Sailing the British Virgin Islands: First Timer Takeaways

Boating 101Organization

By Nicole Verspyck

Jost Van Dyke Harbor, BVI

I’m back from sailing the British Virgin Islands with some dear friends. It was my first time sailing in the BVI’s, and it wasn’t long before I knew I’d be back. It was a terrific adventure filled with friends making memories.  Among many highlights, I thought I’d share a few of the takeaways I learned.  We set sail from Road Town, Tortola on a 46’ Catamaran; the yacht offered four cabins with heads (toilets) and there were seven of us bareboating (no hired crew).  

Let’s start with some tips on how to pare down your packing and begin your adventure. I quickly discovered the wisdom in thinking through what to bring and how to bring it.    

Luggage: Hard suitcases with wheels are difficult to store on board a boat.  We used a North Face Duffle which was super simple to stow, but equally difficult to lug around airports.  Most of our fellow sailors had two bags each, a soft tote or backpack, and a carry-on sized roller suitcase.  This arrangement seemed the best luggage solution for a 7-10 day trip.  Some boats have a hold under the mattress large enough for your rigid bag, while other boats offer a variety of holds and lockers that are often odd shapes and small.   

Packing Cubes: We discovered years ago the advantages to using packing cubes to help organize your clothing; this trip we used several of the junedays cooler cubes as packing cubes; while traveling they were the perfect companion to carrying socks and bathing suits; on board, they were an excellent way to organize some of our fridge items.  And while we’re speaking of bags, now is a good time to suggest that you bring a waterproof “shore” bag to keep your phone, wallet, sunglasses and other small items dry and secure for your on-shore adventures; we used the Ugo premium dry pack as our primary on-shore pouch. 

Shoes: As you plan your travels, it is likely that you’ll decide to bring multiple pairs of shoes:  your travel shoes, a pair of flip flops, a quick dry sturdy reef shoe for onshore adventures, and maybe a nice pair (or two) of flats for those nights out. That’s 5 pairs of shoes. When considering my fellow sailors, we easily had 30 pairs of shoes on board our boat, which can get chaotic. But we packed a solution, our shoe caddy (AKA the This & That Caddy).     

Our shoe caddy scored very high reviews from our fellow sailors, as it solved three problems. First, it was the perfect solution to organizing the deck. While launching, and when all hands are on deck, no one wants to be tripping over shoes. The second solve tackles the wet shoe problem. Our junedays “This and That” shoe caddy could be placed in the sun where shoes can air out and dry; we found that the dark navy color was perfect, as shoes dried rather quickly, certainly when compared to placing wet shoes in on-board holds that often have poor-to-no circulation. Third, the partitioned collapsible caddy offered a reliable place for crew to readily find their shoes, and an easy solution to moving all the shoes from one part of the deck to another while underway or at anchor.  We even discovered the caddy worked well in the dingy as we made day trips to shore; it was terrific for re-provisioning runs to the local grocery store. 

Towels: One thing you can count on when spending a week or more on the ocean: things get damp. Towels can be among the worst affected, particularly if they are a heavy cotton terry, and you bring them ashore on beach days.  We packed quick dry towels by Dock and Bay. They don’t hold odors, are sand proof, dry quickly and fold up to nothing, making them easy to pack for the day. They’re also stylish; we brought seven different colors as gifts for our friends. It was a great solution to the common question: where’s my towel. The towels were a big hit and we’ll never travel without them. They are a perfect gift, no matter the age. 

Sunscreen: Similar to shoes, everyone brings aboard at least one tube of sunscreen, and often more than one container. And rightly so, as sailors you’re in and out and under the sun all day. We brought several types of SPF 30+ and 50+ face and body sunscreen products.  We heard many people emphasize the importance of finding reef safe brands, as many have the ingredient oxybenzone which is very bad for coral.   When you’re applying it all day, it’s easy to go through small tubes, so you always pack extra. The result is lots of different sunscreen containers on board.  The solution: a caddy.  We used the junedays medium caddy in yellow; it was perfect, everyone knew to look in the sun-colored caddy for their sunscreen.


Provisioning: There are many takeaways from the provisioning experiences, from placing the online grocery order in advance, to receiving the items onboard, and then re-provisioning along the way. Here are a few things we learned.  Leave cardboard boxes on shore; they attract cockroaches and other insects and take up space. You don’t want any uninvited guests! Shopping in the BVIs was easy enough, yet very expensive except for most alcohol. Having a reusable partitioned tote or large caddy solved for plastic bags and simplified the organization of various foods categories. We used the junedays large collapsible caddy. It was perfect, especially when coupled with the junedays cooler cubes, which we used to organize dairy products in one cube, produce in the other.  Transporting everything back to the boat was a breeze, as we literally placed the cubes in the fridge once we returned, where they stayed organized until consumed.  A few of the brands that we enjoyed while sailing include: Plink hydration tablets, Clevr Dragonfruit Drink Blends

First Aid (Boat Bites and Bug Bites): While sailing, everyone on board our boat received a boat bite. These are the nicks, cuts, and common scrapes, that come from being a sailor. The hands are injured the most, but one of our crew cut his head on the bimini rack; that’s when we discovered the onboard first aid kit was running very low on gauze, tape, bandages, and other items. It’s good practice to check the contents of your first aid kit before leaving; it turned out okay for us, this time.  In addition to boat bites, you may experience bug bites.  No-See-Ums are a pesky midge that you rarely see, and sometimes don’t even feel … until the next day. We discovered that Avon’s Skin So Soft spray or gel was an effective deterrence, and it smells good and leaves your skin soft.  Citronella infused oils are great, too.  Wearing a sarong or long pants also offers some protection.  We used the junedays navy medium caddy to store the various bug repellents, and a few candles we brought along. On the home waters, we use the red caddy for organizing critical hand equipment, including flashlights, binoculars, flares, and it’s purpose-colored for organizing first aid gear that doesn’t fit in the kit.   

There are other lessons we learned, to be shared in the days ahead. As for today, we’re celebrating proof positive that there are fun solutions for organizing clutter.