Sail Into Liquid

Turns out, the bareboat capital of the Caribbean also boasts a few good surf breaks. "WInter Getaways" from December 2007

Sail Into Liquid

With his mother ship as backdrop, the author rides the waves on Tortola¿s north shore, also the site of Bomba¿s well-known beach shack.Peter Mcgowan

Whenever a big storm slips off the Delmarva Peninsula, diehard surfers along America's right-hand coast wriggle into bulky winter wetsuits, anticipating the sting of forehead meeting cold Atlantic. But at about the same time, you can bet there's also a swell somewhere farther south, like the British Virgin Islands. Locals and vacationing surfers are lathering surfboards with surf wax and sliding into trunks, and the luckiest among them have a bareboat anchored a short paddle away.

Tortola's Cane Garden Bay, a popular stop in the B.V.I. for charter boats, also happens to be one of the Caribbean's best reef breaks. A sizeable swell (six feet or so) produces a fast, hollow right-hander, and when it does turn on, it attracts the more experienced crowd. But for everyone else, there are at least a dozen other excellent breaks a short sail away. Most are spread across Tortola's northern fringes, and a few of the Caribbean's gems, including Cooten Bay, on Tortola, and Sandy Spit, on Jost Van Dyke, are accessible only by boat.

For a first-timer, one required stop is Tortola's Capoons Bay, home of the Bomba Surfside Shack. The anchoring is easy, and here you'll find a beach break that's perfect for all skill levels. With Bomba's pumping reggae across the lineup, the vibe, even when the surf is crowded, is mellow. When your arms are ready to take a break, pull up a seat at the bar, order a Carib, and life is good.

To the east is Josiah's Bay, another beach break that's perhaps the best and most consistent surf spot on the island. If the swell is running big, anchor well outside and either dinghy in or paddle. If you haven't rented a board already, a few "beater" rentals are available at the beach bar.

The beach at Beef Island's Long Bay, with its sandy bottom, is considered a good spot for beginners. Across Sir Francis Drake Channel, at Spanish Town, on Virgin Gorda, the harbor entrance has an enviable break that'll have you taking a pass on that planned stop at The Baths. For the adventurous types who don't mind a reef-scar memento, Loblolly Bay, at Anegada, hosts world-class waves when conditions are right.

To score on your sail/surf charter, November through April is your prime window, and with the incredible accuracy of surf forecasting nowadays, it's easy to book a trip at the last minute. Charter bases can usually scare up a boat, especially at the bookends of the high season.

The consummate surfer, especially the shortboard rider, would do well to bring his or her own equipment, but not longboarders. For the cost of the two-way excess-baggage fee, you can rent a board, and once you're in the water, dropping in on that sapphire liquid hump, it really doesn't matter what's underfoot.

Dave Reed is editor of Sailing World, CW's sister publication.