Annapolis Staff Visits the BVI

Staff from our Annapolis reservations office visited the BVI in early May. Hear the latest about the islands from a first-hand account of what it’s like to charter the VOYAGE 480 Electric!

Facilities in the BVIs get better with each passing day and a four-night cruise from our Soper’s Hole base to Marina Cay, Virgin Gorda, Anegada and Jost Van Dyke took in some of the area’s favorite spots. Boaters are flocking back to the Virgin Islands and enjoying wonderful sailing conditions and a warm welcome.

A mid-afternoon, Sunday flight into St. Thomas provided the perfect opportunity to experience Ocean Dreams water taxi service from Red Hook to West End Tortola. Shelby and Captain Brian Christopher took care of everything from the baggage carousel at St. Thomas airport until we were along side the VOYAGE dock at Soper’s Hole Marina. We even got a view of carnival in down town Charlotte Amalie on our drive through to Red Hook with cab driver Lew. The Ocean Dreams service was first class and is a great way to kick off your VOYAGE charters vacation.

 Day 1

Omar’s Fusion Restaurant is a stone’s throw from the VOYAGE reception building with delicious food and a view of the sunset. Dinner there was followed by breakfast at D’ Best Cup next morning and the prompt arrival of our pre-ordered provisions by Rite Way. Scott and Nicoll at Island Surf and Sail receive excellent reviews on Trip Advisor for their service and it is well deserved! Paddle boards were ready and waiting aboard our VOYAGE 480.

Renovations at Soper’s Hole Marina continue with work currently focused on the new bulkhead and walkway. VOYAGE charters main dock in front of reception is operational providing slip space, fuel and water. Electrical pedestals are awaiting installation and the flags are flying!

VOYAGE 480 “Electrified” has been very busy since her arrival earlier this year, but a gap in the schedule gave us an opportunity to spend a few days aboard this unique vessel. She is currently the only vessel electric yacht in the VOYAGE fleet but hull #001 of the new VOYAGE 590 range will be similarly equipped and available for charter in 2020.

Base manager Rane Downing ran through operation of the Oceanvolt SEA systems and then we were ready to depart. A few empty moorings buoys in West End harbor were used to get familiar with the feel of the electric drives; the initial lack of noise does take some adjustment but maneuverability in brisk 20 knots winds showed the motors had plenty of power for this size of vessel.

With white caps dotting Drake’s Channel and a full afternoon of daylight to burn, Cooper Island was chosen as the initial destination. Under full main and slightly reduced genoa, Electrified sailed to windward at pace and in comfort, all the time topping up the 32KW battery bank via solar and propeller regeneration. Rane has coined the term “watts sailing” and it does not take long to understand the addiction of watching the charging watts rise as you trim the sails and increase boat speed. The sailing performance of the VOYAGE 480 is a perfect match for the requirements of regeneration and the typical winds and sun of the BVIs does the rest!

As our port tack course was taking us directly toward Great Harbour, Peter Island we decided to head in and see the new Willy T’s location. Willy T III is certainly the biggest to date and is as popular as ever. It’s great to have something for yachts to visit between Norman Island and Cooper Island, so it would be a pity if the vessel has to move on from here, as has been suggested. In the meantime, keep it on your itinerary and plan a stop.

Passing Dead Chest and Salt Island we could see lots of yachts already moored at Manchioneel Bay. The new Cooper Island Beach Club seems to be on everyone’s list of places to visit and they’ve a done an excellent job of rebuilding the facility. Be warned, if you want to get a mooring you will need to arrive early or pre-book one of the moorings. The resort discourages anchoring in the bay as it damages the sea grass beds. Counter currents and swirling winds add to the complication, so plan ahead.

A final starboard tack from Cooper island took us comfortably over to Scrub Island and by late afternoon Electrified was sitting on a mooring behind Marina Cay. The restaurant and bar at Marina Cay are utilizing a marquee tent for the time being and, along with Pusser’s usual fare; we hear good things about local musicians playing on the deck. This little island and its protecting reef is still one of the BVI’s landmark locations and it’s good to see visitors enjoying the atmosphere. If you are looking for a little more sophistication, then Scrub Island Resort is only a short dinghy ride away, or you could choose to stay on their dock. The aft deck area of Electrified, with its built in propane grill, was used to prepare and enjoy that evening’s dinner. After sunset the blue underwater lights brought tarpon out to feed under the stern.

 Day 2

An air-conditioned night of comfort was achieved in near silence; Electrified’s automatic generator only ran for one hour to top off the battery bank. During breakfast we ran the water maker, again without need of the generator, and by the time we were ready to leave the tanks were full.

