There has been much talk about the travel restrictions that the British Virgin Islands have put in place to protect their residents from the spread of COVID-19 when they reopened their borders in December of 2020 to international tourists. The requirements include various COVID tests, location tracking and a quarantine time once you arrive in the BVI. We at The Moorings have since the reopening had hundreds of charters go out on the water – many of them frequent BVI visitors – and they all came back talking about an amazing, unique experience.
Josie Tucci, VP of Marketing & Sales for The Moorings and Sunsail, set sail in the British Virgin Islands for two weeks in the end of January to experience the current state of the islands and the BVI Travel Requirements first-hand. This is her story:
Day 0 – Arrival
After a quick review of my BVI Gateway Portal approval at the American Airlines check-in, I was soon happily spreading out on the empty flight from Tampa to Miami. That sense of calm dissipated somewhat when I boarded the packed flight to San Juan, where my hyper-vigilance to avoid COVID was on full display, with my N95 mask attached firmly to my face for the entire day. A short layover in San Juan and a second check of my approval by Cape Air, and I was flying over the Caribbean, turquoise waters providing a familiar welcome into the BVI.
On landing, myself and three other passengers were shepherded into the former VIP arrivals area for a temperature check and nasal swab by a team dressed head to toe in very official blue and white hazmat type gear. No sooner had I sat down for the test than it was all over, and we were off to customs & immigration and baggage claim. The whole process took about 15 minutes, probably the fastest I’ve ever been through the airport!
At the exit we were greeted, approval checked, and assigned our tracking devices in waterproof cases, then swiftly bundled into The Moorings taxi. What a pleasure to be once again on the way to The Moorings BVI base, familiar sights and sounds of island life on the way to Road Town adding to the anticipation. On arrival at the base we were quickly whisked through reception, where new acrylic glass screens and hand wash stations have been installed to protect guests and staff, and on to the dedicated quarantine dock, where our Moorings 4500 sailing catamaran ‘Meow or Never’ and another crew member awaited; a cold six pack already open.
Menus for the Mariner Yacht Club restaurant on site were to hand, and delicious conch fritters and BBQ ribs were quickly delivered dockside. We were one of just two occupied boats on the dock that starry Sunday night.
More provisioning arrived first thing in the morning and we ran through the inventory, most of which came in neat, sanitized packages, COVID protected. After some distant hellos from masked but familiar faces and an efficient and socially distanced briefing with staff member Chris, we left the dock just before noon for an overnight mooring ball at Benures Bay, on the North side of Norman Island, one of the 17 approved mooring sites you can visit during the 4-day-quarantine-period. (Note: Until you receive your Day 0 test results you are limited to the sites around Norman, Cooper and Peter Island marked on the map.)
With time to spare and enjoying flexing our sailing muscles, we also checked out the quarantine anchorage at White Bay, Peter Island, but the wind was a little too southerly for comfort. With only one neighbor in the anchorage to witness our first hooking of a moorings ball we congratulated ourselves and quickly set about preparing sundowners and dinner aboard, a routine that would last for the next 3 days.
We were delighted by a visit from The Mooring chase boat, or Concierge Crew as I renamed them. It had been over a year since I’d last seen Vishal and Ellie, during The Moorings 50th Anniversary celebrations, and they seemed in fine spirits on their smart looking Barracuda as they passed over some last-minute additions I’d made to our provisions and a surprise cooler full of ice! It warmed my heart to see them again. That evening we flicked on the underwater lights, revealing an impressive tarpon show. We slowly wound down onto island time while sinking into the bean bags on the trampoline, spotting Orion’s belt and numerous other stars, lulled by the ocean sounds and perfect breeze.
As always when sailing, I was awake at first light. The boat WIFI meant I could stream a workout on YouTube, so I set up my mat and phone on the foredeck and enjoyed testing my balance with 45 minutes of yoga. Banging out some email and Teams calls after breakfast, the sun was soon high in the sky and it was time to set off for a longer shake out sail and our next quarantine anchorage at Malone Bay in North Sound, Virgin Gorda.
The sailing was just spectacular, some tacking followed by a long reach, with no traffic to be seen. When we arrived, there were just a couple of other boats on the balls at Leverick Bay and no one else in our location. Before settling in, a tour around the Sound was in order, to check out the progress of Saba Rock and the Bitter End, both due for completion in 2021. A solitary Moorings 46.3 monohull was on a ball by the aptly named ‘Sandbox’, the family ashore, enjoying the pristine beach in the afternoon sun. Once on our ball, a hearty Dark and Stormy was prepared, while mahi and local vegetables cooked, spiced up with some Matouk’s Calypso hot sauce. A full day of sun and wind called for an early night.
