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WINTER 2010I sea& iI51 aboardashore channel remains much as it was in the days of the legendary sailor - surrounded by mountainous islands swathed in forests. Novel encounters The ideal place to start your charter is Tortola. If you're travelling from the US, you can join your yacht from St Thomas Airport in the US Virgin Islands and sail the short distance to the BVIs. If you're coming from Europe, you can fly to Antigua and get a quick connecting flight to Tortola and then board your yacht in the port at Road Town, the island's capital. With a thickly forested mountainous spine along its centre, and a coastline studded with golden bays, Tortola is the largest island in the BVI chain. From here, spend languid days sailing between the islands, landing the tender on deserted beaches and discovering private sanctuaries and luxurious island resorts. Following a few hours bathing around Tortola's Cane Garden Bay, cruise across the channel to Great Harbour on Peter Island, before stepping ashore to take scenic walks to private beaches. You can indulge in a Cast Away Facial at the Peter Island Resort, swim in Dead Man's Bay, or take the tender across to Dead Chest Island. Reputedly the origin of the sea shanty " Fifteen men on the dead man's chest - yo- ho- ho, and a bottle of rum," the island is said to have earnt its name after the infamous pirate Blackbeard left several of his crew there with nothing except a bottle of rum as punishment. Some tried to swim across to Peter Island but didn't make it, hence the bay on Peter Island, opposite Dead Chest, is named Dead Man's Bay. The author Robert Louis Stevenson then read the tale, and the sea shanty appeared in his novel Treasure Island. Reputed to be the site of buried treasure from the Spanish galleon Nuestra Senora, nearby Norman Island is said to be the inspiration for Stevenson's novel and is the perfect anchorage for an afternoon of water sports. For children, a treasure hunt ashore can be organised by the crew. After the day's activities, step aboard the notorious Willy T schooner ( anchored just off the island) for dinner and dancing - you might even end up walking the plank! In the wake of legends From Norman Island, cruise to Salt Island and dive the wreck of HMS Rhone. This Roal Mail steamer, which went down in 1867, is one of the premier dive sites in the Caribbean. Other spectacular dive sites in the area include the Chikuzen off Tortola. This 82m ( 270') steel- hulled ship sank off the island's east end and is now home to an array of tropical fish, including yellowtail, barracuda, black- tip sharks and drum fish. Meanwhile, the brilliant coral wall known as Alice in Wonderland at nearby Ginger Island slopes from 12 metres ( 40 feet) to a sandy bottom at 30 metres ( 98 feet). Aptly ? Opposite page: Cane Garden Bay on Tortola is one of the island's best beaches; the BVIs are a yachtsman's paradise This page, clockwise from left: swimming and snorkelling the shallow waters of Virgin Gorda is a must; Tortola is the largest island in the BVIs, yet still remains unspoilt; distances between the islands are short, enabling you to hop from one island to the next

52Isea& iIWINTER 2010 named, the site is often referred to as a fantasy due to its overhangs, vibrant colours, huge mushroom- shaped corals and plethora of colourful sea creatures, ranging from conch to butterfly fish. After your fill of diving, cruise through Sir Francis Drake Channel to The Baths of Virgin Gorda. Reclining to the east of the island chain, Virgin Gorda is the third largest in the group, and The Baths, located on the southwest coast, are a natural formation of colossal boulder- formed pools, caves and grottoes created by volcanoes. Kayak around the dramatic boulders or take one of The Bath's trails to Devil's Bay Beach to snorkel in seawater pools teaming with colourful fish and coral. Cap the day with sunset cocktails at the aptly named Top Of The Baths restaurant. Island inspiration Just a short cruise away you can anchor off the reef and swim around Little Dix Bay, or step ashore and head to the spa at the resort of the same name. Around the headland of Blowing Point, Savannah Bay beach is a beautiful arc of secluded sand - the perfect spot for your crew to prepare you a picnic on the beach. Spend the night anchored in the huge expanse of sheltered waters in the North Sound, which is enclosed by reefs and mini islands ( including Mosquito, Prickly Pear and Necker Island). Activities abound, from snorkelling the reefs off St Eustacia to water- skiing to testing your skills in small- boat sailing at the Bitter End Yacht Club. Having recently been through an extensive refurbishment, the resort maintains its seafaring tradition, but has managed to sneak in a spot of glamour, too. Only accessible by boat, it has two restaurants and bars, an English- style pub, boutiques and spa facilities. Rendezvous with fellow seafarers at the clubhouse for fresh fish, lobster, steak and West Indian cuisine. Nearby Guana Island is also an interesting spot to visit as it is a wildlife sanctuary with some of the richest collections of plants and animal species to be found in the Caribbean. Anchor off White Bay Beach and take the tender to this stretch of white powder sand for a picnic lunch ashore. From here, you can walk to six further secluded beaches, or hike the island's scenic nature trails. The sandy island of Jost Van Dyke is the last stop on your itinerary. One of the liveliest islands after Tortola, there are several restaurants and bars in Great Harbour and White Bay. Swim to the Soggy Dollar Bar, sway to reggae tunes and tuck into a feast of lobster at Ivan's Stress Free Bar, then celebrate your final evening with a Painkiller at the infamous Foxy's. The island's trademark cocktail is made from rum, orange juice, pineapple and cream of coconut - the perfect toastto an excellent cruise. n For further information on chartering in the BVIs, contact your nearest CNI charter broker, see page 6 for details. This page, clockwise from below: the islands have an idyllic low key vibe; one of the BVIs' local residents; Foxy's on Jost Van Dyke serves up the island's speciality Painkiller cocktail Opposite page: most of the islands are hilly and covered in scrub; The Baths on Virgin Gorda are a natural formation of colossal boulder-formed pools that are perfect for snorkelling