Dries Buytaert

Boating in the British Virgin Islands

We spent a week on a power catamaran exploring the British Virgin Islands (BVI). The purpose of the trip was twofold: to experience the BVI, and to come home with a boating license.

The BVI are somewhat hard to get to. It's part of what makes them so stunningly unspoiled. Getting to the BVI required flying from Boston to San Juan, and then from San Juan to Tortola. The flight to Tortola involved a very small plane, which was an experience in itself.

An airline worker stuffing luggage in the wing of a small plane
The plane to Tortola was so small that the luggage had to go in the wings. The pilot also sized each passenger up and decided where we would sit to evenly distribute the weight.

On the first day we met our captain (and instructor) and charted to our first destination; Oil Nut Bay at the Island of Virgin Gorda. It's where we got introduced to the BVI's signature drink; the "painkiller".

Four different rum cocktails lined up next to each others
Painkillers and rum punches, the most popular drinks in the BVI. Every bar and restaurant serves them.
Vanessa watching the sunset from an infinity pool while having a cocktail
Vanessa enjoying a cocktail from the pool at Nova on Oil Nut Bay. Our boat is in the background, tied to a mooring buoy.

We spent the next six days island hopping around the BVI. Each day, we'd arrive at a different near-deserted Caribbean island. We'd tie our boat to a mooring ball, and jump off the boat to swim or paddle board.

A woman standing on a paddle board, surrounded by boats on mooring balls
Taking a stand-up paddle board out in a bay.

After our swim, we'd take our dinghy to shore to explore the island of the day. On shore, there is little to nothing except maybe a few beach bars and restaurants scattered around. In the evening, we'd either cook dinner on the boat, or enjoy the rare restaurant or bar on the island.

Dinghies tied up to a dock
Taking our dinghy to a restaurant on shore.

Each island has perfect soft sand and pristine turquoise water. But each island also has something unique to offer; Cooper Island had a rum bar with a selection of 300 rums; Jost Van Dyke had an amazing beach bar (the famous Soggy Dollar who invented the Painkiller); Trellis Bay has a great sushi restaurant; and The Baths are a unique national park, and a must-see attraction.

A hand on top of a nautical chart and next to a course plotter
Navigation planning using a nautical chart, course plotter, and brass dividers.

Every day, we had classroom-style learning and practiced driving the boat. This included navigation planning, docking exercises, man-overboard maneuvers, anchoring, and more. At the end of the week, I took the theoretical and practical exams, and passed! Next time, I'll be able to charter my own boat.

— Dries Buytaert