What to bring, what to read, where to go...
You've just invested in a sailing course and you want to come well prepared. This guide provides you with information about what to bring, how to get there, what sort of pre-study you should do, some knots to get you started and travel insurance. This applies mostly to the British Virgin Islands and Martinique, the two main bases for Sailing Virgins, but if you're doing a sailing course, this is worth a read.
What to bring
In a phrase, less is more. If you pack well you will be surprised just how small your bag is. Really, it's going to be 80-90 degrees (26-30 C) every day. You don't need much. We have a PDF download showing a list of things you should include. For the ladies we found this great resource online. Click below to download a two pack packing list:
This may seem like a lot of stuff but it should easily fit inside a carry-on sized bag. Ideally a duffel bag that is compressible. We wrote a blog post titled Ten Things All Skippers Should Own. You might want to start collecting.
Here are the top three Apps we recommend you have on your phone:
- Navionics - our favourite navigation app. Make sure you download the charts after you download the app.
- Marine Traffic - awesome augmented reality feature lets you see big ships in fog (if you have 3G signal)
- PredictWind - the best weather app we have found to date; you pay for the best features (worth it).
We wrote another blog piece especially on Apps for sailors. You can find that here.
How To Get Here
There are several different routes to take to the BVI. The main two are flying to St Thomas in the USVI, and flying to Tortola in the BVI. They both come with pros and cons. In summary we generally recommend flying to St Thomas. Here is a typical cost breakdown to get to the BVI:
If you fly to St Thomas (STT), a cab from the airport to the Charlotte Amalie Ferry Terminal is $10 (ten minutes), then a ferry from here to West End is around $45 and takes around 45 minutes.
If you fly to Tortola (EIS), you will fly from Puerto Rico (SJU) or Miami, it is a $55 cab ride to West End (and takes just under an hour).
There is no Uber on Tortola (the main island in the BVIs). The taxi drivers hold a lot of political power so don't expect to see cheap taxis in the BVIs. They are expensive however at least they are generally very friendly.
We have written a blog piece on the Best Ways To Get To The BVI which you can read at your leisure.
While pre-study is very much recommended, don't get too stressed if you can't get to it. Pre-study is advantageous as your brain is going to be taking in a lot of new things during the week, so the more you can digest before the week, the more you will get out of the week.
If you are doing the ASA syllabus, read up on the books before you come. You will receive an exam so to avoid having to study each night on the boat, do your course study beforehand.
If you are doing the NauticEd syllabus, get as far through your course as you can. If you do it all before your week on the boat, all the better.
At Sailing Virgins we are huuuge on our knots. You are going to have the most important knots down by the end of your course, no worries. Nevertheless, it can be handy to have a little head start on your knots. Check out this blog post to find out two great ways of tying a bowline. Even if you get one of these down before the course, you are in front. Again, like pre-study, if you don't get to it, don't stress.
Another great resource online is Animated Knots. They offer a many different knots. The most important to learn (apart from the bowline where our blog post teaches you a better way than Animated Knots do, in our not-so-humble opinion) are as follows:
- Round Turn and Two Half Hitch (the world's most underrated knot)
- Cleat Hitch (so many otherwise-decent sailors get this wrong)
- FIgure 8 (second easiest knot ever)
- Clove Hitch (unreliable but fast - great for fenders if you lock it off)
- Sheet Bend (so you never, ever use two opposing bowlines to join lines)
You don't need to spend too long on the above. We will spend time teaching not just these knots to you, but in the fastest, most efficient way possible. For example one method of bowline is the same as for a sheet bend, so you get two knots for the one method. This excites us. Like I said earlier, we're knot nerds. And proud of it.
Travel Insurance is mandatory before you do your Sailing Virgins course. What if a storm cuts the trip short? What if you lose a bag? What if you get sick or have an accident? Taking out trip insurance makes your vacation stress-free. And that's why you're doing this, right? Sailing Virgins has an alliance with Global Nomads, offering trip insurance in the simplest way we know. You can either get a quote from them by filling out this form, or else get your own from another trusted provider. The main thing is that you get it. Some credit cards, particiularly the platinum and black cards, offer insurance if you purchase your trip through them. Just do the research and make sure.
Tell your bank that you will be travelling to the Caribbean. You don't want your card to be blocked the one time you manage to find an ATM. Which brings us to our next point: bring cash. There are only a very few ATMs in the British Virgin Islands, although most places take credit cards (Martinique is better in this regard). Nevertheless it can be handy to have cash (and, with trip insurance, you are covered should your wallet be stolen, not that this happens very often in the BVI nor Martinique).
Find out a roaming plan with your mobile provider. Some, like T Mobile, offer a global roaming pack with data and phone calls, for very cheap. Others offer it for between $5-10 per day. This can be pretty handy, if you want to stay connected. And that's a big if. There is no real reason to be on the internet. Give yourself a break from it.
You are wanting to prepare for a sailing course. If you come well prepared you will maximise the sailing objectives of your week. Furthermore you'll be able to relax, mix your sailing with snorkeling, get into the parties when they happen, that sort of thing. Nevertheless if you run out of time and come ill-prepared, don't beat yourself up too much. You will still have a great week!