Another day of rum exploration in the BVIs finds us at another classic waterfront drinking establishment. This time we check out the legendary Willy T.
Norman Island sits just seven miles south of Tortola at the southern tip of the British Virgin Islands. It is 2.5 miles long with a total land mass of only 600 acres and feels like it is a million miles from anywhere. In the late 1800s its lush hills and turquoise bays became Robert Louis Stevenson’s inspiration for the classic novel Treasure Island. Fortunately, it still has some of that swashbuckling vibe today.
The entire island is uninhabited but its many protected bays are big with the sailing community for their tranquil waters and defense from serious weather. One of the most popular anchorages at Norman Island is known as The Bight, a calm body of water that is constantly dotted with cruisers and sailing yachts. It has been said that “where there are boats, there’s booze” so it’s probably not a surprise that The Bight is also home to one of the most popular bars in the area, the Willy T. Go figure.
This rowdy floating bar has become legendary and has an interesting 25 year history. Back in 1985 the owners, Mick and Annie Gardner, decided to open up a floating restaurant and bar on an old 100 foot wooden schooner. They called it the William Thornton, Willy T for short, and over the next 10 years it became one of the “must-visit” watering holes in the British Virgin Islands.
In ’96, the original wooden Willy T sprung a leak in the middle of the night and ended up on the ocean’s floor not long after. Determined to rebuild, the Gardners went to Florida, bought a 120 foot steel ship and it soon became the new and improved Willy T back at the original mooring at The Bight, Norman Island.
The Willy T is still going strong and is as wild and crazy as ever. On the day of our visit several pleasure boats and dingies were tied up to their small floating dock and loud music blared from the sound system. The sun was shining, the mid-November weather was perfect and a party of tourists and boat captains was in full swing at 11am.
The Willy T is a party spot with a cocktail emphasis more on quantity rather than quality, but their traditional island drinks are fantastic and always served with a generous pour of rum and a smile. Dark & Stormies, Rum Punches and Bushwackers were the drinks of the day and as the afternoon wore on, shooters and body shots became a great source of entertainment and intoxication.
Like many of the popular bars in the BVI, Willy T has their own line of gold rum that is used as the base for many of their cocktails. We’ve heard that they source it from Cruzan and, along with one of their popular tshirts, makes a great souvenir.
As the afternoon ticks by and the rum continues to flow, a favorite pastime at the Willy T is jumping off the ship’s top deck into the blue waters below. It’s only a 15 foot drop, but I can tell you that it looks a bit more daunting once you’re up there. A few drops of liquid courage always help and soon everyone aboard takes the plunge and laughter and cheers ensue.
Our day at Willy T lasted for hours and, like most waterfront bars in the BVI, it’s pretty easy to settle in for a sun and rum drenched drinking session. We mingled with the crowd of happy tourists, drank a stack of powerful rum drinks, jumped off the roof more than once and let the afternoon unfold as only it can in this part of the world. By the time we made our way back to St. Thomas aboard the Naughty Nymph, our rum research vessel, we were grinning ear to ear and exhausted. It just keeps getting better in the BVI.
Stay tuned for more rummy action from the Virgin Islands and full coverage of the first-ever Rum Cruise.