderstorms and squalls might interrupt your plans.

On my recent yacht charter trip to Key West to the Dry Tortugas, we had a lot of issues to deal with, but we adjusted. That’s part of the territory with yacht charter trips.

  • We had to swap boats after our first day
  • The AC didn’t work in August in South Florida ☀️☀️☀️, so we moved the boat to a better slip for a breeze
  • We added an extra day to the trip so we could make it all the way to the Dry Tortugas
  • Lost a day of exploring in the Dry Tortugas, but it was better than not going at all
  • Lastly, we grabbed a hotel room the last night, well, because of ☀️☀️☀️

One of your jobs as skipper is to create a happy ship. Shake off the disruption, whatever it is, and adjust the trip as needed. Even if it means you have to cut out a favorite stop or destination.

Another good piece of advice? Don’t try to do too much on your first day. Have a short and easy passage. Let the crew get adjusted to the yacht. We also rarely get out of the marina as early as we’d like to.

Leaving your fenders out

Ok. This really isn’t that big of a deal.

But.

There is no better way to identify yourself as a beginner to other yachts 😎. Don’t be that skipper!

Letting your engines run unattended

It might be tempting to charge the batteries in idle while your ashore enjoying a specular meal.

No one likes to hear the engines running.

But seriously, don’t do that. We don’t run any systems – engines, generator, or water maker, when we are not on the yacht.

Here’s an example of what can happen if you don’t take my advice.

Anegada Setting Point anchorage and mooring field
The somewhat crowded mooring field at Setting Point, Anegada

Racing through a mooring field

Don’t try and race another yacht to try and pick up the last first come first serve mooring ball at Cooper Island.

It’s dangerous, and not worth it.

Lots of people, myself included enjoy swimming off the back of the boat and would love it if you don’t run us over 🤝.

Thanks for reading my post about the top 10 mistakes to avoid on a yacht charter trip 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 favorite BVI anchorages.

BVI Redlined: What Areas are Off-Limits?

Brewers Bay in the British Virgin Islands

If you are planning a sailing trip in the British Virgin Islands, you’ll want to make sure to familiarize yourself with what is off-limits. These BVI areas are so-called redlined on charts.

Take note that each charter company has different rules. Just because White Bay is redlined by one, does not mean it is off-limits with the Moorings (I believe you can go there with them).

So, make sure to check with them for the latest information during your chart briefing.

Regardless, it’s a great idea to understand each of these areas well and to exercise extra caution if you are allowed to go there. There is a reason some charter companies have made certain areas off-limits…

And as always, do not use any of this information for navigational purposes – it’s informative, but leave it at that. Stick to your charts and local knowledge provided by the charter company.

Here are the BVI redlined areas I am going to cover (there are more, but these are the big ones).

  1. Channel between Little Camanoe and Beef Island near the airport

  2. Channel into North Sound between Virgin Gorda and Mosquito Island

  3. Eustatia Sound

  4. Anegada (other than the main anchorage)

  5. Brewers Bay

  6. White Bay

Off-limits passage between Little Camanoe and Beef Island
The redlined passage between Little Camanoe and Beef Island | Source: Navionics

Channel between Little Camanoe and Beef Island near the airport

Please, 100% make sure you know where this one is on charts. It has probably claimed more charter boats and VISAR responses than anywhere else in the BVIs.

Here are two examples.

Reports were that they ventured too far west trying to avoid traffic
Aftermath of this Lagoon 450 that struck the reef in 2021

Why is it redlined?

On charts, it looks somewhat innocent, but there is actually a large reef/rocks right in the middle of the channel.

It is marked by a buoy(s), but at times these can be missing. If you aren’t paying attention to your charts and are in the middle, you are very likely going to hit the reef.

If you are passing through this area, the correct passage is the channel between Little and Great Camanoe.

Off limits passage between Mosquito Island and Virgin Gorda
The redlined passage between Mosquito Island and Virgin Gorda | Source: Navionics

Channel into North Sound between Virgin Gorda

This one is tempting for shallow draft vessels, especially at high tide. Leverick Bay is right there on the other side! You’d be tied off to a mooring ball with a beverage in no time.

Patience. Spend the extra 15 minutes to motor (or sail) through the well marked channel on the north side of the sound.

Why is it redlined?

Easy – it’s shallow and unmarked. Some charter vessels also don’t have the draft to get through this one.

You may even see yachts use this channel. Don’t be tempted unless you have local knowledge, shallow draft, and are not violating your charter company’s off-limits areas.

Eustatia Sound Anchorage in BVI
Overview of the Eustatia Sound area | Source: Eustatia Island

Eustatia Sound

This one is somewhat of a head scratcher for me since I really like this anchorage. I’ve even stayed on the hook overnight (no it was not redlined at the time).

There’s a lot to like about this area – white sandy beaches at Prickly Pear, snorkeling at the reef, good holding, and solitude. I write more about what to do here in my post about BVI anchorages.

If not off-limits, give it a shot in settled conditions. You can also dinghy over here easily from North Sound mooring balls.

Eustatia Sound Anchorage
Our catamaran lying at anchor on a trip to the BVIs several years ago

Why is it a BVI redlined area?

I think there are 2 explanations:

  1. It’s exposed to northerly swells, which can catch ill-advised skippers off guard if one shows up in the middle of the night. Read more about northerly swells and other marine conditions to be aware of in my post on BVI weather

  2. The approach from inside North Sound past Saba Rock requires careful navigation (there is an easier approach from the north)

Sunset at Setting Point in Anegada
Squally sunset shot looking west on a recent trip

Anegada (other than the main anchorage)

Most, if not all charter companies, now allow charter boats to sail to Anegada. You should not miss out! It was my favorite British Virgin Islands destination – north shore beach exploring, great snorkeling, and fresh spiny lobster are reasons we go.