Fresh winds were forecast for the day and our over night destination was to be the North Sound of Virgin Gorda. A long starboard tack toward Ginger Island saw the wind shifting further east and a second tack to port put Electrified on a course between Virgin Gorda and the Dog Islands. Whilst most yachts were making a beeline for a stop at The Baths, we made the most of calmer inshore waters and great winds. Solar and regeneration worked their silent magic and we were soon past Mountain Point and looking to make a final tack into the Colquhoun Reef/Prickly Pear entrance of the North Sound. Once through the channel markers we sailed into the lee of Prickly Pear and dropped sail. With only battery power, we could motor peacefully around the anchorages starting at Biras Creek. The dock and mooring field there were in use and several yachts had stopped over. There does not appear to be anything open onshore as far as the resort is concerned.

The Saba Rock Resort was undergoing a high level of construction activity. Cranes, barges and labor were on site and much progress was evident. Navigating on past Saba Rock to Deep Bay is made relatively easy now that channel markers are maintained but it does get shallow so proceed with caution.

The Oil Nut Bay Resort has opened a beautiful marina beach club facility at the entrance to Deep Bay. Overnight dockage is available, and this gives access to the restaurant, shop and swimming pool. The view out over the fringing reef and Necker Island is worth the visit alone.

Re-tracing our course, we headed Electrified back into the North Sound and past the sandy beach of Vixen Point on Prickly Pear Island. This has always been a great spot to anchor for some beach time and it was good to see several vessels doing just that. Nothing is open on shore there at present so take a beverage with you.

Earlier in the day, we used the BoatyBall app to reserve a mooring at Leverick Bay, so we made our way across to get our spot for the evening. Leverick Bay is fully open for business and doing a roaring trade. The restaurant, beach bar, docks, shops, swimming pool and supermarket are ready and waiting! Michael Beans was doing the last show of his regular winter season and the crowd participation was evident. I don’t know how many times he has done his routine but he genuinely seems to enjoy it all and takes the time to chat with folks before and after the shows. He seems to know a little bit about everywhere, much like Foxy at JVD. Drinks and appetizers ashore were followed by dinner on the boat and plans of our sail to Anegada in the morning.

 Day 3

A steady stream of yachts started to depart Leverick Bay from early morning, and most were heading in the direction of Anegada. It was clear that not all our neighboring yachts were equipped with water makers as there was something of a line up to take on water at the dock. No such concerns on Electrified as our water maker and icemaker had done their work. The diesel tank gauge had barely moved from full, as the generator’s running time had been minimal. A note on water making: if you are going to Anegada, make water before you arrive and after you leave. The anchorage at Setting Point is very shallow and the soft sand bottom makes the water dense with sand particles. This will quickly clog the water maker pre-filters, so avoid making water there.

We were ready to go sometime after 9 am, at which point there was a procession of yachts ahead of us. Passing Richard Branson’s Necker Island, with its windmills sweeping around in the steady trade winds, it felt good to be on our own little self-sufficient Electrified Island!

Anegada is very low-lying and not visible until you are about halfway across. With winds in the 18 to 20 knots range, Electrified sat on 9 to 10 knots boat’s speed and she reeled in boat after boat. All VOYAGE 480s are exceptionally good sailing vessels and customarily out-perform many larger yachts. This particular point of sail and accompanying boat speed generated prodigious amounts of regeneration with each motor showing over 1kw of electricity going back to the battery banks.

The buildings, trees and the masts of yachts still in harbor at Setting Point were quite visible now. Yachts ahead of us could be seen dropping sails and motoring in through the channel markers and before long we were doing to same. Be sure to follow the channel in and don’t be tempted to turn into the anchorage until you have passed the last green marker to port. Although it was only late morning, all the moorings at the front of the harbor were occupied so we motored down wind and found an anchoring spot well clear of other vessels. Holding in the soft sand bottom is typically good and the shallow depth means a short scope of chain along with the heavy Delta anchor is sufficient. Be warned this anchorage is shallow. We anchored Electrified comfortably in about 5 feet of water but a larger Lagoon cat that came in after (yes, we caught and passed it on the sail over!) ran aground behind us. They got going again with no damage done, fortunately.

A friendly guy from the Lobster Trap Restaurant dinghied out to us and dropped off a menu; he also mentioned we could get a cab or rent scooters from there. We sat a while to take in the view and make sure the boat was settled then headed over to their dock. The bar and restaurant have a very nice feel so we made a dinner reservation and stayed for lunch. L & M Scooter Rentals is right next door and Michael fixed us up right away. He gave as a thorough run down of everything we needed to know, especially the sections of road best avoided on these small-wheeled bikes. We had the whole afternoon to explore and started with the flamingo viewing spot just a short ride down the road. Michael told us most of the birds would be out feeding during the day but a few would be on the salt ponds. Sure, enough we could see a dozen or more bright pink birds from the observation platform by the road. Our next stop was Loblolly Bay on the north shore. Flash of Beauty Restaurant is the place to go here and they were doing a good trade. There is a great section of shallow reef to snorkel from the beach, but the fresh winds were making a little too much wave action to entice many in. We took a swim and sat on the beach, the outer reef on the north shore creates a line of breaking waves as far as you can see. Sea grape trees fringe the back of the beach and some are quite large and old. We stood under one that was teeming with birds and insects feeding on the small flowers. Although at first glance this dry coral island looks a harsh arid place for wild life, it’s surprising what flourishes here.

