Returning to the Scene of the Crime

I haven’t had a charter vacation in almost two years. I recognize that’s a First World Problem, especially when I consider the fact that I’ve been to both St. John and St. Thomas on separate land-based trips since then. Yet, rather than those visits calming the urge to sail in the tropics, the tantalizing proximity of the epicenter of Caribbean sailing—the British Virgin Islands (BVI)—makes the longing more intense.

For various reasons, I haven’t been to the BVI in over a dozen years, not least of which is their increasing (and in my opinion, excessive) popularity. Nevertheless, the islands retain a magnetic attraction. Ultimately, I overcame my reluctance to be an odious daytripper and gave into the gravitational pull, making plans to ferry over to Jost Van Dyke from St. Thomas and return to some fuzzily remembered spots.

There is something about a sailing trip in the BVI that causes a loosening of inhibitions. In the case of me and my friends, it’s necessitated the adoption of “boat aliases”—not that it’s of much help, because those of us who sail out of Annapolis are almost guaranteed to run into someone who is no more than a degree or two of separation from someone known to us. Even so, my crews and I have participated in just about every naughty BVI activity there is despite our normally buttoned-down land lives. From sailing nekkid to Anegada to being photographed with the infamous Bomba without paying the fee, we’ve done things that make the uptight visitors on jitney buses from cruise ships look at us like zoo exhibits.

In fairness, sailors already have a justly deserved reputation for carousing. But a trip to the BVI seems to magnify that sort of behavior. For starters, it’s vacation, which means you don’t have to wake to any alarms or explain your hangover as long as you’re there. For those of us with stressful “real” lives, the release is undeniable. (I think there may also be a bit of competitiveness at work, whereby the sailors who are staying in the BVI want to demonstrate their superiority over the cruise ship people and daytrippers by showing them they don’t have any tenders or ferries to catch, and can therefore play harder.)

Beyond the mere fact of being on vacation, the BVI make it easy to let loose. For the most part, it’s a gentle and compact cruising ground, making it deceptively simple for a first-time visitor to feel like an expert after one trip. If your anchoring skills aren’t up to snuff, there aren’t many harbors which lack mooring balls. And if you don’t want to go to the trouble of going ashore for necessities, you can have them brought to you.

If you do go ashore, the BVI are the Caribbean’s beach bar capital. There’s no shortage of gorgeous strands of sand with one (or more) deceptively ramshackle hut from which rum-spiked concoctions flow. Lest you be fooled by the relaxed vibe at the bars, these booze purveyors are steely professionals, seeking to sell as many Painkillers as they can, and getting you to pay for the privilege of advertising for them with their dazzling array of T-shirts, caps, and cups for sale. (You know you’ve seen those shirts everywhere!)

Most importantly, the beach bars are mostly lethal only to your brain cells, for there are few safer environments in which to imbibe. You’re typically there with your crew, one of whom is usually prudent enough (or designated) to go easy on the rum so as to be able to run the dinghy. And if you’re visiting my favorite spot on Jost Van Dyke, the Soggy Dollar Bar, you don’t even need a dinghy. Just swim “home.” 

--by Eva Hill