The channel is (usually) well marked, and the approach straightforward. Although, you do want to take extra care in your navigation.

If you go, most companies ask you to limit your visit to the main anchorage.

Looking for coral heads on the way to Anegada
Bow watch set as we approach the shallows around Anegada

Why are other areas of Anegada redlined?

Uncharted reefs and shallow areas that require local knowledge – that simple. This includes Pomato Point which is an anchorage next door to Setting Point.

Brewers Bay chart
You'll have an undersea cable and reefs to negotiate if you go to Brewers Bay | Source: Navionics

Brewers Bay

Some companies may allow you to go to Brewers Bay for a day stop, but I believe it’s off limits for overnighting by all.

Brewers Bay is located next door to Cane Garden Bay on Tortola and remains one of those somewhat undiscovered bays (since it’s mostly off-limits!).

If it’s not off-limits and you visit, enjoy the view, solitude, and spectacular snorkeling.

Brewers Bay in the British Virgin Islands, a top BVI beach
The beach at Brewers Bay is quite appealing!

Why is it a BVI redlined area?

  1. It’s exposed to northerly ground swells in the winter months (see my weather link above)

  2. There are lots of reefs, including one right in the middle that juts out from shore

  3. There is an underwater cable that you need to make sure not to foul

Looking at it on charts it just appears, well, crowded with obstructions.

white bay east side jost van dyke

White Bay: a rather notorious BVI redlined area

Ah, White Bay. One of the pearls of the British Virgin Islands. A perfect, white sandy bay lined with beach bars and palm trees.

It also plays host to a lot of boating incidents! I talk all about it here and why I may not anchor here overnight anymore. I also give suggestions on where else you can go in the area to still enjoy White Bay.

A 50 foot Moorings cat that barreled straight over the reef and grounded hard

Why is it redlined?

  1. It’s a tight anchorage and it gets very crowded in peak season, especially on the west side. Some charter companies have learned the hard way.

  2. If there are thunderstorms forecasted, it’s best to avoid. Boats have been thrown up on the beach or the reef when an unsuspecting squall rolls through. By the time one is upon you, it’s unlikely you’ll have time to get the boat in gear and take action.

Thanks for reading my post about BVI redlined areas 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 a catamaran that was set adrift from it’s Cooper Island mooring.

Sailing to Anegada: How to Navigate to and Visit the Sunken Island

Anchorage in Anegada at Setting Point

Anegada is my favorite destination during a British Virgin Islands yacht charter. Secluded north shore beaches, fresh spiny lobster dinners on the beach, and the best snorkeling in the Caribbean are top reasons to go.

However, many charterers avoid sailing to Anegada – it can seem intimidating, especially if you are a novice bareboat charter skipper. Shallow water, reefs, and careful navigation require extra care.

We visited Anegada 10 years ago on our first ever bareboat charter, and so can you.

Once dubbed the forbidden island since it was off limits to charter boats, it now has a well-marked channel thanks to the charting efforts of Walker Magnum.

I love the Anegada vibe, but be careful – it’s addicting. Part of the appeal is that it’s not an accessible destination. There are a several boutique hotels, but other than the couple hundred residents, the only visitors come by sea.

That leaves you an enormous tropical paradise to explore and discover in relative solitude – that’s my kind of place!

Here’s how work Anegada into your BVI sailing trip and what to expect:

dancing in Anegada
Visiting Anegada will make you want to dance like this!
Anegada overview map

One of the reasons the BVI is such a great destination for beginners is that navigation is generally easy – mountainous islands allow for line of sight travel and depths drop off quickly from shore.

That’s not the case for Anegada.

Unlike the other volcanic islands of the British Virgin Islands, Anegada was formed from coral and limestone. It’s quite flat you and you won’t see the tops of the whispering pines until you are couple miles out.

Turquoise clouds on the way to Anegada
You can often see the reflection of the shallow turquoise water in the clouds on your way to Anegada

I like leaving from North Sound in Virgin Gorda for two reasons. First: it’s the shortest jumping off point, allowing you to make the most of your first day in Anegada.

The second is that with the prevailing tradewinds from NE – SE (depending on the time of year), it allows for a better point of sail. You should be on anywhere from a beam reach to a broad reach. You can read up more about BVI weather and marine conditions here.

If winds are over 20+ knots, you may want to re-arrange your itinerary and wait for a better weather window. It could make for an uncomfortable passage.

The Cruising Guide recommends a course of 008 degrees magnetic from North Sound. In general, you want to land west of the channel entrance to give yourself room to drop sails and avoid some dangerous coral.

The Two Sisters coral formation near Anegada
Two Sisters coral formation | Source: Navionics | Not to be used for navigation

There is a coral formation named the Two Sisters that has claimed several charter boats over the years from ill-advised skippers that tried to cut the turn too closely. Give it a wide berth, stay in the marked channel, and you will be fine.

Due to leeway and a ~1 knot current, expect to be set farther to the west of your course. You might have to make some adjustments.

You might see several other boats approaching Anegada – use caution about following them. Some might disregard channel markers or use local knowledge to take a short-cut.

Keep following the channel markers to the anchorage and mooring field on the left.

