If you are looking for a catamaran Charter and the idyllic tropical island, you will find it just 5 miles southeast of Tortola, across the Sir Frances Drake Channel. At just 1½ miles long by ½ mile wide, the mostly uninhabited tiny Cooper Island is an unspoiled paradise. If you are looking for roads, shopping malls, nightclubs and crowds, you will not find it here. But, if you want the perfect escape from the stress of everyday life, than this should be a destination on your BVI catamaran charter itinerary. With only 4 privately-owned properties on the island, plus a small beach club resort with a handful of colorful but simple rooms with kitchenettes, ceiling fans and private baths with outdoor showers, Cooper Island is a peaceful place to relax.
Cooper Island is surrounded by coral reefs and dive sites. The principal anchorage on Cooper Island is Manchioneel Bay, located on the northwestern shore. Named for the tree with poisonous, small green apples, Manchioneel Bay is formed by a beautiful stretch of white sand beach fringed with coconut palms. Although the bottom of the bay is covered in patches of sea grass- which often makes it difficult to get an anchor set- there are approximately 40 mooring balls available for overnight anchorages. Sitting in the cockpit of your catamaran charter, gently rocking at anchor on the clear, calm water in the balmy tropical breezes, you look ashore at the bougainvillea, frangipani, lime trees, hibiscus, oleander, tamarind, flamboyant, loblolly, yucca, orchids, cactus and other exotic plants, as well as listen to the pleasant chirp of birds. It is easy to see why Manchioneel Bay is said to be the inspiration for Jimmy Buffet’s famous, Cheeseburger in Paradise.
Most people on a catamaran charter to Cooper Island do nothing – and that is the idea! You can laze on the beach, read a book, poke in the Sea Grape Boutique, take a swim, sip a rum drink of your choice, gaze out on other yacht charters as they glide by in the Sir Frances Drake Channel and watch the sunset over some of the other islands. If you are feeling more energetic, you can explore the island on foot, snorkel or dive, and even dinghy over to nearby Salt Island.
The best snorkeling is right off the beach. The sea grass in Manchioneel Bay is an interesting snorkel. Look for green turtles, sting and eagle rays, starfish and a large Queen Conch bed. On occasion, you might also find sea horses. If you follow the rocks parallel to shore south of the Beach Club jetty, you will see many reef fish, including parrot fish, blue tangs, angel fish, as well as various sea urchins and a large resident octopus. For some excellent snorkeling, take your dinghy to the south of Manchioneel Bay to Cistern Point and tie your dinghy off to the line attached to 2 buoys and snorkel around Cistern Point Rock and coral reef ridge. Cistern Point is noted for its photogenic ledges covered with brilliant corals, flowing gorgonians (sea rods and sea fans) and abundant tropical fish often in groups like grey snappers and blue tang. You may occasionally see a sleeping nurse shark and even a huge lobster or two. There are usually a school of barracuda floating around the mooring line, but they are harmless.
If you are into diving, Cooper Island is at the heart of a diving paradise. Cooper Island, together with Salt and Ginger Islands on either side, has 11 of the 50 or so best known sites in the BVI. Sail Caribbean Divers, a PADI Gold Palm, 5-star resort, has a dive operation located within the Cooper Island Beach Club. They offer a full range of scuba diving experiences for all levels of divers. If you are on a catamaran charter, you can either meet them at Cooper Island, or they will rendezvous with you, and within 15 minutes, you can be diving on a spectacular reef or wreck site. Devil’s Kitchen, on Cooper Island’s windward side, is one such site. It is a series of ridges with chambers, caves and coral with lots of lobsters, some moray eels and even a shark sighting possible. Other dive sites include the Thumb Rock, Markoe Point, and the Pat and Marie L wrecks.
If you are looking for more adventure, leave your catamaran charter in Manchioneel Bay and take a 15 minute dinghy ride over to Salt Island. Salt Island is named for the island’s three evaporation ponds. Salt Island was once an important source of salt for Her Majesty’s ships. Today, the island and its salt ponds still belong to the Crown, but they are operated by the local populace. Each year at the start of harvest, one bag of salt is accepted by the Governor as annual rent. There is a tiny rundown settlement just off Salt Pond Bay that you can visit. For the past couple of years, only one person seems to live there. He is usually napping in a hammock under the shade of some palms. If you happen to catch him at the right time, he may point you in the direction of the salt ponds and may even explain how the harvesting is done. You can also buy a small bag of salt. Salt Pond Bay is affected by a surge and therefore, it is only a day anchorage. Make sure your anchor is well set before going off to explore the salt ponds. For those wishing to dive the wreck of The Rhone, go to Lee Bay-just around the corner from Salt Pond Bay. This bay is not well protected and is also affected by surge. The Rhone is protected by he National Parks Trust, so anchoring over The Rhone is strictly forbidden, but if your charter yacht is less than 50 feet, you can pick up a mooring in Lee Bay and then dinghy over to The Rhone, using the dinghy mooring line provided. Just be aware of divers in the water if you do dinghy over!
The Wreck of The Rhone is one of the most famous dive sites in the world. Before she was sunk during a hurricane in 1867, The Rhone had been the pride of the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company and carried 313 passengers. During the storm, she hit Salt Island, was broken in two, and promptly sunk. Today, her two halves are well preserved on a sandy bottom and her steel wreckage has become home to myriad species of fish and encrusting corals. The Rhone is a perfect two tank dive. The bow section, which lies in about 80 feet of water, reveals the coral encrusted cargo hold and other interior chambers. Outside, a careful survey of the wreckage reveals the ship’s foremast complete with crow’s nest and its bow spirit lying on the sand. Support beams for the horizontal deck lie on their sides – the famous “Greek columns” so often photographed. The stern section contains the ship’s once powerful engine, her prop shaft and enormous 15′ propeller that lie in 25 feet of water. The wreck of The Rhone is most famous as the film site for the movie, “The Deep”, staring Jacqueline Bisset. The hatch, which played a prominent role in the movie, makes an incredible entry to this “treasure ship” for divers who can easily transit the well-lit interior. Other diving sites off Salt Island include Rhone Reef; the colorful current-battled Vanishing Rocks and Blonde Rock. Blonde Rock is a pinnacle which rises from a depth of 60 feet to a mere 15 feet below the surface. Its rock ledges, tunnels, caves and overhangs are home to crabs, lobsters, beautiful fan corals and hordes of reef fish.
Whether you are just limin’ or engaging in some more stimulating activity on or around Cooper Island, at some point, you are going to get hungry. Most yachties on a catamaran charter cite the restaurant as their main reason for returning to Cooper Island. The Cooper Island Beach Club’s restaurant is a great spot for open-air, casual style dining on the beach – looking out over the boats at anchor. Open for lunch and dinner, Chefs Norma, Sheril and Gail-Ann create magic in their tiny kitchen. Try their great pasta, local fish, veal marsala, beef, lamb or conch curries, rotis and the local West Indian specialty of conch fritters served with a spicy dip. Save room for homemade desserts like mango-papaya cheesecake, carrot cake and chocolate brownies. Shoes are not required, but make reservations for dinner!
Cooper Island is just one of the BVI’s gems known as “Nature’s Little Secrets.” With its casual grace, endless ocean views and dramatic island landscape above and below sea level, Cooper Island is paradise in all of its tropical splendor. Arrange your catamaran charter and be captivated by Cooper Island’s intimate charm!