Another favorite beach spot for us is Cow Wreck Beach. Our ride there took us back past Anegada airport and the small community known as the Settlement. Most of the islands 250 residents live here and a large hanger on the outskirts of town houses the oversized generators that provide power to the island. Back in the days of the Apollo Space Program there was a tracking station on Anegada. This prompted the construction of some basic infrastructure on the island such as the airfield, sections of paved road and buildings.

Riding back past Settling Point and Pomato Point around to Cow Wreck Beach, the road is mainly paved then becomes hard packed sand. There is a lively beach bar and restaurant here and a gift shop, also a row of 4 cottages that look like vacation rentals. Lots of visitors were enjoying the late afternoon before heading back to their boats or cottages. This really is a stunning stretch of white sand beach and we took time to walk along by the surf. We saw a dark shape gliding in the shallow water and recognized it was spotted eagle ray looking for a meal buried in the soft sand. This was a good size adult ray, and later in the day we saw 2 small juvenile rays swimming on the surface near the Lobster Trap dock.

We handed the scooters back to our friends at L & M just after 5 pm then spent a couple of hours on the boat before our 7:30 dinner reservation. Anegada is a great place for watching the sunset but we had just a little too much cloud cover for the possibility of a “green flash” this time. Our lobster dinner on the deck at the Lobster Trap was delightful. Nicely laid tables, good service and perfectly grilled spiny lobster. I have not enjoyed lobster this well cooked since the days when Lowell Wheatley ran the Anegada Beach Club with his partner Sue. It’s great to see how popular Anegada has become these days and it’s very much due to the long years of work put in by the likes of the Soares family at Neptunes Treasure and Lowell at Anegada Beach Club.

 Day 4

Thursday’s sail took us down past the north side of Tortola with the prospect of an overnight stop in the vicinity of Jost Van Dyke. A direct course from Setting Point to JVD usually puts the wind so far aft that you are close to a run. This is not my favorite point of sail so we headed a little higher, making for Guana Island. This also took us near a popular snorkel spot at Monkey Point. I wanted to see how Electrified sailed under genoa alone and we made an easy 6 knots, just the speed where you see worthwhile output from the regeneration. The solar panels mounted on the hard top bimini were also clear of shade from the mainsail, so our green power was working well! If you have fishermen in your group, the waters between Anegada and Tortola can produce some good catches and a slower boat speed is good for trolling.

It looked like many of the yachts from our previous night were Jost Van Dyke bound and by the time we approached Sandy Cay it was clear it would be another busy night at Foxy’s. Great Harbour and White Bay were packed with yachts and people enjoying the laid back atmosphere that Jost Van Dyke has become known for. White Bay is another gem of the BVIs and the proliferation of beach bars and villas in this area speak to its popularity. It is always worth a visit, but you better get there early! Back in Great Harbour, Foxy is going strong; we last saw him at the Annapolis Boat Show in October 2018 where he performed at the invitation of the BVI Tourist Board. He still does his old favorites plus some Irma and Maria inspired additions.

We opted to spend the night in Little Harbor where Abe’s and Sidney’s Peace & Love bars are open for business. You can get cab rides from there to anywhere else on the island. Our view across to Tortola was of Apple, Carrot and Long Bays. The first rain showers of the week rolled down over Sage Mountain and gave us a sprinkle or two. The islands are dry at the moment, particularly the south facing hills, so rain was welcome. We had another peaceful night on board and watched more tarpon in the blue lights.

The next morning we made a short sail across to Soper’s Hole and up to the VOYAGE charters brand new main dock, easily spotted by the twin 30ft flag poles with flags flying high in the breeze. VOYAGE charters staff was ready to get Electrified turned around for her next group of guests, sleeping aboard that night.

Electrified performed flawlessly, the electrical systems integration make an already great VOYAGE 480 design into a sailor’s dream. I would say that for boaters who would rather motor from A to B than sail, then our regular diesel engine charter yachts are going to get you there quicker. My thoughts were summed up by the guests who took out Electrified the week after we got back. The skipper said, “Best charter I’ve done in 20 years of going to the BVIs…if I can’t charter an electric boat, I won’t charter!” Thanks for the quote Kevin!

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