Sailing and Scuba Diving in the British Virgin Islands

A world-class sailing destination, the BVI also offer spectacular scuba diving. Here’s what it’s like to combine both in these fair isles.

August 10, 2017
Don’t miss a dive on the historic wreck of the Rhone, which is colorfully encrusted with corals. iStock

How can you combine spectacular sailing and scuba diving in the British Virgin Islands? The Moorings offers a crewed yacht that lets you enjoy the best of both worlds — an all-inclusive charter experience with the opportunity to dive some of the British Virgin Islands’ most beautiful sites. It’s the perfect way to see these islands both above and below water.

The Moorings has a fleet of motorboats and sailboats, and specializes in skipper-your-own or crewed vacations. My buddy and I are doing the latter — our boat has a two-person crew who are PADI Instructors. A Moorings crewed yacht charter is pure luxury. In the BVI, you’ll sail to all the best places, where you can swim, snorkel, dive or simply relax.

The British Virgin Islands consist of the main islands of Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada, and Jost Van Dyke, along with more than 50 other smaller islands and cays. About 15 of the islands are inhabited. The capital, Road Town, is on Tortola, the largest island, which is approximately 12 miles long and 3 miles wide.


The Underwater Experience

There are more than 65 moored dive sites in the British Virgin Islands, ranging from shallow coral gardens and gently sloping mini walls to deeper wrecks, from beginner sites to more challenging advanced ones.

The BVI pioneered rendezvous scuba diving as a solution for sailors who also wanted to do a bit of diving. Dive operators will pull up to your yacht so you can hop aboard the dive boat and join other guests for a two-tank trip.

Much of the diving shares the same architecture as the world-famous Baths, a collection of colossal granite boulders that form grottoes and pools on a Virgin Gorda beach. Joe’s Cave off West Dog Island is one example. After exploring the reef, we end the dive in a small grotto filled with glassy sweepers. Light rays filtering down from above make you feel as if you’re in a cathedral. It is magical.


Large volcanic structures and boulders define the underwater landscape off many of the islands. One of our favorite sites is Carrot Shoal, off the southwest tip of Peter Island. It’s a large underwater platform that rises from a 60- to 70-foot bottom and levels off at 40 feet. It’s cut through in several places, and we kick in and out of these, finding the creatures that like to set up residence or shelter in rocky habitats, like crabs.

The British Virgin Islands offer scenic anchorages and protected bays — some even have nearby dive sites. iStock

You can’t come here and not dive the Rhone — for starters, it’s in remarkable condition after a century and a half on the bottom, and at night, orange cup corals in its bow open up to filter-feed and put on a beautiful show.

Powered by both sail and steam, the 310-foot Rhone was the flagship vessel of the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company and represented the best of 19th-century shipbuilding technology. Like the Titanic, it was considered unsinkable. On Oct. 19, 1867, the Rhone got caught in a storm and attempted a run out to open sea. As the ship struggled to get past Salt Island, towering waves pushed it into Black Rock Point, breaking the ship in half. It’s where the two sections rest today, and most dive operators offer it a two-tank dive, beginning on the deeper bow section.


Lying on its side in 80 feet of water, the bow is encrusted with corals and sponges, and tiny silversides dance in the dim light inside the cavernous interior. Schools of grunts and snappers hug the hull, and barracudas lurk outside.

The Topside Experience

We loved the Soggy Dollar Bar on Jost Van Dyke and Willy-T’s floating bar in The Bight off Norman Island. They’re both fun-loving places where you’ll make a friend — or 20. How many people you meet will be directionally proportional to how many Painkillers you drink. Beware the generous pour of local bartenders, but this potent libation — rum, pineapple and orange juice, cream of coconut and grated fresh nutmeg — is one you’ll want to replicate once you’re back home.

The sunsets from a yacht are spectacular. Relax with a cocktail as you watch a fat orange sun close down another gorgeous day.


If you’re a foodie, you’re in for a treat aboard the Moorings. One of our dinners — beef tenderloin with a chocolate-infused sauce on a bed of mashed cauliflower topped with asparagus — almost made us cancel our return flight.

A crewed yacht is a luxurious way to experience the British Virgin Islands the way these islands were meant to be enjoyed — from the water.

Ready to step into scuba diving? Check out PADI’s online scuba courses or visit scuba diving intro to learn more.


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