25 April 2010

Planning Tips for a BVI Sailing Vacation, BVI Day 10/10

BVI Planning Tips and After-Thoughts

Home from the trip now, I find myself wandering around the office in a daze. "Was that real?"
I have never had a more stress-releasing vacation.

By the third day of the trip I found myself looking at my watch - not to see what time it was - but to see what day it was. I was afraid I'd get sucked into neverland and forget to return home for several weeks. Actually, if we'd had the kids with us, I think we would have just bought the boat from Conch Charters and sailed off into the sunset as a family, never to return!

For the first two weeks after our return, my wife and I each woke up for an hour or two in the middle of the night, unable to sleep because everything was so firmly still. No rocking, gentle warm winds, no lapping of wavelets on the hull. Just rock-solid terra firma. How's a person supposed to sleep like this?

Hopefully my thoughts about our next bareboat sailing trip to the British Virgin Islands will be helpful to others planning a similar trip. Here's what we're planning to not do, do differently, and continue doing on our next trip (January of 2011).

What will we NOT do next time?

  • Don't fly in to St. Thomas. Instead, arrange flights all the way to Beef Island Airport on Tortola (assuming we are sailing from a Tortola-based charter company like Conch Charters.)
  • Don't bring fins. I had space in my luggage for fins, so I brought them.
  • Don't plan an exact itinerary. I had scheduled, by day, which islands we would visit and in which order. Because winds may shift or an anchorage may be full, plan for flexibility.
What will we do DIFFERENTLY next time?

  • Plan by Island. Research the various islands and what would would want to see on each. Then decide each evening where to go the next day based on weather, winds, and mood of the crew. If you have your research done, you will be able to maximize every day of the trip.
  • Take Less Cash. Turns out we didn't need as much money as we thought we would. Although the restaurants are a little more expensive than at home, there is relatively little shopping in the BVI's. (Of course, my wife and I don't drink, which probably saved us quite a bit of money.) Also, most places take a credit card, but there are often international fee charges for using them. Everyone take's travelers checks and cash.
  • Get a Tan. Go get a tan before we go. We missed out on a lot of activities due to a sunburn.
  • Plan for Less Food. We used one of the convenient provisioning packages from the local grocers in Road Town. They give you several options for ordering full provisions (do all your own cooking), or half provisions (breakfast/lunch and some dinners on the boat, the other dinners at restaurants.) We ordered half provisions, but didn't need near that much food. Something about being out in the warm weather all day leaves me just wanting minimal fruit, vegetables, and maybe some fish.
  • Spend more time at the Baths. Probably a full half day or more.
  • Spend more time at North Sound. Maybe stay at a Saba Rock mooring instead of Bitter End Yacht Club just to try something a little different (we were happy with Bitter End). Bitter End moorings are tucked in a little closer to the island and offer possibly better wind protection, but on a hot, still night the breeze might be desirable. Bitter End offers more variety on shore, but Saba currently gives free ice to its mooring renters. Both are so close together, it really doesn't matter.
What would we do again?

  • Pack Light. When you have packed your bag for the trip, take out half the clothes, add twice as much money, and you will be fine.
  • Take a SPOT Satellite Messenger. See links below for more information.
  • Stay on the boat. Some people say they prefer staying in a hotel on land for a night before and after their bareboat charter. Personally, I disagree. I found the boat to be much more relaxing, and a fraction of the cost of a hotel.
  • Use Conch Charters again. Although I hear good things about other charter companies too, Conch was very impressive. Boats were in excellent condition, staff was helpful and friendly, everything went as expected - no surprises. And their price can't be beat.

Recommended Equipment List
Finally, here's my list of recommended equipment for a BVI sailing trip. They're all going in my bag for our next BVI trip.

Best Cruising Guide
These are the best books I've found, after having read several. The cruising guide gives better detail, covers more unique coves and bays, and presents more history than any other guide I could find. I actually didn't get this one before my trip, but the charter company had it on the boat. As I compared the various cruising guides in planning each day's sailing, this one had the best information. You can purchase the cruising guide from amazon

Best Chart
The map I found to be most useful is the Imray-Iolaire Eastern Caribbean map (A232). Look for it on 2-sided water-resistant paper. Ask you charter company if they have charts on the boat and you might not need to take your map with you. But I liked having the map at home while I was planning the trip. You can purchase online from amazon.

SPOT Satellite Messenger
The SPOT can be used to call rescuers in an emergency, but it was most helpful because it can send your exact location to a google map which friends and family can watch back home. Oh, and when you load your digital pictures to SPOT's website after your trip, the site automatically synchronizes the time you took the pictures with the location you were at on the map at that same time, automatically placing the pictures on the map based on the time they were taken. Pretty cool. Click here to order one from amazon.

Conch Charters
Conch Charters was great to work with. I used them on a recommendation from a sailing instructor who uses Conch to charter every year, and I wasn't disappointed. I asked other Conch customer down there what their experience was like. None of them differed from mine, they were pleased with the boats and didn't have problems. I guess the real tell-tale sign is that we've already booked next winter's BVI sailing trip, with Conch Charters again.

Comparing Other Charter Companies
I talked with several other charterers in the BVI who had used first-tier charter companies - I was curious to know if there experience was different from the one we were having sailing boats a couple years old. I really couldn't tell a difference. Some of them had no problems, some had a few things go wrong.

I heard some advice from a frequent charterer a few years ago that seems wise. He said to plan on losing part of a day to some kind of boat problem, and decide ahead of time you won't let it ruin that day. When it happens, just drop the anchor, call the charter company, and give them half a day to fix it. Go snorkeling, go exploring, read a book, enjoy yourself. As long as you are chartering with a big enough company that they have chase boats and a technician available, everything will be fine.


  1. This is a pretty extensive guide on the do's and don'ts while visiting the BVI. Definitely love the "Plan by island" in particular. What many tourists don't realize is that there are many islands in the BVIs, and there are a lot of things to do and places to visit.

  2. This was so helpful for our trip coming up. THANK YOU!!

  3. What happened to the list? ;)

  4. We are planning to go in June this was helpful thank you!

  5. Great tips! Thanks for taking the time to share it all! Do you still have your recommended equipment list? Looks like it's not posted anymore.

    1. Sorry about that! The list has been updated. Hope you have a fantastic adventure!