Treasure Islands Yacht Charter
On the pirates' trail in the British Virgin Islands
Dec. 6, 2005 08:45 PM
YV&C International Yacht Vacations & Charters Magazine reports:
Who has never dreamt of being a pirate with an eye patch, a parrot on their shoulder and cutlasses at their hip; of desert islands with white sand and long-legged palm trees; secret coves, caves and treasure maps where X marks the spot? And of the bursting treasure chest with jewel encrusted goblets and gold doubloons spilling out?
The inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel Treasure Island is said to have come from Norman Island in the British Virgin Islands; a sparkling archipelago of some sixty-odd Caribbean islands situated fifty miles to the east of Puerto Rico. They first came to the attention of the western world in 1493 when Christopher Columbus sailed through and named them the Islas Virgines because of their untouched beauty. He didn’t stop though, being as he was on his way in search of gold in Puerto Rico and Hispaniola. Ironically, it was that very gold that often ended up in the holds of pirate ships.
The first Europeans to settle here were the Dutch in 1648 and later the islands were occupied by the Danes and the British. The British stayed on whilst the Danish sold the islands of St. Thomas, St.Croix and St. John to the US in 1917. Always a bit of a backwater, the area was the perfect hiding place if you needed to lie low and deposit your booty somewhere safe. Captain Kidd, Blackbeard, Henry Morgan, Anne Bonney and Mary Read are all reputed to have ‘banked’ here. Most of the actual plundering took place off the South Carolina coast around Charleston, further north around Rhode Island as well as New Orleans, Mexico and Puerto Rico, with pirate ships pioneering the trade routes and making remarkable voyages often amounting to thousands of miles. Henry Morgan was particularly successful. Unofficially sanctioned by the British, he was eventually knighted by King Charles II and made lieutenant governor of Jamaica. However, all was not romance and those who retired to wealthy respectability were few and far between; many met their end at the gallows or at the hands of their compatriots, hence the possibility that their savings are still where they left them.
Today, the British Virgin Islands (BVIs) are as popular with yachtsmen as they once were with the Caribbean pirates of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and for many of the same reasons. As one of Dream Sailing’s clients said after a recent charter “We have indeed had dream sailing.” Sailors are spoilt by the vast choice of sheltered coves and hidden bays with safe anchorages and, with most places only accessible from the sea, a yacht is essential transport. The BVIs’ tiny population of 19,000 is spread around only 15 of the islands, leaving the rest uninhabited and untouched by the hands of men with concrete mixers. With the exception of Anegada, a coral island which lies about 15 miles to the north east of the main archipelago, the rest were once volcanic; the result is a varied and often dramatic landscape with many unusual rock formations and caves.
“And thereupon we all entered the cave. It was a large, airy place, with a little spring and a pool of clear water, overhung with ferns. The floor was sand.” In his book, Stevenson might well have been referring to the caves at Treasure Point on Norman Island. After about an hour’s sailing south from the main island of Tortola you can explore them for yourself. But take your snorkel as the real treasure is underwater; jewel-colored fish, yellow tails and sergeant majors, flash between the corals. The sea is bursting with life and with visibility around 19 ft, the crystal waters of the BVIs are ideal for snorkelling and scuba diving. As well as The Caves, there are shallow reefs at Benures Bay and Sandy’s Edge which offer fantastic snorkelling, along with The Indians, a looming rock formation just to the west of Norman Island. For many visitors, the highlight of their trip is swimming with the turtles.
If you want to spend more time amongst the fish, scuba specialists Blue Water Divers will meet you at your yacht and escort you around some of the Islands best dive sites. With names like Angelfish Reef and Painted Walls you can begin to imagine the glittering hoard to be found beneath the waves. Amongst the recommended dives are the pinnacles of Blonde Rock and Santa Monica Rock, or the lush, sloping reefs of Coral Gardens and Alice in Wonderland. An abundance of reef fish along with stingrays, eagle rays, nurse sharks and barracuda in exotic scenery amongst vivid sea fans, sponges and corals are waiting to be discovered. And what treasure hunt would be complete without a shipwreck? The wreck of the RMS Rhone, just off Salt Island, is one of the most complete wrecks in the Caribbean and was used as the underwater location for Peter Benchley’s film ‘The Deep’. The pride of the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, she split in two and sank in a hurricane in 1867. Petrified in coral and now home to a multitude of fishes, you can make out her foremast and crow’s nest and, in the aft section, her enormous propellers.
After such thirsty work, pirate wannabes can party beneath the skull and crossbones aboard the William Thornton (otherwise known as the Willie T). This old, 98ft schooner is permanently anchored in the Bight at Norman Island. Open every day for lunch and dinner it’s the scene of much modern day drunken debauchery. There may not be any ‘walking the plank’ but it is said that you’ve not been aboard the Willie T unless you’ve jumped off it – in some stage of undress!