Our family has been traveling to the British Virgin Islands (BVIs) for many years, beginning with bareboat charters in 2011 and 2013. In fact, it was during these bareboat charters that we first began discussing the possibility of cruising the Caribbean in our own boat. Making that dream a reality and returning to the BVIs in our own boat was one of the countless surreal moments that we have encountered during our Caribbean cruising journey [See British Virgin Islands (2015)].
In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Irma, it was with a heavy heart that we viewed the before and after photos of the BVIs. [See British Virgin Islands – Before & After Hurricane Irma (2017)]. Like everyone else, we were shocked by the images of destruction that made their way into the news. We tracked the Islands’ recovery efforts closely, knowing that we would be stopping there on our journey north. Six months after Irma, we returned to the British Virgin Islands, unsure of what we would find.
VIRGIN GORDA – SPANISH TOWN
From St. Martin, we set a north westwardly course, across the 80 mile Anegada passage, towards the BVIs. During our previous channel crossings we routinely encountered dozens of other vessels. On our most recent crossing, we passed only one other vessel, a magnificent 100 foot sailing yacht. After seeing Marigot Bay in St. Martin nearly deserted, we were not sure what to expect as we sailed past Necker Island, unofficially marking our entrance into the waters of the BVIs.
On previous westbound visits to the BVIs we had cleared in at the closest point of entry, Gun Creek, on the east end of Virgin Gorda, in North Gorda Sound.
Since North Gorda Sound was hit hard by Hurricane Irma, the Gun Creek Customs and Immigration was no longer a clearing-in option. Instead, we headed down to the next closest clear-in office located in Spanish Town, on the north shore of Virgin Gorda, almost to the west end of island. We had been there on previous visits to the BVIs so we were familiar with the port. We called ahead to confirm slip availability and to see what marine services were available. When we arrived, the marina was barely recognizable.
Tying up to the dock was a challenge because cleats were either missing or broken in half. Tying off to a half cleat required quick knot tying adjustments. The marina’s power distribution grid and associated dockside power pedestals had been totally destroyed. The only potable water available to boats in the marina is via a single fresh water spigot. Again, the dockside water distribution lines have been totally destroyed. The marina did have a functioning diesel fuel pump so refueling at the VGYH remains an option.
Once Pilots’ Discretion was secure in her slip, we set out to clear immigration and customs. Irma’s destruction was readily apparent. We saw cleats with lines still tied to them, but with no boats attached to the snapped lines, a sign of just how strong the force on the line and it’s now missing boat was.
All that remained at the end of the dock, where the marina restaurant once stood, was a flat wooden platform.
The small shopping center, that use to house the dive and gift shops, was all boarded up and missing its walls and roof.
The grocery store was likewise destroyed.
Immigration & Customs was housed in a building a short walk through what used to be a grass field. That field has since been converted into a boat grave yard for the multitude of damaged and salvaged vessels.
We were repeatedly told that damaged buildings and boats remain untouched six months after the hurricane because of pending, unresolved insurance claims.
Despite all of the damage, everyone we encountered was warm, friendly and inviting. Everyone thanked us for coming. Signs of recovery could be seen in the numerous new charter boats pulling into the marina.
Taxis were lined up in the parking lot waiting to take passengers to the popular tourist spot nearby, The Baths. Many of the shops and restaurants that had previously been a part of the marina grounds have relocated a few blocks away.
In sum, Spanish Town remains a viable choice to clear customs and immigration and to pick up a taxi to the “The Baths” national park or nearby shops or restaurants. There is no way to stop at the Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbor without being confronted with the dramatic destruction left in the wake of last hurricane season. We spent one night in Spanish Town before moving on to Nanny Cay Marina, in Tortola. Nanny Cay served as the headquarters for the post-hurricane Irma relief efforts mounted by the British Royal Marines. We had received reports that Nanny Cay had just installed a large section of new floating docks and that they had water, electricity and fuel available. As a result, we were comfortable that we would be able to secure adequate services for our floating home. More on Nanny Cay in our next post.