The second most populated island, next to Tortola, Virgin Gorda offers many easily accessible harbors and is a perfect spot for middle-of-the-charter stopovers.
Virgin Gorda is a favorite destination for cruisers in the BVI. Located at the easternmost part of the island chain, Virgin Gorda is connected mostly by regularly scheduled ferry services from Tortola. There is an airstrip with scheduled flights from San Juan, though it can handle only small aircraft.
For cruisers there are three primary attractions. The first, of course, is The Baths, a collection of large granite boulders piled haphazardly on the southwestern corner of the island. Believed to have been thrown up by volcanic action, these boulders are found nowhere else in the Caribbean and form caves, secluded niches, and sheltered shady spots. Long a destination for charter boats, The Baths also see small cruise ships, which anchor offshore and ferry passengers into the beach for a walk and a swim. There are more than a few native vendors on the beach selling beer, t-shirts, and other priceless memorabilia. A not-too-strenuous hike up the hill will take the intrepid to a restaurant with a spectacular view, as well as a handful of gift shops.
There are quite a few moorings close to The Baths, although if you arrive too late in the morning they’ll all be occupied by earlier risers. Anchoring is not recommended, as there is usually quite a ground swell. Anchoring or mooring overnight is not allowed. The Baths can get quite crowded during the high season, but that can be fun too, as you meet and chat with fellow cruisers from all around the world.
Travelling northeast along Sir Frances Drake Channel toward Gorda Sound, you’ll pass by Spanish Town, the main settlement on Virgin Gorda. If you’ve come directly from the USVI it’s a great place to clear customs, far less busy than Road Town or Sopher’s Hole. The anchorage outside the town has moorings, but can also be strongly affected by a ground swell. There’s a marina, Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbor, which is reached through a challenging, but well-marked entrance behind a reef. There are 120 slips, fuel, laundromat, and an adequate, albeit small grocery store.
Toward the top of Virgin Gorda is Gorda Sound, a wonderfully well-protected, large sound, which is the jewel in the crown of the 8.5 mile island. You leave Mosquito Island to starboard, Prickly Pear Island to port, and enter a seemingly narrow, well-marked channel. We say seemingly narrow as it appears so to first timers, but some of the smaller cruise ships and many large yachts navigate the channel easily. Once inside the sound you’ll find a plethora of anchorages, ranging from semi-secluded to very, very busy.
There are three marinas within Gorda Sound, beginning with Leverick Bay Resort, which offers slips and moorings, as well as fuel, water, and ice. There’s yet another small, but adequate grocery store and a few shops. Appearing in Gorda Sound in the past year is a new superyacht marina, the YCCS Marina Virgin Gorda, which caters to, well superyachts, up to 328 feet long. While the shoreside features were still under construction when we were there in March of 2011, the marina was up and running, and already crowded with many large yachts.
Across from the YCCS marina is one of the most famous of all the BVI marinas, The Bitter End Yacht Club. Although primarily a resort, The Bitter End has recently expanded its marina facilities and can now accommodate up to 18 yachts. Most cruisers take advantage of the many available moorings or anchor out. There’s a fuel and water dock at the marina as well as a large dinghy dock for all those cruisers. Ashore it’s all about the resort, with a large indoor/outdoor dining room open to all, although reservations are strongly recommended during the season. There’s also a smaller pizza/burger joint and a tiny grocery store.
On Saba Rock, just off the Bitter End there’s a new restaurant and resort, which replaces a legendary, albeit rustic bar that many of us remember (sort of) fondly. There’s a large area to tie up dinghies for lunch and dinner, and a small gift shop. On the outside of Saba Rock is a large area of reefs, and on the ocean side there’s some decent snorkeling.
On the northeastern side of the Sound there’s also a beach bar for daylight dinghy excursions, although it can be taken over by cruise ship passengers on occasion.
It’s easy to spend a couple of days in Gorda Sound exploring the beaches, reefs, restaurants, bar, and shops. Even when the weather’s not that great, it’s a fun place to be, and as a result, it’s an extremely popular spot that should definitely be on your Virgin Islands itinerary.
Photo courtesy Neil Rabinowitz
Tortola - Peter Island - Virgin Gorda - Jost Van Dyke - Norman Island
Sail from Road Town or Nanny Cay south across Sir Frances Drake Channel to Peter Island, a good overnight anchorage.
Depart early for the Baths, the site of an unusual rock formation at the southwestern end of Virgin Gorda.
Enjoy a few hours of snorkeling and exploring. Since the moorings and anchorage at The Baths are subject to an uncomfortable groundswell, enjoy a short sail across the channel to Marina Cay for the night.
A longer sail will take you up to the northeastern end of Virgin Gorda into the well-protected Gorda Sound. Enjoy the hospitality at The Bitter End, which is wonderfully welcoming to cruisers with four restaurants and a handful of bars.
Another long sail west along the north side of Tortola will take you to Jost Van Dyke, an area where you could easily spend a day or two exploring places like Sandy Cay.
Take some time to re-provision and check in with reality at West End (Sopher’s Hole) Tortola, where the WiFi is available for a fee and covers most of the anchorage.
A trip over to Norman Island will introduce you to the lure of that floating bacchanalia known as Willie T’s, a floating bar and restaurant located conveniently in the mooring field.
Photo courtesy Bitter End Yacht Club