April 14th – 20th, 2014 (-4 on UTC)
First, Happy Birthday \”Beach House\”. She was launched 10 years ago on April 15th. Friends and followers Clark and Vincent who live in France were on our maiden voyage with Cindy and me. Life\’s memories – both bitter and sweet…..
Well, once the Customs Caper was closed we were able to relax and get on with exploring the USVI. The USVI consists of three main islands and several smaller ones.
The three larger islands are St. John, St. Thomas and St. Croix (the order in which we would visit). Throughout modern history, these islands have changed hands politically approximately 9 times. The Danish were the last in the early 1900\’s and sold them to the USA who gave them \”territorial status\”. This status is much like Gibraltar\’s status within the UK.
I\’m not positive, but I believe this is the only place in the United States where people drive on the left side of the road! This is a hold over from the various countries that owned the islands before the US purchased them in the early 1900\’s. I\’ve driven lots with with right hand drive cars on the left side in various places around the world, but it was a bit strange driving with a left hand drive (US style) vehicle on the left side of the road (UK style). Aside: We would again do this in the Bahamas – formerly British, but close to the USA.
The island of St. John is the smallest of the three major islands in the group. For the most part, it\’s a US National Park with smattering\’s of some pretty nice
houses scattered throughout; some lovely anchorages on the northwest side. The main town is Cruz Bay which would be our focus in the two days we were here. We wanted to see some of the more remote areas and also find a good anchorage for the night. Cruz Bay is an okay anchorage, but with the local boats, there is really not much space available. The harbor is small and very shallow.
We motored around the south side of the island and passed some gorgeous homes on cliff side settings. We saw an anchorage in a very large bay – Grand Cruz Bay – which looked potentially nice as an overnight spot. We continued on to the east side of the island to what looked like a wonderful cruising spot on the chart – Coral Bay. It was so close to the BVI that we could see the \”Indians\” and the Bight at Norman Island. We motored in with a small \”tall ship\” which does tours and found out very quickly that we\’d found the \”Fanny Porter\’s Home for wayward boats and lost souls\”. It was a flash back to the 1970\’s. I\’m sure there was a boat newer than the 1970\’s in the anchorage, but I was hard pressed to find one. Think of pulling into a trailer park and seeing everyone wearing tie-dyed t-shirts and head bands – popping the top on their VW Micro Bus along with all the black light posters and accoutrement that went with it! We knew, that this was not to be our anchorage for the evening. UC Santa Barbara was a great experience….at the time. I did not need to re-live it.
We motored back along the south coast of the island and found we could rent a private mooring in very crowded, very shallow (but comfortable) Grand Cruz Bay, home of the Mega Resort (which if memory serves may have been a Marriott?). It seemed more a time share resort than a hotel. We didn\’t go ashore there to find out. However, we did notice that about 3 feet below our rudders was a 35 foot fishing boat wreck that we swung over all night long. I presume someone originally sunk it here to be part of a mooring. I did wonder why the chap asked our draft…now I knew why. There were some incredible private homes on the cliffs around the bay and new construction was definitely in evidence. We dinghied into Cruz Bay (a mile away) and walked about town finding a lovely little cafe and to our surprise, Chris (The guy who was playing Jimmy Buffet) from the \”Soggy Dollar Bar\” in Jost Van Dyke (BVI). We knew he\’d be playing on his home island, but didn\’t know where. Luck was upon us. He was a good listen.
The next morning, we motored the 10 miles to Charlotte Amelie, the Capitol of the USVI on St. Thomas. I knew from my one and only previous visit, that this was not the most pleasant place for cruisers, but Nikki really wanted to see it. It\’s a GIANT Cruise Ship port. They can handle 3 of the big ships at once on the docks alone. The Marina was expensa-tanium and the island generally not cruiser friendly. The good news was that it\’s geologically interesting from the sea and we found a safe and reasonable anchorage in the main bay.
