Chartering the Spanish Virgins - Sail Magazine

Chartering the Spanish Virgins

Author:
Publish date:
A busy day at Culebrita’s main anchorage

A busy day at Culebrita’s main anchorage

A quarter mile offshore, the depth gauge was showing 50ft, but it might as well have been 15ft. The bottom was clearly visible, expanses of sand showing green-filtered white between dark swatches of weed. I’d not seen water that clear at that depth for many years. It was yet another weapon in the alluring armory of the Spanish Virgins, the group of islands east of Puerto Rico that are still waiting to be “discovered.”

Formerly known as the Passage Islands, Culebra and Vieques, the two biggest islands in a group that includes a couple of dozen smaller islets, or cayos—some of which are no bigger than glorified rocks—were used for target practice by the U.S. Navy between 1939 and 1975, when protests by the locals forced the Navy to stop shelling Culebra and concentrate on the larger Vieques. The last bombs fell on Vieques in 2003. Since then peace has reigned.

Perhaps the stigma of those days lingers among tourists and even sailors, because the Spanish Virgins remain firmly off the beaten track, both physically and metaphorically. This is just fine and dandy with those who like uncrowded anchorages, beautiful beaches, pristine waters and a total lack of cruise ships.

On my first visit to the SVI’s, piloting a catamaran from CYOA Yacht Charters out of St. Thomas—roughly 20 miles to the east—I spent several days marveling at how unspoiled by development these islands were, and how neglected by the cruising and charter communities. Four years later, I returned on a boat from Sail Caribe in Fajardo on the Puerto Rican mainland and marveled all over again at the lack of crowding and the unspoiled nature of the islands. It’s a rare thing in the BVI to have an anchorage to yourself: not so in the Spanish Virgins.

FEspvir-map

Similar in aspect—i.e. hilly and scrubby—to the other two groups of Virgins to their east, the BVI and USVI, the Spanish Virgins nevertheless retain a sense of sleepy individuality. The population of Vieques is concentrated in the middle of the island, as unexploded ordnance is still being cleared from the old ranges on the eastern and western ends, and some tempting anchorages are still out of bounds due to the risk of dropping your hook on top of a rusty bomb.

The main town, Esperanza, has a pleasantly Spanish vibe, with a decent anchorage, a pretty tree-lined promenade along the waterfront and a handful of restaurants serving up excellent local seafood. One Saturday night we watched a handful of young blades trotting up and down the main drag on their horses under the admiring gaze of assorted young ladies—a nice take on the age-old sport of Cruisin’ Main. After dinner, we took a kayak tour of the nearby bioluminescent bay, where fish drilled green tunnels through the inky waters below us and our canoes left sparkling wakes.

Culebra has a different vibe altogether. Its well-protected main anchorage is packed with sailboats, many of which have obviously not moved in some time. Not surprising, really—it’s the kind of place that makes you think, hey, I may just hang here for a while. We took a taxi from Dewey, the island’s only town, to Playa Flamenco, which I reckon is the equal of any beach in the world, only to find an even more enticing beach on the other side of the hill, where the youngsters enjoyed the tumbling surf for hours.
Our hands-down favorite on both trips to the SVI, though, was the tiny uninhabited island of Culebrita, where the ruins of a lighthouse atop the hill offers panoramic views and there’s a perfect half-moon beach for a post-lunch swim. You may have to share the anchorage with a couple of other boats, but there’s room for many more. Which, in a nutshell, pretty much sums up the attraction of the Spanish Virgins.

CHARTER CHAT

A Bigger Dink—Your bareboat sleeps nine, but your dinghy only takes six, so you have to make two trips each way. Grrr. The folks at Conch Charters on Tortola know all about that, which is why they’re offering you a chance to upgrade to a 14ft dinghy with a 30hp outboard. conchcharters.com

Go Mexican—The beautiful Sea of Cortez is a bucket-list destination for many sailors, which is why Dream Yacht Charters has opened a new base there. The boats are based at the Costa Baja resort in La Paz, an ideal launchpad from which to explore this remote sailing paradise. dreamyachtcharters.com

More Monohulls—Frenchtown, St. Thomas-based CYOA Yacht Charters is following up its recently added 2015 Beneteau 41 with a pair of spanking new Oceanis 45s and a new Oceanis 48. A new Lagoon 38 catamaran has also joined the fleet, with more to come during 2016. cyoacharters.com

Be a VIP—Fancy a week’s all-inclusive vacation on a fully crewed yacht from The Moorings? The VIP at Sea Sweepstakes offers just that—seven days, six nights on a Moorings 4800 catamaran in the BVI. Go to the company’s website or to its Facebook page to enter, before March 31. moorings.com

February 2016

Related

9781472947666

Book Review: The Atlantic Crossing Guide

Jane Russell & the RCC Pilotage FoundationIf you have a yen for sailing across the Pond to explore the delights of Northern Europe or the Mediterranean, you’d best do some homework first. There’s no better primer than this weighty tome, now in its 7th edition. It’s crammed with ...read more

shutterstock_63705382

Raytech Gelbox Line

Well GelledEvery so often you run across a product you never knew you needed, and then you wonder why it took so long for someone to come up with it. Thus it is with the Gelbox line from Raytech. These reuseable plastic boxes for low-voltage connectors are filled with gel, so ...read more

shutterstock_295810247

Cruising: Nova Scotia’s Bras d’Or Lake

I have rarely had a cruise that wasn’t different from my expectations, and my Nova Scotia travels have borne that out. For my friend and shipmate, Steve White, and me, our 2017 trip to Cape Breton Island and the Bras d’Or Lake on One Timer, my Sabre 362, was a much anticipated ...read more

ElanGT5-a

Boat Review: Elan GT5

Aboard many modern yachts, it can be hard to remember exactly what boat you’re on until your eye happens to light upon a logo. However, this is most definitely not the case with the Elan GT5, a performance cruiser with a look all its own and style to burn.Design & ...read more

01-Lead-P1060210

Handheld VHF Radios

For many sailors, cell phones have become their primary means of both ship-to-shore and ship-to-ship communication. Even the Coast Guard will often ask for a cell number after it receives a distress call. None of this, however, makes a VHF radio any less important—and this goes ...read more

Seascape24

Boat Review: Seascape 24

Since its inception in 2008, Slovenian builder Seascape, founded by a pair of Mini Transat sailors, has focused solely on creating boats that are both simple and loads of fun to sail. With their 18-footer and then a 27-footer they succeeded in putting out a pair of trailerable ...read more

01-Trash-Tiki_in-partnership-with-Subtch-Sports_starting

The Adventurers Aboard Trash-Tiki

If you were in Gotland, a popular island vacation destination off the coast of Sweden, on the morning of July 3, your holiday might have been interrupted by a startling sight: a tiny island of trash approaching shore with people aboard. It was, in fact, a sailboat made from ...read more

atlantic-cup-trailer

2018 Atlantic Cup Video Mini-Series

Atlantic Cup 2018: TrailerThis past spring, SAIL magazine was on-hand to document the 2018 Atlantic Cup, a two-week-long Class 40 regatta spanning the U.S. East Coast and one of the toughest events in all of North America. The preview above will give you a taste of the four-video ...read more