The British Virgin Islands—home of the famous Spring Regatta & Sailing Festival— are known among sailors for steady winds, an abundance of well-maintained moorings in scenic, protected bays and coves, and easy line-of-sight navigation that makes for fun, breezy day trips and adventures.
The BVI Spring Regatta & Sailing Festival, one of the Caribbean’s premier annual sailing events, held March 27 to April 2, 2023, has become a favorite among boaters who crave big competition followed by even bigger afterparties. This year marks the 50th anniversary of this international event, so expect the fetes to deliver like never before. The week draws in more than 90 yachts from around the world as well as attendees taking advantage of the BVI’s massive rental fleet to enjoy five days of racing – two days for the Sailing Festival and three days of racing for the Spring Regatta – and three course areas. Note that the regatta offers 12 classes and the Sailing Festival offers five classes, welcoming every skill level from novice to expert so anyone who loves the salty life can take on action to suit their speed, from high-intensity, competitive racing to leisurely cruising. Each race finishes at a different spot, giving attendees a taste of the BVI life of island-hopping, from Foxy’s Bar on Jost Van Dyke to the newly remodeled restaurants and accommodations of Nanny Cay on Tortola.
If you can’t make the Spring Regatta, rest easy. The British Virgin Islands is a year-round sailing hotspot where you can create your own itinerary highlighting whichever isles you choose. Charter a monohull or catamaran either with a captain or bareboat—there are plenty of options to make the trip your own.
Most trips start on Tortola, the biggest island and home to the international airport. Tortola also serves as the base for most boat charter operations, including The Moorings, Sunsail and Waypoints, the newest charter option, launched in late 2021 and operating out of Nanny Cay. Of course, the island itself has much to offer as a destination. One of the more popular anchorages is Cane Garden Bay on the northwestern side of the island, known for its turquoise water, as well as choice kayaking, snorkeling and surfing November to March. Stay into the evening for the barbecue and live music at Quito’s Gazebo, a local favorite. Soper’s Hole Marina serves as another great base for provisioning and strolling the pastel-colored boutique shops. Active types won’t want to miss the hike up to Sage Mountain National Park, the highest peak in the U.S. and British Virgin Islands.
One of the other four biggest islands, Virgin Gorda, sits 8 miles from Tortola. It’s the home of The Baths National Park, an iconic scenic spot where basalt boulders lean against one another permanently, forming grottoes and tunnels to explore and climb. Multiple routes weave throughout, each leading to a different high point perfect for taking a group photo or a hand-holding group jump into the deep waters. For a relaxed meal or cocktail while still taking in this epic scenery, head to the Top of the Baths or tuck into a grilled lobster before enjoying a frozen coffee drink or mudslide cocktail poolside. On Virgin Gorda, you’ll find one of the resorts most beloved by sailors: The Bitter End Yacht Club. This resort reopened in 2021 and now offers overwater bungalow accommodations, an upgraded option should you want to enjoy a night off the boat or extend your trip a few days. In 2023, the resort will roll out new amenities, including a massive expansion to its legendary Club Fleet with new watersports programs, including kiting, wing foiling and windsurfing.
From Virgin Gorda, sail two-and-a-half hours north and reach 11-mile-long Anegada, the least visited of the inhabited BVI. It’s a rare gem well worth the effort. Anegada offers that back-in-time peaceful respite. Take Cow Wreck Beach, a haven for solitude-seekers. You can walk miles in any direction and often not see another soul. The bar itself is a different story; it’s a place drawing an eclectic crowd of scuba divers, snorkelers and other nature lovers. Horseshoe Reef, the world’s fourth-largest barrier reef, is not to be missed, with ample opportunities to encounter eagle rays, Atlantic spadefish, permit and a host of other marine life.
Then there’s Jost Van Dyke, a day-tripper favorite for its soft, white-sand beaches where there’s always a party. Soggy Dollar Bar on White Bay is the center of the action, where boaters converge to partake of the local cocktail called the Painkiller, a mix of dark rum, cream of coconut, pineapple and orange juices, topped with fresh grated nutmeg. Each bay on Jost Van Dyke offers its own beach bar, from Sidney’s Peace and Love on Garner Bay (Little Harbour) to Foxy’s Bar—home of the world-famous New Year’s Eve Party—at Great Harbour. If you want to overnight on Jost Van Dyke, you have a couple of new options. The Hideout, a newly opened boutique seven-villa resort, offers a high-end experience on White Bay. New as well are the neighboring White Bay Villas with 20 units, all with traditional Caribbean style and unbeatable sunset views.
In between the big four islands are countless smaller ones and more than 17 easy-to-find anchorages. In the BVI, you can also take advantage of a handful of private island resorts open for day visitors. Enjoy a cocktail or gourmet meal at Saba Rock, reopened in 2021, or book a spa treatment at Scrub Island Resort, Spa & Marina. Of course, a few undeveloped islands don’t offer much by way of amenities but have plenty of escapism. A hiking trail on Salt Island leads to small cliffs overlooking crashing waves. It’s also home to the country’s most famous scuba-dive spot. Boaters who overnight here get first crack at snorkeling or diving the R.M.S. Rhone, arguably the Caribbean’s best preserved shipwreck, dating to 1867. Norman Island, rumored to be the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, is known for its seaside caves, hiking trails and deserted beaches waiting to be enjoyed.
That’s the beauty of the British Virgin Islands: There’s so much to explore in whatever way you like, whether that’s rafting up flotilla-style with your best mates and taking on the sights, bars and bites together, or breaking away for a quieter, more intimate getaway, navigating your own path toward nature, solitude and one-of-a-kind hideaways. It’s all here in the British Virgin Islands.