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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Weather conditions that affect White Bay
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.
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.
Why is White Bay becoming so popular?
Every year though, it seems White Bay and the Soggy Dollar grow in popularity. With that comes excessive crowds, drinking, and partying.
The islands are back with a vengeance following the devastating storms of 2017: Hurricane Irma and Maria. Many popular resorts have re-opened and visitor levels have rebounded, despite rollercoaster travel restrictions from Covid.
The Soggy Dollar Bar is gaining renown as one of the top beach bars to visit in the Caribbean. They routinely make the top 10 lists, aided by their claim to fame of having invented the Painkiller drink in the 1970s.
They even have their own rum brand now.
Needless to say, the word is out.
When cruise ships are in town, White Bay is a popular powerboat charter destination. Boats also speed over from the St. John or St Thomas, USVI to spend the day at White Bay Jost Van Dyke. Great Harbour, next door, has a customs office, making checking in to the BVIs efficient.
These additional vessels weave their way between the anchored sailboats and further crowd the anchorage.
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.
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.
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.
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!