Sailing the BVI After Irma

If you’ve been following the British Virgin Islands recovery since Irma with great interest, as we have from our Moorings Clearwater headquarters, stay tuned for a first-hand account from staff members who visited in December of 2017.  They have reported back with a daily account of their BVI experiences – complete with photos, video and interviews – direct from the BVI!

LATEST Update:  Watch our new Caribbean Comeback Tour Video! 

FRIDAY, December 8th - DAY 1 (Travel)

Flying from Tampa, Florida our flights took us through San Juan, Puerto Rico and then directly into Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport, otherwise known as Beef Island airport on Tortola. From San Juan, as we walked onto the tarmac to board our "puddle jumper" Seaborne flight aboard a two-engine turboprop plane.

I settle in for the short 30-minute flight, watching out the window but seeing nothing but clouds. When it cleared I got a first glimpse of the islands that I've come to love over the past 10 years. It was Jost Van Dyke, and then Sandy Cay both looking as lush and green as ever. White Bay still had the whitest sand beach, and the water was gorgeous. Clear and turquoise blue. In stark contrast – flying along Tortola's south coastline I could see what looked like entire apartment buildings with no roof. We flew over Paraquita Bay, where there were still badly damaged yachts scattered about on shore and among the mangroves.

As we landed, Trellis Bay was in clear view and it's disheartening – many yachts on shore – and Last Resort, one of my old favorites, looked to have taken a real beating. The airport looked good, and we flied through customs and immigration with no delays at all. Retrieving our bags, we were met at the curb by a new, air-conditioned van that was arranged by our Moorings Tortola staff. The drive to the charter base would take about 20-minutes, Rico our driver told us. We were quiet for much of the drive. So much to take in. So much damage to the homes and buildings along the way. The roads are in rough condition, but not so much so that it delays travel by much.

Rico told us that the linemen with the power company have been working incredibly hard, and that roughly 60% of the island now has power. Then he told us his story. About how his family was doing and how grateful they are to now have power. The locals are happy to share their stories, but I have yet to hear anyone complain. Quite the opposite. They couldn't wait to serve us, bending over backwards to make sure our needs were met.

At the charter base, we're simply amazed at the progress. Plants re-planted, shiny white boats perfectly lined up and shimmering the sun, and staff looking ready to greet visitors. Our bags are quickly delivered to the awaiting Moorings 433 Powercat that will be our home for the next few days. It's spotless and fully stocked with everything we would need for our charter, as well as with the provisions we'd pre-ordered from the Moorings online site.

Around the base, we hear several incredible personal stories of survival. They tell us that they often get kind offers of support and they reiterate that tourism will be the answer to their full recovery. More specifically, charter yachts. With many of the resorts currently closed, a yacht vacation is the best way to visit and help.

Another friendly and welcoming taxi driver, Julio, delivers us to Road Town for dinner at Pusser's. It's not only open, but quite lively with a full menu of amazing food and drink options. The Pain Killers are perfect, and we were even lucky enough to spot the Premier of the BVI at what looked like a serious power-meeting in progress!

SATURDAY, December 9th - DAY 2 (The Moorings BVI Base)

This morning is a busy day around the base. It’s opening day for both The Moorings and Sunsail and staff spirits are high. They also look incredibly sharp! As guests start to arrive it’s apparent that they are equally keyed up to be a part of the re-opening. A great feeling all around the base, and watching yacht after yacht depart from the dock full of enthusiastic charterers is absolutely heartening.

VP of Sales and Marketing, Josie Tucci, took some time with us to talk about her time in the cruising grounds over the last few days, and gave us some pointers for our charter.

A quick walk 10-minute walk to RiteWay to pick up a few last-minute provisions for our boat confirmed that local grocery stores have fully stocked shelves. They’ve got everything covered – fresh produce, water, ice…chocolate, beer. All the necessities.

Afternoon, and the base is hopping, with still so much to do. More guests are arriving and getting settled on their yachts. Evening brings with it a lively party in the courtyard with live calypso music and rum Pain Killer’s flowing freely, compliments of Pusser’s. It’s a great time for all, with the staff and guests reconnecting everywhere you look. Heart-warming!

Tomorrow, we’ll head to Norman Island. A flotilla party is planned at Pirates, benefiting the hurricane recovery and we can’t wait to see our charterers out on the water and enjoying the BVI once again!

SUNDAY, December 10th - DAY 3 (Norman, the Baths & Leverick)

A short walk to the nearby French Deli “La Baguette” rewarded us with a cappuccino and mini-quiche breakfast. Shortly after, we meet our captain, Dunbar, and we’re ready to leave the dock. It’s sunny and smooth cruising as we approach the Sir Francis Drake Channel. We head south toward Norman Island. Looking back on Tortola, it’s the vibrant green mountain sides that are most noticeable. It’s simply amazing how quickly the foliage has returned.

