CRUISING THE BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS
Pack lightly and set sail in the Caribbean.
Not a carry-on bag, mind you, but a handbag. One with the usual purse accoutrement—hairbrush, sunscreen, wallet, passport—and the clothing I’d need tossed into the empty corners. Because, as it turned out, all I really needed on-board Prodigious, the six-cabin catamaran that is the largest of The Moorings BVI charter fleet, was a book, bathing suit, sandals, cover up, shorts and T-shirts. Life could not be simpler.
I’ve been fascinated by sailing the Caribbean since I spent a high school summer doing grunt work at a marine biology station in the southeastern Caribbean Sea. We worked long days bobbing on a dive boat, snacking on white bread sandwiches and mapping the health of the coral reefs. I was hooked, and so a week on a crewed yacht seemed like the perfect “adult” fit for my marine obsession. This time around, just luxury—high thread count linens in private cabins, gourmet cuisine, on-board Wi-fi, air conditioning and an itinerary so flexible that we started each day on a whim.
A SAILOR’S DREAM
As it turns out, the British Virgin Islands (BVI) are the perfect fit for working with a highly changeable schedule. The close proximity of the islands lends itself to that flexibility in day-to-day planning. Sailors have long called the BVI, “the place on the way to everywhere,” a nod to the many sheltered harbours that were a welcome pause in the lengthy trade routes between Europe and South America. The first European to discover the islands was Christopher Columbus in 1493 on his second voyage to the New World.
Prodigious’ captain, Martin Street, has sailed the globe but when he arrived in BVI seven years ago he knew this was a place he wanted to anchor. “First and foremost, BVI is known as a sailing destination—there are dinghy docks everywhere, bars and restaurants catering to sailors. There are 60 islands in the Bvi—here we can jump between islands so easily. We have line-of-sight sailing— there’s much less open water sailing.”
Most charter boats depart from Tortola, an island of steep hills and the main transportation hub of the BVI. In the years of colonization—by the Spanish, Dutch and English—smuggling, piracy and privateering were rampant. Situated right on the treasure route, it was a magnet for the likes of Blackbeard, Calico Jack and Edward England. The islands were predominately a plantation economy until the Emancipation Act of August 1, 1834, after which the freed slaves lived off the fruits of the land and sea. In the early 1900s the tourist trade began to boom, especially the charter sailing industry, which became the backbone of the islands.
“There are two sides to the Caribbean,” explained Martin, who—together with chef Katie and steward Kay—cater to guests’ desires. “There’s the beach bar side and then there’s the golden beaches, palm trees, snorkelling. What people choose varies.”
If you’re like me, and all about the snorkelling and palms, a bathing suit and cover up is just about all you’ll need to pack. Prodigious is well outfitted with stand-up paddleboard, snorkelling gear, inflatables and a small dinghy to get from mooring to dock. Chef Katie works magic from a closetsize galley, creating fresh healthy meals with local ingredients like mahi mahi, lobster, pineapple and coconut. Within a day we’d set a dining rhythm: hors d’oeuvres and frosty tropical drinks on the fly bridge, meals alfresco at a table on the back of the boat. More drinks post-dinner while flopped in beanbag chairs on the webbed bow.
OUR PERFECT ITINERARY
Our plan was to do a semi-circle around Tortola, sailing to Jost Van Dyke first, then south to Norman Island (reputed to be the inspiration for Treasure Island) and then on to Virgin Gorda. The cluster of islands is the top of mountains and volcanoes poking out above navy and turquoise waters.
They say that Jost Van Dyke was named after Dutch privateer Joost Van Dyke. The hilly island is known for its bar scene and beach parties—a hit with the sailing crowd—but, with a year-round population of about 297, there are still more goats than people. Before the arrival of motorized craft, the villages here were renowned for building sailing vessels.
We dropped anchor at Great Harbour, a sheltered bay at the base of 300-metre peaks, and revved up the dinghy to head for White Bay with its beautiful stretch of sand beach. The bay is synonymous with the Soggy Dollar bar, so named for the soggy state of the dollar bills used to pay for drinks after swimming ashore from an anchored craft. One does not go to the Soggy Dollar without ordering a Painkiller, a mix of crushed ice, dark rum, cream of coconut, pineapple and orange juice. The fastest way to banish thoughts of Canadian ice and snow is to sit under a coconut palm, Painkiller in hand (although the yacht’s steward Kay whips up her own version that gives anything on land a run for its money).
Next morning, just a two-hour cruise away, we anchored at Norman Island, slipped on flippers and masks and snorkelled The Caves. Dinner outside gave us a perfect line on the sunset, where we overnighted in The Bight, a well-sheltered, deep harbour. In between snorkelling and sunset there was a little reading, some sunning, more swimming, a hike to overlooks above Pirates Bight and the occasional nap. Bedtime was the gentlest of rocking; a bassinet on the waves.
