Virgin Islands

On January 5th we left Culebra for St Thomas, our first stop in the USVI.  After about five hours, we dropped anchor in Brewers bay which is a beautiful little bay near the university and airport.  As St Thomas is US territory and we had checked in at Puerto Rico, checking in here was not required for us.

Raising the USVI flag

Unfortunately, Brewers doesn’t have a secure dinghy dock and while we could pull Puff up onto the beach and chain her to a tree, we didn’t feel that was the ideal situation for exploring the island.  So, after only one night we moved anchorages and settled in at Charlotte Amalie.

Charlotte Amalie is the largest city in the USVI, a mecca for charter boats and cruise ships and is the main anchorage on St Thomas.  There is the cruise ship port, the island ferry port, the sea plane port and it is very busy!  The anchorage is a bit rolly, both from the seas and the large number of boats or water taxis constantly going by creating wake, but if you want to be in the thick of things it’s the place to be.

One of the two cruise ship docks

We were able to secure Puff at the Yacht Haven Marina dock and catch a local bus to anywhere on the island. If you’re careful and only get on buses the locals use, you can go halfway across the island for $1 per person or all the way to Red Hook for $2.  The hills, skinny roads and driving on, what is to us, the wrong side of the road can make these bus trips especially exciting!

Dinghy dock

While there, we were also able to reconnect with some friends from home.  Cindy and David, AKA the Lazy Sailors, they lived on their Catalina 47, Verano, on the same dock as us at Watergate Marina in Kemah.  They’d been there to wave us off when we cut our dock lines and left on this journey. They’ve since moved to St Thomas and we were very excited to get to spend some time with them.

We also had a good if unfortunately, short, visit with Mickie and Shane who were anchored on their boat, Virtue and Vice, off Honeymoon beach at Water Island. They are friends from Russell’s workdays and while they still work part of the year, they sail the remainder of the year. I always find it interesting to see how people manage this lifestyle.

Getting around on the cheap

One of the good things about the Virgin Islands is the ability to take ferries between the different islands. We, along with our friends from Kraken, took the twenty-minute ferry ride over to St John for the day.  We spent time at two different beautiful beaches, hiked over what felt like a mountain and listened to some amazingly talented local singers/musicians before catching the evening ferry back.

Ferry to St John

Along with hanging out with friends, our time at Charlotte Amalie was spent exploring the area, doing laundry, shopping, eating, drinking and watching the cruise ships come and go.  After a few weeks in such a busy, touristy area we were ready to move on, so we sailed back over to Brewers Bay to await a window to go to St Croix.

Off the beaten path – St Thomas
Tour of the Synagogue

Brewers Bay is right next to the airport and one day we noticed some boats and a small plane in the water near the end of the runway.  Not sure how this plane ended up there, but no one seemed to be hurt, and all were able to get off the rescue boats under their own power.  The plane was towed to shore and lifted out of the with a crane.

On January 24th, we pulled up the anchor and motored across to St Croix.  We tried fishing on the way, but something hit our lure and ran off all of the string before Russell could get back there to grab it. Oh well, no fish for us.  Once in St Croix we anchored near the Frederiksted pier on the west end.

All of our sails out!
St Croix boardwalk

Russell worked on St Croix in 2009/2010 and had made some good friends there.  We were invited to have dinner that night with Jenny Keith and her family.  Jenny is an amazing dive instructor, photographer (check out her work at https://jennykeithphotos.com/ ) and all around great person.  Her mom, Elizabeth, is a wonderfully accomplished artist and is very active in supporting art on the island.

We knew we wanted to spend several weeks on St Croix and since the bus system there isn’t as available or dependable as it is on other islands, we decided to rent a car.  This was a game changer and allowed us the freedom to spend lots of time exploring the island.  I was a little nervous driving for the first time because it had been over a year since I was behind the wheel and would be driving on the wrong (for me) side of the road!  But in no time at all I was comfortably navigating all over the island.

There are lots of “must sees” on St Croix and while we had seen most of them when Russell worked there, we were excited to not only experience them again but to share it with the Kracken crew.  We spent the next few weeks enjoying this beautiful and diverse island.

St Croix is unique in that it has arid dessert like terrain as well as a rain forest. It is also the eastern most point of the US at Point Udall.

