Features & Images » Travel

Virgin territory

Virgin Gorda, the biggest island in the Caribbean's British Virgin Islands, is the place to go snorkelling with a namesake of billionaire entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson.



It's no coincidence snorkel guide Branson Read is named after Virgin Airlines and Virgin Mobile billionaire entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson.

After all, my wife and I are in the Caribbean's British Virgin Islands and Sir Richard owns several private islands here, presumably liking all the Virgin tie-ins.

When Branson first introduces himself on the British Virgin Islands Adventure boat on our way to snorkel around the famous Baths rock formations in Virgin Gorda, we just thought his parents must have been Sir Richard fans.

But upon further questioning, Branson reveals he earned his famous name by being born on Sir Richard's Necker Island in 1986 while his parents were working there as interim caretakers.

"And I've met him, twice," said Branson of his namesake.

"Both times at bars around the BVIs. When I told him I was born on Necker, he bought me a drink. He's a cool guy and will talk with you as long as you aren't paparazzi."

The younger Branson is also cool with his Caribbean accent, partial beard, little ponytail and laid-back vibe.

With the star discussion over, we arrive at The Baths, a unique formation of granite boulders thrust up to the surface of a volcanic coastline by long-ago earthquakes.

"Usually volcanic and granite never mix, but they do to spectacular results here," said Branson.

They certainly do.

The shiny wet black granite is striking amid the turquoise Caribbean Sea, backed by a small white-sand beach in Devil's Bay.

We don our masks and fins and hop in to snorkel around the boulders and spot colourful parrot fish, blue tangs, sea fans and sea urchins in the coral.

On shore we take off our fins to wander through the shallows, crevices, caves and lookouts the boulders have created.

It's captivating and the reason many a swimsuit model photo shoot has been held here.

My wife and I pose for pictures in our swimsuits, not quite reaching high-fashion results.

Back on the boat we head over to Mountain Point for more snorkelling, this time through narrow channels and through arches to spy the sealife.

My wife and I sailed into Virgin Gorda on Windstar Cruises' Wind Surf.

With only a 312-passenger capacity, the Wind Surf is not a big cruise ship, but a sailing yacht that can navigate the British Virgin Islands' closer quarters and small ports.

"Windstar passengers pick this line because of the small luxury ships and the sailing component," said Capt. Stephan Freidrich when I bump into him onboard.

"I'm a traditional sailor at heart, so it appeals to me to have the sails up and use wind energy and save fuel."

It also looks fabulous.

When the 187-metre-long Wind Surf unfurls her seven triangular sails on five 67-metre-high masts, the vessel is magnificent cutting across the sea at 12 knots.

But, it's not all about aesthetics.

The Wind Surf's staterooms are spacious and well appointed and the service is impeccable at the four à la carte restaurants and three bars.

When at anchor, the back of the boat opens into a sports deck and we enjoy swimming to the water trampoline, lounging on sunning mats and we even stand-up paddle board, take out a Hobie Cat and go waterskiing on the glittering Caribbean Sea.

The same sports, as well as a full-on beach party, are also offered when we go ashore for the Wind Surf special event on private Prickly Pear Beach on Virgin Gorda.

The Wind Surf's Yachtsman Caribbean seven-day itinerary also stops at the BVI's tiny Jost van Dyke for beach-bar hopping and Tortola for beach time, as well as Antigua and St. Barthelemy.

The cruise is roundtrip out of St. Maarten, so it's worth taking an extra day to stay on the Dutch-influenced island and overnight at the all-inclusive Sonesta Great Bay Resort, which is walking distance to the capital of Philipsburg with its swanky shopping street and atmospheric beachfront.

Air Canada, WestJet and Air Transat fly from Toronto and Montreal non-stop to St. Maarten.

Prices for a seven-day Windstar cruise are around $2,500 per person based on double occupancy.

Check out WindstarCruises.com.


Add a comment