Seven months have passed since the one-two punch of hurricanes Irma and Maria delivered flooding rains and devastating winds to the British Virgin Islands, transforming the Caribbean paradise into a scene out of the apocalypse. Yet on a charter trip with The Moorings in early April, I saw signs of recovery everywhere. Hillsides that had been stripped of their foliage were sprouting new vegetation, reefs at popular snorkeling spots teemed with colorful marine life, and rum at beachfront bars flowed as freely as ever.
Here’s what you can expect to find at popular stops along the British Virgin Islands’ charter circuit, many of which have bounced back since the September storms.
Cane Garden Bay, Tortola
On land, Cane Garden Bay, Tortola’s most-loved beach, appears a bit rough around the edges, but its turquoise waters and golden sunsets have retained their magic. Irma and Maria dealt a powerful blow to the bay, and all of the businesses along the beach sustained major damage. A few spots, including the Paradise Club and Myett’s, reopened winter 2017. Nearby, the owners of Quito’s Gazebo are hard at work rebuilding and hope to open in October 2018. Although the hurricanes robbed Callwood Distillery of its jungle-like entryway, visitors to the historic, 400-year old Arundel Estate located on the bay’s west side, can partake in tastings of four different varieties of Callwood Rum for a mere $2 fee. A bottle of Callwood’s homemade hooch makes a great souvenir (and piña colada) while supporting the local economy.
White Bay, Jost Van Dyke
If one place in the BVI could be called the poster child for the Islands’ revitalization, White Bay is it, and the Soggy Dollar Bar, perhaps the most quintessential beach bar of all time, stands at the fore. The Soggy folks swung into action just days after Irma, delivering pallets of food over to Foxy’s, where they created a community kitchen. The famous bar, celebrated for being the birthplace of the Painkiller, reopened for business on December 9. Their resiliency inspired the neighbors, and now White Bay has enough joints open — Coco Locos, Gertrude’s Beach Bar, Hendo’s Hideout, and Ivan’s Stress Free Bar, to name a few — to merit a bona fide pub crawl. Beyond the bars, the bay remains as postcard-worthy as ever.
The family-owned Cooper Island Beach Club, which reopened on April 1, has been a pioneer in sustainable tourism since its inception. Tucked into a cove on Manchioneel Bay, this eco resort is one of the greenest places in the BVI, sourcing the bulk of its energy from solar panels — a majority of which had to be replaced after the storms — and generating drinking water from a reverse osmosis system. The resort also started brewing its own beer to eliminate waste created by empty beer cans. Additionally, the onsite restaurant works hard to procure ingredients from island growers and producers, including neighboring Tortola’s Good Moon Farm, and has created a fresh new menu based on the local bounty.
The Baths, Virgin Gorda
Not even Irmageddon could budge the towering granite boulders that create the geological wonder of Virgin Gorda’s Baths National Park. Beginning just beyond the beach at Devil’s Bay, a trail twists through a labyrinth of pools and caves lining the coast. The Baths reopened last December and the trail’s ladders, stairs, boardwalks, and guide ropes are all in solid condition. At the end of the path, Poor Man’s Bar lost its picnic pavilion but still sells ice-cold Carib beer on the beach. Continue up the trail to the Top of the Baths restaurant, which serves up conch fritters with a view.
North Sound, Virgin Gorda
One of the most heartbreaking scenes in the British Virgin Islands is the near complete destruction of the once vibrant North Sound, home to the beloved Bitter End Yacht Club. Plans for the Bitter End’s much anticipated revitalization are also underway, though the road ahead is a long one. At nearby Saba Rock, a dump truck and a bulldozer offer hope for the little island’s pending recovery. The North Sound is still worth a stop, however, thanks to Leverick Bay Resort and Marina. The property has been in full swing since January, offering watersports, spa services, dining, a Pusser’s store, plenty of mooring balls, and the ever-popular Michael Beans “Happy Arrrr” Pirate Show. Across the bay, the beach on Prickly Pear Island inspires castaway fantasies.
Although plenty of rebuilding still needs to happen, the storm surge on Anegada was not as high as other areas of the BVI, and the island suffered less damage than its southern neighbors. Rent a car or scooter from SnK Amazing Rentals, close to the isle’s primary anchorage at Setting Point, and head to Anegada’s two pristine beaches — Cow Wreck, on the northwestern tip of the island, and Loblolly Bay toward the east. In the evening, Potter’s by the Sea plays host to a happening scene, serving up wood-fired Caribbean lobsters in its floating dining room.
Great Harbour, Jost Van Dyke
At first glance, Great Harbour on Jost Van Dyke appears unscathed, but closer inspection brings reality into focus. The bright yellow Methodist church is missing its roof. A pile of flotsam and jetsam sits beside the few remaining sea grapes. The newly planted palms are reinforced by two-by-fours. Still, the scene retains plenty of Caribbean beauty and hospitality, most of which can be attributed to the eponymous Foxy’s Tamarind Bar, which just celebrated its 50th anniversary in March. The bar was badly damaged in the storms, but was able to reopen in time to host its annual famed New Year’s Eve party in 2017.
Just across the water from Tortola’s East End, Scrub Island Resort and Marina bounced back in February, offering accommodations in 22 of its 52 Marina Village guestrooms and reviving many onsite services. For a few hours of bliss, pop in for lunch overlooking the marina at Caravela Restaurant, take a dip in the multi-tiered Pavilion Pool, indulge in a massage at the Ixora Spa or stock up on provisions at the onsite market. Expect Scrub Island’s inventory of villas, many of which were devastated by the hurricanes, to be restored over the next several months.
Trellis Bay, Beef Island
The bohemian live-aboard community of Trellis Bay took a terrible beating during the storms — many destroyed boats remain on shore, due to the expense their removal would incur. Despite the shipwrecks, the popular anchorage remains a beauty, and locals have revived the tradition of hosting monthly full moon parties, complete with floating fireballs and dancing Moko Jumbies (stilt walkers). Trellis Bay Market and Grill reopened in October 2017 and serves up Caribbean specialties alongside a decent selection of provisions. A few yards down the beach, artist Aragorn Dick-Read’s studio and galleries were spared, making it the perfect place to purchase handmade pottery, sculptures and screen-printed t-shirts. Aragorn also sells organic fruits and veggies grown at Good Moon Farm on Tortola’s north side.
Just a short sail from Road Town on Tortola, the sheltered Norman Island harbor known as The Bight has long been one of boaters’ favorite first stops. The festive atmosphere at the Pirate’s Bight restaurant and bar, one of the places to get back on its feet quickly, buoys the anchorage’s spirit and keeps things lively, even in the absence of the Willy T. (The party barge was destroyed in the storms, but a brand spanking new ship will be relocating to Great Harbour on Peter Island). Nearby, two of the BVI’s best loved snorkeling spots — the Caves and the Indians — continue to shelter a kaleidoscope of sea creatures.