Under clear skies, the anchor is up at noon in White Horse Bay, St Kitts. Our departure this afternoon is timed for an early morning arrival in Christiansted, St. Croix. To our dismay, the stalled cold front in the Mona Passage continues to curtail the supply of wind to our area of the Caribbean. We had hoped for vigorous northeast winds and a rollicking beam reach. But the wind today is slightly south of east at a paltry 8 to 13 knots, which places Cutter Loose on a downwind slog to Christiansted. The sea state is quite benign, with four to five foot waves at ten second intervals. It will be a calm motor/ sail passage to St. Croix.
Not far north of St. Kitts is the island of St. Eustatius (aka Statia) with its enormous installation of oil storage tanks and a queue of anchored tankers waiting to unload their supply of liquid gold. Clouds to the southwest spawn occasional rain showers, all of which contributes to a colorful sunset. At dusk, the mountainous outline of Saba fades to black in the northeast. Then at 2130, the crescent-shaped moon slips slowly below the horizon. Nature has turned off its light switch.
Further away from the islands, clouds dissipate and the night sky comes alive with a stunning array of stars and constellations. The Go Sky Watch app on the Ipad deciphers the details of the heavens. From its location directly overhead, Jupiter is clearly in charge tonight. To the northwest and lower in the sky is Sirius, a beacon that guides our passage towards St. Croix. Canopus is low in the southern sky tonight, eventually falling below the horizon just as Procyon is rising on the northeast horizon.
It is also a very quiet night in the nav station. AIS information shows a tug on a parallel course ten miles to our north, making its way to San Juan. Another tug passes six miles to our stern. Other than the stars, these vessels are our only nighttime companions.
At 0400, there is an eerie orange glow on the western horizon. It is the lights of St. Croix, vaguely visible from 25 miles out. One hour later, the eastern sky shows encouraging signs of first light. Finally at 0645, the sun makes its appearance above the eastern horizon, casting a brilliant orange hue on Point Udall, the easternmost point of land on St. Croix. Having completed this 130-mile passage in 20 hours, the anchor is down in Christiansted Harbor at 0845.
Bleary-eyed and tired, our first obligation is to clear Customs in Galleon Bay. Once the formalities are completed, we beat a hasty retreat to Cutter Loose for a few hours of shuteye before exploring the town of Christiansted on foot.
Formerly the capital of the Dutch West Indies, much of the town’s original 18th century architecture has been preserved. Shops, hotels, bars and restaurants are located along the boardwalk and strewn throughout the many porticos and interesting pedestrian walkways and plazas that impart a sense of character and identity to this unique place.
On the day of our visit, a local establishment is sponsoring a beard contest. Moses won this competition hands down.
The cruise boat dock is located ten miles away on the west side of the island in the town of Fredericksted. While some passengers take advantage of day excursions to Christiansted, it is not a town whose retail establishments are primarily geared to the cruise boat trade, nor are there aggressive taxi drivers or sidewalk vendors.
There is a friendly vibe here with congenial interaction between Cruzan natives, Caucasian transplants and cruisers. As an active arts community, Christiansted offers chamber music concerts and organized gallery crawls.
Near the end of the afternoon, the boardwalk bars become filled with locals and visitors, anxious to catch up on the news of the day while gazing at the seaplanes landing and taking off in the harbor. From here, it is a short 25-minute flight to Charlotte Amalie in St Thomas. Christiansted is one of the most interesting and architecturally-attractive towns that we have visited thus far in our Caribbean cruise.
On Sunday, January 25th, a rental car has been reserved for our self-directed tour of St. Croix. Denmark ruled this island for almost 200 years, dividing it into 375 sugar cane plantations. Evidence of the plantation era can be found throughout the island, including ruins of plantation homes and windmills where the cane was ground.
St. Croix is 15 miles in length and seven miles wide at its widest point. Some 50,000 people call this place home. The island is topographically and economically diverse. Route 70 is the major east-west transportation spine of the island. Located on this highway are the University of the Virgin Islands, Kmart, Home Depot and several shopping plazas with food stores. On the southern coast is Hovensa, reputedly the largest oil refinery in the western hemisphere. Our driving tour takes us through Fredericksted, (aka Freedom City), where the slaves of the Danish West Indies were peacefully emancipated in 1848.
Point Udall is promoted locally as the easternmost point of the United States. In addition to offering superb views, an interesting sundial Millenium Monument has been constructed here in 2000 .
Nearby is a dish antenna measuring 82 feet in diameter that is part of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. We are considering adding this to our antenna array aboard Cutter Loose with the hope of achieving improved Internet access.
On Monday, January 26th the anchor is up in Christiansted harbor. Cutter Loose is bound for Buck Island, some three miles to the northeast. Roughly a mile in diameter, Buck Island is uninhabited and protected by the National Park Service as a National Monument. Buck Island is a gem not to be overlooked.
The entire island is surrounded by a coral reef. The anchorage area is on the west side of the island within swimming distance of a gorgeous white sand beach. A short dinghy ride to the eastern side of the island is the marked entrance to a lagoon inside the coral reef, complete with an National Park Service underwater-snorkeling grotto. A series of moorings have been placed inside the lagoon for shallow draft dinghies, dive boats and snorkeling excursion boats.
Our visit to St. Croix has been thoroughly enjoyable, made even more so by our visit to pristine Buck Island. Tomorrow, we set sail for St. John.
Ten ways of knowing that one has arrived in the USA:
- There are no less than 23 lighted aids to navigation entering Christiansted Harbor (we have not seen 23 lighted aids to navigation total in the three years since leaving the Virgin Islands in December, 2012)
- 5 bars of 4G ATT
- Upon entering the Customs office, the officer in charge greets us by saying “welcome home”
- Waiters and waitresses refers to us as “you guys”
- Prices are quoted in U.S. dollars
- There is no need to purchase a temporary international driver’s license to rent a car (a Pennsylvania license is sufficient)
- Fuel is sold by U.S. gallon
- Steering wheel is located on the left side of vehicles (although in the USVI, one must drive on the left side of the road)
- Home Depot and K Mart
- NPR and public television