Anchorages of the Virgin Islands
09 May 2016
We have had a jolly ol' time in the British and US Virgin Islands and here are some, but not all, of our favourite anchorages there. Easy sailing with the next island barely an hour away. Watch out for the inexperienced charter boat, of which there are plenty in the BVIs. Turtles in every bay, swimming with dolphins that happened to swim into our anchorage, counting 24 species of fish in another anchorage, here is a list of some other aspects of the Virgin Islands that we thought distinguished enough to be awarded a mention.
Best for conch harvesting - inbetween Prickly Pear and Eustatia Island, BVI
Sheltered between the two islands and the reef to the north west of Eustatius island, a peaceful idyllic spot with a view of Richard Branson's Necker island to the north. Conch was plentiful near the beaches of the deserted Prickly Pear where we picked up and learnt how to extract, gut, skin, tenderise and fritter the conch thanks to the Cruisers Handbook of Fishing. It did take us about 4 hours, but we had a great time. We were the only boat there at one point and delighted in chasing the many turtles (they are very fast here), spotting the stingrays and the flamingo living on Prickly Pear. There are also plentiful fish that will happily jump up and eat the discarded guts of conch. A great snorkel over the reef where you can anchor your dinghy in around 3 metres and dinghy over to trespass on Necker island.
Best giant Tarpon and walking trails - Waterlemon Bay, St John, USVI
This calm anchorage is in the national park and as such you cannot anchor but can take a mooring costing $26 if you choose to stay overnight (free if not). This calm anchorage, protected from any swell if you get close to the beach, is an excellent spot for novice snorkellers. There are plentiful harmless (and teethless) giant tarpon's, turtles and various sea life as well as an abundance of coral to the north east, where a Nurse shark can be seen sleeping in the morning. For those that like land, there is also an easy trail up to the old sugar mill ruins where you can get a bite of 'dumb bread' as it comes out of the traditional oven.
Best nightlife - The Bight, Norman Island, BVI
If you are here during Spring Break, be prepared for hoardes of Americans descending on the floating bar, Willy T, from early afternoon until the last man standing and drunken skippers dropping anchor left right and centre, possibly having to re-anchor late at night as their boat has drifted into the Willy T. More frequent than any other bar I've been to ever, body shots on the bar and naked people jumping off the top deck, even if they can't swim. Otherwise a good, relatively quiet sheltered anchorage, room for anchoring and also plenty of buoys. Free wifi at the expensive bar ashore. Great snorkelling over the rocks at the south east of the bay. A dinghy ride to snorkel the caves just outside the bay. But the main reason to visit is for the 'craic' on Willy T, the people, frozen margaritas, buckets of beer and the honey stung fried chicken (delicious).
Best day time drinking anchorage - Hansen Bay, St John, USVI
One of the few places to drop anchor on St John as the majority of the island is within the national park. However, even though this place is not designated national park, it is still home to reefs to the north and south of the beaches, turtles near to shore, the occasional dolphins that if lucky, you can swim with and of course the floating bar, Angel's Rest, run by Puerto Rican Pete, who is actually American, but has visited Puerto Rica a lot. Pete can be found anchored close to shore in his delightful brightly coloured hand built bar from late morning till around 5/6pm (or when Vie kicks him out of the bay). The rest of the time you can also call upon him at his mooring across the way at the less beautiful, but handy stop, Coral Bay. Everything is $5 and you can choose from beer, rum punch, vodka punch, tequila punch or moonshine. A lot less flashy touristy than the Soggy Dollar bar of the BVIs' Josh Van Dyke.
Best handy stop for laundry, wifi-ing, provisioning and general chat with cruisers at happy hour - Fat Hog Bay, Tortola, BVI
What with the Virgin Islands being the most expensive set of islands in the Caribbean, by far (we saw a can of baked beans for $6), provisioning can get quite frustrating when considering that most accessible shops cater to the charter market and only stock short term supplies. That it mind, (unless you want to anchor/moor in the rolly Road Harbour where there is a large supermarket a 5 min walk away) we found that Fat Hog Bay was one of the most convenient since you can pick up a buoy ($30 if you stay the night) and then dinghy straight to the laundry and or straight over to the reasonably large supermarket or straight over to the bar/restaurant (quite nice food), where many cruisers, as opposed to charters, frequent. If you stay the night, depending on which buoy you pick up, you will get access to the marina wifi, showers and book swap.
Best reef - Saltpond bay, St John, USVI
Just behind Boobie island, with some rocks awash at a shallow entrance, lies another idyllic anchorage within the national park with space enough for 6 boats on moorings. A most beautiful reef extends almost the entire perimeter of the bay, with the most densely populated coral near the rocks awash inside the entrance with plentiful tropical fish and the only place we have seen a bright yellow trumpet fish. Crystal clear so you can see the stingrays on the bottom from the boat and calm enough so you can swim right up to the turtles. There is also a sandy beach and, as the name suggests, a salt pond just beyond he beach.
Best cheap local food - Trellis bay, Tortola, BVI
Since food doesn't grow on trees here, your best bet may be Trellis bay where the Roti shack does a good BBQ for $5 every Friday and Saturday (Roti the rest of the week). The locals head down to the Loose Mongoose on a Sunday for music and reasonably priced food. The bay is also conveniently close to the airport for pick up/drop offs. Also home to the infamous new moon parties.
Best wreck - Salt Pond Island, BVI
RMS Rhone in the BVI national park, on a clear day is a great snorkel/dive. You can see the shipwreck in all its glory from bow to stern, propeller as well as the reef that it foundered on. A great stop in your tour of the Channel Islands.
Best for most amount of turtles spotted in half an hour - Great Lameshur Bay, St John, USVI
I think we spotted 10 huge turtles here all around the boat in the space of about half and hour. There is also excellent snorkelling all down the east side rocks with multiple species of fish, rays and coral.
Best deserted island - Fallen Jerusalem, BVI
Just south of the baths of Virgin Gorda, this place has the towering boulders of the baths with none of the people. Only 2 commercial dive moorings are here but can be taken if they are empty for an hour or so. Completely on our own, we snorkelled the aquarium crystal clear waters from the mooring to the deserted beach, climbing over the boulders and through the rock pools.
Best spotting of tropical birds - Great Tobago, BVI
Not for the faint hearted, rocks and a small deep anchorage with no moorings can stress out your skipper, especially when your anchor chain wraps around a coral head. However, for the keen bird watcher, red billed tropic birds at close range are abundant.