Looking for coral heads on the way to Anegada
Make sure you post a bow watch (or two) to look for coral heads on your approach to Anegada

Once inside the anchorage at Setting Point, go slowly. It can feel tight, especially if it’s crowded. Watch your charts, but there is room at the back of the mooring field to turn around and approach the ball of your choice. Winds are usually from the east, so a U-turn is often necessary.

Depths can sometimes get shallow towards the back of the anchorage. Use caution, especially if you are in a monohull.

There are plenty of first come first serve mooring balls and ~10 Boaty Ball reserved moorings. You can familiarize yourself with their reservation program here. If you’d prefer to anchor, there’s plenty of room.

Anegada Setting Point anchorage and mooring field
The mooring field at Setting Point Anegada

What to do in Anegada

I think Anegada is best enjoyed over 2 days. However, if you only have time for one night during a week-long trip, it is 100% still worth going. You can either skip the reef tour, or have a single action-packed day: morning tour and north shore beach exploring in the afternoon.

Here’s how I would plan out my two days.

Double rainbow over Anegada in the British Virgin Islands
Double rainbow in Anegada

First day: sailing to Anegada and beach exploring

Get an early start from North Sound. If you leave by 8:00 and have some decent wind, you’ll be tied off to a mooring ball by 10/10:30. If it’s your first time, you can even watch/follow other sailboats as they head through the channel.

The first thing you need to do is make dinner reservations – browse through the menu and have your crew’s order ready to go. You can reach them on the VHF or do it in person.

You really can’t go wrong with any of restaurants – Potter’s, Lobster Trap, Wonky Dog, Anegada Reef Hotel, etc. Lobster, of course is the specialty, but most also offer fresh caught fish. They’ll cook it all up for you right there on the beach.

Pack a bag for a full day – water, towels, sunscreen, snorkel gear etc. You can tie off your dinghy at Potter’s dock.

The dock and beach bar at Potter's by the Sea | We usually tie our dinghy off here

If you like donuts, go find Kenny – he has a cafe at Setting Point and does them up right.

Rather than coordinate taxi pick up and drop-offs all day, get a rental vehicle. There are plenty of options, and we’ve never coordinated in advance. If you’re visiting in the busier season, this might be a good idea, however. You can also call them on your way to the anchorage. Cell phone service exists along the route.

Don’t rent the scooters unless you want to risk ending your vacation early. Many tourists have gotten in accidents – inexperienced drivers, sand/gravel on the roads, and rum don’t mix well.

If you have 8 people, rent 2 mokes (4 passengers each). You’ll have a blast exploring the north shore beaches in these open air vehicles. Check out Amazing Rentals for the mokes.

Dean Wheatley and Lauren Creque offer jeep rentals.

We’ve also previously rented a pickup truck with bench seating in the back that works just as well.

Mokes parked at Cow Wreck Beach
Mokes parked at Cow Wreck Beach - they are a fun way to explore the island

North shore beaches of Anegada

The speed limit is 30mph – driving around Anegada is a lot of fun! You don’t need a map. Head east and start exploring. Getting lost is part of the fun.

I would start with Flash of Beauty which lays claim to the best snorkeling spot. On your way, you can stop at the Flamingo pond overlook for a peak at the pink birds if they aren’t out feeding.

Flamingo Pond overlook Anegada
Flamingo Pond overlook
Anegada flamingos
Anegada flamingos | Source: the Moorings

After a morning snorkel grab a bite at Flash of Beauty or next door at Big Bamboo on Loblolly Bay. Monica at Flash of Beauty makes a mean roti and she can pour you an eye opener if that’s your thing.

In the afternoon, work your way back west along the north shore. You can drop by the Anegada Beach Club (try the lobster pizza or their famous BLLT), a popular glamping resort with a pool. If you want to visit another time, they run a free shuttle from the Lobster Trap.

Exploring the beaches in Anegada
Exploring the north shore of Anegada - go get lost!
Lagoon and beach at Cow Wreck
Lagoon style swimming is waiting for you at Cow Wreck Beach
TIPSY by Ann at Cow Wreck Beach - not a bad place for a sundowner: Source - TIPSY's

I would park myself for the afternoon at TIPSY’s for a rum drink or two, and some swimming. Cow Wreck Beach is more of a lagoon with shallow turquoise water and beautiful white sand. Rinse and repeat.

Get cleaned up back at the boat, put on your finest resort wear, grab a sundowner, and enjoy your lobster dinner on the beach – one of the highlights of a stop in Anegada.

Horseshoe Reef tour
Getting ready to snorkel offshore on the Horshoe Reef

Second day: explore Horseshoe Reef

A couple weeks before your trip, you’ll want to reserve a Horseshoe Reef tour with Kelly or Sherwin. I’ve used Kelly in the past, but I’ve heard Sherwin is great too.

They’ll pick you up right from your yacht sometime mid-morning. You’re going to be in the sun for awhile, so again, pack accordingly (I’ve heard some of the boats now have canopies). Long sleeve cover ups are a good idea.

It’s a fun ~30 minute speedboat ride out to the reef. He’ll set you up on a drift snorkel and you can also help him look for lobster. While it’s illegal for visitors to take lobster, Kelly and Sherwin are able to when they are in season. They can also hook you up with conch.

The reef is really beautiful, and we’ve even seen nurse sharks and eagle rays.

After the snorkel, you’ll stop by the famous conch mounds on your way back. Make sure to hop in the water and get your picture taken.

If you want more peace and quiet, consider moving your catamaran around the corner to Pomato Point. It’s well protected and Sid’s Restaurant gets rave reviews. You may also want to cook up the fresh lobster you picked up during your tour.

