The British Virgin Islands
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