After hurricanes Irma and Maria hit the British Virgin Islands in September, we weren’t sure if there’d be anything left for us to see on our way back to the States. The devastation was catastrophic. Pictures of giant catamarans flipped upside down and on top of buildings were plastered all over the internet. Entire communities were leveled. How could anyone survive such a storm? How could a country bounce back after something like that?
We didn’t know what to expect, but despite our uncertainty, we sailed to the BVI in early December. Nearly three months after the storms, the islands are on their way to recovery. Although we did not visit all of the islands, it’s safe to say that the BVI are ready for visitors and things are on the up and up!
As we entered North Sound, we noticed immediately that it was virtually empty. A huge bay, which would normally hold around 800 boats (so we’ve heard), only had a handful of charter boats in one corner (near Leverick Bay) and two other cruising boats. It felt like we were in a ghost town.
We stopped over at The Bitter End Yacht Club and it was in complete ruins. Villas and bungalows that hung to the hillsides were ripped apart. Roofs and windows were blown out, the tops of palm trees had been popped off and there was debris everywhere.
Being surrounded by such destruction was moving. We could only imagine how wonderful this place used to be as we looked through the wreckage. Among the debris it looked like there was much that could be salvaged, but it would take a long time and many people to help clean everything up.
Spanish Town, VG
We had hoped to clear in with Customs and Immigration in the North Sound, but upon our arrival realized it was closed. Some locals informed us that Spanish Town was the only place available on VG to check in, so we sailed about five miles south to get there.
We grabbed a mooring outside of the Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour and were promptly greeted by Miss Allison, the marina security guard. She was extremely friendly and helpful in getting us checked in. After our stop at Customs and Immigration, we walked through town to get groceries. People were outside cleaning or building around their property and a construction crew was pouring concrete for new sidewalks. The streets were clean and there were many cars driving back and forth. This town had some life.
The local grocery store, Rite Way, was clean, air conditioned and well stocked with everything we could possibly want! Produce, canned goods, dry goods, snacks, beer, drinks, etc. You name it, they had it. Of course, they also had BVI prices (just a liiiitle bit expensive).
The Baths, VG
The one place that I absolutely wanted to see in the BVI was The Baths. Luckily, a category five hurricane couldn’t destroy this magical place. I’m pretty sure it looked exactly the same pre-Irma, but if it didn’t, I’d never know.
When we approached the mooring field off the beach, there must have been dozens of empty moorings in sight. According to our charts there was a 90 minute limit on mooring balls, presumably because of the crowds that would gather here. Of course we didn’t have to worry about keeping to a time limit. Other than us, there was only ONE OTHER BOAT THERE. No crowds, no noise, no nonsense. It was a dream.
We heard it could be tricky swimming to shore as there is a strong current, but we put on our snorkel gear and paddled and kicked with all our might. Once we got to shore we had to catch our breath. It really was a work out! As we rounded the corner of some giant boulders we noticed there was a little beach bar open. We didn’t have any cash on us, otherwise we definitely would’ve imbibed after that swim.
Once we found the entrance to The Baths, we literally had the ENTIRE place to ourselves! This would have never happened pre-Irma. We heard that this place used to be like waiting in line at Disney Land. I couldn’t imagine trying to experience it with hoards of noisy tourists around every corner, laughing, talking, posing for pictures. It was incredible to explore the tiny caverns and tight canyons inside of the massive stone cathedral.
There were stairs with guide rails, ropes to hold on to and arrows spray painted on the rocks to help guide you through the maze of stone. All of the platforms, steps and bridges looked like they were repaired or newly rebuilt.
We stopped here out of necessity. We ran out of daylight and couldn’t quite make it to Norman Island. No mooring exist here – only anchoring. The water was beautiful and the sand on the beach was soft and white. We went to shore the next morning and found tons and tons of shells and coral, all washed up from the hurricanes. It was a nice, quiet spot.
Big, open, and full of empty mooring balls, The Bight was a sight to behold. Over one hundred boats could’ve easily fit inside of the bay. Beside one giant catamaran near the beach, the only company we had all afternoon was a huge barracuda stationed under our boat.
On shore we could see what looked like a newly built bar, bright blue umbrellas and chaise lounges lined up on the sand. I noticed movement inside the tiny building so I grabbed the binoculars to investigate. There were people laying under the umbrellas and bodies sitting at the bar. Upon further investigation, we realized that this was the famous Pirate’s Bight restaurant and bar. We had to go ashore!
While we drank and snacked on some fritters, we commented how beautiful the building was. The bartender told us that everything we saw was brand new. The original Pirates Bight was completely destroyed from Irma. One local was told there were 20 foot waves breaking on the beach where we were standing. It was hard to imagine such a chaotic scene.
We were also told that we could find the famous Willy T’s (a floating bar, that was actually a boat) washed ashore. We had no news of if or when it would be salvaged, but as we dinghied past it later the next day, we could see it was buried deep in the sand.
We had read in BVI traveller that we should not miss this famous snorkel spot outside of Norman Island. Since it was on our way to Jost Van Dyke, we decided to stop for a couple of hours and check it out.
The water was relatively clear and there was a good amount of marine life in certain pockets near the tall massive rocks, or Indians. We were only the third boat to arrive by 10am, but more charter boats had taken a mooring by the time we left. Overall, it was a worthwhile stop.
Jost Van Dyke
The last island we visited was Jost (pronounced Yost) Van Dyke. Not only did we plan on clearing out of the BVI here, but we also knew the popular bar, Foxy’s was open and had to check it out.
On shore, many of the buildings were up and running in some capacity. Shipwrecked boats and debris lined the beach and clean up crews were working to restore power to the lower half of the town. We had cold drinks at the bar and had good company, getting to know the bar tender, Darren and the owner Foxy’s wife.
Most of the ‘notable’ spots we went to are back up and running or in the process of getting there. Each night we were joined by at least 10-12 charter boats and always felt safe. We only had officials collecting mooring fees approach our boat and didn’t notice any unsavory behavior on land or while we were moored.
All of the mooring balls we used were in great shape and we felt secure. Unfortunately, we still had to pay the $30 night fee, so don’t think you can get out of that one.
The locals were hopeful, expressing that even though it’s been very hard for them, they are confident things will get back to normal in due time. They were very happy to see us and are doing their best to accommodate guests.
If you plan on going to the BVI in the near future you will absolutely still have a great time. Although the islands can’t really cater to high end, five star clientele at the moment, it’s still a tropical island get away.
We have nothing to compare it to since we never visited pre-hurricanes, but if you enjoy a quiet atmosphere and don’t like crowds, now is the time to go! You may not be able to shop, drink, party and dine like you use to, but you can still enjoy the simple pleasures of being on vacation like relaxing, laying on a beach, swimming in the sea and enjoying the company of your family and friends in a beautiful location.
Like the ‘BVI Strong’ motto says, ‘Our Beaches are still white, our seas are still blue and our drinks are still cold’. Go support them and enjoy a chill vacation!