Third in a Series:
The British Virgins are known for their calm, clear waters, with tropical breezes ideal for sailing. But those same waters were once infested with pirates, including some of the most notorious. Here, Blackbeard, Drake and others preyed on passing ships laden with riches bound for Spain.
Legend has it that Robert Louis Stevenson modeled fictional Treasure Island after Norman Island, where local fishermen reputedly found treasure buried in its sea caves. Today the caves off Treasure Point are favored by divers and snorkelers, no doubt hoping for a glimpse of a piece of eight themselves.
You can get here by chartering a boat or joining one of many day sails out of Road Town, Tortola, the BVI’s capital. Although Norman Island is uninhabited, the Pirates Bight Bar and Restaurant serves grog and other refreshment.
Black Sam Bellamy, a dashing pirate who died young in a 1717 shipwreck — after first stealing the ship, of course — made a tiny islet in Trellis Bay his hideout. It’s now called Bellamy Cay. From there, Black Sam plundered dozens of vessels sailing the Sir Francis Drake Channel.
After a day of diving, snorkeling, or windsurfing on Trellis Bay, you can have dinner at The Last Resort on Bellamy Cay. It’s all just a cat-o’-nine-tails’ toss from BVI’s international airport on Beef Island, Tortola.
Jost Van Dyke and Peter Island
While everyone likes to tell you that the four-mile-long island of Jost Van Dyke — once a popular pirate haven — was named for a long-ago Dutch pirate, no one seems to know much about him (or her).
But with pirate lore, the story’s the thing — hang the facts. And pirate tales flow like rum on Jost Van Dyke, home to several renowned watering holes, easily accessible by ferry.
At Foxy’s Tamarind Bar, local character Foxy Callwood spins out calypso tunes and throws wild New Year’s Eve bashes, while the Soggy Dollar Bar is the home of the Painkiller cocktail. After soaking up some local color, you can soak up some sun on the island’s pristine white-sand beaches.
On Peter Island, with place names like Deadman’s Bay, you know there’s a pirate connection. Bodies frequently washed ashore here from sea battles in the surrounding waters.
The legend goes that Blackbeard — so fearsome he liked to set his hair aflame before battle — once marooned a boatload of men on the nearby small island called Dead Man’s Chest. Fifteen survived, while the rest perished. The story is said to have inspired the chantey “Fifteen men on the dead man’s chest” — though maybe it was the other way around.
Today, Dead Man’s Chest is a nature reserve, while Deadman’s Bay is a famously gorgeous beach on the grounds of the deluxe Peter Island Resort.
Arrgh — ’tis a fitting spot indeed to spend the last of yer doubloons.
For previous posts in this series, see:
An earlier version of this piece appeared in EnCompass Magazine.
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