We see four charter yachts on the day mooring balls at the Indians. Nothing has changed here, gorgeous clear water and snorkelers enjoying the colorful fish and coral. Pirates at Norman Island is on the agenda, but it’s early and looks pretty quiet. We head over to the Caves for some snorkeling.

Cruising into the Bight we can see Willie T’s, the popular floating restaurant and bar, still on its side on shore. There are plenty of mooring balls available that appear to be in good condition. On shore, Pirates has two buildings visible – one finished open-air restaurant and bar, and the other still under construction following the hurricanes. Rupert, one of the managers here tells me that there is no ice or water for sale on the island, but Pirates is open and serving both lunch and dinner 7 days a week. Happy hour will also continue – happening daily from 4-6pm.

Charter yachts are starting to arrive for the BVI Strong Flotilla party at Pirates today, as well as many locals on smaller power boats. This weekly “flotilla” party circuit was started to bring people together in support of the BVIs. Each week supports a different venue and helps to spread the word about what’s open for business around the BVI.

The beach party is in full swing now, with a surprisingly large crowd and more boats continuing to arrive. Live music is playing, and the cool blue water is inviting when the sun gets too hot. The bar is busy and the drinks are flowing. An excellent buffet lunch is available, offering fish, ribs and more. We finish up our lunch and reluctantly head back to the boat. If we’re going to complete our planned itinerary today, we need to get back on the water.

Departing from Norman Island, we cruise along the south coast of Peter Island taking in the stunning green hillsides, commenting that you really would never know that this beautiful island has so recently survived such a forceful storm.  Peter Island Resort is currently closed and we continue on our way toward the Baths.

Once again, there are several charter yachts there when we arrive. Charter vacationers have definitely started to return to the BVI. Mooring balls are available, and just as before we had to swim in from our yacht. No dinghies are allowed on the beach here. The Baths look much the same as they always have, with the minor exception of some exposed roots near the beach, damaged signage and a slightly more rugged path as you head up toward the Top of the Bath restaurant and bar. The view from the top is stunning, and as they are open and serving breakfast and lunch daily this is a definite must-do on a “post-Irma” BVI itinerary. We enjoyed a drink with a view, complete with a dip in the swimming pool and visit to the boutique.

The sun was dipping down uncomfortably low and despite the enchanting view we realized it was time to head out so we could make the day’s final anchorage before sun down. We slide into Leverick Bay by last light, and as some of the mooring balls here are missing their pennant we dropped anchor instead.

Arriving so late, we haven’t really seen any of this area yet. Tomorrow we’ll go ashore at Leverick, and then see the rest of North Sound.

MONDAY, December 11th – DAY 4 (Anegada)

We get an early start, pulling up anchor and docking at Leverick Bay Resort to take a look around. The damage is significant. It’s not yet the beautiful, colorful resort we know and love. But they are pushing forward and making progress at a furious pace. Everywhere we look there are teams of people at work, and the manager Nick, tells us that they will be ready for our Moorings and Sunsail charter guests this season.

The good news? They are already open for lunch and dinner, and the market is well-stocked with ice and provisions. But there is no fuel or water at the dock yet.

We took a cruise around North Sound, surveying the damage. The destruction throughout the sound is devastating and heart-wrenching to see. The Bitter End and Saba Rock were almost entirely destroyed. It will be some time before either of these beloved resorts can welcome back their guests.

We departed North Sound, cruising west of Prickly Pear Island where there are some excellent places to anchor and enjoy some amazing scenery and snorkeling. Having heard that Anegada is recovering quite well, we look forward to seeing what’s available there for charter guests to enjoy.

When we arrive at Anegada, we dinghy ashore to Potter’s by the Sea. Most of the restaurants nearby are open for dinner now, including Wonky Dog.At Loblolly Bay, Big Bamboo has a small menu available for lunch. There is a well-stocked market nearby, and ‘Lil Bits across from Potter’s has ice available.

Potter’s by the Sea calls a taxi for us, and L&M arrives with open air seating – perfect for a fun ride over to Cow Wreck Beach – at just $5 per person. Another option is scooter rentals. S&K rents them for a fun day of exploring the island. Keep a lookout for the flamingos. They are still residing on island!

Walking up to Cow Wreck Beach Bar & Grill I’m so happy to see the property looking fantastic. It definitely still has the “wow” factor!  Beautiful conch shells neatly outline the inviting bar and seating areas, two small boutiques look tidy and freshly painted – all with the irresistible backdrop of a gleaming white beach and vibrant turquoise sea.

Anne is cheerfully greeting guests as they arrive. Her parents opened Cow Wreck Beach Bar years ago, and her mom’s obsession with conch shells is now the bar’s most distinguishing feature. Several of the other patrons tell us that this is a favorite spot in the BVI. And they love supporting these proprietors that go above and beyond to please. I tried a Wreck Punch – delicious! For a bit more kick (3 shots!) try the famous Cow Killer. And don’t miss the conch fritters. Easily the best I’ve ever had!

