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Clear waters and numerous reefs afford some wonderful opportunities for underwater exploration. In some spots visibility reaches 100 feet, but colorful reefs teeming with fish are often just a few feet below the sea surface. The BVI's system of marine parks means the underwater life visible through your mask will stay protected.
There are several popular dive spots around the islands. Alice in Wonderland is a deep dive south of Ginger Island with a wall that slopes gently from 15 feet to 100 feet. It's an area overrun with huge mushroom-shape coral, hence its name. Crabs, lobsters, and shimmering fan corals make their homes in the tunnels, ledges, and overhangs of Blonde Rock, a pinnacle that goes from 15 feet below the surface to 60 feet deep. It's between Dead Chest and Salt Island. When the currents aren't too strong, Brewers Bay Pinnacle (20 to 90 feet down) teems with sea life. At the Indians, near Pelican Island, colorful coral decorates canyons and grottoes created by four large, jagged pinnacles that rise 50 feet from the ocean floor. The Painted Walls is a shallow dive site where coral and sponges create a kaleidoscope of colors on the walls of four long gullies. It's northeast of Dead Chest.
The Chikuzen, sunk northwest of Brewers Bay in 1981, is a 246-foot vessel in 75 feet of water; it's home to thousands of fish, colorful corals, and big rays. In 1867 the RMS Rhone, a 310-foot royal mail steamer, split in two when it sank in a devastating hurricane. It's so well preserved that it was used as an underwater prop in the 1977 movie The Deep. You can see the crow's nest and bowsprit, the cargo hold in the bow, and the engine and enormous propeller shaft in the stern. Its four parts are at various depths, from 30 to 80 feet. Get yourself some snorkeling gear and hop aboard a dive boat to this wreck near Salt Island (across the channel from Road Town). Every dive outfit in the BVI runs scuba and snorkel tours to this part of the BVI National Parks Trust; if you have time for only one trip, make it this one. Rates start at around $70 for a one-tank dive and $100 for a two-tank dive.
Your hotel probably has a dive company right on the premises. If not, the staff can recommend one nearby. Using your hotel's dive company makes a trip to the offshore dive and snorkel sites a breeze. Just stroll down to the dock and hop aboard. All dive companies are certified by PADI, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, which ensures that your instructors are qualified to safely take vacationers diving. The boats are also inspected to make sure they're seaworthy. If you've never dived, try a short introductory dive, often called a resort course, which teaches you enough to get you under water. In the unlikely event you get a case of the bends, a condition that can happen when you rise to the surface too fast, your dive team will take you to the decompression chamber at Roy L. Schneider Regional Medical Center in nearby St. Thomas.
Blue Waters Divers. If you're chartering a sailboat, Blue Waters Divers' boat will meet yours at Peter, Salt, Norman, or Cooper Island for a rendezvous dive. The company teaches resort, open-water, rescue, and advanced diving courses, and also makes daily dive trips. Rates include all equipment as well as instruction. Reserve two days in advance. Nanny Cay Marina, Nanny Cay, Tortola, VG1130. 284/494–2847. www.bluewaterdiversbvi.com. Soper's Hole Marina, Soper's Hole, VG1130. 284/495–1200. www.bluewaterdiversbvi.com.
Most of the boats that take you deep-sea fishing for bluefish, wahoo, swordfish, and shark leave from nearby St. Thomas, but local anglers like to fish the shallower water for bonefish. A half day for two people runs about $480, a full day around $850. Wading trips are $325.
Caribbean Fly Fishing (Nanny Cay Marina, Nanny Cay, Tortola, VG1130. 284/494–4797. www.caribflyfishing.com.)
Sage Mountain National Park attracts hikers who enjoy the quiet trails that crisscross the island's loftiest peak. There are some lovely views and the chance to see rare species that grow only at higher elevations.
The BVI are among the world's most popular sailing destinations. They're clustered together and surrounded by calm waters, so it's fairly easy to sail from one anchorage to the next. Most of the Caribbean's biggest sailboat charter companies have operations in Tortola. If you know how to sail, you can charter a bareboat (perhaps for your entire vacation); if you're unschooled, you can hire a boat with a captain. Prices vary depending on the type and size of the boat you wish to charter. In season, a weekly charter runs from $1,500 to $35,000. Book early to make sure you get the boat that fits you best. Most of Tortola's marinas have hotels, which give you a convenient place to spend the nights before and after your charter.
If a day sail to some secluded anchorage is more your cup of tea, the BVI have numerous boats of various sizes and styles that leave from many points around Tortola. Prices start at around $80 per person for a full-day sail, including lunch and snorkeling equipment.
Aristocat Charters. This company's 48-foot catamaran sets sail daily to Jost Van Dyke, Norman Island, and other small islands. West End, Tortola, VG1130. 284/499–1249. www.aristocatcharters.com.
BVI Yacht Charters. The 31- to 52-foot sailboats for charter here come with or without a captain and crew, whichever you prefer. Port Purcell, Road Town, Tortola, VG1110. 284/494–4289 or 888/615–4006. www.bviyachtcharters.com.
The Catamaran Company. The catamarans here come with or without a captain. Maya Cove Marina, Fat Hog's Bay, Tortola, VG1130. 284/494–6661 or 800/262–0308. www.catamarans.com.
The Moorings. One of the world's best bareboat operations, The Moorings has a large fleet of monohulls and catamarans. Hire a captain or sail the boat yourself. Wickham's Cay II, Road Town, Tortola, VG1110. 284/494–2332 or 800/535–7289. www.moorings.com.
Regency Yacht Vacations. If you prefer a powerboat, call Regency Yacht Vacations. It handles both bareboat and captained sail and powerboat charters. Wickham's Cay I, Road Town, Tortola, VG1110. 284/495–1970 or 800/524–7676. www.regencyvacations.com.
Sunsail. A full fleet of boats to charter with or without a captain is available here. Wickham's Cay II, Road Town, Tortola, VG1120. 284/495–4740 or 800/327–2276. www.sunsail.com.
Voyage Charters. Voyage has a variety of sailboats for charter, with or without a captain and crew. Soper's Hole Marina, West End, Tortola, VG1130. 284/494–0740 or 888/869–2436. www.voyagecharters.com.
White Squall II. This 80-foot schooner has regularly scheduled day sails to The Baths at Virgin Gorda, Cooper, the Indians, and the Caves at Norman Island. Village Cay Marina, Road Town, Tortola, VG1110. 284/541–2222. www.whitesquall2.com.
Surfing is big on Tortola's north shore, particularly when the winter swells come into Josiah's and Apple bays. Rent surfboards starting at $65 for a full day.
HIHO. Lots of good surfboards and standup paddleboards are available for rent as well as for sale. The staff will give you advice on the best spots to put in your board. Trellis Bay, Trellis Bay, Tortola, VG1110. 284/494–7694. www.go-hiho.com.
Steady trade winds make windsurfing a breeze. Three of the best spots for sailboarding are Nanny Cay, Slaney Point, and Trellis Bay on Beef Island. Rates for sailboards start at about $25 an hour or $100 for a two-hour lesson.
Boardsailing BVI Watersports. This company rents equipment and offers private and group lessons. Trellis Bay, Beef Island, VG1120. 284/495–2447. www.adventures-bvi.com/.