With twenty-five knots of wind, and boosting gusts, our catamaran is at top speed as we sail in open water from Virgin Gorda Sound to East End Harbor off Jost Van Dyke in the Virgin Islands. Our captain gives us a thumbs up. 

For non-sailors, here’s a brief catamaran primer. Since the Phoenicians, people have traveled in boats with a single hull—AKA, monohulls. Today, however, monohulls are passé—especially in the charter industry. The clamor for multihulls, primarily catamarans, is loud and getting louder. 

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The Catamaran Boom

At The Moorings in The British Virgin Islands (BVI), where we picked up our boat, 60% of the yachts for charter are catamarans. According to Ian Pedersen, senior marketing manager at The Moorings and Sunsail, “A few years ago, monohulls would have dominated our fleet. Catamaran demand has grown exponentially.” Catamarans have also made significant inroads into the high-end yacht market. Builders like Gunboat and Sunreef have 70+ footers costing upwards of $7 million.

Moorings 45 catmaran exterior
Moorings 45′ catmaran exterior / Courtesy of the Moorings

The reasons are straightforward. First, while a 45-foot traditional monohull has two cabins, the equivalent catamaran has four cabins, four bathrooms, a large open living area, and a galley… not to mention an enormous outdoor dining and lounge area. These boats are nicknamed “condos on the water” because they provide over twice the living area of monohulls.

However, this extra space gives it a different feel under sail. Monohulls heel—they lean away from the wind, which radically alters the motion through the water. Catamarans, on the other hand, sail flat, with both pontoons in the water at all times, restraining their motion. 

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The World’s Best Sailing

The British Virgin Islands are one of the world’s most popular cruising grounds, and for good reason. The winds are reliable, and the environment is pristine, with little to no debris floating or on the beach. The water is often clear to the bottom, with extraordinary shades of blue that vary based on depth and passing clouds. Marine life is abundant. On our first swim, we spotted a large ray and turtles. The next day, we snorkeled with hundreds of luminescent fish, probably 25 feet below us, while at night, we watched prehistoric-appearing tarpon fish circle our boat.

This beauty is one of the primary reasons our captain, Jos, and his wife Chevone (chef and first mate), both South Africans, have interrupted their world travels to spend some time here. Over dinner, he shared, “We’ve seen a lot of the world, including the Solomon Islands, and we’d rather be here.”

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We weren’t the only ones seeking serenity. Jeff Bezos’s recently launched Koru, the world’s largest sailing ketch, was plying the same waters. We saw his yacht several times during our sail, its three towering masts (229 feet high) betraying its presence. For celebrity hounds reading this, Koru spent two nights alone in Kay Bay off Peter Island.

The primary sailing ground is the Sir Francis Drake Channel, an east-west passage lined with dozens of islands, many solely inhabited by goats. These islands provide protection for sailing.

Avoiding the Tourist Traps

We had previously visited the tourist must-sees like Jost van Dyke’s Foxy’s Bar and Virgin Gorda’s The Baths. This time, because of the local knowledge our crew possessed, we opted to visit the more remote harbors.

The BVI, wisely aware of the natural wonders they need to protect—particularly the coral—have installed moorings in even the most secluded spots to eliminate the need to anchor.

We spent our first night in Soldier Bay off Norman Island, known for its underwater caves and tunnels that can be explored by snorkeling. The next morning we sailed east past Peter Island, stopping briefly for a walk on the uninhabited Salt Island, historically known for its mineral harvest.

From there, we continued northeast to Cooper Island where we moored off the Cooper Island Rum Bar, which boasts 400+ different labels, all described by the enthusiastic and knowledgeable bartender. Despite its location in the middle of nowhere, this watering hole is not a thrown-together beach hut. It’s a sophisticated spot worthy of Keith McNally’s set design team. A few seriously over-proof rums later, we returned to our boat for the night.