Anegada lobster
Lobster's from Kelly that we picked up during the tour
Fresh grilled Anegada spiny lobster
Fresh grilled Anegada spiny lobster on our charter catamaran - what more could you ask for?

Planning to go back to the north shore beaches? Grabbing the free shuttle to the Anegada Beach Club is a good idea too.

Another idea? Just beach bar hop the establishments at Setting Point.

Sunset at Setting Point in Anegada
Isolated squalls make for a beautiful sunset in the mooring field

Other Anegada Activities

Fishing

The North Drop is only about an hour’s sail to the north where you have excellent chances of catching mahi mahi, tuna, and wahoo. Check out my BVI fishing guide where I talk more about it.

If you are serious about fishing the drop, consider doing this on the morning you plan to leave. This route offers mostly downwind sailing where you can zig zag and troll over the drop for 25+ miles. It’s a long day on the water, so make sure your crew is up for it and weather conditions are settled.

You can also hit Kingfish Banks for some bottom dropping closer to Jost Van Dyke.

If you are into fly fishing, Anegada offers some of the best bonefishing there is. Arrange for a tour with one of the local operators several weeks in advance.

North drop fishing route
Possible fishing route hitting the North Drop and Kingfish Banks

Kite boarding

Tommy Gaunt offers kite boarding lessons and rentals on the north shore at the Anegada Beach Club. I’m not a kiteboarder, but I might give a lesson a shot the next time I visit.

Rock iguanas

If you are a nature lover, you might want to check out the Anegada Rock Iguana Headstart Facility. These iguanas are only found only on the island and are currently critically endangered. The Headstart Facility protects the young iguanas from their cat predators.

Enjoy this post about sailing to Anegada? Check out my other posts about the British Virgin Islands here! Also, please subscribe for more yacht charter content.

Catamaran Cast Adrift from BVI Mooring & Wrecks: What can we Learn?

Lagoon 46 Panema with significant damage in the BVIs

Photo source: Yacht Catatonic

It’s not uncommon to hear of groundings or anchor dragging from bareboat charter skippers in the BVIs, or elsewhere. Reports about these events seem to happen all too frequently. I recently started documenting them at Groundings of BVI to help bring some awareness and hopefully, to help educate.

Inexperience, sailing in red-lined areas, ignoring of navigational aids, and lack of preparation for adverse marine conditions are often the culprits.

A recent incident from April 2022 in the British Virgin Islands, however, caught my interest given the strange circumstances.

Drift of catamaran from Cooper Island to Dead Chest Island
The catamaran drifted ~2.8nm on wind and current to the rocks at Dead Chest Island | Source: Boating App

So what happened?

First off, I gathered this information from reports on social media. I’ll continue to update this post as any additional facts arise. I’ll be clear about any opinions or assumptions I make. I did reach out to Boaty Ball myself.

It was reported that several charter boats woke up to witness a Sunsail catamaran, a Lagoon 46, on the rocks at Dead Chest Island near Peter Island. Virgin Islands Search and Rescue (VISAR) was on the scene. Apparently no one was aboard.

View of the mooring field at Cooper Island | Source: Cooper Island Beach Club

Here’s what I think happened:

  • The crew of the Lagoon 46 picked up a First Come First Serve (FCFS) Boaty Ball mooring, and paid for it ashore at Cooper Island Beach Club (if you aren’t familiar with Boaty Ball – you can read more about the mooring reservation system here)

  • They enjoyed themselves at CIBC 

  • When the crew took their dinghy back to their catamaran around 11:00pm, it was gone

  • They went back ashore, reported it stolen, and had to spend the night at Cooper Island

  • It’s unclear how the search effort was organized, but the cat was discovered around 2am with a large port side hull breach

  • Given marine conditions, it likely took 1-2 hours for the cat to drift before grounding

Recovery efforts of the Lagoon 46 | Source: Claus G.

What can we learn from this incident?

Can you imagine returning to your catamaran to discover it missing? I cannot. So what can we learn from this terrible incident? These are my takeaways:

  • This was a Boatyball mooring, which are supposed to be regularly maintained by Moor Seacure, so I suspect negligence from the captain

  • I checked with Boatyball, and they reported that Cooper Island management inspected the mooring ball and there was nothing wrong with it

    • Perhaps the crew only ran one line through the pennant eye – heavy wind and swell could have caused chafe and sawing through of the line: mooring balls should always be secured with 2 separate lines through the eye to prevent this situation

    • Or, maybe they need more practice with cleat hitches

    • I also read that it’s possible they used the anchor bridle to try and secure to the mooring ball – if so and they just used the snubber hook through the pennant eye, that easily could have cast the catamaran adrift. That isn’t a secure connection at all

  • As always, properly inspect all mooring balls for damage – there are current reports the BVI National Park Service (NPS) balls are in a bad state of disrepair

  • Be careful about leaving your yacht unattended at night – if this happened during the day, it’s probable another boat would have noticed and rendered assistance

  • If you need a refresher on how to properly pick up and secure to a mooring ball, check out this video from Sailing Virgins

Here’s another good example of how to pick one up and tie it off correctly. Team of 4 – one person for each line tied back to the port and starboard deck cleats. One person to pick up the mooring ball. And the last person to point at the ball so the skipper can stay on station.

Pirate's Lair Warderick Wells Exumas
Deadman's bay, a top BVI beach
Deadman's Bay with Dead Chest Island in the background

How can you get comfortable leaving your vessel unattended?

