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TRAVEL BOATING A Tortola Charter Voyage: Visiting Virgin Gorda

A Tortola Charter Voyage: Visiting Virgin Gorda

By: Donna Wolfson | Dec 7 2010 | 2190 words | 2398 hits

Imagine a place that is almost as pristine as when Columbus visited on his voyage of discovery in 1493. He named the island Virgin Gorda, and indeed, from a distance, "The Fat Virgin" does resemble a reclining figure. Located just 12 miles east of Tortola and measuring 8 Â square miles, Virgin Gorda is the second largest island in the BVI chain. Dramatic vegetation-covered slopes plunge from the 1,359 ft. Gorda Peak to the deserted white beaches and sparkling clear blue waters far below. This island has some of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean. It has world class sailing with some of the calmest, safest anchorages for Tortola Yacht Charters, and it is home to some of the British Virgin Islands' most luxurious hotels. Virgin Gorda is really three islands in one. The southern third is flat with giant boulders and vegetation reminiscent of the Old West. The middle of the island is mountainous with Gorda Peak and several spectacular beaches. The northern third is quite spindly and situated around the North Sound with half a dozen other islands forming an almost landlocked oasis for water sports and island exploring. So come discover the island's African and Indian heritage, trace its Spanish history and observe the British influence.

The Baths

It is almost impossible to be on a Tortola charter and not experience The Baths, located on the southwestern tip of Virgin Gorda. This bizarre landscape of gigantic volcanic boulders stretches from the wooded slopes behind the beach to the sand and on into the aquamarine sea, forming a natural seaside playground of sheltered light-filled grottoes, caves and pools flooded with sea water. There is a trail between these house-sized boulders with ladders and bridges over the tricky parts. Geologists refer to this phenomenon, which is part of the Devil's Bay National Park, as "woolsack weathering." Long ago, a thick layer of soil covered the stone and acids from the humus gradually worked their way into hairline fissures in the rock, wearing it away. As the topsoil gradually disappeared, wind, heat and salt particles continued to erode the rough granite, leaving behind the intriguing shapes and colors. Mooring balls are available, or you can get a slip at the nearby Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour and either take a 40 minute walk or a short taxi ride to The Baths. Not surprisingly, it can get very crowded, especially when a cruise ship docks in Tortola, so come early or later in the day. Be advised, however, that overnight mooring is not allowed at The Baths. Devil's Bay is also a National Park that is accessible by boat or by walking through the trails of The Baths. The beach is pure white sand and sprinkled with large granite boulders. Its blue waters are postcard perfect! Snorkeling along the outside perimeter of both The Baths and Devil's Bay reveals colorful fish and coral. On calm days, divers can enjoy a pretty cave on its south side in 12-15' of water. Cup corals and colorful sponges encrust the walls as grassy sweepers sway in the surge.

The Copper Mine

On the southeastern tip of Virgin Gorda, visitors will find the Copper Mine. Since the granite southern coast of Virgin Gorda was similar to that of Cornwall, where copper mining was a lucrative industry, the British speculated that there was copper here as well. From 1838-1867, Cornish miners worked the Copper Mine. An easy taxi ride from Spanish Town, today the remains of the chimney, boiler house, cistern and mine shafts stand guard against an azure sea.

Little Fort National Park

Located south of the Yacht Harbour, between The Baths and The Valley, yachties on a Tortola charter will find Little Fort national park, part of the BVI National Parks Trust created by Laurance S. Rockefeller. This was the site of a Spanish fort whose stone walls are still partially intact.

This 36-acre area is also a wildlife sanctuary ideal for birdwatchers. The Aquarium, also called Fischer's Rocks, is the extension of Fort Point into the sea. This shallow reef shoal built of sponge and coral covered boulders - piled up to form grottos and dens- is a great beginner's dive or snorkel spot. Expect to see French grunts and blue tangs, hiding moray eels and napping nurse sharks.

