A Taste of Cruising the British Virgin Islands

There are challenges to doing adventure photography underwater off the back of a 40’ Beneteau sailboat while island hopping in the British Virgin Islands. But a Pain Killer rum drink, an Italian chef’s specially prepared meal and a beautiful sunset is a rewarding end to each day of sailing and snorkeling.

norman island cave bvi

The afternoon sunlight illuminates the underwater flora and fauna of Norman Island, photo: Karen E. Lile

At Norman Island, a good swimmer, new to snorkeling, can tie their boat or dingy to a mooring and swim into three caves in the late afternoon sun. Other locations require more skill and planning.

Some of the island points have a strong current and wind waves rushing the water onto the rocks. Reef corals, sea urchins and other life are beautiful to look at, but often poisonous. To avoid hitting coral, it is necessary sometimes to put the underwater camera in your palm and swim with both hands and fins against current and wind waves. To avoiding the attention of a 5′ great barracuda swimming 10 feet away from you, it can be important to turn off the lighted LED camera screen after a quick photo and kick slowly.

snorkeling with damselfish in the bvi

The reefs are alive with thousands of fish who take little notice of snorkelers nearby, photo: Karen E. Lile

This is my third year sailing and snorkeling in the BVI. I had purchased a Canon PowerShot D30 digital camera for this trip —a camera that wouldn’t be too expensive to lose if it ended up in the belly of fish. It’s controls are easy to find by feel to “point and shoot” a quickly moving yellowtail snapper or small oval damselfish. Sometimes the light was perfect and the water clear down to 100 feet. Other times, it was cloudy with bubbles from the waves and full of plankton. Near George Dog, I swam through tiny baby jellyfish called sea lice near the shore.

snorkeling among sunken boats in the bvi

A sunken 70′ ketch at Sopers Hole in Tortola, photo: Karen E. Lile

bvi reefs

Following a school of fish at the Indians, a great dive spot, photo: Karen E. Lile

Every island has different types of flora and fauna to experience near the rocks and near the moorings. The light streaming through the water illuminates underwater caves, reefs and sunken boats. In deeper waters, I encountered a few sharks, barracudas and tarpon’s that didn’t pay much attention to me, thankfully.

small, colorful fish in the bvi

Swimming though thousands of iridescent fish inside the caves at Norman Island, photo: Karen E. Lile

reef fish bvi

A reef provides ample vegetation for it’s fish inhabitants and amazing photo ops for an underwater swimmer, photo: Karen E. Lile

norman island cave bvi

A moment above the water, from in the caves at Norman Island, photo: Karen E. Lile

Near the reefs, the fish were small and colorful. My favorite snorkel spot was at Norman Island in the late afternoon, swimming into a cave in partial dark, then turning around and to see everything in great detail with the sunlight streaming through the cave’s mouth.

sailing, the best way to travel between islands

Sailing across the Sir Francis Drake Channel to reach George Dog for an afternoon snorkel, photo: Karen E. Lile

karen at the helm, bvi

Karen at the helm of Shiraz, photo: guy@yachtshotsbvi.com

guy from bvi yachts shots

If you see this guy in a dinghy in the BVI, he has likely taken your photo! Contact guy@yachtshotsbvi.com, photo: Karen L. Lile

Sailing is the best way to travel between the islands. I can find the “groove” at the helm of a Beneteau 40 sailboat, with my eyes closed, by the way the boat feels under my feet and hand, the wind hitting both sides of the sails. Most days, the trade winds are a perfect 10-15 knots with a chance encounter as photographer Guy from Yacht Shots BVI takes photos of our boat from a distance in his dingy. But, outside the Sir Francis Drake Channel in the open ocean of the Caribbean sea, the winds were 25 knots with 6 foot wind waves on some days.

beneteau 40 charter, bvi

Shiraz under sail, photo: YachtShotsBIV.com

beneteau oceanis 40 diagram

Beneteau Oceanis 40′ layout, photo: BVI Charters

With three on our boat, the Beneteau Oceanis 40 handled well and offered a separate cabin for each person. We were aiming for cabin privacy and sailing maneuverability.

