At 0800 on Tuesday, January 27th, we depart from our picturesque West Beach anchorage at Buck Island for the 34-mile sail to St. John. The wind and seas are cooperative today, sending Cutter Loose on a delightful broad reach to Lameshure Bay. This begins a period of relaxed cruising in the USVI and BVI where we began our Caribbean adventure in November of 2012.
The south coast of St. John is a lovely, remote cruising area. Lameshure Bay is surrounded on three sides by lush green mountains that remain undeveloped because they are located within the National Park. Few cruising boats venture to the south coast because it is out of the way from the mainstream of activity and there are few amenities. This is precisely why we are here…to enjoy the peaceful solitude and natural beauty of this special place, free of crowds and distractions.
After breakfast in the cockpit on Wednesday morning, January 28th, we depart Lameshure Bay for the busy harbor at Red Hook on the island of St. Thomas. The harbor is predictably crowded with anchored boats. Ferries arrive and depart every few minutes from Red Hook. Our mission this morning is to deliver our malfunctioning radar unit to the marine electronics technician here in Red Hook. By chance, he happens to be working on a nearby boat in the harbor and notices the arrival of Cutter Loose. He radios us on the VHF with instructions to deliver the goods to his present location, which saves us a lengthy dinghy ride to the marina. Within a total elapsed time of 30 minutes, our mission has been accomplished. Rarely is a boat task accomplished with such efficiency.
The anchor is up in Red Hook and we are returning to St. John…this time to the harbor at Cruz Bay. Following a brief visit for lunch and provisioning, it is on to nearby Francis Bay for an overnight stay. Named in honor of explorer extraordinaire, Sir Francis Drake, this large Bay is filled with National Park service mooring balls. About three fourths of these balls are occupied by cruising boats today. The others are empty because charter boats from the British Virgin Islands rarely take precious time away from their vacations to clear Customs and enter the USVI. Besides, there are no restaurants or beach bars dotting the shoreline of Francis Bay…just a choice of gorgeous white sand beaches at nearby Maho Bay, Cinnamon Bay and Trunk Bay.
The overnight rental fee for a mooring in the USVI is $15. However, our National Park Senior Pass reduces the fee to $7.50. Payment is made on the honor system by depositing an envelope in the receptacle on an NPS float in the harbor.
For cruisers that yearn for a taste of the U.S. while visiting the USVI, Francis Bay is the place to be. In terms of entertainment and news, there is access to both the public television station and public radio station on St. Thomas. In addition, ATT cellular service is available. This eliminates expensive roaming fees.
From Francis Bay, it is on to Leinster Bay, USVI for snorkeling and a one-night stay on an NPS mooring ball. On Friday, January 30th we arrive at Soper’s Hole in the West End of Tortola, BVI. After clearing Customs and enjoying a late breakfast, it is on to The Bight at Norman’s Island to rendezvous with cruising friends Richard and Jan aboard IP 370, Morpheus of London.
The BVIs are somewhat unique. There are dozens of small islands encircling the large, central island of Tortola. With clusters of islands in close proximity, the views from the water are a gorgeous sight to behold. On the south shore of Tortola, Sir Francis Drake Channel is protected from wind and wave by the outlying islands. During our visit, it more closely resembles an inland lake than the Caribbean Sea.
Since January is the peak of the winter sailing season, ferries and pleasure boats are everywhere. Piloting the Channel can best be described as an exercise in defensive driving.
It was fun to reconnect with Richard and Jan in The Bight at Norman Island, but the sheer density of boats on moorings here serves as a reminder that the BVIs are being loved to death by charterers. The mooring fields have expanded, resulting in a scarcity of places to drop the hook away from the crowds. In this simplified version of cruising, the daily itinerary involves mooring hopping from one harbor to the next, being careful to time the arrival at one’s destination by mid-afternoon before all of the balls become filled for the night. The going rate for mooring balls in the BVI is $30 per night.
BVI boasts the highest density of charter boats in the Caribbean. At one time, the average charter boat was in the 30 to 45 foot range, which comfortably accommodates one or two couples. Today, 50 to 70 foot sailing catamarans and power cats are becoming the norm in the BVIs. These larger vessels can accommodate up to 12 passengers. Larger vessels with more passengers require larger, go-fast dinghies and tenders, frequently powered by outboard engines of up to 70 horsepower…an accident waiting to happen. More passengers per vessel can also lead to insensitive group behavior on the part of some that interrupts the peace and quiet of others in the harbor. Such was our experience in the Bight at Norman Island. This is not the style of cruising that we have come to know and love in the Eastern Caribbean.
Rather than prolong our time in the BVIs, we complete our circumnavigation of Tortola by visiting Marina Cay, Scrub Island and Trellis Bay before returning to Red Hook, on the island of St. Thomas, where our repaired radar unit awaits.
Perry from TropiComm is waiting on the dock at American Yacht Harbor marina when we arrive at 10 AM. Within 90 minutes, the repaired radome is installed and thoroughly tested. We take advantage of our time at a marina by thoroughly cleaning Cutter Loose inside and out, attending to laundry detail, filling the empty propane tank and topping off the fuel tank for the long journey ahead.
Our visit to the USVI is made more enjoyable by the warm hospitality extended to us by Pittsburgh natives, Cindy and Tom and their cat Felix who live on the island of St. Thomas. The highlight of our stay here is a visit to their lovely home featuring incredible water views of Jost Van Dyke.
After an overnight stop in Charlotte Amalie, our next port of call will be the island of Culebra in the Spanish Virgins of Puerto Rico.