This goes without saying for the prudent skipper, but the bottom line is that you need to make sure the vessel is properly secured. Use proper anchoring techniques or secure correctly to the mooring ball. Arrive early enough to dive the anchor or inspect the condition of the mooring ball.

Be aware of potential weather conditions that could change the situation adversely.

I think it’s unreasonable on a trip to the BVIs, in an approved mooring field, to have to leave a crew watch aboard. So at some point, your vessel will be unattended.

I haven’t though much about that in the past, especially when we are on a well-maintained ball that we’ve inspected – such as at Cooper Island. When we do anchor, we don’t venture far and often maintain eyesight visibility.

So can you keep an eye on your yacht while you are enjoying dinner ashore or crawling through the Baths on Virgin Gorda?

An anchor alarm won’t help you, since that uses your phone’s GPS and you take that with you. It is a great tool to use when sleeping, however. Many recommend Anchor Pro, as do I.

There is another way I thought of after this incident – check it out.

Staniel Cay Anchorage
Anchored in the Exumas | We went ashore here for dinner and stayed after dark, but could maintain a watchful eye on our cat

Keeping watch using satellite positions

I recently went on a backcountry trip in the Grand Canyon – the Rim to Rim to Rim run. We used a Garmin inReach to allow our friends and family to track our position during the run. They loved it! You can share the link with anyone. Here’s how it works:

  • The inReach (or other similar devices) ping’s satellites every 10 minutes and transmits that position data to your phone

  • All you need is cellular or wifi on your phone

  • The inReach costs ~$350 and you can pay month to month $15 for the access

  • There is a more expensive plan that will ping every 2 minutes

  • While you are ashore, you can check the position of your yacht every so often to make sure it’s still where it is supposed to be

  • If the captain of the Sunsail cat had done this, they could have seen the boat adrift and organized a recovery before it grounded on Dead Chest Island

So will I add a Garmin inReach to my toolkit for my next trip? Yes! I think it’s an easy way to gain some peace and mind. Oh, and I already own the inReach😎, so it’s a cheap addition.

Is White Bay in Jost Van Dyke too Dangerous to Anchor?

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

There might not be a more idlyllic British Virgin Islands experience than anchoring in front of the Soggy Dollar Bar at White Bay, Jost Van Dyke, swimming ashore, and ordering a Painkiller from the bar.

But for me, those days might be over.

Why?

It’s becoming an overcrowded anchorage with increasing amounts of reckless behavior from inexperienced “credit card captains”.

Many charter companies now redline this anchorage as an off-limits, no-go area.

White Bay can be dangerous for other non-man made reasons, but a prudent skipper can safely mitigate those risks.

Now let me be clear: I am not recommending you avoid White Bay and the beloved beach bars that line it, such as Coco Loco, Soggy, Hendo’s, and Ivan’s Stress Free Bar.

I just think there are better ways to experience this wonderful piece of paradise.

What is the White Bay anchorage like?

Why is White Bay becoming so popular?

Alternatives to anchoring at White Bay

aerial view of white bay jost van dyke
Overview of the White Bay anchorage with the east and west side

What is the White Bay anchorage like?

This famous British Virgin Islands anchorage is split in two – an east and a west side. The west side being the more popular crowded area in front of the Soggy Dollar Bar.

Narrow channels mark the entrance to each side, with a reef restricting safe access from anywhere else (although ill-advised skippers have been known to bypass the markers).

Inside the anchorages, it can get quite tight with little swinging room on a busy day.

Crowding leaves little margin for error. If a boat drags anchor it can quickly turn into bumper cars. Take this recent incident for example.

Video of unmanned 50 foot catamaran motoring around the White Bay anchorage.

Here’s what I think happened based on comments I’ve read about the incident:

  • Skipper and crew all went ashore and left the engines in idle, presumably to charge batteries (you should never do this!!)

  • A jib sheet was left improperly secured

  • At some point, the sheet became loose and began flapping in the wind as the sail unfurled from the wind

  • The sheet wrapped around the throttles and put the engines in gear

  • The cat was tied off to a mooring ball, and it motored in circles until it pulled out the screw, causing the incident you see in the video

It’s extremely fortunate that no one was hurt. I’ve often swam in those waters to and from the beach.

This isn’t the only accident that has occurred, just the most recent.

Here’s another two incidents that recently occurred, at the same time. The catamaran in the background anchored in the channel, realized the mistake, and then proceeded to foul the anchor chain with the channel marker.

The monohull appears to have grounded on the reef and is attempting to get pulled off by the dinghy.

Grounding in White Bay Jost Van Dyke
A grounding and another boat that fouled the channel marker
swimming at white bay jost van dyke
The action settles down by the evening at White Bay as the day trippers depart

So have I anchored overnight in White Bay on the west side? Yes, so how did I get comfortable with it?

  • Light winds were forecasted: 5-10 knots

  • No thunderstorms were forecasted

  • I had planned to leave for Great Harbour if it became too crowded

  • I visited in late May when White Bay is less busy than usual (although today that might not be the case)

Will I do it again? Probably not anymore. While it does thin out in the evening, I prefer not to deal with the daytime party madness.

White Bay anchorage at Jost van Dyke
Here's where I anchored in front of Hendo's on the west side on my last trip | Only two boats remained overnight, the powercat is on a mooring ball

Weather conditions that affect White Bay

Thunderstorms

If any thunderstorms are forecasted for the area, even an isolated squall, it’s best to avoid the anchorage overnight.