The Valley

Spanish Town, also known as The Valley, is the main town on Virgin Gorda, and until 1741, was the capital of the entire BVI. Today, it is home to most of the 2,600 islanders. It consists of mainly small homes with chickens running through the yards. The Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour - the sea entrance to Spanish Town, is the hub of the village. Slips are often free the first hour, and relatively inexpensive thereafter. The marina is modern and well-equipped. You will find most of the handful of restaurants and shops, as well as the banks and tourist information in the nearby courtyard.

The Beaches

Because of the popularity of The Baths, the rest of Virgin Gorda tends to get overlooked. Anyone on a Tortola Yacht Charter, however, knows that the beach coast north of The Valley is an area of enticing beauty with secluded beaches of endless pristine white sand offering ample opportunity for long walks, quiet picnics and wonderful sunsets. Many are only accessible by water. Just five minutes north of Spanish Town lays Little Dix Bay. Built in 1964, Laurence Rockefeller spent $8 million to create his famous resort and the BVI's first hotel. Originally built to be an environmental hideaway, the world famous Little Dix Bay Resort has kept its classic simplicity while adding some modern amenities and design touches. Behind its own emerald coral reef, the beautiful beach curves gently within its own cove. Little Dix Bay forms the idyllic tropical paradise as it is cradled by two small picturesque mountains that wraps the small valley ashore before spilling into the sea. Even on a Tortola charter, the Little Dix Bay Resort is well worth a visit. The Pavilion's breakfast and lunch buffets are surprisingly affordable; or simply stop to see the gardens. If gentlemen do not mind wearing trousers and shirts with collars, the gourmet cuisine is worth a special trip for dinner.

The upper beach coast is framed by the mountainside of Gorda Peak as a backdrop. There are several beaches worth seeing, including the following:

Savannah Bay: Located to the north of the Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour, and with spectacular sunsets, Savannah Bay is a beautiful long curving stretch of white, unspoiled sand. A lovely daytime anchorage in the swell-less summer, Savannah Bay is reached via Blowing Point's southern entrance by working your way in good light through the extensive reefs which offer excellent snorkeling.

Mahoe Bay: Protected by picturesque reefs just offshore, Mahoe Bay forms a tropical lagoon with gentle sandy curves and two incredible reefs. The shallow reefs offer good snorkeling with abundant marine life, especially sea turtles.

Nail Bay: Scenic Nail Bay looks out over beaches to Mountain Point and the channel beyond. Off a side trail 500 yards up the mountain, you will find the Nail Bay Sugar Mill. The stone ruins include a small overseer's cottage, the crumbling sugar mill with its boiling bench and holes for copper boiling kettles, and a horse mill out back, where the cane was crushed before flowing through a trough to the boiling room.

Long Bay: The ultimate secluded beach, Long Bay has a long beach with fine swimming and snorkeling. When the seas are down, you can anchor here. Great birding spots, Long Bay and the adjacent Nail Bay are common habitat for blue herons, spotted sandpipers, black-necked stilts and brown boobies.

Mountain Point: Its rocky ridge, coming down from Gorda Peak, breaks into sections as it extends out into the sea, leaving "cuts" for experienced divers. On the sheltered beachside, novice divers can explore large coral heads and overhangs with schools of fish. Be careful - even experienced snorkelers should be wary of the surge in the shallow reef areas.

The North Sound

The North Sound is like another world on Virgin Gorda - a dream world for those on a Tortola Yacht Charter. It is here where Sir Frances Drake was knighted and where he spent a few days collecting his fleet before joining Sir John Hawkins to attack Puerto Rico. In water the color of a robin's egg, there are vast anchorages for charterers in well-protected water.

All the North Sound areas, except Leverick Bay and Gun Creek, which has a road from The Valley, must be reached by water. Once moored, nearly all travel in the North Sound involves trips across the water in either dinghies or the small ferries that run back and forth. On this magnificent sound are the beautiful resorts of Bitter End, Saba Rock, Biras Creek, and Leverick Bay, as well as private villas and many interesting places, such as Gun Creek. Save at least a day of your Tortola charter to visit the North Sound.

