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Sailors from the North return to the BVI

Skipper’s Tips: Here Come the Sun Kings

If the days are getting noticeably shorter, it must be about the time of year that Canada starts draining its citizens south.

The snowbirds—or Sun Kings as I prefer—shake their feathers out, make one last (free) medical appointment and cast off lines, bound for the mighty Caribbean. This migration route has been followed for decades if not centuries and, while the destinations remain much the same, the details change quite a bit. It is in this that I ask the question: which of the myriad pursuits known to man yields as many life lessons, both sweet and bitter, as the nautical life?

For those who are new to the British Virgin Islands (BVI) or who haven’t been here for a few years, in the spirit of a new season, I wish to impart a few friendly pointers about our paradisiacal locale. First, you might notice that many of the boats plying these waters have an extra hull. This is so the passengers—or crew we sometimes call them—who enjoy their solitude, can have their own space during the course of the day. The separation of cabins has an added benefit: no sound of snoring – unless you’re sleeping next to a prodigy of the nose flute.

These boats with the snap-on extra hull are reputedly designed for sailing, but no one has actually seen them do so for any protracted amount of time; however, on certain narrowly defined points of sail, sometimes there might be a scrap of jib allowed to flog discreetly above the foredeck.

Another renowned observation of our ‘sailing capital of the world’ as we are often know, is that at certain times of the year, incredible, immense motor yachts and their sail-bedecked sisters can be found at specific anchorages. This is a grand spectacle for avid sailors, amateurs or veterans. Many of the largest yachts manage to moor close by one another for the annual, testosterone-driven contest—often held in North Sound, Virgin Gorda, around Christmas. Certain millionaires and billionaires strut and pose with wives and children aboard their vessels, before dropping off the family and scuttling off to St Barths or Jost Van Dyke in time for the grand New Year’s celebrations.

Beef Island airport is often busy at this time as legions of the affluent community exit private jets and are whisked away to the waiting mega yachts, intending to work their entertaining excursions around the bountiful islands available. Speaking of the abundance of islands, this is what makes the BVI special amongst its Caribbean siblings; sailors have 60 islands and cays to navigate and enjoy the intriguing libations and fresh fare afforded.

Another thing a visitor might note, is the increasing concentration of ownership of islands. Richard Branson has two now, as does Henry Jarecki. Larry Page only has one, Eustatia, but when he bought it he ‘Googled’ the details and found he is actually the landlord of a second, Saba Rock. So the end result is that newcomers might end up restricting their island hopping to Marina Cay, Seal Dog and Cockroach Island, the others being staunchly defended by security squads seconded from Dr. No. Alternatively, there’s always Anegada— but we’d rather dissuade you from that gem. It’s too nice.

As you can see, this is a morsel of the fascinating attributes the British Virgin Islands presents and a snippet of the sailing adventures offered. It’s for reasons like this that people often fail to make that return journey north.


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