Monday, March 07, 2016

Why We Chose to Live in the British Virgin Islands

"I could see us living here." I muttered those six words to Scott in a wistful haze while driving along the main road here, which might just be one of the most scenic roads in the British Virgin Islands. As we rambled along the waterside with the windows down; warm breeze in our hair and hot sun on our faces, I gazed out at the cyan horizon, dreamy islands dotting my periphery, and imagined what it might be like to call this place "home". All my life I have wanted to live on a island - and in my travels I have always gravitated towards small, expat communities in rustic towns; islands in their own right...I can't put my finger on why this is - but I know that I find comfort in cultural diversity, eccentric characters, flexible rules and tight-knit community. This was in 2013 and Scott and I had been up and down the windward and leeward island chain twice before this particular stopover, visiting almost all islands in between, but for the first time since we left in 2010 I got a hankering that putting down some roots might be a good idea. It was the first place that felt kind of like home.

Cruising as a lifestyle was wonderful in many ways (ways which are well documented on this blog), but there were elements of it that were draining on us. For one, money was becoming an issue. Being a gypsy is wonderful for the soul, but tough on the pocketbook. Then there was the anxiety of always being at the mercy of mother nature, a stress that was a very regular and daily thing. Maintaining our boat - particularly with a baby on board - was proving difficult to stay on top of...and, finally, sailing had become more of a chore - a means to get from one place to another - than a pleasure. Then again, there were so many elements that we still loved about the cruising lifestyle; island culture, being at anchor, the constant ebb and flow of new and interesting people in our lives, a strong sense of community and belonging, and a feeling of living more simply while getting back to nature... We weren't ready to give it up and "swallow the anchor" as it were, but we needed a change. For these reasons (and others) we decided to call the British Virgin Islands home.


But why *these* particular islands? Well, finding a 'home' is as subjective as finding a mate, but here's why we chose it:

1) They are (almost) perfectly located. First and foremost, this body of water is very protected. We don't need to worry about wind and waves nearly as much as we have had to in other places. Then there is the fact that we can cruise to any number of islands and drop our anchor in a host of beautiful bays in a matter of hours. Here in the British Virgin Islands (BVI's), there are four main islands (Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada and Jost Van Dyke) to explore, but aside from those - there are fifty other tiny islands that make up this chain. Not to mention that the US Virgin Islands and the Spanish Virgin Islands - all amazing in their own right - are a simple day sail away. I say they are "almost" perfect because, as with all things, their convenience comes at a price - and that price is the fact that we lie smack-dab in the middle of the hurricane belt. Not a big issue for vacationers, but considering we now own three boats here - it's something that adds a little yin to the yang.

2) Best sailing ever. There's a reason thousands upon thousands of people flock here every year to come and sail. This place offers some of the best sailing on the planet, with consistent strong trade winds and a body of water that is protected from large waves and ocean swell, and it is awesome. You can sail for the sake of sailing here, and no matter what direction the wind is blowing - there is always somewhere beautiful to go and drop anchor. Aside from that, there's a pretty healthy racing community - from lasers to mega yachts - and there's no shortage of cruiser raft ups and regattas to get your fix. Living on a boat here is a real bonus - when we get a few days off in a row, we can move house and enjoy life on the hook for a few days.

3) Great industry. Wherever we settled, we knew we needed to work and we wanted to be in a place rife with opportunity. The fact that Scott is a USCG licensed Captain combined with the fact that the BVI's are home to one of the most bustling charter industries in the world made this a no-brainer. Then, opportunity knocked in the form of a business for sale...Scott and I took an incredible risk and decided to go for it - and the rest is history. Our day charter business was run by great people before us, and - touch wood - we have taken the torch and even kicked it up a notch. We are currently the #1 Day Sail company in the BVI's! Scott's been working like a dog (18 hour days, no joke) but in a year or so we hope to have streamlined our systems so that the work/life balance is more realistic.

4)Developed, but too developed. You can get a great steak here, find a solid five star hotel, get pampered at a top tier spa, see a concert, and get the latest Roxy bikini...but you still feel like you're living on a sleepy island You will not see a single big box store on these roads, no fast food restaurant chains spoil our street views, and - despite the fact that this is a very popular tourist destination and giant cruise ships come into port daily - the BVI's manage to maintain a very authentic, very laid back island vibe. I love that I can go to a surf shop and supplement my wardrobe, but then head up to town and get bbq chicken out of bus on the side of the road. While it is illegal to talk on the phone while driving here, it's perfectly legal to have a beer. Only in the islands does this make perfect sense and, truth be told, I love it. We live life in the slow lane here, the vibe is much more relaxed than back at home, which I think is a good thing. Island time.

5) They don't make it easy to live and work here. So this is kind of a blessing and a curse, but - for us - more of a blessing. The BVI's really run you through the ringer if you plan to live and work here. The amount of paperwork, bureaucracy, interviews and patience you need to get through it all is INCREDIBLE. Our saving grace was the fact that we bought an existing business and (we are told) that made our process slightly easier. If you want to start a business from scratch here? Even harder (and riskier). But if you are patient and mental enough to deal with the difficulties of getting to the finish line - it's pretty sweet. For example, our day charter company is one of three on this island. Three! Competition is there, which is great, but the market is not over-saturated so everyone gets a piece of the pie here. At least it feels that way.

