In November 2021, my family and I took a one-week sailing charter aboard a 40-foot Leopard catamaran in the British Virgin Islands. The four of us flew from the states to the U.S. Virgin Islands then took a fast ferry from St. Thomas to Road Town on Tortola in the British Virgin Islands.
Editor’s note: Due to the evolving nature of COVID, check travel protocols for USVI and BVI before travel.
Traveling to BVI
Here’s what we learned about cruising during a pandemic:
- You must take a COVID-19 test and receive a negative test result within three days of arrival in the USVI.
- Make a digital copy of your vaccination card showing you are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
- Submit these documents to the USVI through its online travel screening portal.
- One to three days later you will receive a large green QR code from the USVI for entry permission.
- Fill out the BVI entry forms online no later than 48 hours before travel. (You need a digital copy of your U.S. negative COVID-19 test results and proof of vaccination.) You may also need travel insurance to cover COVID-19 medical costs in case you get sick.
- Travel to USVI with a valid U.S. passport, proof of full COVID vaccination and the green USVI QR code. You will need a smartphone and BVI cell service for completing and saving forms later. Your U.S. phone will work in the USVI but not in the BVI without international roaming or valid Wi-Fi calling. You also need to be able to access your email on your phone. We rented Wi-Fi for the boat.
- Upon entry to BVI, show your entry forms and pay $50 each for a rapid COVID test at the dock.
- Do a nose swab and wait 15 minutes for negative results. Then clear inbound customs with your passport and the entry declaration paperwork you filled out while waiting.
Chartering in the BVI
Once we were in the BVI, we spent the first day after charter check-in on Norman Island, which hosts the famous Willy T’s floating bar. The next day we went to Cooper Island to snorkel in the ocean-filled caves, and the following day it was on to Virgin Gorda for The Baths and Leverick Bay.
On the fourth day, we traveled to Anegada to visit the flamingoes. Then on the fifth day, we traveled to Jost Van Dyke, and the next day, we went back to Norman Island to snorkel in The Indians. The day before our departure, we cruised to Trellis Bay on Beef Island to enjoy the full moon party with the famous metal fire balls.
On our last day, we headed back to base to check in by 11 a.m.
Most nights in the BVI, we reserved a mooring ball in advance for $40 or caught a ball for $30 and did not anchor. Keep all receipts of mooring payments as questions sometimes arise.
Leaving the BVI
The process for returning to the U.S. is like traveling to the BVI:
- Three days before returning to the U.S. you must get a COVID test ($50 each). We did ours in a tent near the hospital. (See your friendly taxi driver for advice and transportation. By the way, they drive U.S. cars and scooters on the British side of the road, so be very careful!) You will get the official COVID test results via email, so you still need cell coverage and email access in the BVI.
- Fill out the USVI entry forms through the same online travel screening portal. This is short notice to get another green QR code; if you cut it too close, you can email and ask for an expedited review and approval like we had to do.
- If possible, purchase your ferry tickets back to the USVI in advance. Arrive early with your baggage.
- Fill out the U.S. customs declaration forms. (We had to fill out a five-page CDC form certifying that we were fully vaccinated and didn’t have COVID, but we never had to show it to anyone.)
Return to St. Thomas via ferry, clear U.S. customs, taxi to the airport, and check your bags all the way to your destination. We checked our bags to Huntsville, Alabama, but American Airlines pulled them off the plane in Charlotte, North Carolina, our connecting flight, and held them for customs. We had a three-hour layover, and after much discussion, we convinced the airline supervisor that we did not need to go through U.S. customs twice and got our bags transferred to our next flight.
If you have not been fully vaccinated, this process will be much more complicated, more time-consuming (with a quarantine) and more expensive.
The information above was current as of late November 2021, but during the pandemic, everything is subject to change. Be prepared for last-minute variations, and most importantly, research, research, research. Bring cash, as many places don’t accept all credit cards. Allow at least one day before and one day after your charter for clearing in, testing, and clearing out. If you are good friends with Sir Richard Branson, you might be able to fly directly on his private jet into the airport on Tortola and then ride his private fast ferry to his private island with its three wind generators. The rest of us must wade through the process above when chartering the BVI.