Our first day trip was a drive through the rain forest with a stop off to see the famous beer drinking pigs.  The original pigs were lucky enough to get real beer, but they are now given the non-alcoholic kind.  They seemed to enjoy it anyway.

One happy pig

We also spent quite a bit of time checking out the distilleries on island.  Cruzan Rum and Sion Farms, which makes Mutiny vodka from Breadfruit, were favorites and required many more than one visit to fully appreciate their intricate distilling processes!  Cruzan even has a tasting station set up at the airport which of course we had to visit when we picked up and dropped off our rental car.

Ready to be bottled, I’ll take two please!

Jump up is a street party held (I think) four times a year on St Croix.  We were lucky enough to be able to attend one.  There were tons of vendors and performers lining the streets, but my favorites were the steel drum bands and of course the mocko jumbies.  Mocko jumbies are basically stilt dancers and I still can’t comprehend how they can possibly move like that and not fall off the stilts.  One of the steel drum bands was from a local elementary school. These kids performed for hours and they were amazing! 

Mocko Jumbies
Local elementary school band

It had been 10+ years since I scuba dived so one of my goals was to get recertified.  It isn’t a requirement, but I felt I needed a refresher.  Thanks Jenny (Nep2une Scuba) for an amazing pier dive for my recert!  The Frederiksted pier is a great dive but also just as good for snorkeling.  We spent lots of time in the water there.

Over that month, we were able to get packages shipped in from home, pick up needed items from the hardware store, fully stock up on groceries, make new friends, reconnect with old friends, attended a couple of local festivals, celebrate my 60th birthday and just enjoy some down time.  But, once again it was time to move on. 

On February 22nd, we had a calm sail back over to Charlotte Amalie for one night then on to St James island the next day.  Famous for being owned by Jeffrey Epstein, there are actually two islands, Great St James and Little St James.  Both are private and you aren’t allowed ashore.  More importantly to us though is that Christmas Cove is the home of the equally famous Pizza Pi boat.  We spent four days anchored there spending our time pretty much equally split between snorkeling and eating pizza.

Floating pizza parlor
Drive right up to the dinghy window

On February 27th, we left US territory for the British Virgin Islands.  As we motor sailed toward Jost Van Dyke, Kracken sailed in from St John at the same time.  After both boats were safety anchored in Great Harbor bay, I caught a ride to shore with Don so we could take care of checking into the country.  This process took quite a while as there were many charter boats in line to check in plus we also had to wait on one of the officials to come in on the ferry.  Once all the paperwork was sorted, we all dinghied around the corner to White bay.  Jost is one of the more popular stops in the BVI’s and I can certainly understand why.  The beaches are absolutely beautiful, the bays are very busy with tons of charter boats and the bars are full of people having the time of their lives. It makes for some pretty interesting people watching.  We too had to check out all of the famous hot spots; Soggy Dollar Bar, Ivan’s, Corsair’s and of course Foxy’s! 

Jost Van Dyke, home of the famous Foxy’s

After a while though it all gets to be a bit much and the check liver light comes on.  We decided to take a break from the bar routine and head over to Tortola. We made short, overnight stops in Soper’s Hole and Road Town, neither of which impressed us, then moved on to Norman Island.

We spent a week anchored at The Bight at Norman Island waiting out some strong winds but found we really enjoyed it there.  Norman is home to the world-famous Willie T’s which is a boat bar/restaurant where people jump from the top deck into the water.  Back in the day, women would jump topless but it’s more family friendly now.  Wendy and Sylvester, who we met in Puerto Rico, were also at Norman and we spent some time snorkeling and hiking with them.

Willy T’s

There are some amazing snorkeling spots around Norman.  Just outside of the Bight are the caves.  There are moorings for larger boats or just your dinghy, but no anchoring is allowed.  The caves are shallow, and this is an easy snorkel with lots of fish and coral.  We even saw an octopus out and about one day.  A little farther out but well within dinghy range are the Indians.  This was one of the best snorkels of our trip so far.  When we got back to the dinghy, I told Russell I had found my happy place!