We took the dinghy ashore, hailed a taxi and went to French Town. Nikki thought this might be fun exploring from the Lonely Planet Guide, but it turned out to be just a small commercial fishing area. We had a Pizza at \”Pie Whole\” which was recommended by Lonely Planet. The meal was fine, but to get to this spot only 3 miles from the anchorage took an hour as the traffic was strictly \”LA Freeway\” the whole way. It was \”Cruise Ship Day\” (Almost everyday this time of year) and the place looked like a bazaar. The outside of the shops were quaint local architecture, some of the insides looked like 5th Avenue or Rodeo Drive. The tourists were in a frenzy practically shoving each other out of the way for \”the deal\”. They sold everything – duty free – luxury items galore. What people don\’t get is that – it\’s no deal, but when they get here on vacation it\’s as if a years worth of bargain hunting for that Gucci handbag or those diamond earrings won\’t wait a minute longer. The shop owners practically assault you physically to get you into their stores. There are literally hundreds of them. I have no idea how they all can survive, but since they do, it must be a pretty good payday. This of course is the LAST type of place we wanted to be, so we started back to the boat. En route, we tried to do a quick stop at the second oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere, but alas it was closed due to the first day of Passover. Maybe next time….:-) We did however stop at
\”Pirates in Paradise\”…aarrrh!.. This store says it has a \”treasure trove of pirate gear\”. Even \”girl pirates\” were well taken care of in Pirate wear. Nikki enjoed the kitsch, I perused the book shelf which had some interesting history and titles. I\’ve made a note for future Kindle purchases.
Well, I had my fill of the place and even Nikki had. We knew we didn\’t want to stay in amongst the ever coming and going day charter boats, so we thought about either Water Island or St. James Bay at Great St. James Island. This was a nice little island off the Southeast corner of St. Thomas. We opted for St. James as it would give us a better sailing angle the next day for our planned trip to St. Croix.
Just recently,(now late May 2014) we learned that friends Dave and Kathie aboard s/v \”Sunflower\” had a bit of a boo boo while going in to Water Island. We\’ll tell that story in a future blog, but the take home message is…maybe it was best we didn\’t stop there.
The anchorage at St. James Bay was crowded, but calm; all the moorings taken. Both here and in the BVI, the boats now were decidedly more American and less European flagged. This was the first time I\’d noticed this since the Eastern Pacific back in 2009. Just south of Great St. James is Little St. James. It seems to have what appears to be a huge Mosque at the top of it – a giant Golden Dome. It\’s the dominate feature of the island which we thought had a visitors center but couldn\’t find out much information about it.
The next morning, we set sail for St. Croix. It was a short 32 miles, about the same distance Marina del Rey is away from Santa Catalina Island off Los Angeles.
We negotiated the reef system and found reasonable comfort in Christiansted Harbour. This island was decidedly Danish in character compared to the other two more oft visited islands of St. John and St. Thomas. As it was definitely off the beaten path, much more to our liking. Friends Mike and Beth Lonnes have come here for two weeks every year for over 10 years. They have a sort of family get together here, relax and enjoy the views and the easy diving which can be done right off the beach in many places. We rented a car and went for the drive around the island. Very scenic and gorgeous reefs with turquoise waters. Along the way, we visited Point Udall which states that it\’s the Eastern most point in the United States. Actually incorrect btw! It\’s the most Eastern Point in the United States in the WESTERN HEMISPHERE. The Aleutian Islands off Alaska are the Eastern most location \”in the United States\” at 179 degrees EAST longitude. Ah we sailors…can\’t keep us from nit picking about those pesky details. However, we are surprised the \”experts\” missed this salient point (get it?)…:-)
We did a big food shop at various markets and also went to Fredricksted on the east side of the island. This area was in the lee and quite calm, but mostly where the cruise ships docked. None were there while we were…a bit of a surprise. The town was sleepy, clean and again…very Danish in it\’s architectural influence.
We met some friends of Mike and Beth\’s who run a dive operation out of one of the hotels, but the conditions were just too rough to dive. The winds had been up for several days with rain and squalls. Again…maybe next time….:-)
We enjoyed walking about both Fredricstead and Christiansted. Mike and I talked by mobile phone (as the US cell phone system worked here). He told me about the \”St. Croix Hook\”. It\’s a locally made bracelet and very well known design that looks like a horse shoe at it\’s clasp. It has local lore that goes with it. If you\’re in a relationship, you wear the \”hook\” with the open side toward you. If not, away from you. I bought a special one for Nikki and she bought one for her daughter Hollie and niece Rebecca. I also bought one for my daughter Skye. She wrote that she loves it – oh just melt Dad\’s heart…:-) That Evening we finished up at the Thai restaurant (Galangal) and met a couple of pretty ex-pat American gals who made their home here…everyone has a story!
Overall, our time in the US Virgin Islands were a good experience. The Customs Caper and our visit to Charlotte Amelie aside.
We could understand why Mike and Beth liked coming to St. Croix year after year, but for us, it was time to move on. Our next sail would be to the controversial island of Vieques in the Spanish Virgin Islands which are part of Puerto Rico – also a U.S. Territory.
Stay tuned, more soon.
Scott and Nikki