Our posse arrived at the Beef Island Airport in Tortola from Baltimore, New York City and Lancaster, Pennsylvania ready for our six-night charter. Luckily it was just a short ride to the MarineMax Charter base of operations at Hodges Creek Marina (284-494-5000), because we were all starving and in need of our first BVI rum punch. The staff at the marina were happy to help us sort that out.
Our MarineMax 43-foot monohull had already been provisioned, so we were just waiting for our infamous captain, Jelly Belly, to arrive to start our adventure. After a quick swim at the marina pool we found out that Jelly Belly had been delayed, thus prompting us to give him a new nickname before we'd even met him: Jelly Delayed. Captain Kevin would get us underway until Jelly could catch up with us. Eager to set sail, and feeling happy and loose from what had now been several rounds of rum punches, we untied from the dock and headed out toward Cooper Island, a straight shot from Tortola.
At Cooper Island's Manchioneel Bay we grabbed a mooring ball and decided it was time for a swim off the boat, our first of many. However, for some reason we also thought it would be fun to rig a swing with the boat lines, which did not exactly work out as planned. Soon we heard a boat engine and turned to see the MarineMax tender approaching, with Jelly Belly onboard. Jelly Delayed! we called out as we swung from the lines, all but oblivious to our rope-burned hands. Little did we know that the real adventure was about to begin.
By this point it was late afternoon and so we motored back toward Beef Island and found one of the last mooring balls at Marina Cay. That night we took the dinghy to Pusser's (284-340-5678, pussers.com) for dinner. We tasted our first Painkillers, danced to a DJ who also performed a fire ritual, and ran into friends from Baltimore who were spending three months cruising the BVIs. What a small world.
As we were preparing to leave Marina Cay, a small boat filled with baskets of fruits, vegetables, herbs, T-shirts, and jewelry manned by two smiling guys pulled up next to us. Turns out, they were associated with Aragorn's Studio, the arts center next to the airport and site of Tortola's infamous full moon parties. Our first shopping experience, and we didn't even have to leave the boat! We loaded up on fresh produce and trinkets and shoved off under full sail, headed toward Virgin Gorda. The winds were whipping so the four-hour trip was full of excitement, especially for the non- sailors aboard. We arrived at Virgin Gorda's Leverick Bay thirsty and hungry, so we grabbed a mooring ball and dinghied in to Jumbies Beach Bar (284-495-7154) for tasty pizza and fish tacos and, of course, rum punch. After lunch, we motored around the corner to a beautiful little harbor and claimed a mooring ball for the night. From our spot we had a great view of Biras Creek Resort (284-394-3555, biras.com), one of the top luxury destinations in the BVIs, on the surrounding hillside.
That night we asked Jelly Belly where the locals go for dinner. He replied quickly: the Fat Virgin Café (284-495-7052, fatvirgin.com). With a name like that and Jelly's recommendation, we couldn't pass it up. The charming, casual spot is only accessible via Biras Creek or the water, so we dinghied over and plopped down at one of the picnic tables, then tucked into deli- cious jerk chicken and the locals' favorite, conch roti. Jelly seemed to know everyone everywhere we went, but especially at the Fat Virgin. We found him in the kitchen with the local women, chatting up a storm. Jelly Belly lives here, the women laughed.
The next day we were scheduled to go just a few hundred yards, to the marina at the Bitter End Yacht Club (284-494-2746, beyc.com), so we took some time that morning to explore. At Biras Creek Resort we got a behind-the-scenes tour and swung by their fantastic, well-stocked boutique, then headed over to Bitter End, where we were all excited for the spa treatments that had been booked by our partner Sea Concierge (703-957-0570, sea-concierge.com), which helped us plan our charter. Captain Jelly did an amazing job docking our vessel between two mega yachts.
The spa at Bitter End is on top of a jungly hill, and has a tree-house feel and gorgeous views of the harbor. Our group sampled almost everything on the menu from traditional deep-tissue massage to the Cooling Indian Head Massage. After our treatments and some showers we met at the Crawl Pub for cocktails, then hit the Clubhouse Grill for dinner. The terrific staff at Bitter End treated us well, and we feasted on whole roasted pig, johnny cakes and Key Lime pie. After dinner, we moved over to the dance floor to burn off some calories.
The conga line was our favorite except when one of our crew broke a flip flop.
The next morning a few of us went for a trail run, some of us hit the Bitter End shops, and at least one of us was content to sample the fresh baked bread available at the Emporium. We also loved looking at the home-club burgees that boaters had brought from all over the world and left at the restaurant for display. Jelly Belly gathered us back to the boat, and with steady winds we took off for Norman Island, said to be the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. En route we stopped by the Baths, but the red flag was flying because of the surf and strong winds, so we gave it a miss.
Four hours later we were moored at Norman Island, ready to experience the in- famous Willy T's floating bar (284-340-8603, williamthornton.com). We'd heard stories about this place, and they're all true it was a crazy scene. By early afternoon people were already dancing, singing, drinking and jumping off the second-floor balcony into the water. That night we hit the Pirates Bight (284-443-1305, piratesbight.com), a recently renovated restaurant with a mod South Beach feel. The food was excellent, but the service did not match it (we recommend going early before the crowds).
Jelly Belly had us up early the next day so that we could snorkel in the nearby Caves before the crowds descended on the famous spot. It was magical, our favorite snorkeling of the trip, and we had the area all to our- selves. There are three main caves, and we're pretty sure we heard a sea monster in cave three (or it could have been the suction of the waves crashing inside the cave). After snorkeling, the sails were hoisted and we were off to Jost Van Dyke. After four hours of wing-on-wing sailing (also known as chicken wing) we arrived at Jost's White Bay. The water was incredibly clear, so after grabbing a mooring ball most of us jumped in and started swimming toward the Soggy Dollar Bar (284-495-9888, soggydollar.com). After our swim, we felt we'd definitely earned a Painkiller, especially since this is where they were supposedly invented. After lunch we took naps on the beach and sampled one last drink Jewel's party punch at a beachside bar. By the time we motored around to Great Harbor the moorings were all taken, so Jelly had to maneuver an anchorage for us, which he made look easy. We dinghied to shore to make a dinner reservation at Foxy's (284-495-9258, foxysbar.com), which consisted of writing our boat's name on a clipboard, then spent a little time in the now-expansive shop.Dinner was a blast and included great ribs, shrimp, and mahi mahi, not to mention stellar service and, of course, dancing. Even though Foxy's has grown from a small beachside bar into a large complex, it's still too fun to miss.
We were all feeling a little sad on our last full day, but then Jelly Belly suggested we go shopping at Sopers Hole, on the western tip of Tortola, en route to Peter Island. Brightly colored shops and restaurants line the harbor, and after zipping through them we were re-energized. At Peter Island, the largest private island in the BVIs, we found a secluded mooring ball and then immediately jumped off the boat to snorkel and explore the gorgeous bright orange and purple coral. Jelly took us by dinghy to a beach where a local fisherman was throwing a net, then pointed us to a trail that eventually led to Peter Island Resort (800-346-4451, peterisland.com) and Deadman's Beach Bar (it does seem that most of our trails on this trip ended at a bar).
We did some final snorkeling in the morning, then had an easy sail back to Hodges Creek Marina on Tortola to catch our flights home. It was hard to say goodbye to Captain Jelly Belly. He had really become our friend during the week and we all knew that the charter wouldn't have been the same without him. After tearful farewells it was a quick ride to the airport. With time to kill, we strolled over to Trellis Bay, where the bustling arts community of Aragorn's Studio is located. It's a great place to pick up a last-minute souvenir and make some final memories.
We can't wait until next year!