We’re just back from two weeks of sailing the US Virgin Islands and Culebra. No visits to the BVIs this trip. The first week started with decent weather, but the wind and swell picked up per the weather forecast. We saw gusts of 25+ knots and 2-meter swells routinely for over a week. What to do?
For the first week, our crew of six did a circumnavigation of St. John and stuck to mostly sheltered and well sheltered bays. Two nights in Maho Bay before it started blowing, followed by one night in Leinster Bay as the winds and swell were building. Lots of snorkeling and swimming in these beautiful bays. Then around the east end of St. John into Coral Bay and the inner bay of Hansen Bay for more of the same. Our fifth day stated in Hurricane Hole’s inner bay of Princess Bay for a mangrove snorkel with the wind howling in this very sheltered cove.
This crew are backcountry campers and long distance bicyclists, so we did fine on cooking on board, managing water and amusing ourselves. We also had St. John friends visiting us for happy hours. “What can we bring?” Ice! Still, after four nights with no ice or provisions we needed some essentials. Coral Harbor was our anchorage for our fifth night. We hit Dolphin Market ($$$$) and had dinner on land at Indigo Grill. After that, it was off to Lameshure Bay and Christmas Cove for the last two nights with this crew. Christmas Cove was still blowing 20+ knots, but we have good holding in sand for our anchor.
It was a great week on the boat with Sweet Christine, Bill & Wendy and Gordon & Holly. They headed off for a week on Vieques next. Visits with Jim and his family for happy hours on the boat were great. Dinner with Steve and Marcia in Coral Bay was excellent.
Decision time for RickG and Sweet Christine - where to go with the winds and the swell still big? Upwind to the BVIs, or St. John, or sail downwind to Culebra. With the winds and swell expected to abate Wednesday night, we left for Culebra Monday after spending the night in sheltered Brewers Bay on St. Thomas.
The sail to Culebra was fun. We put the genoa up double reefed and left the main down for the rest of the week. With gusts to 24 knots downwind, we made great time and were in Culebra and were anchored four hours later. The swells got a bit hairy once was passed the west end of St. Thomas and got out of the shelter of Savannah Island - 2-meter+ on our stern quarter tossed our rear end around. We towed the dinghy on a long tether and it did a good bit of surfing on those big swells; We agreed that was the limit of what we could do with a towed dinghy, but we could not get a 15HP outboard on deck without a crane.
The anchorage at Dewey in Culebra was still blowing for our first two nights. Thankfully, no swell. We had three great days on Culebra and hit our favorites - Dinghy Dock Bar, Zacos Tacos, Heather’s Pizzeria, Milka’s Grocery, Flamenco Beach with its big beach and lunch kiosks. Culebra is very laid back and we feel very relaxed there. The staff at our favorites recognized us from our November visit and we caught up on the local gossip. Culebra has that wonderful Puerto Rican culture with very happy people. The lower prices there help too.
Wednesday night the weather calmed. Thursday morning dawned with very little wind, conditions that persisted for the next four days. We motored back to St. Thomas, catching a big barracuda on the way. Thursday and Friday nights at Lindbergh Bay near St. Thomas’s airport. Both nights there were 2AM private plane coming in. Lindbergh Bay is much noise than Brewers Bay. Friday night Jay & Debbie came out to play for a Lindbergh Bay pub crawl. They stayed on the boat and we headed for fun at Water Island’s Honeymoon Beach on Saturday.
On Honeymoon Beach we saw evidence of a growing trend for USVI day charters - the USVI beach bar tour. I spoke with a couple of the captains. The captain from Busy Bee mentioned that it was cheaper and faster to hit Pizza Pi at Christmas Cove, Abi Beach Bar and Dinghy’s Beach Bar at Honeymoon Beach instead of the usual circuit in the BVIs. We ran into multiple groups over from St. John on Honeymoon Beach and they all mentioned the same things - hassles at BVI customs and immigration and crowding with lower quality and higher prices at the BVI beach bars.
On reflection, is it better in the USVIs than the BVIs? Geographically and socially, they are very close. The BVIs have more islands. The USVIs have the Virgin Islands National Park that has left 70%+ of St. John pristine. The USVIs also are very close to the Spanish Virgin Island to increase the geographic and cultural diversity as well as lower prices. The increasing customs and immigration barriers between the USVIs and BVIs are a growing problem. We’ve gone through the process many times as private boaters, but we are starting to think twice before we dive into the paper work and hassle.
Sailing the Virgins in De After Life, De Life was declared a total loss. Soon come.