On the eastern edge of the Caribbean Sea, just before the water turns cold and the ocean takes on the deep blue of the open Atlantic, lies the British Virgin Islands. Made up of 60 different rugged islands ranging in size and population density, this piece of Caribbean paradise has been drawing in visitors since Christopher Columbus swung through in 1493 on his second trip to the Americas.
Tom Pinfold came to the British Virgin Islands the same way so many people have before him—he was blown in on the wind and the waves. "My parents started to sail around the world when I was about three weeks old—left England, spent some time in Spain, Morocco, Gibraltar, Ibiza—then they sailed across the Atlantic," he told us, as we walked along the beach at Cane Garden Bay, on the northwest side of Tortola. "They stopped through the British Virgin Islands, they really liked it, so they stayed."
To hear Tom talk about his childhood on the islands, it sounds like a bit of Robinson Crusoe mixed with The Andy Griffith Show, with just the right amount of Lord Of The Flies.
"We arrived here in ‘86, and it was a bit of a wild west. It was much more chill back then, my daycare was underneath a bar next to a dock," Tom said with a laugh as we got ready to set sail out of Trellis Bay. "When we were about five years old, my friend and I would sail to daycare and tie up at the dock. After school we’d go fishing, sail back and forth across the harbor. There was a lot more freedom to move around, there were less rules and regulations, less licenses and certificates needed to go here, there, and everywhere. We used to hitchhike all over the place at seven, eight years old. I don't see many children hitchhiking anymore. It was very free back then."
For Tom, it’s not the sunshine or the laid-back atmosphere that made him fall in love with the BVI (though that certainly helped). For him, it’s always been about the water. "I've always loved being on the water, it's in my blood," he said. "I've grown up on a boat since I was tiny, it's all I remember."
Like any true sailor, Tom had his fair share of adventures, and helmed his fair share of boats. "The first boat I lived on was a tiny, little, proud catamaran. It was about 38 feet long. From there I progressed into another catamaran, a little bigger, and when I was 17, I got my own little boat, it was a 26 foot Pearson. I sailed around the BVI on that a lot; it had no engine, just a tiller. It was a good boat to start with," he said.
"Sailing makes you feel free, you’re just powered by the wind," Tom told us. "There's no engine, just a couple sails—it's peaceful, it's quiet and it’s silent. And you can go anywhere, you really can just sail off and disappear over the horizon."
But now, Tom is finally getting ready to leave the rock of the waves behind him—he’s bought a house, and for the first time in his life, he’ll be living primarily on land. "Now that I'm living on the land, I'm looking forward to gardening. I've never had that living up on a boat—maybe you have one aloe plant and a basil by your hatch. But now I've got a little bit of garden space, so I'm looking forward to planting food to eat."
Just because he’s living on land though, this British Virgin Islander won’t be leaving the water behind. "I think now that I'm living in a house, I want to get out on the water even more," Tom said. "I want to make time on the weekends and the afternoon where I can get out and just go for a quick sail. Over the years, I've come to love many different things about the water. I sail, I fish, I surf, kite surf. And as time goes on, I learn that there’s always more to love."
We couldn’t agree more.