Great snorkeling at the Indians

There are also some good trails crossing from one side of the island to the other with beautiful views of the surrounding islands.  It felt so good to get off the boat, get some exercise and stretch our legs.

what a beautiful hike

After a week we decided to go back over to Tortola to check out Cane Garden Bay. The winds weren’t cooperating, so we changed our plans and ended up having a great downwind sail back to Jost. We dropped anchor very close to where we had anchored before but as Russell was letting out the chain, we felt the keel bump bottom.  That’ll get the old heart pumping!!  I pulled forward and we moved into deeper water to anchor.  Later we checked and luckily since it wasn’t much of a hit, no damage was done.

That afternoon we hiked up the hill between White Bay and Great Harbor.  It was hot and a bit of a challenge for my wonky knees but the views from the top looking out over both bays were amazing and well worth the effort.

White Bay on one side
Great Harbor on the other

The following day found us once again making for Cane Garden Bay.  Determined to sail, since Ddraig is a sailboat, so we tacked back and forth making little progress.  It was a beautiful day and we weren’t in any hurry but after 3 ½ hours we finally gave up and motored the rest of the way.  We had dinner ashore that evening.  The next morning, we did laundry and a bit of grocery shopping before we left for Virgin Gorda and the Baths.

The Baths are located on the southern end of Virgin Gorda and must be one of the prettiest natural sites in the Caribbean.  We anchored at Leverick Bay just a short dinghy ride away.  They are accessible by land but boaters just swim in.  Once on land, there’s a gift shop, snack bar and lockers for rent if you want to leave your swim gear while you hike.  The Baths are a collection of granite boulders that form natural pools along the beach.  The Park Trust has built a series of steps and ladders to help you up and around some of the boulders to get to the pools and beach.  This is one of those places that should be on every bucket list!

Entrance to the Baths
It doesn’t even look real
Stunningly beautiful

We had been seeing on the internet news about the Coronavirus so we did try to distance ourselves from the tourists and cruise ship folks but there were tons of people around the first time we went ashore.  We ended up going back later in the evening after it was technically closed so we could enjoy it by ourselves.

Next up, we had to get ready to cross over the Anegada Passage to St Martin which meant checking out of the BVIs.  This was on March 14th and was the first time we began to see evidence of the changes to come. 

When we got to the immigration office in Virgin Gorda, we were first told we would have to go back to Road Town to check out.  Luckily, there was a charter boat captain there also needing to check out so after he spoke to the officer, they decided they could check us out but we would have to wait there until the cashier arrived to accept our fees.  After waiting about an hour, she showed up and I was able to pay our $5.21 to get the required stamp on our paperwork.

We cleaned the hull and Russell rechecked the forecast.  Our plan was to leave on the 15th but the updated forecast showed winds dropping off earlier previously stated so we decided to hurry our preparations and leave that evening instead.  I wasn’t really feeling that good about it because I hate to be rushed but these decisions must be determined by the weather you just learn to roll with it.

Short lived calm at the beginning of the crossing

We sailed out with the main, mizzen and our baby jib, just after 7 pm and were comfortable for about an hour.  Once we go out of the shelter of the island, the wind and seas picked up.  With 6 to 8-foot seas coming on our port side I, of course, immediately got seasick.  Russell took down the main sail but left up the baby sail and mizzen. 

Just before midnight, Russell yelled for me to take the helm.  We had lost a shackle and Puff was dragging and bucking half in the water.  I loosened the sails to slow us down while he had to actually climb off onto the back of the boat to re-secure her before she completely tore loose and was lost.  It was a very long, rough night with huge waves.  Fortunately, around dawn the winds decreased, and we were able to put the main sail back up. It turned out to be a beautiful morning and we could see the Island of Saba in the distance as we sailed by.

I was very happy once we got in the calm sheltered waters off St Martin.  We anchored on the French side in Marigot Bay. We were able to check in using the computer at one of the marine stores, Isle Marie.  The hardest part of the check in process was using the French keyboard which has a lot of the letters in different places than I’m used to! Within the first few days after our arrival, and as news of islands closing their boarders, we began to realize how very lucky we were to have gotten to this welcoming place when we did.

Safely anchored at Marigot Bay, St Martin

4 thoughts on “Virgin Islands

  1. What a life! Some days I think yall are crazy and some days I wish I could be with yall. Yall are seeing the islands like I never have seen them. Your descriptions are perfect. 🤗😊😎⚘

    Like

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