Back at Potter’s we decide to indulge with a lobster dinner, and make reservations for later that evening. After a quick shower back at the boat, we’re back at Potter’s for dinner. A few other tables of charter vacationers are around us enjoying the gorgeous evening by the water. The tables are decorated nicely with cloth linens and our orders come out quickly. The lobsters are “Anegada lobster” – no claws, absolutely huge, with a ton of tender meat inside! No visit to Anegada is complete without this final splurge.

Overall, Anegada is still fantastic with not as much evidence of the hurricanes as one might expect. Plan to spend 2 days here to take in all the sights!

TUESDAY, December 12th – DAY 5 (Great Harbour)

Today we visit Great Harbour on Jost Van Dyke. On our way, we cruise by Marina Cay and Trellis Bay. Both have a terrible amount of destruction. Marina Cay is closed, and the beach along Trellis Bay is littered with boats and debris. Still, the Trellis Bay Market is open for basics like ice and water. They’re also serving up breakfast and BBQ lunch here.

We pass Sandy Cay along the way. The wind is kicking up and the water is choppy so we choose not to stop and go ashore. The beach here is definitely smaller and the vegetation has not come back fully yet. It will take some time before it’s the postcard-perfect spot it was before, but still a lovely little day stop.

We depart and head on toward Jost Van Dyke. Cruising into Great Harbour we begin to see hints of the damage here, as well. The businesses along the beach are mostly destroyed. The old Foxy’s dock was gone, and they’ve managed to build a smaller floating dock for visitors. Mooring balls are plentiful and appear to be safe to use.

Ashore, we can see that Foxy’s has been working hard to recover. Evidence of damage is still everywhere you look, but they’ve rebuilt the bar area, and the boutique looks as good as ever and is fully stocked with great merchandise. They are open for cocktails, lunch and dinner. And Foxy himself is there to share a song and stories – and even his positive take on hurricane Irma!

Further down the beach, there’s Cool Breeze, a café that’s become popular for Wi-Fi along with its breakfast and lunch menu. We stop in for coffee and the Wi-Fi service is excellent. Further west of Cool Breeze, most everything is closed. The dive shop has only floorboards remaining, and Corsair’s looks nearly destroyed and currently remains closed. The church further down has no roof at all.

After we walk the beach, it’s back to Foxy’s for cocktails and shopping at the boutique. Charter visitors are starting to return, and a few locals will share their stories making for great conversation. As with other places we’ve visited, the locals here remain positive about the future despite the incredible hardships. So welcoming and particularly happy to see charter guests returning!

WEDNESDAY, December 13th – DAY 6 (White Bay)

First stop, White Bay! This happens to be one of my favorite places in the world, so I can’t wait to arrive and it’s just a short hop west from Great Harbour. At White Bay, the west-side channel markers are intact, so it’s easy avoid the reef and navigate safely into the anchorage. There are still some mooring balls for use here, but we chose to anchor, and then swim ashore to explore.

The ever-popular Soggy Dollar Bay is open and ready with cold Pain Killers on-demand! Repairs here are still underway, but things are looking up. Our bartender explained that the bar was one of the few things still standing after the storm so they rebuilt around it. The “Shut the box” game still sits on the table in the bar area, and they’ve even replaced the “ring game”. To my surprise there was a fair number of people arriving by boat to enjoy the stunning beaches, warm waters and drinks – enough so that the party vibe is beginning to return to this beach.

Several of the other bars and restaurants along the beach are in various states of repair. At Gertrude’s it looks like work is well underway. Hendo’s Hideout is now open, complete with inviting lounge chairs lined up along the water. Most of the other businesses here will be a while longer until they can reopen. Jost Van Dyke was definitely hit hard and White Bay is no exception.

Although the hillsides are lush and green, there is an absence of palm trees, sea grapes and foliage along the beach. Soggy Dollar already has a plan in place. We were happy for the opportunity to meet the owner, Jerry O’Connell, who explained that they are accepting donations for the cause of replanting the palm trees, not just at their own establishment but all along the White Bay beach.

Overall, despite the obvious destruction that took place here, it’s absolutely beautiful. And peaceful. It’s much less crowded and less “tourist-y” – they say its bit like it was 25 years ago, before the outside world discovered the magic of the BVI.

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Our week in the BVI was an incredible experience. Along the way, there was a common theme among all the people we met. They want visitors to come back and charter. They want to get the word out that the BVI is safe and still a fabulous place to vacation. These islands have a more welcoming feel than ever before.

There is plenty of food, water and ice here – not to mention rum drinks, warm sunshine and even warmer people. 

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