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Caribbean Christmas

Photographer Jim Raycroft wasn't planning on spending the holidays in the BVI.

December 4, 2015
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A dinghy was easily launched from the MarineMax 484 Power Cat so the family could find classic Christmas scenes in Caribbean style. Jim Raycroft
Best Way to Arrive Flying into San Juan, Puerto Rico, on a major airline carrier is an easy first step. From there, the most comfortable way into Tortola is with a private charter airplane company like Air America Inc. It’s a 45-minute flight with spectacular views of islands and fleeting glimpses of the MarineMax base at Hodge’s Creek Marina. Jim Raycroft
The dining table on the flybridge became the favorite place for meals, with high, open-air views — including this one off Peter Island. Jim Raycroft
How We Got Here The refrain has always been true for our family: “There’s no place like home for the holidays.” We don’t want to sleep in an airport or sit in a traffic jam on an interstate. But our sentiment about home changed last Christmas. A friend mentioned a charter yacht at the MarineMax base in the British Virgin Islands. “It’s available,” he said, “the week around Christmas.” I told him we were planning to have a house full of nine family members that week. “The boat accommodates nine,” he said. Maybe we needed to test this old idea of “no place like home for the holidays.” Jim Raycroft
Jim Raycroft
Holiday Colors Christmas on Jost Van Dyke rewarded us with snorkeling and toasts at places like Foxy’s and the Soggy Dollar Bar. Jim Raycroft
The MarineMax 484 Power Cat accommodates nine. Jim Raycroft
From the MarineMax base on Tortola, the island hops were as short as 1 nautical mile and no longer than 15 nautical miles. Jim Raycroft
A Christmas first. Jim Raycroft
Jim Raycroft
Portable Party Smells from the barbecue sent a message to the ­­stand-up paddle boarder that a meal was ready. Jim Raycroft
Best Way to Bareboat MarineMax Vacations was named the best BVI yacht charter company in the 2015 Virgin Islands Property and Yacht Readers’ Choice Awards. Simplicity is a big reason why. The MarineMax team provides ground transportation from the airport to the dock. There, a technician briefs you on the vessel’s systems and the islands. With its 23-foot-6-inch beam, the 484 Power Cat has four double cabins, each with private head and shower. Jim Raycroft
Tropical Greeting Low-rise shops, restaurants and galleries share the shoreline at Soper’s Hole on Tortola, providing a glimpse into the character of the entire BVI archipelago. The mom-and-pop businesses cater to yachtsmen coming ashore for local flavor or, in our case, in need of Caribbean-inspired Christmas presents at Pusser’s Landing at Marina Cay. Even when the bays around the BVI are busy, they’re typically quiet by sunset. Jim Raycroft

Away From Home

The water is countless shades of teal. Trade winds of 10 knots gently nudge at our backs. The nine of us on deck include sons, daughters, brothers and spouses, all of us having left cold regions in the ­United States to meet in the ­British Virgin ­Islands for the most unique Christmas vacation in our recent history. A ­48-foot MarineMax Power Cat on the Sir ­Frances Drake Channel is about as distant from rush-and-slush hours as we can get. We cruise past a gorgeous necklace of small islands and bays. Salt Island. Frenchman’s Cay. ­Little Thatch.

“We need some presents,” I announce.

Just as we often do at home, we make an eleventh-hour run on the stores. But this year, we’ll be shopping on ­Tortola, in stores that are colorful and sporting handmade signs that playfully compete for attention. We ­negotiate a crowded anchorage until my son, ­McKenzie, spots a vacant mooring ball, the BVI’s version of finding a parking spot at the mall.

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After taking the dinghy ashore, we load up on stocking stuffers (bottles of rum, seashell jewelry, T-shirts) before returning to the boat. Cold beverages magically appear from the galley. Not far from our mooring, the rusted wreck of a tugboat lay washed up on the beach.

In the salon, we set up a 6-foot silver Christmas tree and hang the stockings we hauled from the States. The boat, like Tortola’s shoreline, glows with cheer. The air is warm and, with cabin windows open, we ­enjoy a silent Caribbean night.

Of the BVI’s 60 islands, only 15 are inhabited (population is about 30,000). The U.S. dollar is the currency. Jim Raycroft

Winter Wonders

The aroma wafting through the yacht on Christmas morning is a familiar one: bacon, eggs and French toast. The scene outside, however, is a Christmas first for us: White Bay at Jost Van Dyke, with one of the world’s most beautiful beaches. When a brief rain shower passes, it only adds to the awe — along with it comes a rainbow arcing over the stretch of sand. It’s a gift that cannot be topped.

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The thrill does not wane. Not here.

After emptying the rum, cigars and trinkets from the stockings, we play with our toys. A paddle board. Snorkels. A kayak. All are part of the 484 ­Power Cat charter package. On the swim platform, a few of us share a pitcher of bloody marys and soak up winter in paradise.

Later, we enjoy barbecue chicken and a mandatory viewing of Rudolph, the ­Red-Nosed Reindeer on the hideaway flat-screen TV. We have no post-Christmas letdown, either; in the days that follow, we swim in caves and dance at The Willy T off Norman Island; we climb wooden stairs and wade between boulders at The Baths; we laugh at odd-looking fish and watch a moonrise during dinner at Peter Island. We lose interest in our cellphones and become totally lost in the moments.

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When we return to the MarineMax dock, shuttle to the airport and ascend over the islands, my eyes catch the yachts below. My thoughts drift over the sea. But there’s one place they do not wander: to the idea of staying home for Christmas.

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