Day Three was a similar morning rhythm, an early workout followed by emails and global Teams calls ensuring work kept moving. We decided on a short sail for the afternoon, down to Valley Trunk Bay, Virgin Gorda, next to the Baths. This is a favorite spot for The Moorings’ photoshoots, with a West facing sandy shore and not a soul in sight. We did a run past the Baths to admire the empty mooring field, then anchored for the night. I put a paddle board in the water, enjoying the perfect conditions and headed ashore, relishing seeing just my footprints on the beach. The sunset was long and dreamy, we were really living on island time now.
This was a big day! We sailed West to Nanny Cay for the Day 4 COVID test at 9 AM, which we received notice for the prior day from the BVI Gateway Portal team. We docked in the outer harbor and a taxi soon pulled up to take us over to Peebles hospital. (The taxi is not included in the fee you pay the BVI when you complete the portal application and costs about $16-18 round-trip per person). A short wait at the designated tent area outside the hospital and within an hour we were swabbed and back on the dock, where we ran into our dock neighbors from the first night at The Moorings. Stuart and Max were on a father and son trip, enjoying the sailing on a Moorings 42.3 monohull ‘Contango’. (Note: We are now able to facilitate transport to the testing site from our Moorings marina for the Day 4 test. Our staff will arrange a taxi for you; $14/person).
It’s truly a small world there right now, you see the same boats dotted about all week. Our initial plan was to sail from there over to the quarantine anchorage on Jost Van Dyke, so we WhatsApp’d Greg Romney for permission to cross the exclusion zone, where the BVI keeps an eye on potential intrusions from the nearby U.S. Virgin Islands. Having just found out we could do our return to the US predeparture COVID test on Jost Van Dyke later in the trip, we decided instead to head East to check out the quarantine anchorage at Cooper Island ‘Haulaway Bay’. However, with the on-going south easterly breeze we found a more protected overnight anchorage at Little Harbor, Peter Island, (knowing that the Willy T awaited just around the corner for our first day liberated from quarantine).
As hoped for, we had our negative results by mid-morning and motored around to the Bight at Norman Island and ceremoniously took down our yellow Q flag. We were now free to sail wherever we pleased, took a mooring ball within a stone’s throw of the Willy T, and eyed the waving arms encouraging us over.
Instead I took some photos of a Moorings 4500 parked next to the Willy T and before too long it was motoring past us, with friendly waves from the kids and adults as they headed towards a ball in front of Pirates Bight. We decided to follow suit with the choice of primo balls right in front of the beach. Soon our neighbors had deployed giant floats, paddle boards and splashing kids, so we headed over to introduce ourselves and find out more about them. Semi-retired F22 fighter pilots now flying worldwide for FedEx and UPS, Jonathan and Patrick had brought their wives Julie and Noelle and kids down for 10 days of rest and relaxation and to get out of the Alaskan cold. Graduates of Offshore Sailing School and years of small boats at home, they were having a blast and already planning their next trip to Tahiti and debating whether between them they could handle the Moorings 5800 bareboat. The kids told me all about the sparkly fish they had met and how online school on a boat was no problem! The day concluded with a Painkiller ashore as the sun set, followed by conch fritters and a Mahi platter, feeling incredibly lucky that we could travel to this idyllic place, and see it as it must have been when the BVI were unknown to most.
We stopped at the Indians for some snorkelling, but a new Easterly breeze had picked up and the conditions were a little swirly. Overcoming my reluctance to look like a dork, I donned the vivid yellow safety vest, and actually enjoyed the light buoyancy provided on my water world safari. Top tip – consider bringing a pair of gardening gloves as some of the untouched balls have quite a collection of barnacles growing on them. After some parrotfish, blue tang and yellowtail snapper sightings, it was time to dry off and head for the shoreside sights of Virgin Gorda.
Last year we enjoyed Maya Cove and the ‘Top of the Baths’, so this time we decided to check out the epic views across North Sound from Hog Heaven’s large deck, and we weren’t disappointed, with intermittent rain showers and sunshine resulting in a delicate rainbow over Necker Island. Our taxi hung out long enough to transport us over to happy hour at Sugarcane, which has a cool vibe, a nice pool and warm sunset views of the Dogs and Tortola.
Day Seven was a short motor from Leverick over to Oil Nut Bay Marina for Sunday brunch. The marina facilities are top notch, with restaurant, bar, infinity pool, boutique and cafe, and the DJ and sax duo provided the vibes for a mixed crowd of residents and yachties. Soon after we enjoyed a leisurely sail back to base to watch the Tampa Bay Buccaneers playing in the Super Bowl on the Mariner Yacht Club outdoor bar TVs. It was a great way to connect with many of my friends and colleagues cheering on from home and a great success for our team.
This day saw a change of boat and crew, as I was given the opportunity to sea-trial the new Moorings 534 Power Cat, with special guests: new Moorings BVI General Manager Allan Stokes and BVI Spring Regatta Director Judy Petz. Join us on the next chapter… Coming soon.
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