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What should I cook on our BVI sailing charter?


We are planning an 8 day catamaran trip to the BVI’s.  This is a first sailing trip for my boyfriend and I, and my sis and her hubby.  My boyfriend and I love to cook, grill, prepare, etc. My sister and her husband prefer not to bother.  So here is my question, do you have some recipes that you could share that are fun and easy to prepare, but may just knock their socks off?  What should we take with us that we can not purchase there but are simple to pack?

Any other advice that you have would be appreciated.  We depart in just 7 days!

We forwarded Deanna’s question to Gwen Hamlin since she used to run a charter boat in the Virgin Islands. Here is Gwen’s response:

These days, most everything you could want to cook with is available in the Virgin Islands, thanks to the thriving crewed charter industry.

Your choices would be better in the US Virgin Islands, which is where I worked out of, but Tortola is pretty good too.

Road Town is the main city of the British Virgin Islands, and when I was there (a while ago now) there were two big supermarkets and a Gourmet Gallery specialty store catering to the charter boats.

Prices will be more than you are used to, but it really isn’t worth quibbling over.  Vacation is vacation.

Most charter boats have BBQ grills, and using the grill is a great way to divide duties, keep the heat out of the inside of the boat, and to produce very tasty meals that fit the ambience.

No matter how much you like to cook, no one wants to spend all afternoon inside a boat galley when you could be lounging enjoying sundowners and sunsets.

Plan lots of nice hors d’oeuvres for happy hours.

My charter menu was basically

  • grilled swordfish with mango salsa,
  • grilled lamb kebabs (with a curry marinade),
  • grilled jerk chicken,
  • grilled filets mignons,
  • blackened or stir-fried or ginger shrimp,
  • and zesty grilled pork.

It was easy for us to make special marinades because we did charters week after week.  You may not want to purchase all the ingredients for a single charter to make your own.

pataks-tikka-pasteA medium Patak’s Mild Curry Paste, for example, is a good substitute for the marinade I used to make.  Or Pataks Tikka Paste mixed in yogurt makes a great and spicy marinade for chicken breast or parts.

You might find those there, but bringing them would be safer. These are the kind of substitutions I made when I shifted from chartering to cruising.  We still ate well.

The key to doing something unusual is using “tropical” vegetables.  Ironically, the Virgins don’t produce a lot of their own produce, so “local” veggies aren’t necessarily easy to find.

A favorite cookbook we used a lot on charter on our boat was Jay Solomon’s Taste of the Tropics, which includes recipes from the tropics from around the world.

Pumpkin and spinach are good tropical tastes.  You will surely find a prepared Jerk marinade in the BVI; My recipe came from Taste of the Tropics.  See if you can order a copy from Amazon overnight.

Gwen-Hamlin-lunch-Whisper There is also Jan Robinson’s Ship to Shore Cookbooks that are collections of charter yacht recipes.  The newer the volume, the more exotic the recipes are likely to be, as they reflect the improved shopping choices available.  You will probably find these books for sale in the BVIs.

Also, you might want to pick up Ann Vanderhoof’s An Embarrassment of Mangoes. It is a travelogue of the Caribbean laced with recipes.

I have a bunch of recipes on my website ( under Galley.  Take particular note of 3, 5, 6 and 20, especially 20, which are very traditional Virgin Islands recipes.

I would attach some of my recipes here but I don’t have  the MasterCook program on my new computer yet! (I use it to store and organize my recipes.) So here are some quick suggestions:

  • pickapeppaMy zingy grilled pork is on the website under #23.  Serve with couscous cooked with reserved marinade and pineapple brushed with same marinade and grilled alongside.
  • I dressed my filet steaks with Pickapeppa Sauce, pepper and brown sugar rubbed in.
  • Stir-fried (or grilled on skewer) shrimp is olive oil, red pepper flakes, minced garlic, minced parley & cilantro, salt & pepper, marinated for an hour or two (or blackening seasoning). Serve on rice with black beans.

Have fun.

In my day a dinner out at Foxy’s was one of the best restaurant options, especially the Friday or Saturday nite BBQ if you like ribs.

Try a West Indian Roti somewhere, and if you get to Anegada it’s a good place for lobster or fish.

I’ve been gone a long while so there are sure to be lots of great new places to eat out.  But there are some stinkers, too!

Have fun!

formerly sv Whisper and sv Tackless II

About Gwen Hamlin

Gwen Hamlin, one of the hosts of Women & Cruising, writes the Admiral’s Angle column for Latitudes & Attitudes Magazine and maintains an extensive web site of their travels at

A former charter captain and dive instructor in the Virgin Islands, Gwen and her husband Don Wilson have spent the last 10 years aboard their CSY 44 sailboat Tackless II slowly cruising the Caribbean, Central America and the Pacific.

Gwen & Don are currently taking a break from cruising to spend time with family in Florida.

Related articles by Gwen on Women and Cruising:

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2 comments to What should I cook on our BVI sailing charter?

  • margo rose

    Gwen, nice letter…:)
    For provisioning, Bobbys Marketplace has really taken off in Roadtown. They blanket Tortola with deliveries of any provisions one could want. And there are now two quite large groceries in West End, too.
    Gone are the days when I walked in to Bobby’s and was met with only an array of chicken feet (ship hadn’t come in…LOL)

  • With all due respect to Gwen, times have changed since she ran charters in the BVI. As Margo noted Bobby’s is a great supermarket, as is RTW. Both will deliver free to boats.

    The biggest issues with spices is that you just won’t use enough to justify a whole bottle on a charter vacation. I suggest you buy salt and pepper in your provisions and pack in the spices you cook with in Ziploc bags. The exception is curries which I buy at Sunny Caribbee in Roadtown; take the extras home.

    On charters or cruising we have eaten ashore more than expected in the BVI. Plan accordingly.

    I also cook strategically. When I roast a pork loin I roast a LOT of pork loin. The leftovers become sandwiches and the shredded leftovers from that get simmered in BBQ sauce for another meal. I grill lots of chicken for dinner with leftovers for chicken salad later in the trip. Burger night leftovers go for tacos for lunch.

    The restaurant scene has gotten quite good. Spaghetti Junction is my favorite first night dinner. Brandywine Bay is a very spiffy place for a special meal. Sydney’s in Little Harbour JVD is a good stop (Sydney himself passed away recently). Jumbies at Leverick Bay is a good dinner. Cooper Island Beach Club has changed hands but is reported to once more be quite nice. The restaurant at the top of the Baths is a good stop for lunch.

    sail fast and eat well, dave
    S/V Auspicious
    anchor up for my 30something visit to the BVI 1 Nov.

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