sailing sunset framed by palm trees in the british virgin islands

Dancing to island music at the Cooper Island bar at sunset, photo: Karen E. Lile

barbeque aboard, sailing the british virgin islands

Firing up the barbecue at Cane Garden Cove, Tortola, photo: Karen E. Lile

sailing sunset, british virgin islands

Returning to the boat at sunset after an afternoon swim, photo: Karen E. Lile

At each stop along the journey, we caught the float of a mooring ball, threading the eye with a line that secured the boat for the night. The trade winds blew through our portholes at night, keeping our bodies cool despite the warm climate.

jost van dyke bubbly pool

The bubbly pool at Jost Van Dyke Island feels like a Jaccuzi when the waves hit the rocks hard enough to fill the pool with bubbles, photo: Karen E. Lile

jost van dyke rock climbing

Climbing to the top of the rocks on Jost Van Dyke is easy because there are so many hand-holds along way, photo: Karen E. Lile

Jost Van Dyke has a dingy dock and an easy trail to the bubbly pool, a place where the waves break over the rocks into a small pool that you can sit in like a jacuzzi. But, we took the goat trail, a more strenuous hike and did some rock climbing. When we got to the bubbly pool, I put on my snorkel mask to see all the baby fish that were recently hatched.

foxy's taboo, bvi

Off to Foxy’s Taboo for a drink and eggplant cheesecake, photo: Foxy’s Taboo

Afterwards, a visit to Foxy’s Taboo for a drink and the Eggplant Cheesecake – surprisingly tasty after an afternoon of hiking in the sun.

A shower nozzle on the back of the boat was a must after a snorkel. It made it easy to wash off the salt and change to land clothes. Shore visits in the BVI are different on every island: A “Bushwhacker” at Pusser’s Marina Key Bar, last call at Willy T’s boat anchored off Norman Island for a Pain Killer, and fine dining at Yacht Club Costa Smeralda (YCCS) at Virgin Gorda.

the exquisite yacht club costa smeralda bvi

The exquisite Yacht Club Costa Smeralda BVI, photo: Yacht Club Costa Smeralda

yacht club costa smeralda bvi view

Yacht Club Costa Smeralda dinner view, photo: Yacht Club Costa Smeralda

This last trip, I was a guest of the YCCS’s new operations manager, Dario Cruciani, of the Yacht Club Smeralda Costa at Virgin Gorda, who was visiting from Sardinia, Italy. He introduced me to his chef, who prepared an exquisite meal. Dario and I chatted over a Sardinian wine about yacht clubs around the world, while overlooking the sunset on the Virgin Gorda North Sound from atop the hill.

Then my mates and I dined on a lamb shank and freshly made ravioli. The tiramisu was exquisite, with an unbelievably creamy texture. We spent the night on the dock at YCCS with the sounds of multiple languages and music coming from the sterns of the other yachts berthed at the marina. I love the contrast and feel equally at home on all these islands.

A common goal unites the diverse people who visit and live in the BVI: achieving a balance of happiness in these astoundingly beautiful islands. I am looking forward to our return next year.

Here are a couple of my favorite island recipes for you to enjoy:

Foxy’s Taboo: Eggplant Cheesecake

2 medium sized eggplants

1 bulb of garlic

16 oz cream cheese

4 whole eggs

1 cup Marinara sauce

Savory graham cracker crust for 9″ pan

Roast eggplant with garlic until soft (350 degree oven for 20 minutes). Puree in food processor. When cooled mix in cream cheese, eggs and Marinara sauce. Pour mixture into crust and bake in 350 degree oven for 60 minutes. Allow to cool for 8 hours. Slice and serve with extra sauce and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.

Our galley cook/bartender’s Painkiller

Rum (Pusser’s or other)

Coco Lopez (coconut cream)

Orange juice

Pineapple juice

Grated Nutmeg

Mix all liquid ingredients in a shaker, pour over ice cubes, sprinkle with grated nutmeg and garnish with a lime. Add dark rum floater. We used a 10 year aged rum from the Callwood Rum Distillery at Cane Garden Tortola. Callwood Family members have been making rum at that location for over 200 years.

Karen Lile is an entrepreneur whose passion for sailing, dancing and adventure travel are possible as an accompaniment to her businesses: television/film, KLPN.net; piano rebuilding and brokerage, PianoFinders.com (clients include Larry Ellison and Fantasy Studios); Tango, Swing and Salsa dance instruction, Karen and Michael Partnership

If you liked this article, you may also enjoy What it’s Like to Sail One of the World’s Fastest Yachts: Aboard Super Maxi Lending Club 2 and Baja Ha-Ha Cruise Rally Report.

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