Bitter End Yacht Club: Synonymous with the North Sound, the legendary Bitter End Yacht Club is one of the world's premier sailing destinations. It is a great honeymoon spot and a place for active families and adventurers. There is even room to stretch out on a beach chair under a thatch-covered cabana for those seeking solitude. A lush waterfront resort, amenities include two restaurants, a great English Pub, a small grocery store, several boutiques and even an outdoor movie theater. Whatever water sport you want, they have it!

Saba Rock: This unique little cay is the location of the excellent Saba Rock restaurant, as well as the small Saba Rock Resort. Saba Rock is the gateway to Eustatia Sound - a fascinating area of reefs, bays and beaches. Guests generally tie up on the long dinghy dock. "The Rock", open for lunch and dinner, looks out right over the water to the North Sound and the Bitter End Yacht Club from the shaded comfort of its spacious interior. The nightly buffet and the popular Sunday West Indian buffet are all you can eat, and feature live entertainment. At night, the big attraction is the school of huge silvery tarpon patrolling under lights on the water.

Biras Creek Resort: The beautiful Biras Creek Resort occupies an exotic location that centers around a narrow isthmus that separates Gorda Peak and the rest of Virgin Gorda from the far end of the island. Marina Village, sometimes called the "fuel dock", is a pleasing spot to visit. For those on a Tortola charter, Marina Village has moorings, water, ice, showers and garbage disposal. Biras Creek is really known for its cuisine. This elegant but pricey resort restaurant and bar, located on a hillside overlooking North Sound, welcomes Tortola Yacht Charter guests for dinner only with reservations.

Leverick Bay Resort: On the waterfront and hillside commanding spectacular views, Leverick Bay spills down from Bay Hill to the peninsula and bays on the North Sound. Individually designed villas march up the hillsides of the bay. With all the facilities of a resort and marina, Leverick Bay Resort has moorings, slips with electricity, fuel, water, ice, laundromats and free showers. Do not miss the Palm Tree Gallery, the observation tower and the Victorian Bar at the Lighthouse restaurant. Stroll the docks and get a quick pizza or ice cream at the Beach Bar.

Gun Creek: Jutting up and over the edges of its rocky mountainside perch, Gun Creek is a small village with fantastic views of both the North and South Sounds. Gun Creek is a quintessential Caribbean village with the associated laid-back and whimsical ambiance that attracts visitors from around the world.

Other Activities

There is much more to do on Virgin Gorda. Although it is not especially known for its hiking, there are a few simple nature trails through the hills connecting Biras Creek to the Bitter End. There are also two rugged trails into the Virgin Gorda Peak National Park, a 260 acre area that rises to the island's highest point, Gorda Peak. This park contains a wide variety of indigenous and exotic plants, and has been forested with mahogany trees. The views from the observation point are quite spectacular. As mentioned above, the North Sound offers almost every type of water sport, including dive operators. Nightlife on Virgin Gorda usually takes the form of bar hopping for drinks and live music. Many of the bars have their own ferries connecting them to anywhere in the North Sound. So, tie up the dinghy and let someone else be the designated driver. Besides nightly live music, drink specials and dancing, you will find opportunities to play dominoes, pool and darts. If you are hungry, you can get anything from cheap yet delicious local food like curried and boiled fish meals, fried chicken and barbecues to world famous gourmet cuisine, or you can simply make a picnic and head to your favorite beach.

Paradise awaits you on Virgin Gorda. Its sheer beauty alone attracts those on a Tortola Yacht Charter. You will be drawn by its deserted pristine beaches, popular natural attractions, historic ruins, exquisite cuisine that is a wonderful combination of influences and safe anchorages in an extraordinary environment. Plan your Virgin Gorda visit. You will linger longer than you expected!

About author:
Donna Wolfson also know as "Sailgirl" at Virgin Island Sailing, has been sailing in the Caribbean and writing about it for years. Learn more about Tortola Charter.
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