If a squall rolls in and you drag anchor, it’s very unlikely you will have time to get to the helm station and take action before being grounded on the beach or reef.

Northerly ground swells

While south facing, northerly ground swells from distant storms can still wrap there way around the west side of JVD and make the anchorage uncomfortable. If severe enough, these can also cause a similar condition where the anchor drags.

I talk more about this weather feature in my piece on BVI weather and marine forecasting.

Backwinding

If the easterly trades shift more into the NE, it is possible to get backwinded at White Bay. This isn’t a good situation since your yacht is already quite close to the beach.

Basically, strong trades (15+ knots) blowing over steep terrain can create a vortex where at the surface, you actually experience winds opposite of those that are prevailing. In this case, you could experience SE winds which could push you towards the shore.

If you don’t have enough swinging room (which is always a challenge in White Bay), you could ground on the beach.

Again, see my BVI weather post if you want to learn more.

View from the dock at Foxy's Taboo at Diamond Cay

Alternatives to anchoring at White Bay Jost Van Dyke in the BVIs

The great news: there are many!!

Utilize the mooring field at Diamond Cay near Little Jost Van Dyke

This would be my recommendation and the approach I’ll take next time I visit the BVIs (hopefully soon, it’s been 3 years!)

It’s easy to arrange for a taxi for a quick 15 min day trip to White Bay.

Staying here also allows you to kill two birds with one stone – you are a short hike away from the Bubbly Pool one of the most popular attractions at Jost Van Dyke. It’s a half mile hike. Bring your swimsuit to enjoy the pool at hightide as the waves crash through.

If you want a more laid back beach vibe, visit B-Line with your dinghy. Foxy’s Taboo is also a great option for a cocktail or dinner.

bubbly pool jost van dyke
Bubbly pool at Jost Van Dyke

Stay nearby at Great Harbour or Little Harbour

Next door, Great Harbour and Little Harbour are also safer alternatives.

Great Harbour now has Boaty Ball moorings, so you can reserve one during the busy season if you are worried about availability.

Again, it’s easy to arrange for a taxi. You can also walk if you’d like (the views are great, 1.5 miles from Great Harbour) or dinghy over to the bay in settled weather. If there are strong trades blowing, you might have a wet ride back though!

Staying in one of these bays gives you additional options for dinner. If in Great Harbour, you can also visit Foxy’s in the evening, another establishment that has gained in popularity similar to Soggy.

white bay east side jost van dyke
View from the east side of White Bay | Notice the nearby cruise ship!

Pick up a mooring ball on the east side of White Bay

If you want to stay close to the action (and White Bay is not redlined by your charter company), there are several moorings on the east side. Pay for it ashore at Ivan’s.

The east side of the bay is always less crowded, and quieter. Plus, it has more room than the west end.

You can dinghy over to the other beach bars, or simply walk along the shore.

Palm Tree that was commemorated for us following a donation to the Hurricane Irma community fund.

I love White Bay and it will always have a special place in our heart with the memories it has created over the years. We will continue to be patrons of White Bay JVD, but our dollars might be dry the next time we visit!

If you want to learn more about the British Virgin Islands or read other articles I’ve written about this destination, check out my British Virgin Islands page.

BVI Weather and Marine Forecast Resources for Sailing

example of backwinding while anchored

During my first bareboat trip to the BVIs many years ago, I didn’t pay much attention to the weather forecast. Big oops!

Everything was fine and we enjoyed the steady 10-15 knot easterly trades and an occasional isolated thunderstorm – typical British Virgin Islands weather. But – what if we were caught in Cane Garden Bay when a northerly ground swell picked up at 2:00am?

It could have been dangerous and at a minimum quite uncomfortable for the crew.

As I’ve become more experienced (and wiser with age) I watch the BVI weather like a hawk before and during our sailing trips. I’ve even figured out how to use an Iridium GO! and download Predict Wind forecast data over satellite.

The good news for the BVIs is that with decent cell phone coverage throughout the sailing grounds, you can get everything you need from the palm of your hand.

In this post, I’ve collected all the info you need to plan for and monitor the BVI weather for your next boat trip. And, given the proximity of the BVI neighbors – USVI and Spanish Virgin Islands – this weather info will be just as good for those sailing destinations as well.

Here’s what I’ll cover:

Ground swells are well forecasted by NOAA

BVI weather features to watch out for

Northerly ground swells

This one can catch novices by surprise. Ground swells can affect northerly exposed anchorages, making them uncomfortable and potentially dangerous.

From Nov-Apr, strong storms in the far away North Atlantic produce these swells that then travel all the way down to the British Virgin Islands.

The result can be extremely rolly anchorages and even breaking waves on the shore. Boats have been known to be thrown ashore from ground swells, so take caution.

The good news is they are extremely well forecasted, so check that forecast often. You can also see the Cane Garden Bay surf report. For a live shot, check out Quito’s webcam.

Notable BVI destinations affected by ground swells:

  • Cane Garden Bay: if any ground swell is forecasted, we avoid CGB. Try Diamond Cay or other Jost Van Dyke anchorages instead

  • The Baths: while not an overnight destination, the mooring field will be quite rolly and swimming ashore from the dingy tie-off can be very dangerous. If you don’t have schedule flexibility and need to fit it in, you have two options

  • Cooper Island: swells can wrap around into the mooring field, again, making this one unpleasant

example of backwinding while anchored
I was backwinded during this lunch stop at Muskmelon Bay | Easterly trade winds, but yacht is facing west

Backwinding while anchored

Backwinding is possible at some popular BVI anchorages. Make sure you understand what it means and how to plan for it. You can see at example above at Muskmelon Bay at Guana Island.

