Charting the USVI and Spanish Virgins - Sail Magazine

Charting the USVI and Spanish Virgins

Post-hurricanes, the sailing in St Thomas, St. John and Puerto Rico’s Spanish Virgin Islands is as good as it’s ever been, as a charter crew discovers.
Author:
Updated:
Original:
IMG_9828

When my friends and I booked a one-way bareboat charter with Sail Caribe, starting in the U.S. Virgin Islands and finishing in Puerto Rico, we were a little nervous about what we would find in the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria—even seven months later.

When our plane descended toward St. Thomas in mid-April, it was clear from the patchwork of bright blue tarps covering damaged roofs that there was still much to be done. As the taxi drove us to American Yacht Harbor, Sail Caribe’s  newest base in Red Hook, at the east end of the island, it was hard to ignore the evidence of destruction left in the wake of Irma and Maria; piles of corrugated iron, formerly roofs of homes and businesses, stacked high, tree stumps poking forlornly out along the roadside. But alongside the destruction, there was hope, with crews of construction workers and landscapers working tirelessly to put homes and business back together.

Irma and Maria impacted every resident and devastated the lives of many, but everywhere we went we heard stories of incredible resiliency and how in working together communities are not only functioning but determined to restore the former beauty of the island in record time. The USVI rely on tourism, and if we sailors want to support the recovery efforts we need to go back there. The islands are ready for us and the hurricanes could not destroy some of the most breath-taking views on the planet.

Prior to our departure, I’d had some concerns regarding provisioning, access to fuel and water on our planned trip from St. Thomas to the Spanish Virgins. Having cruised the SVI six years ago, I was aware that compared to the BVI, land-based facilities were sparse, and it was important to be well stocked on departure.

My First World worries were totally unfounded—the local supermarkets had everything you could possibly want and more. Combined with the two refrigerators, freezer, generator and watermaker on board Azulita, our shiny 2018 Lagoon 450, we were all set. Finally, I might lose my reputation as the “water cop” that I gained on past trips.

One of the advantages of starting in St. Thomas and ending in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, was that it would be downhill all the way with the prevailing easterlies, avoiding the inevitable first-day beat that you would likely encounter leaving Fajardo. If you chose to begin and end your cruise in St. Thomas you have the options of including not only the USVI and SVI, but also the BVI in your itinerary. We consulted with Captain Jose, and the only island that he felt could be challenging was Vieques, where the dinghy dock at Esperanza had not yet been repaired, making it difficult to get ashore and secure your dinghy. 


We decided we would hop over to St. John, making Maho Point in Francis Bay our first overnight stop. There, we were entertained by pelicans and an army of laughing gulls. After that we had our first leisurely downwind sail to Magens Bay on the north side of St. Thomas, which prior to Irma held the reputation of being one of the world’s most beautiful beaches—and it still is. We were one of only two boats anchored in this mile-long protected bay. The holding was great, and we were spared any northerly swells, enjoying a peaceful night.

Ashore, we chatted to locals who described the horror of Irma, and the cleanup and recovery efforts that followed, which included over 100 workers on-site to load and remove 100 dump trucks of debris, then unload 30 containers full of building materials and plant 530 trees. These efforts were made possible by a multi-million-dollar investment from the cruise company Royal Caribbean. Magen’s Bay is open for business and will not disappoint.

From there we had another exhilarating downhill run to Culebrita, surfing down 10ft waves as we entered the open waters separating the USVI from the SVI. As we rounded the northern point of the island we found ourselves entering an idyllic bay where we were greeted by turtles as we picked up one of the well-maintained moorings. We were in paradise!

Culebrita and her big sister Culebra had been spared much of the destruction that other islands suffered as neither were in the direct path of Irma or Maria. Culebrita should be on every sailor’s bucket list of destinations.

Given our limited time, the crew voted that we skip the metropolis of Ensenada Honda and head straight for Punta Tamarindo to check out the snorkeling Captain Jose had recommended. Despite it being overcast, visibility was good, and we were treated to a variety of fish attracted to the “wall” of coral there. Our last night was spent moored at Palominos, a short hop from Puerto del Rey in Fajardo.

If you are looking for bars and restaurants every night, this is not the trip for you. But if you have an adventurous crew willing to cater for themselves then Sail Caribe offers a fantastic opportunity to head off the beaten path. As a smaller company with a fleet of new boats supported by an attentive team they provide a real sense of security. We were fortunate not to have any technical issues along the way, but knowing there was a support team with a powerful chase boat just a phone call away put to rest any reservations I may have had about doing this trip.

And as for the Spanish Virgins and U.S. Virgins? Just go and enjoy the waters while they’re still uncrowded. It’ll be a charter vacation you won’t regret.

Photos courtesy of Pip Hurn

July 2018

Related

PICTON CASTLE under sail with stunsls WV7 compressed

Picton Castle Seeks Crew

The Picton Castle is set to begin its eighth circumnavigation this spring under the command of Captain Daniel Moreland. A professional crew of 12 will guide up to 40 trainees at a time as they learn about all aspects of sailing the bark, from steering to lookout, ...read more

DSC_0013

Ask Sail: Keel Attachments

Q: I have an early ‘70s Catalina 27. The keel bolts look pretty good. My question is, why not glass over the keel to bond to the hull rather than changing the bolts if, or when the bolts are too far gone? I haven’t seen anything on this, so could you discuss? Full-keels are ...read more

04-GOPR0511

Book Review: Sailing Into Oblivion

Sailing Into Oblivion by Jerome Rand $15.99, available through Amazon As refreshing and inspiring as Jerome Rand’s 2017-18 solo-circumnavigation may have been, his account of the voyage in the book Sailing Into Oblivion: The Solo Non-Stop Voyage of the Mighty Sparrow may be even ...read more

01-1970-Dec

50 Years of SAIL

Back in early 1970, Bernie Goldhirsh and the recently founded “Institute for the Advancement of Sailing,” publisher of an annual sailboat and gear guide, launched something called SAIL. A half-century later, a look back at the magazine’s first few years provides a glimpse into a ...read more

Photo-by-Adobe-Stockpics721-2048x

Webinar: Navigating Post-Dorian Abaco

On Thursday, October 22 at 6 pm ET, Navigare Yachting presents a webinar on what to expect from Abaco post-Dorian. The event will feature the authors of The Cruising Guide to Abaco, Steve Dodge and his sons Jon and Jeff.Hurricane Dorian hit Abaco in early September of 2019 and ...read more

LunaRossaBoat2

Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Christens “Boat 2”

Hot on the heels of the UK’s Britannia and the United States’ Patriot, Italy’s new AC75 Luna Rossa, formerly known as Boat 2, was christened in Auckland, New Zealand, this morning. As the moniker suggests, it was Team Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli’s second design. In his christening ...read more

m7803_DSCF6698-1

Challengers Christen Britannia and Patriot

October 16 proved an exciting day for America’s Cup fans with the christening of both the UK’s Britannia and America’s Patriot. Britannia will be helmed by four-time Olympic gold medalist and America’s Cup winner Sir Ben Ainslie. Olympic Gold medalist Giles Scott will serve as ...read more

HookPromo

Defender Product Spotlight: Lowrance Hook Reveal

Defender product expert Alex Lyons explains the benefits of HOOK Reveal’s new FishReveal technology: “DownScan sonar uses high frequencies to provide a picture-like image of the sea floor. The traditional sonar’s lower frequencies are best suited for locating fish in the water ...read more