After working our way across the southern coast of Puerto Rico, we made a short sail to Isla de Vieques, the first of the Spanish Virgin Islands. The principal islands are Vieques and Culebra and there are multiple smaller islands and islets. These islands are also called the Passage Islands and as is Puerto Rico, are all US Territories. Vieques is best known internationally as the site of a series of protests against the United States Navy’s use of the island as a bombing range and testing ground, which led to the Navy’s departure in 2003. Today the former navy land is a national wildlife refuge, with numerous beaches that still retain the names given by the Navy, including Red Beach, Blue Beach and Green Beach. The beaches are commonly listed among the top beaches in the Caribbean for their azure waters and white sands. We went ashore and walked several of the trails/roads and visited some of the beaches.
The next morning we took off for Culebra which was 30nm away. We were looking forward to visiting here because our friend Bob Hirche from back in Tennessee had told us so much about it. Bob kept his boat here and would spend several weeks at a time sailing around these waters. Culebra was just how Bob described, beautiful water and beaches, a town that welcomes cruisers/visitors and a slowed down pace unlike its big brother, Puerto Rico. Here is a statue holding a lantern marking the entrance to the channel.
Culebra, like many of the towns and villages we visited, are known for their building murals. Here is one from the music school where musicians come to the island by ferry to teach the children. Much of the support for this program is from fundraisers and local donations. We were fortunate to be passing by the school during an outside rehearsal for a show to be performed later in the week.
We passed by this mural the day before and it caught our attention because at first look the painted dog looked so life like. The following day as we passed, we noticed a second dog resting alongside it. I guess he knows this is his spot!
From Culebra we set out for an unspoiled anchorage on the island of Culibrita. We were planning to spend the next night there, before going to St. Thomas. However, when making the approach to the anchorage we were intimidated by the narrow channel and large waves breaking along the rocks and decided to play it safe and keep going to St. Thomas. This is a decision we regret because friends that were just a few hours behind us went into the anchorage just fine. They had been there before so knew how to get in and out of the cut. They told us how secluded and beautiful it was and they decided to stay two days. Needless to say we would have loved to have stayed and visited the island’s lighthouse and hiking trails.
The anchorage at Charlotte Amalie is large and deep. You have to share it with the US Coast Guard, boats on moorings and anchoring, cruise ships and even a sea plane. We picked a spot that was close to the city wall and it turned out to be very rolley because the waves were bouncing back into the harbor. During the day it wasn’t a bother because we were ashore most of the time but it made night time difficult to relax. We decided to move further away from the wall as soon as a few boats cleared out and were able to get a better spot. Thank goodness, we can sleep again!
Renee went through our cruising guide and found several things to visit right in Charlotte Amalie. Unfortunately, several were closed and under repair from damages caused by Irma and Maria two years ago. We went up the 99 steps that is next to the Government house. This was part of our morning workout.
We also visited the Saint Thomas Synagogue which was built in 1833. The floor of the Synagogue is covered in sand as a reminder of how it was hundreds of years ago. There are several stories as to why the floor is covered in sand but the actual reason was to muffle their footsteps and the sounds of them praying. During the day these Jews would claim to be Christians as not to be persecuted and then in private worship Judaism. There are 5 such Synagouges in the world with four being located in the Caribbean.
There is public transportation here on St. Thomas. They call them Safari buses and are open air vehicles containing five rows of seats with five in a row (or often times more). It is either $1 or $2 dollars per person depending upon how far you are going but certainly a bargain. We took the bus to Red Hook for snorkeling at Saphire Beach which was amazing. The coral, plant life and fish were healthy and plentiful.
Our next stop was St. Johns for a day of snorkeling at Trunk Bay underwater snorkeling trail. We arrived early and grabbed the 1st mooring ball. We went ashore and snorkeled the trail and were disappointed at the condition of the reef and fish. We had been there seven years ago and the snorkeling was amazing but it is obvious as to the devastation caused by the hurricanes. Hopefully it will recover in the upcoming years.
Next stop was Jost Van Dyke on the British Virgin Islands. We anchored in Great Harbour for easy access to the Customs and Immigration and the famous Foxy’s. After clearing, we took a short walk down to the beach to Foxy’s. We also took a walk over the mountain to White Bay, location of the Soggy Dollar. White Bay is a large bay with perfect white sand. It is deep right up to the beach which is how the Soggy Dollar got its name. People jump off the boat and swim to shore and pay with Soggy Dollars.
Cane Garden Bay was our next stop. We had been there seven years ago and thought it was one of the most beautiful anchorages in the BVI. It still is. However, all the goto anchorages are now filled with mooring balls which makes it impossible to just anchor unless you want to be in 40 feet of water. So we wound up having to grab a ball at each of the Virgin Island anchorages. This is disappointing because we have to pay $30 per night and would just prefer to anchor. On the other hand, it provides economy to the area while minimizing scaring on the bottom. We took a short walk to the Caldwell Distillery. It reminded us of one of the Tennessee Moonshine stills.
We had to clear out of the BVI with customs and since the office near the Bitter End Yacht Club hasn’t reopened since the hurricanes the closest one was Spanish Town. So we crabbed a mooring there and went to The Baths for a visit (https://www.bvitourism.com/baths-national-park). The baths are amazing and we feel fortunate to visit again.
We are now anchored off Prickly Pear Island waiting for 4:00pm when we leave for St. Martin or St. Kitts. Our plan is to shoot for St. Martin (16 hours) providing the wind is not directly on the nose and we can sail and make at least 6 knots. It not, then we will fall off and head for St. Kitts (20-24 hours) in hopes to smooth out the ride and be able to sail. Stay tuned for next blog to see how we make out. Ciao!