By breakfast the next morning Martin had us well underway to our final stop, The Baths National Park on Virgin Gorda. The shoreline park is known for its unique jumble of enormous granite boulders formed when volcanic lava was thrown sky high during an eruption millions of years ago.
We dropped anchor, hopped into the clear waters and swam to shore. There’s a pathway winding and looping through the pile of boulders, with shallow grottos for quick dips along the way and breathtaking views mixing the granite grey with the deep blue and aquamarine of the sea.
Another day of swim-dry-repeat. And another day when I didn’t miss my clothes closet back home.
Experience NL, Newfoundland and Labrador’s flagship boutique travel agency, is transforming how visitors experience Canada’s magnificent eastern province. Featuring compelling, personally crafted itineraries that go beyond routine, the tour company puts travel back in the hands of the traveller. By connecting guests to the essence of Newfoundland, tour participants blend in and experience what life is truly like on “the Rock.” Stay and relax in locally owned properties, dine on fresh, authentic cuisine, enjoy the company of knowledgeable, local guides and attend community festivals and events filled with music and cheer. experiencenl.com
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The Anguilla–st. Maarten Ferry Terminal has reopened for business after being heavily damaged a year ago during Hurricane Irma. Tucked away in the northern Caribbean, the island of Anguilla is ringed with 33 beaches, considered by many to be among the most beautiful in the world. It is easily accessed from Puerto Rico and St. Maarten. (Passengers are reminded of the US$5 levy charged on departure from Anguilla’s Blowing Point Ferry Terminal.) ivisitanguilla.com
Although it’s been a long, hot summer this year, perhaps you’re not quite ready to let it go just yet. South Carolina’s gorgeous Myrtle Beach area celebrates “60 More Days of Summer” during the months of September and October with exclusive fall deals, events and plenty of special activities. Undeniable affordability combined with summer-like temperatures, warm ocean waters and a more peaceful ambiance add to Myrtle Beach’s appeal. Bring the family for oceanside fun or plan a romantic getaway. visitmyrtlebeach.com
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Asurvey by the Intercontinental Hotels Group reveals that six in 10 Canadians have or plan to make a bucket list of national sites. Niagara Falls topped many lists, along with historical spots such as the Diefenbunker near Ottawa, built to protect Canadian politicians in the event of nuclear war. The Edgewalk atop Toronto’s CN Tower was a popular choice, along with a walk across the Capilano Suspension Bridge in Vancouver. Another BC favourite was the Richmond Olympic Oval, built for the 2010 Winter Games. This interactive museum tests your skills and reflexes in sports ranging from ski-jumping and bobsleigh to Formula One racing. Check out all 25 bucket-list spots. multivu.com/players/english/8324451-ihg-great-canadian-bucket-list
Blessed by its vast biodiversity in the heart of Central America, Honduras and adventure go hand in hand. Dive with whale sharks in the morning and hike the rainforest among exotic birds and monkeys in the afternoon. La Campa Canyon features the highest and longest zip line in Central America. Ride through the canyon, ending up above the small town of La Campa. Head northwest to Santa Rosa de Copán, where the canopy tour de Los Sapos offers a bird’s-eye view of the Mayan ruins of Copán, considered the Athens of the Mayan world. Divers will want to head to the Bay Islands of Roatán, Útila and Guanaja, home to the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere. honduras.com/tourism
For a refreshing change from the Laurentians’ traditional rustic accommodation, check out the Miniloft Village at Bel Air Tremblant. Ninety modern “mini-lofts” scattered over 219 hectares provide a secluded holiday retreat in modern units with stunning views of nature. The resort is located eight minutes from Québec’s Mount Tremblant, considered the top ski resort in eastern North America. Bel Air is the first development to combine residential homes and vacation-rental lodging within one community. It offers resort-style amenities to both residents and guests as well as year-round recreational activities. belairtremblant.com
ABOVE: The charter sailing industry has become the backbone of the British Virgin Islands.
RIGHT: The island Jost Van Dyke is a popular stop for sailors. BELOW: The beach at Jost Van Dyke remains relatively unspoiled. CENTRE: Meals aboard Prodigious emphasize local ingredients. BOTTOM: Damage from the 2017 hurricane season is still visible on Jost Van Dyke.
NL TOURISM/BARRETT & MACKAY PHOTOGRAPHY
OLDHAM KY TOURISM
JAPAN COMMUNICATIONS INC.
MYRTLE BEACH AREA CONVENTION AND VISITORS BUREAU
ANGUILLA TOURIST BOARD
COURTESY INSIGHT VACATIONS
OUTER SHORES EXPEDITIONS
BEL AIR TREMBLANT