Just northeast of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Tortola and the British Virgin Islands (BVI) are regarded by many as the ultimate cruising ground in the Caribbean—and with good reason. The seas here are almost always manageable, even for inexperienced captains, there are consistent tradewinds for sailors that generally blow northeast to southeast at 10-25 knots, and virtually all of the 60 islands and cays can be reached via line-of-sight navigation. The saltwater “highway” that gives such easy access to this archipelago is the Sir Francis Drake Channel, which stretches more than 30 miles.
The islands, rugged and hilly, feature craggy coastlines etched with countless hidden coves and harbors. A rich emerald color from afar, the BVI are actually quite dry, covered more by cactus than palm trees. But this arid climate means there is little rain runoff and therefore clear waters for scuba diving and snorkeling. And while fringing reefs around the islands can be a navigational challenge, there is little of the shallow shoaling sand that you’ll find in the Bahamas or Turks & Caicos.
The largest island, Tortola, is also home to the capital, Road Town. And while other islands in the region often look and feel like an extension of Florida—overrun with mega-malls and American discount chain stores—this island remains true Caribbean. Small, simple shops and groceries are the norm (with just a few regionally known name stores, such as Columbian Emeralds, sprinkled in for the few cruise ships that call here). One of the best shopping experiences on Tortola is the farmer’s market held in Road Town on Saturdays. Without the marketing-driven hype of duty-free shopping, the primary activity in the BVI is downing Painkiller rum drinks, telling tall tales of your travels, and limin’ (relaxing).
Road Town is roughly broken down into two areas: the Main Street area, which extends from Waterfront Drive inland, and Wickam’s Cay, which encompasses the harbor side of the road. Both have shops and restaurants.
Part of Wickam’s Cay, the Village Cay Hotel and Marina was built in 1974 and currently provides 21 luxury hotel rooms. Village Cay Marina comprises three jetties, which currently provide 106 berthing spaces, the majority of which have 35- to 40-foot-long finger piers.
Nanny Cay is located on the south side of Tortola, between Road Town and West End. Its fully equipped marina and boat repair facility has berths for 180 vessels. The compound also includes a 40-room hotel, the Genaker Café and Peg Leg Landing restaurants, and more.
Soper’s Hole Wharf & Marina in West End is one of the island’s most well known hurricane holes. It’s also a ferry stop for the daily visitors who come over from the USVI. The marina offers complete services, including 20 protected moorings and 45 slips. Pussers Landing offers two floors of dining and dancing. Downstairs is casual light fare and tropical drinks, while upstairs opens for dinner to offer international and Caribbean cuisine.
Penns Landing is located in the well-protected waters of East End Bay on the southeastern shore. It offers both slips and moorings and a full-service marina. Also on site is the outstanding Eclipse Restaurant, offering fine dining in a waterfront setting.