Caribbean Castaway on Peter Island

Peter Island, BVI–Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me. As Johnny Depp so convincingly depicted in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films, there was an undeniable allure to the life of those seafaring swashbucklers in centuries past: the freedom, the adventure, the really cool clothes.

Drake Channel, British Virgin Islands.

Sure, there was a downside. It was a cut-throat profession (har!), and there was always the chance you might be doomed to sail the ocean forever as one of the insatiable undead, like the crew of Jack Sparrow’s ship–or in a far more likely scenario, be abandoned on a lonely spit of land.

Pirates poetically dubbed the latter punishment “being made governor of your own island.” But, as I’ve discovered, that’s not such a terrible fate after all–if you happen to be marooned on Peter Island.

Peter Island.

Peter Island.

Located in the British Virgin Islands and flanked by the Caribbean, the Atlantic and Sir Francis Drake Channel, Peter Island is almost entirely occupied by one luxury resort of the same name. Originally developed as a vacationer’s Valhalla in the 1960’s by Norwegian millionaire Torlof Smedwig, today the family-owned escape encompasses three hillside villas, each with a private pool, 52 guest rooms, a 10,000 square foot spa and a deep-water marina.

Only 300 acres of this 1,800-acre island have been developed, meaning that you’re not likely to lack elbow room. But if you really want to play castaway, you can rent out the whole resort—and institute a no-fly zone overhead. When your clients include billionaire businessmen, Hollywood movie stars and musicians like Paul McCartney, privacy is key.

Peter Island beachfront Junior suite

Beachfront Junior Suite. Photo courtesy Peter Island.

But long before the baby-faced Beatle and celluloid sirens arrived on the scene, the Caribbean corridor abutting Sir Francis Drake Channel was a pirate’s playground. In fact, Peter Island was allegedly named for a buccaneer, as were several of the surrounding Necklace Islands, including Norman Island, believed to have served as the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island.”

Another pirate legend haunts Dead Chest Island, which lies tantalizingly close to the sandy crescent known as Deadman’s Bay. Dead Chest, an old sailor’s euphemism for a casket, earned its name in the 1700’s when Blackbeard marooned a mutinous crew here, equipping each man with only a cutlass and a bottle of rum. The tale gave rise to the song “Fifteen men on a Dead Man’s chest, yo ho ho and a bottle of rum”–another bit of buccaneer lore immortalized in “Treasure Island.”

Dead Man's Chest island with windsurfer

Dead Man’s Chest. If only Blackbeard’s forlorn crew had access to Peter Island’s fleet of windsurfers, they might have escaped their fate on this tiny outpost offshore.

Looking out across the moonlit bay my first night on Peter Island, I could easily imagine a ghost ship like Jack Sparrow’s Black Pearl emerging from behind Dead Chest’s sheer rocky bluff, the white bones of the ship’s skeletal crew glinting in the darkness beneath tattered sails. It’s an eerie image that would certainly have sent shivers up my spine, were it not for the balmy breeze that whispered warm across my skin–and the rum punch from the manager’s weekly cocktail party still warming my belly.

Every Wednesday, guests gather for a Caribbean buffet and sundowners at Deadman’s Beach Bar & Grill–and leave with an unsteady pirate’s stagger…er, swagger. This casual stone and cedar structure, with massive windows opening directly onto Deadman’s Bay beach, offers Caribbean fare such as “finger lickin’ good” ribs, Jerk chicken and conch fritters.

Beach BBQ on Deadman’s Bay Beach. Photo courtesy Peter Island.

My treats of choice were the hockey-puck sized chocolate chip cookies served at the lunchtime buffet. They were so deliciously tempting that, according to hostess Jean Kelly, even Dr. Robert Atkins, famous for developing his low-carbohydrate diet, couldn’t turn them down during his visits. After all, the man was only human, and under the doting eye of Ms. Kelly, resistance would have been futile.

“You can try ONE bite!” she insisted with a reassuring smile, setting a slice of Key Lime Pie and Peanut Butter Pie on my table. “You will leave this place with a happy heart, knowing you tried all the good things.”

It’s a philosophy I was only too willing to adopt, beginning with breakfast each day, ordering a hearty portion “Jean Kelly’s Famous Coconut-Crusted French Toast” topped with bananas and syrup. I enjoyed my feast al fresco at Tradewinds, the resort’s more formal restaurant. But at breakfast, the atmosphere is casual, with entertainment provided by sailboats gliding across sun-drenched Drake Channel—and, on one particular morning, a toe-headed boy chasing butterflies amongst the bushes. He never caught them, but neither the boy nor the butterflies seemed to tire of the game.

woman drinking coffee on Caribbean seafront on blue sky day

A guest enjoys a morning cup of coffee along the path to Tradewinds.

Boredom just isn’t an option here, whatever your age. Activities range from scuba diving to snorkeling, sailing, windsurfing, kayaking, paddleboarding, (pause for a deep breath), hiking, volleyball, tennis, basketball, yoga, and a weekly horticultural walk with Peter Island’s head gardener.

The island also boasts six bays and five beaches to suit every mood. Giant iguanas like to hang out in Sprat Bay, while turtles, sting rays and lobsters are resident attractions at White Bay. Honeymoon Beach, formed naturally by Hurricane Hugo in 1989, is an intimate crescent–only big enough for a couple of chaises, which suits the honeymooners just fine. Big Reef Bay isn’t good for swimming, because of its shallow reef, but it promises a scenic, solitary stroll, with views of Salt Island and Ginger Island.

bicycle on a tropical Caribbean beach

A bicycle stands at the ready for guests to explore the island.

My favorite way to spend the day was at Deadman’s Bay, a mile long stretch of sand fringed with coconut palms and thatched-roof umbrellas–perfect for sunbathing. More ambitious guests can opt for water sports like scuba diving, kayaking or windsurfing, but I found my bliss bobbing weightlessly in the teal blue sea, a castaway buccaneer reluctant to be rescued.


Peter Island,

General tourism information:

Deadman's Bay Beach.

Deadman’s Bay Beach.


  1. Lucy Brown says:

    Norman Island, home of Pirates Bight Bar, Restaurant, and Gift Shop, is perhaps most famous for being the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, Treasure Island. However, Norman Island also has a rich documented history of acting as a hiding spot for Pirate booty.Documented history for the island dates back to the early 18th century when a Spanish galleon called Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe buried 55 chests of silver coins after the crew mutinied aboard the ship.

    • Thanks for the background info, Lucy. I’ve visited the Pirates’ Bight before–although I wasn’t brave enough to take the plunge. Looking forward to another trip to the Virgin Islands next year. Bring on the Painkillers!

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