British Virgin Islands – Pirate’s Paradise

Pirates had excellent taste in venues for plying their trade and traffic. The BVI are Paradise indeed and are still so largely because the swashbuckling traditions of rape and pillage have thankfully not extended to the modern vernacular of the real estate and tourism industries. No high-rise, no traffic, no high density dwellings, no crimes of greed.

These islands remain blissfully underdeveloped and largely unspoiled. Hillsides dotted with homes, not plastered; beaches clean and accessible. Large tracts of verdant land and their surrounding azure waters are protected, which, opposed to coastal Mexico’s current chaotic land grabbage, was a delightful respite from a trend that is short-sighted and, like extinction, irreversible.

Promoting and preserving what occurs naturally and being low-key and harmonious with what could hardly be improved upon is the BVI’s code for long-term success. And don’t think you can’t make money being conservative – room rates are high but worth it; sail charter fleets are fully booked and the envy of other cruising grounds, luxury boutique resorts do a brisk trade; large private estates are for sale, even whole islands like Necker owned by Virgin’s Sir Richard Branson (how appropriate!)

Amidst the success there is no excess; beaches are so abundant that crowding is rarely an issue (except for a few famous exceptions); locals win, tourists win, coral and fish and hardwoods win. Sensible.

OK. Pontification over. The pictures tell the story better.

Weirdest thing about driving around Tortola’s narrow winding roads is that the steering wheel is on the left, courtesy of easy US imports, but one drives on the left also, courtesy of the British heritage. Not driving along the centre-line takes a little getting used to. That’s why all the rental cars come with stickers plastered above the dashboard saying ” keep to the left – use horn frequently.” Honk if you’re happy (or about to head-on).

Tortola, seat of the capital and the largest island in the group of about 30, is bite-sized and easily explored, superficialy at least, in a day. But once you start exploring you want to stop at every look-out and every beach, ‘cos it’s all beautiful. One favourite ‘discovery’ was Josiah’s Bay on the northshore. There’s a few cafes/bars and bungalows but otherwise just a good longboard ride or a bodybash in crystal clear waters.

Closer to the west end of the island was Cane Garden Bay, a classic refuge for sailors and land-lubbers alike. The view goes on forever to a horizon of tradewind cumulous clouds over sand-fringed headlands and the tourquoise Caribbean sea. Yum.

Cane Garden is also a great place to ahem, just hang out.

Evening is even more tranquil.

On a more socially active note, this north coast is also famous for full moon parties thrown at beachside bars like Bomba’s on Cappoon’s Bay which somehow survive (or at least get rebuilt after) every hurricane season – shack sense; keep it simple and Irie. Wet T’s optional.

I went to Tortola to photograph a beautiful house called The Distillery. From its elevated position on Greenbank Hill the view included another gem called Brewer’s Bay. The weather cock perched on top of the pavillion by the tennis court was free. The rest of the property is available for US$4.85 mil. Worth every cent.

Closer inspection of Brewer’s Bay is pretty too.

A casual tour of the island will reveal roofs of corrugated iron in outrageous tones of lilac, pale green and lipstick red with complementary colours in the trim of wooden railings, verandah posts and window frames.

You’ll also see art, spontaneous or sponsored, everywhere.

BVI’s international airport is on Beef Island, joined to Tortola by a bridge over a narrow channel. Trellis Bay is the hub of societal life on Beef Is. where cafes, galleries and the sea-to-shore traffic from the anchored charter boats maintains a mildly active sense of purpose to an otherwise langourous scene. From there you an catch a short free ferry ride to the coral-fringed island of Bellamy Cay, home of the Last Resort.

This picturesque idyll provides cabin accommodations, restaurant, live happy hour music at the bar, internet access, beach chairs, great swimming and privacy with a 360° view.

Due east of Tortola and Beef Islands lies another of BVI’s treasures, Virgin Gorda. I was advised by many not to leave the BVI without visiting a national park there called The Baths. Good advice.

We got there by the first morning ferry/taxi and enjoyed the solitude of a truly beautiful place. Lesson was learned a few hours later after a visiting cruise ship (to Tortola) deposited a large proportion of its passengers on the hitherto deserted beaches and boulder-strewn shoreline.



By that time though we’d had enough sun and there were plenty of secret shady retreats amongst the boulders and lapping tide.


Stay tuned for a more complete gallery of images from this trip.

yep. I still love my job.


Sunseeker Cruise to Careyes

Maybe I shouldn’t have declared to the bloggy world that I will work solely for the sake of adventure ‘cos the offers are flowing thick and fast while the rent remains upaid!

Last weekend was a ripper, though. I’m a sailor by natural inclination not a stink-boater but it’s been so long since I had any high-seas adventures that this was not one I could refuse. Any excuse to go boating.

The vessel was a humungous 82′ Sunseeker powerboat called ‘Machiavelli’ and the trip was from Puerto Vallarta down the Jalisco coast to Careyes and back. The purpose was to document in photos the trip with a view to publishing the story in a soon-to-be-released magazine called ‘Costa Vallarta’.

The storyline was of three couples ‘getting away’ from Vallarta and at a rate of US$4500/day I guess the couples were presumed to be fairly well off. The people involved were mostly French with a Canadian and a Brit thrown in for good measure. (You could tell they were French because the word ‘rabbit’ was never mentioned once during the 3 day voyage.)

The trip was organised by John who runs the Producciones Viva empire and who will be responsible for the new mag. As such, the trip was organized on the basis of an ‘intercambio‘ or exchange, whereby John fills pages of his magazine with an attractive enticing story in exchange for advertising space for the boat’s charter business. Free and willing models/subjects; free and willing photographer and a very expensive mobile platform for the exercise.

Somewhere down the line though the purpose of the exercise got lost in translation and we ended up being catered to in casual, paper plate/plastic fork style which needless to say didn’t make my job any easier (or tastier). So there’s a paucity of table-top settings in the photo line-up but plenty of others.

Catherine (the token Pom but fluently in French) was beautifully pregnant and as always the consumate model. Her husband Etienne did his best to stay as sunburned as possible for the duration of the cruise (I suspect as a means of escaping the camera’s probing lens). John and Florencia were more than happy being host and hostess with nothing much more on their agenda other than having a good time, and Christian and Corinne, both hard-working parents also enjoyed the escape from everyday reality. All three pairs were in love and very comfortable in present company which helps when trying to photograph happy couples enjoying themselves, ‘cos they are and don’t need to bung it on for the camera.







The passage down the coast traverses open, undeveloped coastline without many photogenic features but thankfully clouds always provided some interest to otherwise plain scenes, Cabo Corrientes being an obvious exception.

The Careyes coast during the dry winter months is less obliging; dry scrubland is hard to translate visually into a paradisical scenario (even with Photoshop!). Tight or otherwise selective crops on landscaped backgrounds or waiting for late golden light was the only way to make the stage as ‘luxurious’ as the story demanded.

But most of the time, while we weren’t trying to get specific shots I just shot people doing what a group of friends do on a big boat in a beautiful place; enjoying themselves, relaxing and righting it all off as a business expense. Viva el intercambio!