When it comes to chartering in the Caribbean, St. Thomas has always stood apart for its convenient airport and top-notch shopping district in downtown Charlotte Amalie. But after Peter Nielsen’s exceptional experience at the St. Thomas Rolex Regatta, I wanted a taste of what else the island had to offer. The less-than-four-hour direct flight from Boston to St. Thomas was surprisingly pleasant and set the tone for my visit.
Thus began my list of Things I Didn’t Know about St. Thomas:
1) There’s a Fourth Virgin. Perhaps it’s unfair to plug another nearby island while writing about St. Thomas, but here it is: Water Island is the fourth U.S. Virgin, rounding out the list of St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John. Unlike its well-developed neighbor, Water Island is tiny and pristine. Located just southwest of Charlotte Amalie and barely a quarter-mile off St. Thomas, it consists of 500 acres of undeveloped roads, paved hiking trails, great flora and fantastic beaches, the most famous of which is the secluded Honeymoon Beach. World War II bunkers and Fort Segarra dot the landscape and the “Kick Your Butt Hill” hiking trail (nicknamed by a local) offers a nice tour of the island, which can be concluded with a burger at Heidi’s Beach Bar. Though it is less well known, Water Island has been a U.S. Virgin since 1996, when it was purchased by the U.S. government for $25 million (the same price the government paid for all of the Virgins in 1917). It’s quiet, unassuming and worth a stop on your next charter.
2) It’s a great place to start. At 1300, my first mate and I touched down in Charlotte Amalie. After the customary rum shot at the airport, we boarded an open-air safari taxi and drove five minutes to where Randy and Shelly Tucker, captain and crew of the 72ft Irwin, Three Moons Yacht, met us in their dinghy. After zipping across the water to the boat, we were under sail by 1530, which allowed us to spend our first night on a peaceful mooring in St. John. It felt luxurious to not lose a full day to travel. We could have managed the same thing sailing a bareboat out of Frenchtown with CYOA Yacht Charters.
3) St. Thomas knows how to party. Every spring, St. Thomas plays host to one of the largest parties in the world, a Carnival comparable to those in Rio and Trinidad. Throughout the month of April, parades wend their way through the streets of downtown Charlotte Amalie. Locals and visitors alike gather at Carnival Village for the rides, treats and live entertainment, while party barges with island bands and guests cruise around the harbor. Carnival participants are dressed from head to toe in traditional garb, and the fun is infectious. It’s a great time to visit, as the carnival-goers are quick to embrace you.
4) It’s perfectly close to St. John. I can’t sing St. John’s praises enough (see Sail Away, February 2012). With 75 percent of its land devoted to national parks, St. John is a maze of historical sites, petroglyphs and hiking trails. There are also plenty of bays to poke around in, ranging from tranquil Caneel Bay to the funky Coral Bay hurricane hole, where you can visit the world-famous Skinny Legs Bar & Grill. The snorkeling is fantastic, and the hiking can be as challenging as you like, as there are water and land taxis surrounding the island to get you back to your boat in comfort.
5) It’s a charter playground. The southeast shores of St. Thomas offer a half-dozen spots worth dropping a hook in. Christmas Cove on Great St. James features great snorkeling and a peaceful mooring field, where the moorings are free. The anchorage is said to have earned its name from Christmas nights when crewed yachts without guests would gather there to enjoy the peace and quiet. Any place that’s good enough for a local on holiday is good enough for me. Secret Harbour features Sunset Grill, which has awesome beachfront views and tasty seafood. Finally, Red Hook, home to Island Yacht Charters and Fair Wind Sailing School, features some of the best food, drinks and entertainment on island. XO Bistro serves up a good meal and Latitude 18 is the place to be for live entertainment from the beloved Sun Mountain Band.
St. Thomas has plenty to offer to both Caribbean newbies and BVI refugees looking for a change of pace. Better yet, Americans don’t even need a passport to get in.
ANNAPOLIS BAY CHARTERS, 800-991-1776
CONCH CHARTERS, 800-521-8939
CYOA YACHT CHARTERS, 800-944-2962
Fair Wind Charters, 866-380-7245
Marine Max vacations, 888-461-5497
TMM YACHT CHARTERS, 800-633-0155