  • Strong winds (~15+ knots) blow, in this case from the easterly trade winds in the BVIs

  • When the wind reaches this speed and blows over tall terrain (like many of the BVI islands), it doesn’t just blow straight over. A vortex is created and creates wind at the surface in the opposite direction of the trades.

  • So despite easterly trade winds, at the surface you may experience a westerly wind which would push your catamaran towards the shore (see the picture above when we were anchored at Muskmelon Bay – the bow is oriented towards the west as a result of being backwinded)

  • Given how close you have to be to shore, it can be a concern at some BVI anchorages due proximity to the shoreline – this can happen at White Bay, for example, when the wind is from the NE

  • Being backwinded can be acceptable if you plan for it and have enough swinging room to manage the phenomenon

Typical day in the British Virgin Islands with puffy trade wind cumulus clouds

What is the weather like in the British Virgin Islands

It’s wonderful!!

But seriously you’ll enjoy some of the best conditions for sailing anywhere.

Generally, for weather conditions, you can expect steady 10-15 knot trade winds from the ENE-ESE, puffy tradewind cumulus clouds, and an occasional shower or squall.

I like to break the BVI sailing calendar into 4 seasons:

  • High season: December to March
  • Shoulder season 1: April to June
  • Peak hurricane season: July to October
  • Shoulder season 2: November

Read about what to expect in each in my post about the best time to visit the British Virgin Islands.

Want to learn more about sailing in the British Virgin Islands? Check out my BVI Beginner’s Guide for other useful insights.

BVI Fishing Tips: Here’s Where to Find the Fish

Fishing in the Virgin Islands

Photo: Jack we caught trolling with an Iland Ilander surface lure

So you want to hook some fish on your BVI sailing trip?

On our first bareboat trip to the British Virgin Islands about 10 years ago, we rented a set of fishing equipment, trolled a cheap lure from our sailboat, and didn’t catch anything!

Lesson learned? You need to do some prep work, bring the right equipment, and know where to find them.

Now, we routinely catch many good eating fish – mahi mahi, wahoo, and snapper to name a few.

In this guide, I share some of our secrets including successful techniques, my favorite lures, and where to find the big fish in the BVIs. For a more in depth guide about sailboat fishing techniques, check out this recent post of mine: Sailboat Fishing.

Who is this BVI fishing guide for?

This is primarily for boaters that will be doing their own fishing from a catamaran or during a yacht charter. I won’t cover shore fishing or bone fishing / fly fishing techniques (since that’s not my area of expertise!).

Here’s what I’ll cover in this article:

fresh mahi caught on a sailboat
Fresh mahi hitting the deck - caught in the Virgin Islands with an Iland Ilander lure

BVI fishing license & registration

First, let’s make sure you can lawfully fish in the BVIs from a vessel. You’ll need to check two boxes:

  1. Individuals (18+ or older) that intend to fish MUST each obtain a BVI fishing license
  2. The vessel you are going to fish from MUST be a BVI registered fishing vessel

How to obtain a BVI fishing license

Here’s what you need to do:

  • Fill out the BVI Form 20a (application)
  • Fill out the credit card authorization
  • Obtain a copy of your identification – they recommend a scan of your passport
  • Submit all three items to cfd@gov.vg for approval 
  • Additional notes:
    • It costs $45/person (as of Jul-2022)
    • It is also referred to as a Pleasure Fishing License or Fishing Permit
    • Plan for at least a 2 week turnaround for approval – so don’t wait until right before you leave for your trip
    • The license will be good for 30 days – you get to choose the start date
    • Here’s the most current guidance from BVI

How to make sure you are sailing on a registered fishing vessel

OK this is the tricky part and can cause angst for some ahead of their sailing vacations. The vessel owner/charter company must register the vessel for fishing.

The Moorings in the BVI, for example, only registers their catamarans for fishing, but not their monohulls.

Some charter companies, such as BVI Yacht Charters, Horizon, and TMM are known to register all of their vessels.

And if you plan to clear into the BVI from the USVI on a USVI vessel, there is a good chance it will not be registered to fish in the BVI.

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Charter with a company that registers all of their vessels for fishing
  2. Check with your charter company if the vessel you are booked on is registered. If it is, you are all set!
  3. If it is not registered, you have a couple options
    • Ask to be switched to a boat that is registered
    • Switch to a different charter company
    • Appeal to your charter company that you would be willing to pay the fee if they could handle filing the paperwork (around $100). Start this process early, weeks before your trip. Assume this will not be a priority for them
Mutton snapper caught while trolling in the Virgin Islands
Great size mutton snapper | Caught while trolling over some bottom structure

BVI fishing regulations

Familiarize yourself with the most current BVI fishing regulations. Know what equipment you can use, where you can use, and what you can keep.

A couple highlights:

  • Using a speargun is illegal at all times – stick to fishing rods
  • Goliath grouper and turtles are off limits at all times
  • There are no specific size limits (that I have been able to find)
  • Conch, whelk, and lobster may not be taken at all by visitors

BVI fishing techniques

Check out my sailboat fishing guide for a full breakdown of the various ways you can catch fish in the BVIs – trolling, bottom dropping, jigging, etc. This post has information about the various fish of the Virgin Islands that you can expect to catch.

I’d suggest you focus on trolling – it’s the best way to cover a lot of distance and fish whenever you are moving.