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Lond pine tree guarding Great Dog
Great Dog / Photo by Deborah Grayson

The next day, our captain treated us to a shoreline cruise past uninhabited Ginger Island, before mooring off Great Dog. Bobbing off this snorkeling stop, we realized there wasn’t another boat, or person, in sight. Great Dog’s vegetation and lone pine atop a rocky outcropping amplified the impression of remoteness.

After traipsing through BVI’s remote wonders, we broke our self-imposed “off the beaten harbor” guidelines to see Virgin Gorda’s Bitter End Yacht Club, a legendary cruising destination. Back in 2017, Hurricane Irma decimated the BVI, forcing many to rebuild, including the Bitter End. Today, the dining rooms are lined with historic black-and-white photos of the primitive pre-hurricane structures. While still retaining a sense of place, the tasteful, low-key marina and restaurant are now firmly in the 21st century. 

“Next door,” on its own little island is Saba Rock, a unique and elegant resort. It is so popular that a reservation for New Year’s Eve was unavailable a month in advance.

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Leaving Virgin Gorda Sound early the next morning, we had the best sail of the trip. Skimming westward over the waters north of Tortola, we passed Scrub, Great Camanoe, and Guana. These high, lush islands, charted by Columbus, now have a handful of residences instead of just the crocodiles that explorers named the islands after. 

Our destination was Little Harbor on the almost-deserted eastern end of Jost van Dyke.

But first, Jos and Chevone insisted we stop at Long Bay to walk the “Bubbly Pool,” a unique geological formation where the entering sea creates an effervescent jacuzzi. 

Harris Place Little Harbor Jost van Dyke
Harris’ Place / Photo by Deborah Grayson

Alone in Little Harbor, our crew once again used their insider knowledge to take us to Harris’ Place, a rustic (to say the least) beach bar/restaurant, run by septuagenarian Cynthia Harris. Although it was dinner time when we arrived for a drink, we were the sole customers. That didn’t faze Ms. Harris, who calmly chopped vegetables for her phantom diners. 

Yacht Chartering’s Upscale Climb

Like most things in the modern world, yacht chartering is now more complex. In the past, you went “bareboating.” You got a paper chart (hopefully waterproofed), an ice chest, and water jugs. Off you went in a monohull with one head (toilet) and an open hatch for fresh air. Today’s charters feature air-conditioning, freshwater makers, multiple refrigerator-freezers, microwaves, generators, electronic navigation, several electric flush toilets, and an electric dinghy davit system—everything a superyacht has.

So, even though we are experienced boaters, we welcomed the navigational and operational support that The Moorings, Jos, and Chevone provided. Complex systems in a marine environment inevitably fail. Ours was no different. One night, all the power went out. We lay comfortably in bed while Jos, using a flashlight, fixed the circuitry. There were innumerable other times when he tweaked amenities we didn’t even know weren’t functioning properly.

Joss chart of our route which he updated nightly
Jo’s Chart of the Route / Photo by Deborah Grayson

Along with the above assistance, crewed charters come fully equipped with everything guests might want, including provisions, a stunning selection of alcohol, and numerous water toys (such as a kayak Jos lashed onto one of the lifelines). 

Dining preferences are confirmed in advance. Big breakfast? Meat or vegan dinners? Rosé or white? Chevone, a culinary school graduate, enthusiastically spent hours on creative desserts because we had stated rich chocolate as our preference.

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With over 20 locations, The Moorings, which recently celebrated its 50th birthday, has facilities everywhere from Thailand to St. Lucia. In Tortola, they’re completing a land-based upgrade so that all buildings will be hurricane-proof.

We have many memories of our charter, but this is probably the most enduring. Kayaking near the shore of a harbor that will remain our secret, we startled a large turtle who bolted at our presence. On land, butterflies enveloped a flowering bush, while young goats playfully butted horns on an outcropping. We couldn’t decide what to name our spot. Was it Skittering Turtle Bay? Butterfly Bay? Fighting Goat Bay? We’ll let you know when we decide.