Exploring Deserted "Treasure Island"
Across Drake Channel from Tortola lies Norman Isle. Although it used to be a pirate den with treasure ships at anchor in the 18th century, it is now deserted except by seabirds and small wild animals. Legend has it that Norman Isle was the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, first published in 1883. You can row a dinghy into the southernmost cave of the island -- with bats overhead and phosphorescent patches -- where Stevenson's Mr. Fleming supposedly stowed his precious treasure. Norman Isle has a series of other caves that are some of the best-known snorkeling spots in the B.V.I., teeming with spectacular fish, small octopuses, squid, and garden eels, and featuring colorful coral. Intrepid hikers climb through scrubland to the island's central ridge, Spy Glass Hill.
There is talk of making the island more accessible through regular transport, but nothing definitive has been decided. In the meantime, a private boat rental is the only way to reach Norman Isle. To cut costs, ask three or four other people to go with you. Contact Moorings Limited, P.O. Box 139, Road Town, Tortola (tel. 888/952-8420 or 284/494-2331; www.moorings.com). They rent 32- to 46-foot catamarans that range from $1,090 to $1,400 per day for a 3-day minimum rental. A skipper onboard is optional for an extra $200 a day. Or contact Travel Plan Tours about their sailing tour.
A Nearby Island: Marina Cay
Marina Cay is a private 2.4-hectare (6-acre) islet near Beef Island. It was the setting of the 1953 Robb White book Our Virgin Island, which was later filmed with Sidney Poitier and John Cassavetes. For 20 years after White's departure, the island lay uninhabited, until its hotel opened. That hotel was recently taken over by Pusser's, the famous Virgin Islands establishment.
The island is only 5 minutes by launch from Tortola's Trellis Bay, adjacent to Beef Island International Airport. The ferry running between Beef Island and Marina Cay is free of charge. There are no cars here. Nonguests are welcome to visit.