British West Indies offer spectacular cruising because of their many protected anchorages and beautiful islands.

Adventure Travel – A Journey to the Tortola, Beef Island, and the British West Indies

This is another in a continuing series of adventure travel destination in your Twin Commander offered by the founder of Air Journey, as well as a preview of the dedicated Commander outing set for November 9–16, 2013, visiting the Bahamas, Tortola, and the Caymans.

Tortola is in the British West Indies and is part of the British Virgin Islands. The airport is known as Beef Island.

It’s not well known that the British West Indies were a territory that included a number of British territories in the Caribbean from the Bahamas down to Trinidad and Guyana. Those territories included the British Leeward Islands, British Windward Islands, Belize, Bermuda, Cayman, Jamaica, Turks & Caicos, and Trinidad and Tobago. While the islands were found by Christopher Columbus in 1493, it’s Sir William Stapleton who established the first federation of the British West Indies in 1674.

A number of these territories have received their independence, but some are still known today as British Overseas Territory: the British West Virgin Islands, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, and the Turks & Caicos.

Tortola and Beef Island are located about 1,000 nautical miles southeast of the southern coast of Florida. It’s a pretty easy flight for the Commander and also an interesting one since most of the time you will be in sight of land, meaning beautiful Caribbean islands. The longest overwater portion would be from Florida to the island of Nassau in the Bahamas.

Many, many islands make up the British West Indies, especially around Tortola. Their names came from history around the time of the pirates. One of the interesting things about this part of the world is that cricket is still the main sport. In 2007 the Cricket World Cup was played in the West Indies.


Before departing the U.S., of course you need to file an outbound eAPIS document with your destination and aircraft and passenger information. The paperwork required to enter Beef Island, Tortola, is pretty easy. Basically you’ll need your pilot’s certificate, medical certificate, and the aircraft information, and do make sure that the West Indies is included in your insurance coverage area. On arrival you will need to present the general declaration form that is used throughout most of the Caribbean –– a legacy from the British oversight of aviation travel in this part of the world.

In regard to navigation, you can purchase the Jeppesen Caribbean Trip Kit. Make sure you are familiar with the approach to Beef Island.

The airport offers one 4,646-foot-long runway and two instrument approaches, NDB A or NDB B, both to Runway 7. The difference between the two is a 100-foot difference in MDA. I strongly recommend avoiding the airport if conditions are IMC since there is high terrain close by in most quadrants around the airport.

Be advised that there is no taxiway, but the air traffic control tower does a pretty good job.

P1150709The approach will be done under the supervision of Puerto Rico, which soon will switch you over to Beef Island. The approach will start from the west tip of the island after you have cleared the St. Thomas airport and surrounding airspace. Remember they are part of the American West Indies and we are going to the British West Indies.

The official name of the airport is Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport. The code is TUPJ. So far there is logic to most of the island airport codes ––  in Puerto Rico airports start with TJ, Tortola is TU, Antigua is TA, the French island is TF, Nevis and St. Kitts is TK, and so on.

When flying to Tortola you can depart from any U.S. airport and fly to Beef Island without stopping to clear customs. There is no FBO onsite but fuel is available and it is very general aviation friendly.

After landing, parking the plane under the instruction of the tower, and securing it, you take your luggage to the terminal or, better yet, get help from one of the local persons. You have to fill out an immigration card and turn in a couple of general declarations, and you are ready to go.

P1150020You can either take a cab to the different properties surrounding Tortola, or travel by ferry to one of the surrounding islands where you have numerous resorts from which to choose. Our experience has been extremely friendly encounters, and very open-minded people.

There are numerous hotels to choose from in the islands, from Bitter End where we are going to be staying with the Commander group in November to the magnificent Biras Creek on Virgin Gorda. There is also Peter Island, Jost Van Dyck, and a number of places for just about every budget. Based on personal experience I’d rather have an island resort near the ferry instead of driving on the mountainous roads, which have more turns than straight lines.

Over the years I have stayed at many of these places. I should add that Moorings has a base on Tortola for chartering sailboats, with or without crew, and other companies offer the same services. This is the ideal place to start exploring the Caribbean with a boat. The ocean water is warm and a stop in Tortola wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Bath, which offers beautiful boulder rocks right into the water. (photo: 178 boat/dinghies on water)

P1150327All good things come to an end and it is time to go back to the U.S. You can use to prepare your return flight but you will have to physically drop a copy of your flight plan at the tower either by yourself or, for a small fee, with the help of one of the local guys in the terminal.

You will also need to return some general declarations and pay your parking fees, landing fees, and so on. If my memory is good this should be less than $100.

Remember, of course, the U.S. eAPIS filing and requirement to land at an airport of entry. My recommendation would be to fly back towards Borinquen on Puerto Rico, which is a pretty short flight of about 200 miles. You can clear customs, secure very cheap fuel (less than $4 a gallon), and then fly anywhere you want in the U.S. without worrying about stopping at an airport of entry or clearing customs again.

P1160180If you elect to go to Borinquen, do it on a weekday. On weekends you’ll have to pay for an agricultural inspection, which will cost about $400. If you go on a weekend, make sure to contact the FBO we are working with, Copeca Jet Center (Phone: 787-890-1250), for them to secure the agricultural visit.

I will be personally escorting the Journey to the Caribbean in November, and I look forward to seeing some of you on this exciting program. For more information see

As always, tail winds and blue skies!