6) So. Many. Families. Children are everywhere! Local kids, expat kids and tourists alike! And where there are children, there are schools, daycares and activity centers. Don't get me wrong, they might not be the type you are used to in the United States or Europe (remember, we are still living on an 'authentic' island here), but either way, there's no shortage of play groups, parks and kiddos for our girls to enjoy. It's lovely and great to be a part of an island community that is so family-centric and while there might not be *as* many organized groups and play areas as there are back stateside, there's no shortage of sand, water and sun - and what more could a child want than that?

7) Good school options. This sort of goes hand in had with #6, but being that we have relocated here for the next five years or more, good schools were something we had to consider. There are several options for private schooling - a Montessori School and an International School - which is what we are leaning towards for our girls. Of course these two options come at a pretty steep price, but we feel that when it comes to laying the foundation for our girls' educations, we need to consider it. While many are curious about home-schooling, I have decided that is not for me at this juncture. If Scott and I were still cruising and if I had another full-time parent with me to give me the mental breaks I need (and want!) then it would be a different story. But as it stands right now, I am a solo parent almost every single day from dawn to dusk and I have my own passions and projects I'd like to pursue right now. So off to school they will go.

8) It's truly paradise. This past summer while on a short break to Big Sur, California (put it on the bucket list if you've never been!) I had a sort of epiphany and determined that living in a visually spectacular place was essential for my well being. I feel most alive, inspired and grateful in habitats where the world fans it's peacock feathers full tilt - and this place is one of them. These islands are some of the most beautiful we have ever been to. The water, the flora, the anchorages, the ridge roads, the beaches, the sleepy villages...it's lovely. Yes, it can be a little crowded from time to time with cruise ship patrons and charter guests, but I have found that I love the buzz and excitement created by the tourists...these folks act as a constant reminder of why I am so lucky to live here and help me to live in the present. Not to mention the fact that once you know your way around, there are plenty of places to retreat here if you want to get off the beaten path. The snorkeling, the diving, the sea life and the beaches - they are all magnificent. Every day I am inspired, every day I am grateful, every day I breath in the beauty with my eyes, heart and spirit and I love it. Will it get old? Possibly. But I doubt it.

9) The Nanny Cay Marina. Okay, we haven't been to every marina in the Caribbean, but we've been to a lot of them and - let me tell you - this one is THE BEST. I honestly don't think we would have chosen to settle here if not for this marina, because it is pretty much the perfect place to live-aboard with kids. I could go on and on why I love it here so much, but first and foremost, it's a one stop shop and offers everything you need: boat yard, grocery store, two restaurants, a couple surf shops, dive shop, proper coffee shop, yacht chandlery, electronics store, a killer beach bar and more! You really don't have to leave to cover all your bases and for that reason, many of us who live here refer to it as "the compound" or "the village". As if that's not enough, there's a beautiful pool and a great little beach where our girls love to play. There is a resort on site so we get a nice mix of locals and tourists passing through, and this place is also home to Horizon Yacht Charters, one of the premier term charter companies on island. All of that is fantastic, no doubt...but the number one reason I love it so much here is the sense of community. This is not only a transient marina, but a place where people live year-round, and there's always a great buzz and 'village mentality' here. We cannot walk ten feet here without greeting someone we know. Our girls run the docks, giving fist bumps and hugs to all the employees; they belly up to the beach bar and ask for juice from their favorite bartender, Deborah, and they are adored by many. It's wonderful. I could probably write a whole blog post on this place but I'll leave it at that for now. It's awesome. I love it.

***

So there you have it. Our reasons for settling here in the BVI and, so far, we have zero regrets. It's still early of course, but we truly love our adopted home. Our "plan" is to live here for another five to seven years, and by then we hope to have enough money in the bank in order to sustain more long-term, far-flung sailing (oh, yes, we're not done with cruising!) Our girls will be around ten and eight by then, which we think would be great ages to take them exploring further afield...then again, that's a long ways away so at the moment, we live, we work, and we enjoy. Life is good!


4 comments:

Jason said...

What a great article! Thanks for sharing. I'm sure so many of us would love to make that leap but for one reason or another are anchored to where we are. I'm so looking forward to a taste of that world you live, even if it is only a vacation. Your backyard will be our vacation of a lifetime!

Chris said...

Your life sounds so idyllic. I love to live vicariously through you. Our hopes are to live someplace beautiful someday too. In the meantime, I get plenty of inspiration from you and your cute little family.

Chris said...

Your life sounds so idyllic. I love to live vicariously through you. Our hopes are to live someplace beautiful someday too. In the meantime, I get plenty of inspiration from you and your cute little family.

MaryJo Boyle said...

Another great piece, Brit.

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