Shipwrecks, movie sets, gifts of salt, microbrews and rum coopers, complimented by fresh fish, easy anchorage and breathtaking vistas makes it hard to leave Cooper and her island neighbors. Best way to discover this lovely little chain across the Sir Francis Drake from Tortola? By catamaran of course!
Cooper Island, Coordinates 18.3859°N, 64.5118°W
Ten minutes from our Base at Hodge's Creek Marina is an area known as Cooper Island. One of three islands in the string of small islands that face Tortola across the Sir Francis Drake Channel, Cooper is conveniently situated between Ginger Island and Salt Island on Manchioneel Bay. In addition to being a prime anchoring spot, there are many things to experience and enjoy, hence why we suggest it as a potential first stop on your chartering adventure.
If you have not already heard of the fantastic diving opportunity at the Wreck of The RMS Rhone, which sank during a hurricane on October 29, 1867, you might want to read this paragraph twice. This is the first and only Marine National Park in the BVIs. The ship is 310 feet long by 40 feet wide and can be found in two sections spanning the area from Black Rock Point on Salt Island to Dead Chest Island. For a pre-charter visual, rent the 1977 movie “The Deep” with Jacqueline Bisset and Nick Nolte. The opening dive scenes all occurred right here! Local dive companies suggest exploring the ship in at least three dives. The first is approximately 30 minutes and will take you to the bow of the ship. The second begins at depths of 70 feet at the mid-section where the majority of the artifacts that have endured over 150 years reside, along with a giant green moray and several octopi! Finally, for the adventurous divers, a night dive introduces you to the massive amount of activity that continues today surrounding this extraordinary wreck.
Prior to the wreck, the island was known for its salt ponds. The harvesting of salt was an annual tradition with the one pound of salt sent to the Queen herself as rent for the inhabitants of the island. Once in numbers over 100, the island has had no more than three residents since 1980. They continue to pay rent of one pound of salt on the sovereign’s official birthday, June 13. We’re not sure if it’s the presence of the salt, but the island is one of the best sources for sea glass. Be sure to spend some time on land, check out the salt ponds, pay homage to the passengers and crew of the RMS Rhone, seek out a local for some colorful stories and pick up a piece or two of sea glass as a souvenir.
Ginger Island, to the east of Cooper, is a private island currently for sale with Sotheby’s. If you want to own a little piece of paradise, this island is highly touted for its spectacular panoramic views of the Caribbean Sea and Sir Francis Drake Channel, as well as its large heart-shaped bay located on the south side. A few experienced sailors have been known to enter the bay and enjoy it as a private retreat.
Now that we have said hello to the neighbors, let’s get back to Cooper Island. As with all interesting places, a controversy over the name seems to be a common theme and Cooper is no exception. Did it get its name from the Koop family who settled the island, or for the folks, called coopers, who used to come to the island to collect the white cedar used to make rum barrel? I choose the latter, firstly because it’s not “Kooper” island. But more importantly, the main establishment on the island, The Cooper Island Beach Club, has a Rum Bar dedicated to the history of rum and offers over 65 brands.
The Cooper Island Beach Club does not look like much on first approach. Perhaps this is because when arriving by catamaran you are instantly struck by the long stretch of white sandy beach dotted with palm trees contrasted against more shades of blue than one can conceive. But once you snag yourself a mooring or tie up to the dock you will find the beach club expands and grows once you walk past the sun faded driftwood sign.
The bar and restaurant makes way for an outdoor seating area with comfy seating shaded by bougainvillea covered arbors. Just beyond the arbors, a path meanders past a handful of newly renovated cottages climbing up the gentle hill. You will feel like you have been transported to another place when looking to your right, however a quick glimpse to your left shows you Manchioneel Bay is still there hosting every catamaran brand you can name. As the path comes to an end, you are greeted with The Rum Bar, a sandwich shop, an ice cream parlor and a boutique offering all sorts of treasures to bring home along with their very own microbrewery.
My favorite find on Cooper Island is actually what lives below the surface. The Cooper Island Beach Club underwater coral and seagrass cameras provide scientific information to classrooms around the world. There are two View Into The Blue™ underwater webcams, one self-cleaning webcam that observes a coral reef, and the second, an underwater live streaming static camera that monitors the Thalassia testudinum seagrass that surrounds this site. There is also an emphasis on sustainable tourism, the resort produces about 75% of its power with solar panels on the restaurant roof.
All that said, the best place to be in this sweet little string of islands is on your very own bareboat catamaran. Only on the water are you able to make out the shapes of the islands as they seemingly come to life. There is no better vantage point to be mesmerized by a sunset than staring right down the length of the Sir Francis Drake Channel, as you experience the magical lights that blink and dance in the distance reminding you that Road Town is alive and well to the north. All that is left to do is dream a little dream and plan your next adventure.