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Seven Things I Learned from My British Virgin Islands Yachting Vacation

There’s so much magic to be had on the water. Here’s how to make the most of it.

April 17, 2020
British Virgin Islands
The British Virgin Islands has long been a popular destination for boaters, as yachts and sailboats are arguably the best way to see the smaller islands. Shutterstock

A week on a yacht and a week at a resort are both vacations, but the two experiences are worlds apart. For the nature lover looking to disconnect—or for the social extrovert who simply loves boating—this type of trip redefines what it means to get away.

It’s one of the best ways to experience the beauty and serenity of this natural Caribbean environment. You can have a beach all to yourself at dawn, or be the last to leave, taking a sunset dip long after all the touring day boats have returned to Tortola.

Here are my biggest takeaways from my best week ever aboard a yacht in the British Virgin Islands.

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A poweryacht is best for indecisive groups—or for groups who want to see everything.

The division between the two camps—the blow-boaters and the stink-boaters—can be intense. But, each has their purpose. I’m certainly a sailboat person by nature, but this past trip to the BVI, we were on a powerboat.

We were able to have lunch on Jost Van Dyke, and dinner at Cane Garden Bay on Tortola, then reach the Moorings dock in Baughers Bay—all before sunset. That’s because power yachts easily hit speeds of 15 to 20 knots, whereas a sailboat, even under motor, is typically tapping out at 5 to 7 knots.

So, if you want to see a lot, or cater to the varied whims of a group—or even your own last-minute choices—then a powerboat is the way to go.

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Arriving anywhere by boat just feels glamorous.

BVI beach with yacht
Whether coming ashore to enjoy the beach or experience fine dining, make sure you embrace the style and sophistication of arriving by yacht. Shutterstock

Granted, you’ll probably make your actual arrival via dinghy, which is decidedly less glamorous. In fact, if going to dinner onshore, you may have to stand in the dinghy to keep your skirt, dress or pants dry, free from the splashes of the bow wake—or just make sure your dinghy driving skills are sharp. You’ll also want to be mindful of balance. Getting in and out of the dinghy is the hardest part of any yacht vacation.

When we were climbing back into the dinghy after hiking Peter Island, I jumped in and scooted to the bow so quickly—forgetting that I had a backpack on—that I slid right back out of the boat. Plonk!

It happened so fast that being underwater came as a shock. Luckily, my backpack is a drybag-style backpack, and my camera didn’t get soaked.

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Granted, not everyone suffers such mishaps. If you choose to book a yacht that comes with a captain, he’ll ease this process for sure.

Showering off the stern is pure joy.

Yes, you could rinse off in the private shower inside the cabin of newer yachts—but you’d be missing out. Scrubbing up while watching the sun go down, perhaps with a glass of wine, is a lovely way to slow down and connect with your surroundings. Plus, it’s fun—and it saves water.

If you’re bathing off the stern, it’s recommended to jump back in the saltwater to rinse the shampoo out. It makes for an invigorating, more physical and in-the-moment experience. Oh, and if you’re at an anchorage with neighbors, feel free to shower in your bathing suit—it’s just as lovely.

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You can create your own planetarium show.

Milky Way
There’s stargazing and then there’s viewing the Milky Way from a yacht in the Caribbean. Shutterstock

In the BVI and many of the other remote destinations where you can rent a yacht, the stars are unbeatable.

On my trip, my friend insisted on playing Gustav Holst’s “The Planets,” a nearly hour-long orchestral suite with seven movements—one for each of seven planets (not counting Earth, and Pluto hadn’t been discovered before 1916, the year that Holst finished the work).

This impressive, powerful soundtrack played as we stayed moored off Salt Island, admiring the constellations and witnessing the occasional gift of a falling stars.

Resist the temptation to overpack.

People hear yachting vacation and think that it might be blinged out, with different outfits every day. That might be the scene off Monaco or St. Barthes (and what you might be picturing is what some people call a “superyacht”) but in most yachting destinations, you’ll be happy with a few quick-drying, loose pieces of clothing.

We spent so much of the week hopping from beach to beach bar and in and out of the dinghy, that I was mostly in my bathing suit and rash guard, tying on a sarong here and there.

Granted, if you are going ashore to have dinner at the more upscale picks such as Cooper Island Beach Club, you will want a nice outfit. But odds are you won’t see the same folks, so I got away with having just two dresses on the entire trip.

Besides, in a real pinch, you could wash an outfit and hang it on the lifelines to dry—just make sure your captain doesn’t mind. Some captains think laundry spread around the perimeter of the boat looks junky.

You can never have too many limes.

It’s the ingredient that holds nearly every Caribbean cocktail together, and it’s the item that brings together the bounty of the islands into your next appetizer or meal. Limes merge with tomatoes and onions to become salsa, and double as marinade or salad dressing. In other words, stock up on limes before you leave harbor.

When we caught mackerel one day while sailing, all it took was some lime—and chopped-up onion—to have the freshest ceviche I’ve ever tasted. So good that, along with a bag of chips, this lunch disappeared faster than anything else we made during the trip.

Just note that if you are fishing in the BVI (or another destination such as the Bahamas), do make sure you have the proper permits.

There’s no better way to get in sync with nature.

BVI sunset
From sunrise to sunset, you always have the best view. Shutterstock

If you love the water, there’s no better way to relax. From the sound of water nudging the hull to waking up early to watch the sunrise, being on a boat is one of the most soothing experiences you can have on vacation.

I personally much prefer overnighting on a mooring—or better still, at anchor—so that there are fewer neighbors and noises in the morning. What’s lovely is to hear nothing more than the waves, maybe the wind and a few gulls, while taking your morning coffee. I brought a book to read, but was so content just watching the clouds and, at some anchorages, the goats on island, that I didn’t get around to reading all that much.

And I’m perfectly happy with that.

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