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Clearing out of the BVI is no easy task

by Richard Freeborn 1 Jan 15:39 UTC

Richard Freeborn and Alexandra Early spent almost the whole of 2020 in the BVIs and s/v 'Hawkeye' was essentially the last bluewater cruising yacht left there.

We left Tortola on Monday lunchtime and motored upwind to St Bart's, arriving midnight. Clearing out of the BVIs on a private yacht is still very rare indeed, so this won't apply to many people, but this is what we've found out.

  1. COVID testing (which costs $70 per person) is very different to that of inbound Day 0 and Day 5. Firstly the test can only be done at DDOS (Orlando Smith) hospital on Tortola or at the Iris Oneal Clinic in Virgin Gorda. If the latter then it may be slower to get your results, as they are analysed at the DDOS. Secondly, results can ONLY be collected IN PERSON from the DDOS or the Iris Oneal Clinic. There is no facility at the hospital to email results. You need ID when you collect, and they check that against their records before handing over the (hopefully negative!) test result. The test usually takes places at 10 am and you have to call 852 7700 to put your name on the list at least the day before if not two days before. The test takes place in the white tent which is up the very steep hill behind the DDOS, which is actually the entrance to the emergency department.

  2. You cannot leave the BVIs without a letter giving consent, signed by BOTH the Minister of Health Carvin Malone and the Governor. Without this letter, Customs will not give you consent to leave. You need to specify the exact date you are going to leave when applying for consent. You need to apply to the Minister of Health seeking permission to leave, the Ministry will then send to the Governor for signature and finally the Ministry sends the signed copy to all departments involved. You will need to send the following information to the Ministry:

    a. Registration document for the vessel
    b. Marine Control document showing when the vessel entered the Virgin Islands
    c. Bio page of passports of all those departing
    d. Current anchorage or berth of the vessel
    e. Name of your next port of call.

    The application needs to be sent to the Minister and his private secretary by email:

    • Carvin Malone
    • Tashi O'Flaherty

    Alternatively, if you ask Lynette Harrigan of the BVI Tourist Board, she might just send the request in for you, which might get your consents back quicker. Her email is . Lynette is surely the Patron Saint representing tourists in the BVIs - she is superb!

  3. We cleared out at customs and immigration in Road Town; officials were, as ever in the BVI, very courteous, friendly and pleased to help. You might be able to also clear out in West End. You certainly cannot clear out in Virgin Gorda as we went there and tried.

  4. Timing is everything. If you are only sailing 10 miles down to the USVIs then the weather doesn't really matter much. If you are going to St Martin (closest upwind, really), then its 85 miles. For St Barts, it's 100 miles directly upwind. Either way, you ideally need a weather window for that, especially with the Christmas winds. The letter is, in theory at least, only valid for the day that you specify to depart. There might be some leeway on that date, but I have no idea; I wouldn't try it without asking first. We took our COVID test at the DDOS (Peebles Hospital) on Saturday, picked up the results on Tuesday at 10 am, walked straight across the road to the Customs and Immigration in Road Town, cleared out at 11 am, went back on board, and left the BVIs straight away at midday. That means no matter how you do this if you leave as soon as you clear and you are going to the Leewards, then it's at least a partial overnight passage, motoring or beating to any of the islands that are upwind - so unpleasant.

There is an excellent BVI-based Facebook page which explains the protocols for entry.

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This article has been provided by the courtesy of Ocean Cruising Club.

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