Named after one of the British Virgin Islands’ most famous native sons, today, it’s equally well-known as one of this British Overseas territory’s most iconic visitor attractions. The William Thornton, nicknamed the Willy T, is a floating bar and restaurant that is currently in its third incarnation and second home as a first-rate place for drink, food and fun.
“The original idea for the Willy T came from my stepdad and mum, Mick and Annie Gardner,” says Heather Anderson who, with husband Ewan, have kept the business in the family and run it since the 1990s. “The first Willy T was a 1935-built 95-foot double-ended Baltic Trader. She was named for William Thornton, who was born on Jost Van Dyke in the 1700s and was the architect who designed the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, DC.”
Right from the start, what set the Willy T apart from the rest of the BVI’s watering holes was that she was afloat. This fact has had a downside – twice. The first came in the mid-1990s when the vessel sprang a leak that overwhelmed her bilge pumps and the vessel sank at her mooring. Barely six months later, Gardner and Anderson brought back a new 100-foot, steel-hulled schooner and re-opened for business. Then, in September 2017, Hurricane Irma beached the Willy T. Again, the Anderson’s went boat hunting.
“We contacted brokers on the U.S. east and west coasts and got a lead from someone in Louisiana on the current boat. It’s a 110-footer and formerly served as a supply vessel to the oil rigs. We spent several months’ custom refurbishing it. She’s beamier, has a hug poop deck, two heads, bigger bar and a gorgeous wooden floor. The art work behind the bar is a ‘kraken’ (legendary giant-size squid of Norwegian fame described as a monster of the deep in old-time fictional maritime novels) and was made by the brother of the gentlemen who did all the work in the yard. He used all old car parts to create the piece,” says Anderson.
The new Willy T arrived in the BVI in May, ready to resume her thirty-four-year location off The Bight at Norman Island. It was not to be. The local government told the Andersons they could no longer operate at this spot. The couple started exploring their relocation options, even outside of the BVI. Then, they found a new home in Great Harbour, Peter Island, about three nautical miles east of its original location.
“We’re very happy to be in Great Harbour and up and running again. The bay is spectacular and there is lots of room for many boats to come visit,” says Anderson.
The Willy T is open daily for lunch and dinner. The menu spans everything from burgers to barbeque, Anegada conch fritters to British-style fish and chips, plus veggie burgers, key lime pie, wine by the glass and a full bar.
“The Willy T is a happy place where you can come hang out, truly let your hair down and have fun! Whatever happens at Willy T stays at the Willy T,” says Anderson.