Chartering: The Spanish Virgin Islands

Author:
Publish date:
Culbrita, topped by its ruined lighhouse, is a must-visit destination

Culbrita, topped by its ruined lighhouse, is a must-visit destination

The Spanish Virgin Islands are really a part of the U.S. along with Puerto Rico, and that means you can travel there without a passport or even a special international phone plan. You do, however, need to clear into the islands if you are arriving from the USVI or BVI, which are just a few hours’ sail away.

Many people charter a boat in the USVI, where CYOA and Island Charters have bases on St. Thomas, and sail across, but that means making a return trip into the teeth of the prevailing wind. The alternative is to fly into San Juan on mainland Puerto Rico and take a taxi to Fajardo, where Sail Caribe, Virgin Island Sailing and Dream Yacht are based in Marina del Rey. Sail Caribe also has a base in Red Hook on St Thomas, making one-way charters possible.

The Spanish Virgins are a compact sailing area but a week there flies past quickly. If you’re looking for party action, you’ll be better off in the BVI or USVI. The SVI are unspoiled and quiet, and that’s just the way they ought to be. The U.S. Navy used the islands for military exercises for many years and only stopped using part of Vieques as a target range in 2003; the stigma lingered, so the development that overtook the BVI in the last 20 years was a non-starter here.

Instead, you’ll find lonely anchorages, crystal clear water, reefs brimming with colorful fish, an abundance of bird life, small towns, and an overwhelming sense of what the Caribbean was like 30 years or more ago.

Midway between St. Thomas and Puerto Rico is the island of Culebra, which was declared a protected wildlife refuge by Theodor Roosevelt in 1909 and it’s a nesting site for sea turtles. There are no tourist traps or giant resorts and the anchorages are never crowded. On nearby Culebrita, you can hike to the ruins of a lighthouse or snorkel with turtles near Tortuga Beach, and anchor in a protected bay sporting a perfect half-moon beach.

Some of the prettiest bays on nearby Vieques are off-limits because of unexploded ordnance, but there are still plenty of small, quiet anchorages to choose between. Closer to the Puerto Rico coast, Isla Palominos is the perfect first-night stop.

Hurricane Maria was rough on Puerto Rico but the charter trade ticks on. Provisioning can be done close to the base and the natural beauty of the islands and the sheer peaceful quiet is still a big draw. 

DON’T MISS:

The bioluminescent bays on Vieques

Spending a night or two at Culebrita

Hiking on Cayo Luis Pena

Playa Flamenco on Culebra, a world-famous beach

Climbing to the lighthouse on Culebrita

EXPERT TIP:

Jesse Campo (base manager) and Erin Houpt (charter manager of the Americas) Dream Yacht Charters

Jesse advises, “The highlight of the SVI is Culebra, as it’s absolutely breathtaking, filled with gorgeous landscapes and some of the clearest blue waters you will ever dive into. Not only are the beaches fantastic, but the food is amazing too—different restaurants filled with local fresh fish and some of the best banana daiquiris you will ever taste. Moreover, the locals are as friendly as can be. It’s best to do all your provisioning at the home base in Puerto Rico before you head to the other islands since there are fewer opportunities out there.”

Erin adds, “Head to Culebra and the famous Playa Flamenco beach with its powdery sands. If you are after snorkeling with turtles, head to Playa Tamarindo with its shallow waters that are also home to rays. Another place to see turtles is Playa Tortuga on Culebrita. Visit Esperanza on Vieques and the open-air restaurant El Quenepo for traditional dishes, such as Mofongo. For a delicious mango daiquiri, try Cafe Mamasonga.”

EXPERT TIP:

Jay Pennington, base manager, CYOA Charters

“While picking just one favorite from the U.S. and Spanish Virgin Islands is difficult, the lighthouse and the waters surrounding Culebrita are surely near the top of my list. On a recent ten-day trip to the SVI my wife and I did the hike up the hill to the lighthouse. The road has been cleared and the brush cleaned up post-hurricane. The views are spectacular in every direction. Sailing to the SVI from our St. Thomas base has never been easier. We have customs decals on all of our vessels so customs clearance can be done on a smart phone using CBP Roam app. The application there can be used to clear into the Spanish Virgins and also to clear back into the USVI from the BVI.”

BAREBOAT CHARTER COMPANIES

CYOA Charters/Dream Yacht/Sail Caribe/Virgin Islands Sailing

October 2019

Related

grenadapromo_0

A Grand Grenada Charter

I have often sailed in the swath of more accessible West Indian islands that lie between Antigua and Puerto Rico. But I had never before cruised around any of the islands south of Antigua, so I jumped at the chance last April to step aboard a Lagoon 380 catamaran from Horizon ...read more

SunFast-600x

Video tour: Jeanneau Sun Fast 3300

Jeanneau America's Mike Coe takes SAIL aboard the brand new Sun Fast 3300 for an exclusive tour. This mid-sized stripped-down racing boat has a perfect balance of amenities and weight-saving simplicity to make it a blast to sail. Though it boasts sleeping space for up to six, ...read more

furlex2

Know-how: Installing an Electric Furler

Push-Button Reefing Boats have never been easier to sail, and yet, designers and builders still strive for that extra iota or two of convenience. A case in point is the growing acceptance of powered headsail furlers. Roller-furling headsails are ubiquitous not only on cruising ...read more

New-Lead

Know-how: Modify a Blackwater System

My dissatisfaction with the head and holding tank plumbing arrangement on our 1987 Sabre 38 had grown as we cruised the boat away from the comforts of a marina for longer periods of time. When we are tied up at a marina, the use of regular bathrooms generally trumps the ...read more

01-LEAD-Suzuki-55f19d31e297c

Choosing the Right Outboard

Two of the most indispensable items on board a cruising yacht are a dinghy and an outboard motor. At anchor or on a buoy, of course, they are your only means of getting ashore. They also have a thousand other uses. For example, they can allow you to motor across to friends’ ...read more

2019-giftGuide

2019 Holiday Gift Guide

Sailing America Rizzoli International Publications has released this striking portrait of American sailing by nautical photography legend Onne van der Wal just in time for the holidays. Featuring 200 stunning photographs spanning the length and breadth of the sailing scene—from ...read more

01-Sailing-La-Vagabonde,-Outremer-48

Cruising: the Vagabonde Life

Once upon a time conquering your dream of sailing off into the sunset was enough, but these days it seems like you have to be popular on social media too. Balancing the stresses of sailing around the world while keeping a successful—not to mention financially lucrative—social ...read more

191114

Video: 11th Hour Racing Arrives in Brazil

Team 11th Hour Racing finished in fourth place this past week among the 29 IMOCA 60s competing in the 4,335-mile doublehanded Transat Jacques Vabre race from Le Havre, France, to Salvador de Bahia, Brazil. Aboard were American Charlie Enright and French sailor Pascal Bidégorry, ...read more