We like to use two rods, with a diving lure and a surface lure. These are my favorite lures that we regularly get hooked up on.

BVI diving lures

I like the Rapala X-Rap Magnum and the Yozuri Bonita (look for them in 5-6 inch sizes). They will dive 10-30 feet – these are your best bet for catching wahoo.

Yozuri Bonita lure (TackleDirect)

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 (TackleDirect)

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

BVI surface lures

By far, my favorite in this category is the Iland Ilander. This version has a weight in the head which keeps the lure slightly below the surface. For colors, go with blue/white, purple, and pink.

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 Flasher Series lure (TackleDirect)

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

Where to fish in the British Virgin Islands?

BVI fishing tips map, overview of where to go fishing in the BVIs
Summary of the key areas to go fishing in the BVIs | Source: Navionics

Focus on these areas for your best chances of catching fish. But, don’t be afraid to put a line in the water anytime you are moving the boat – that’s what we do!

Offshore

When we are serious about catching the best eating fish: wahoo, mahi, and tuna, we drop the sails and motor over the two drops. Zig zag back and forth trolling in 200-600 feet of water for your best chances.

south drop in the bvis
Depths fall off sharply at the South Drop near Norman and Peter Islands | source: Navionics

The drops are where the shelf falls from a couple hundred feet, to over thousands. These areas have swift currents that upwell nutrients from deep in the ocean. In turn this provides a habitat for huge schools of bait fish…and their predators.

South Drop

This drop is more accessible than the north one. We usually hit it when we plan to anchor at Norman island. Try it in the afternoon after a snorkel at the Indians, making a clockwise loop around Norman in the drop area (clockwise is best considering the prevailing trades).

North Drop

If you want to try and catch marlin or sailfish, the north drop is probably your best bet. It is said the north drop gets more blue marlin bites than any other location in the Caribbean.

It is not as easy to reach as the South Drop, but here are two ways to fish it.

  1. On your way to Anegada, instead of a straight shot, head NE from Virgin Gorda and around Horseshoe Reef to the drop. Continue counter clockwise around Anegada trolling the drop. This will be a longer day on the water, so get an early start (~50 nautical miles). This is best done in settled weather.
  2. Head straight to Anegada and spend two nights at Setting Point. On your second day, leave the anchorage for some North Drop fishing in the morning. Return back to Setting Point in the afternoon.
barracuda catch on a sailboat
While not the prize, you will inevitably catch some 'cuda - they are fun to reel in nonetheless

Shelf or inshore fishing areas

North of Tortola, including between Anegada and Jost van Dyke

You should have a good chance in this area. Depths range from ~30-100 feet and you can catch mackerel, bonito, and mahi while trolling.

Between Anegada and JVD lies the wreck of the 246 foot refrigeration vessel Chikuzen, sunk during a hurricane back in 1981. This is a GREAT wreck to troll over – there are a lot of big fish that hang around it. If you have ballyhoo, this is a good time to use them.

The grid coordinates of the Chikuzen are 18° 37.129′ N 64° 30.969′ W.

If you want to do some bottom dropping or jigging, check out the structure at Kingfish Banks which is about 5 miles northeast of JVD. Good chance you are able to hook up on snapper or grouper.

South of Norman and Peter Islands

We hooked a mahi once on the shelf in about 100 feet of water on our way to the south drop.

Sir Francis Drake Channel

Honestly, we’ve never had much success in SFD Channel, but we drag our lines anyway. If you’re lucky you’ll hook a spanish mackerel, but more than likely you’ll get nothing (or a barracuda).

At anchor

Unless you are in a protected anchorage, we find it is always fun to drop a hook in the evenings while at anchor. We will usually get some type of action. Most recently we caught a horse eyed jack that was fun to reel in.

Use a bottom drop setup with a weight and 2-3 hooks. Any type of live or dead bait works.

Instead of a casting net, we bring a couple sabiki rigs to try and catch the live bait.

A fishing spotlight and some live bait work great for catching tarpon. Try this in North Sound, they are a lot of fun to reel in and release.

BVI Sailing Itinerary: The Perfect Week in the British Virgin Islands

Virgin Gorda Sound BVI

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.

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: No better place to start the sailing trip than Cooper Island

The mooring field at Cooper Island Beach Club (source: 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

Boulders at Devils Bay at the Baths
Settled day at the Baths, perfect!

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 free mooring balls here that can fill up fast. No anchoring. Again it can get crowded, so plan accordingly.

The highlight here is the 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.

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.

Virgin Gorda Sound is one of the most popular BVI destinations; Saba Rock and BEYC are in the background

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

Sunset at Setting Point in Anegada
Evening squall and sunset at the Setting Point anchorage in 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

muskmelon bay at guana island in the bvis
Perfect lunch stop at Muskmelon Bay, Guana Island

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.

sunset at Cane Garden Bay in the BVIs
Spectacular sunset at the back of the mooring field at Cane Garden Bay

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

Sandy Spit BVI, a top 10 BVI beach
Sandy Spit pre-Hurricane Irma; it is just as beautiful, but has received a bit of a haircut!

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

White Bay JVD
White Bay and the crowded anchorage; the reef separates the east and west side

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

The Indians, BVI
Day stop snorkeling at the Indians on your way to Norman Island

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.

The Bight at Norman Island, BVI
The Bight at Norman Island

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.

Thanks for reading my post about the perfect week-long BVI Sailing Itinerary! If you enjoyed it, please subscribe or check out some of my other articles, like this one about my favorite, top 10 BVI beaches.