Many People Will Charter A Yacht In The British Virgin Islands This Winter; Ed Hamilton Describes The Area In 1970 When Chartering Began; The Contrast Is Staggering

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Ed Hamilton describes what he found when he sailed into The British Virgin Islands in 1972, when yacht chartering as we know it was first conceived. It is hard to imagine how much this area has changed. Ed became a major figure in the charter industry and now owns a well known yacht charter booking agency.

The moment Ed Hamilton sailed into The British Virgin Islands in the early dawn, October 1972, and watched sleepy Road Town Harbor come to life, he knew this was the place he wanted to live.

He packed his bag and with the firm belief that it is difficult to starve in a civilized country, he left the boat. It took 3 weeks to convince Charlie and Ginny Carey to give him a job in their fledging new charter company, 'The Moorings'.

In the meantime, a Canadian grandmother who ran a bar with her Tortolan partner, took pity on him and in return for work, supplied food. Jill's Bar was next to Stanley's, which was the only other bar on Cane Garden Bay. It was rare to see a white person on the beach and ever rarer to see more than one sailboat in the bay. The days were spent looking for a job in the morning and swimming in Cane Garden Bay in the afternoon. Sadly Jill's Bar was eventually burnt to the ground, supposedly over a local dispute.

'The Moorings' is now an enormous empire with hundreds of charter yachts in bases all over the world, but it started with 4 Pearson 35's and a small Dufour. Charlie had just added several new Morgan Out Island 41's that had arrived with many problems. Bob Woodrow, Bill Hirst (now a surveyor), George Forster (Road Town port pilot) and Ed took turns with charter check outs, area briefings and skippering jobs. Charlie and Ginny were great employers and pioneers in the charter industry. Several years later, all but one of the charter companies in Tortola were run by managers trained by them. Ed has fond memories of Charlie walking down the dock on Fridays, paying the crew in cash from a fist full of notes! A far cry from the multimillion dollar company 'The Moorings' became.

You can see photographs of how Tortola has changed at

The B.V.I. looked so very different from what we know today. There were very few houses in the hills and almost no boats in the channel. It is no exaggeration to say that if you arrived to see a boat in an anchorage you moved to the next one! This is hard to imagine now, when you can sometimes count 100 boats anchored at Norman Island alone.

The Bitter End was a small bar (Elizabeth sold the most expensive lobsters and would never quote prices over the VHF - or single side band radio as it was then). Marina Cay was the popular spot. The tiny restaurant was then on the top of the hill and there were just two large round tables for everyone. You never knew if you would be sitting next to a boat captain or a film star - the BVI was undiscovered in those days and a popular place for celebrities to hide. Today these are huge resorts serving hundreds of dinners each night.

Tony and Jackie Snell were about to move from their small restaurant in Little Jost Van Dyke to Trellis Bay. Tony's humor is legendary - he played to literally thousands of charterers over the following years. In those early days you expected the unexpected, from desperate mechanical breakdowns to baby daughters stealing the show.

Peter Island had just been built and there was a small bar on Cooper Island, run by Tim and Jan Short. Tim used to row out to any boat that chose to anchor in the bay and in his slow English drawl, invited them ashore even if they didn't want to join him for dinner. They always did - it could have been his English accent or the pirate's pipe he always smoked.

In the west, the young Foxy had opened his small bar on the beach at Great Harbor, Jost Van Dyke. Everyone sat at one table, where the 6-12 guests experienced true calypso. Foxy was a genius. Every reaction from his guests was caught in the next line of his song. Woe betide the skipper that had had trouble anchoring that afternoon - every detail would be painfully recounted. In these prepackaged days, it was hard to imagine this type of spontaneous entertainment. Foxy's is still a popular spot and a great place to visit, but it's character, like so many places in the BVI, is very different.

Hundreds of people now take their vacation in these islands, which still have more beds on charter yachts than in hotels. Yes the character has changed, but it's still hard to beat as a yachting cruising ground - but oh was it beautiful in those pioneer days before the people came!


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Ed Hamilton