Sailing the Virgin Islands
January 1, 1970
by Jessica Rose Sharp
The Virgin Islands is the definition of the word Paradise in its highest form. The sun never stops shining, the sapphire sea is always invitingly warm, day or night, and the island breeze brings sweet relief when all you’ve done for four hours is soak up the rays.
My Caribbean experience was with my family, where eight of us were on a Catamaran sailing the North Atlantic Ocean for 20 days straight, which is the best way to see the islands in my opinion. We visited 12 different Islands some more than once and each one had it’s own unique charm. There is no shortage of things to do and I could write forever so to make this a little easier for the both of us I shall break it into categories; favourite day trips, best sunset spots, favourite places to eat & drink and my overall top 3 islands.
Dive the Wreck of the Rhone
The absolute highlight of my Virgin Island experience had to be exploring the The Wreck of the RMS Rhone. This Royal Mail Ship sunk in 1867 and now truly belongs to the ocean. Countless marine life species have made this wreck home, all the beautiful, weird and wonderful. Swimming along side a turtle, spotting a lionfish and playing with schools of fish made this dive unforgettable.
It is still quite apparent that this now coral wonderland was once a ship, as the propeller and kitchen floor tiles are all still in tack and visible.
This was my first dive after receiving my diving certificate, so I was an ultra beginner and found the dive newbie friendly. I dived with my father who has 30+ years of diving experience and he found it equally as awesome and rates it as one of his best dives.
There are lots of guided tours being run on a daily basis however we just rented our gear from Cooper Island the night before the dive for a third of the price of a tour. We went out early the following morning before the tour groups arrived, so we got the wreck to ourselves for a few hours.
Visit the Callwood Rum Distillery; Cane Garden Bay, Tortola
Dating back 400 years this historic Rum distillery is the last of its kind in the B.V.Is and it truly looks frozen in time. You have the option to take a tour provided by the guys that work at the distillery or wander around yourself. For $1USD per person you can have a shot of each of the rums they produce, which from memory is about four or five. My favourite rum was smooth, sweet and aptly called the Panty Dropper. I left Callwood with a warm belly, a sway in my step and a smile on my face.
Explore The Baths National Park; Virgin Gorda
Mother Nature has pulled it out of the bag again with The Baths. Spectacular pools of warm water have formed and been enclosed by massive volcanic boulders. You can spend hours playing and exploring this passage ways between the boulders making your way from Spring Bay to Devils Bay. This a very popular tourist attraction but well worth the visit. We refuelled at the restaurant at the top of the hill side above The Baths looking out over the sea, which was quite delightful.
Best Sunset Spots
There is nothing quite like watching another day in paradise come to an end to make you realise how sweet life is. These were my three favourite;
- Cane Garden Bay
- Norman Island
- The Bitter End/Cooper Island
Best Places to Eat & Drink
Pirates Bite; Norman Island
Pirates Bite offers delicious seafood an amazing atmosphere. Get a table on the sand with a view of the ocean and watch the sunset with a potent Screwdriver in hand.
Cooper Island Beach Club
This little island has a lot on offer. A cafe that provides a killer Iced Mocha and scooped ice cream (AND WIFI). Next door is a rum bar for late night drinks. Along the beach path you’ll find yourself in a upmarket bistro which has an unarguable respect for food and flavours.
My family and I enjoyed parking ourselves on the wharf at happy hour, ordering Pina Coladas and Screwdrivers a plenty and pairing them with some salt and pepper squid. If you time your visit alongside happy hour, you will be in for a treat, the locals put on a tarp feeding show which was like no fish feeding I had ever seen before.
Top Three Islands
Cooper Island has some of the most crystal clear waters in all of the caribbean, soft white sandy beaches and limited mooring spaces which means limited people, giving yourself an unlimited amount of beach space. There is a small resort on this island that looked like quite the place to switch off and unwind for a week or two if boating isn’t your thing. It also has a well equipped day trip centre if you feel like going on a dive or rent some diving gear.
Tortola – Cane Garden Bay
Cane Garden Bay is at the base of a rainforest mountain decorated with colourful getaways nestled into the hillside. The beach is scattered with bars and restaurants, one even has showers that you can enjoy. Settle in on the beach with your fav cocktail in hand (cheap as chips thanks to happy hour) and enjoy the sunset. Don’t forget to visit the Callwood Rum Distillery while you’re here too.
Virgin Gorda – Bitter End
Right there at the bottom of Virgin Gorda, the Bitter End is an idyllic spot to enjoy what the island has to offer. There are two resorts with gorgeous waterfront restaurants where during Happy Hour one brave local puts on a wee show by feeding the massive toothless Tarp. Enjoy some nature by going on a bush walk and look out for oversized hermit crabs. Just around the corner from this part of the island is Sir Richard Branson’s very own Necker Island, so take the boat around and have a look at what a billionaire spends his spare change on. It just happens to be sitting next to an amazing reef which is perfect for a bit of snorkelling.
Things to watch out for
Another reason to look and not touch! This stuff will have you burning for days and you will know about it straight away. It makes its home on Buoy lines just as much as coral reefs so be careful if you want to grab hold of something or put your foot down.
There is lots of them and they suck. Make sure you smother yourself in bug spray, tropical strength.
I’m not even kidding, they grow all around the Virgin Islands and most of them don’t even have a sign on them to warn you away (making for a very unimpressed Mum). Formally known as the Manchineel, they grown tiny apples which are highly poisonous and standing beneath the tree during rain will cause blistering of the skin from the smallest amount of contact with this liquid.