BVI Bliss

An Aquila 44 Powercat provides a platform for a BVI cruising adventure.

overhead view of a boat approaching a sandbar
The author’s chartered Aquila 44 approaches Sandy Spit, a sandbar just off Jost Van Dyke.Zach Stovall

I have showered open-airon the stern at daybreak. I have seen gleaming white yachts in sizes ranging from humble to mega; some with sails, some without, and some on which sails could be put, but the owner couldn’t be bothered to do so. I have seen clouds alight in a Pantone guide’s worth, only to be mirrored by a metallic, ­shimmering sea.

My quartet of shipmates from Tennessee and I have taken a weeklong hiatus from our day jobs to live out the lyrics of any country song involving boats and sand here in the British Virgin Islands. On this sunny, 83-degree day—as every day ­promises to be here—our Caribs are going down cold and the radio is cranked on the flybridge of Jewel Box, a brawny, three-stateroom Aquila 44 powercat from MarineMax Vacations.

She’s pointed toward Virgin Gorda while on our circuitous route through green hills that rise forth from turquoise waters.

zach stovall bvi image collage
From Left: The 3-foot-3-inch draft (top) helps in skinny water and the is 44 easy for a couple to handle (bottom). The Baths are a BVI must-do.Zach Stovall

At the helm sits Parker, a distinguished man who would not look out of place with epaulets on his shirt. His wife, Karen, is our resident snorkel goddess, and he is flanked by Matt and Milka, a couple contractually obligated to blend pina coladas to perfection. I am the fifth wheel, pressed into service as first-assistant buoy wrangler.

We tie up outside Spanish Town, teeing us up to be the first at daybreak to grab a coveted mooring ball at The Baths, the country's most recognizable natural wonder. We then celebrate our orientation aboard Jewel Box and first full day of BVI bareboating with sundowners at CocoMaya, a chic South Beach-inspired restaurant on the sand, and a must-see on any BVI cruise.

The next morning, I awake to Jewel Box's twin Volvo Pentas cranking all 520 horses, propelling us past the Club Med 2, a boutique cruise ship that just anchored, determined to inundate languorous beaches with acres of sun-seeking tourists. We quickly ready our snorkeling gear and dry bags, intent to swim ashore and have the granite grottoes mostly to ourselves. The boulders, rounded like giant river rocks, are piled at the edge of the sea. The experience of ­exploring their intimate passages is majestic, especially before the rest of the day's sightseer rush begins.

zach stovall bvi image collage
Clockwise from top left: Fresh Anegada lobster. Hiking in The Baths. Snorkeling at Norman Island. Pina Coladas on the hook. Cruising off Jost Van Dyke.Zach Stovall

Our next stop is Anegada, where, looking to beat the tour groups on land too, we rent a Suzuki at the Anegada Beach Club. “Drive on the left. Keep it under 30. We have wild cows, wild sheep, wild donkeys and wild people. They all roam freely,” club owner Lawrence Wheatley says.

Regarded by some as the British Virgin Islands’ sleepy stepsister, Anegada’s an outlier not only for its physical distance from the chain, but also for its flat, featureless silhouette on the horizon. The 15-mile run from our overnight spot at Leverick Bay took an hour and 40 minutes, by Parker’s count.

After navigating the ship-swallowing reef that ­encircles the island, we’re hungry for a lobster lunch, which was promised to Matt and Milka long before we set foot in the BVI. Passing more cows than cars, we land at Big Bamboo on Loblolly Bay, a 10-mile ribbon of gleaming white sand fronted by the reef where our lunch once lived. As we wait for the lobsters to grill, we occupy ourselves with chilled Caribs and swing in woven chairs hung from seagrape trees.

Alas, even in paradise, we eventually have to press onward.

The view from Norman Island overlooking The Bight in the British Virgin Islands
The view from Norman Island overlooking The Bight in the British Virgin Islands.Zach Stovall

Next is Jost Van Dyke, where Matt, Parker and I stare at the last mooring ball, which is missing part of its pennant. Matt and I call “not it” to swim to the buoy and secure the boat. We surely have ­onlookers: A flotilla is anchored stern-to the sand, with skippers as eager to enjoy White Bay Beach as we are. A string of bars known for rum punch and cornhole is just above the high-water mark. There’s Seddy’s One Love, Ivan’s Stress-Free Bar and, of course, the Soggy Dollar, where Painkillers (the cocktail, not the pills) have eased seafarers’ ails for decades.

Our time sipping Painkillers under the palms is short, but effective, as Parker notes many other charters have cut and run for Peter Island's Great Harbour, a protected overnight anchorage minutes away. We follow suit, having a New York-style pizza on the beach, and later listening to a chorus of cocktail-inspired karaoke drift across from Foxy's Tamarind Bar while we watch shooting stars flash over Jewel Box's bow.

Zach Stovall bvi image collage
Clockwise from top left: Cocktails at Big Bamboo Bar on Anegada. Hiking on Norman Island. Rum punch at Corsair’s Beach Bar on Jost Van Dyke.Zach Stovall

Come daylight, I take the wheel from Jost to Norman Island for a snorkeling excursion. The afternoon involves welcomed laziness, followed by a hike up the spine of the island, where we admire a red sun sinking behind the rolling hills of St. John’s. The next morning we end our week at The Indians: four pinnacles of rock, like icebergs, hiding more below the surface than above. Karen leads us on our most epic snorkel yet, along a healthy reef teeming with blue tangs, sergeant majors, parrotfish and coral.

Afterward, we end our carefree week of breathe-easy British Virgin Islands cruising and cocktail-infusion ­therapy at the base back in Tortola, and we thank ­Jewel Box for giving us an up-close look at this ­seafarer's paradise. Happily tired, sandy and ­sunburned, I think, Sometimes it's good to be the fifth wheel.

Getting There

Connecting to the MarineMax Vacations base on Tortola’s Beef Island is easiest via puddle jumper, like those from San Juan, Puerto Rico, aboard Cape Air or Seaborne Airlines. An alternative route through St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, with a connecting ferry to Road Town on Tortola, is less expensive, but expect long lines at Customs and Immigration.

The Fine Print

MarineMax offers several power catamarans from its BVI base for bareboat, captained or crewed charter. One option is all-inclusive (with a captain, chef/deckhand, food, snacks, drinks, spirits, kayaks, a stand-up paddleboard, mooring-ball fees, taxes and insurance). Another is a la carte with a captain and chef. Or take the boat yourself, like we did. The vessels range from a two-stateroom 36-footer to a four-stateroom 48-footer. Bareboats charters like ours start at $1,287 and go up to $1,785 per night ($429 to $595 per stateroom).

Room to Breathe

The Aquila 44 is one of five power catamarans in the builder’s line, ranging from 32 to 48 feet length overall. Our version had three staterooms and three heads, making her a good option for couples who want to share the charter without anyone feeling like he’s stuck in a kiddie cabin. The master stateroom’s berth measures 71 inches wide by 79 inches long, or about the size of a queen; guest stateroom berths are 59 inches wide by 79 inches long. The salon’s seating converts into a single berth. A smart feature is the hinged window that opens the galley to the cockpit bar, to serve guests easily inside and outside.

If this Hull Could Talk

Her hold is laden with dark rum and darker secrets of those who have stayed long after sunset. The Willy T is the floating bar of Caribbean lore, but adrift for permanent anchorage because of a government dispute after her grounding in Hurricane Irma. Temporarily in Peter Island's Great Harbour, her stern bar still serves up stories to remember.


Take the next step: marinemax.com/vacations