The Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands

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are, with­out ques­tion, the sin­gle most pop­u­lar bare­boat-char­ter des­ti­na­tion in the world. The rea­sons for this pop­u­lar­ity are plenty: a neck­lace of is­lands that cre­ates count­less har­bors and coves to sa­vor, won­der­fully warm weather year-round, with an ar­ray of beach bars, res­tau­rants, and re­sorts to add to the ex­pe­ri­ence. And let’s not for­get to men­tion the clear, blue water for swim­ming, right off the back of the boat.

While we have cruised this area many times be­fore, this trip will be a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent. For this pas­sage we picked up a MarineMax 443, a most de­light­ful char­ter ver­sion of the Aquila 44 pow­er­cat, at their base in Hodges Creek, out­side of Road Town on Tor­tola. The base is just a short hop from the air­port, even bet­ter, it’s close to a big Rite­way mar­ket where we could stock the boat with pro­vi­sions for our trip.

The MarineMax 443, which is of­fered for pri­vate own­er­ship by MarineMax as the Aquila 44, is quite re­mark­able for sev­eral rea­sons, not the least of which is its lay­out. Rather than tuck­ing the cab­ins into the hulls as with most cata­ma­ran lay­outs, the 443 has a sur­pris­ingly spa­cious master suite that spans the full 21-foot, 6-inch beam for­ward on the main deck. My wife, bet­ter known as “She Who Must Be Obeyed,” was taken with the king­size bed, by be­ing on the same level as the saloon, and by the large head with gen­er­ous shower. And we still had two great en suite cab­ins with queen sized berths for our guests.

Our goal was to es­chew the typ­i­cal bare­boat char­ter route, which fol­lows a counter-clock­wise di­rec­tion around the is­lands, choos­ing in­stead to nib­ble at the BVIs, sam­pling the de­lights just as an ex­pe­ri­enced skip­per might daw­dle along.

Gorda, which is both a leg­end and a must for all vis­i­tors to the BVIs (see side­bar). Lo­cated on North Sound, it was lit­er­ally the “bit­ter end” of the BVIs, where skip­pers would stay be­fore head­ing deeper into the Caribbean. We could have taken a moor­ing ball right in front of the re­sort, but deca­dence over­whelmed us with a great slip in the BEYC Quar­ter­deck Ma­rina, and we drifted into slum­ber.

One fea­ture that char­ter skip­pers will ap­pre­ci­ate is the Spec­tra wa­ter­maker, which is stan­dard on MarineMax char­ter bare­boats. If you’ve done many char­ters, one of your re­cur­ring night­mares is when the water tank runs low and your sig­nif­i­cant other, or the crew, want to take a nice shower af­ter swim­ming and snor­kel­ing. The other night­mare is when you ask the dock­mas­ter to top off your water tank and then he has to re­sus­ci­tate you af­ter you hear the price per gal­lon for water. Again, big points to MarineMax for adding this fea­ture to the fleet.

The Baths, with its large round boul­ders set on the beach on Vir­gin Gorda, are a pop­u­lar and iconic des­ti­na­tion in the BVI. There are a lim­ited num­ber of moor­ing balls in front of The Baths and an­chor­ing is not per­mit­ted. I find it eas­ier to visit

by tak­ing a slip at the Vir­gin Gorda Yacht Har­bor in Span­ish Town and then tak­ing a short cab ride down to The Baths. We con­tin­ued west to Salt Is­land, and de­cided that the wreck of the Rhone would take the place of The Baths for the day. The RMS Rhone was a Bri­tish mail ship that sank dur­ing a hur­ri­cane off Salt Is­land in the mid-1800s, re­main­ing to­day as a tilted wreck that pro­vides snorkel­ers with a view of the ship near the sur­face, and chal­lenges for scuba divers at greater depths. We’re not divers, so snor­kel­ing over the wreck and its squadrons of fish is al­ways fun and far more our pace.

We’ve learned a trick, how­ever. We pick up a Na­tional Parks Trust day moor­ing in Lee Bay on Salt Is­land rather than fight­ing the mobs out near the wreck, and take a short ride in the ten­der, which we tie to a dinghy line al­most over the wreck. A few kicks of the flip­pers and you’re on the Rhone. Af­ter­wards, we used the shower on the stern of our pow­er­cat to rinse off the salt, let the warm breeze dry us, and then we en­joyed lunch on the shaded fly bridge watch­ing oth­ers splash around.

The fly­bridge on the 443 quickly be­came our liv­ing room, both un­der­way and at rest. With two seat­ing ar­eas, in­clud­ing one around a large ta­ble, it has a true out­door “kitchen” with sink, fridge, and grill. When we were pick­ing up moor­ing buoys or an­chor­ing, an­other thought­ful MarineMax touch came to light: There are steps di­rectly to the fore­deck from the up­per helm. No more tip­toe­ing around the side decks! As skip­per, I could zip down to the bow to back up my crew with a boat hook or a lit­tle mus­cle when se­cur­ing to a moor­ing ball. It’s a de­sign fea­ture you’ll won­der how you lived with­out. an­chor­age, and bliss­ful quiet. There are only seven moor­ing balls, so get there early in the day and you can en­joy snor­kel­ing just off the back of the boat or ex­plor­ing the area with the ten­der.

The main at­trac­tion of Nor­man is­land is The Caves. Take your ten­der west around Trea­sure Point, tie to the dinghy line, and swim into these eerie caves that are re­port­edly the in­spi­ra­tion for Robert Louis Steven­son’s, Trea­sure Is­land. A nau­ti­cal myth passed down from crew to crew is that some­one found a gold dou­bloon in the cave, but what you’re more likely to find are schools of trop­i­cal fish that swim right up to your mask and peer in.

Early morn­ing or late af­ter­noon is my fa­vorite time for The Caves, and we chose the next morn­ing at first light for our

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