Verdant, mountainous, dramatic. Panoramic, wind-blown, sea-swept. The Virgin Islands—Spanish, American and British—erupt from the sea like steep green pyramids, peak after peak, and the ocean loops around and between them in bright blue pathways dotted with white sails. By day the sun blazes, at night you can see the Milky Way and so many stars it makes your head spin.
Our first leg, from mainland Puerto Rico to the island of Culebra, SVI, was an ideal sail. A real sail, not a motorsail, thanks to a northeast wind of about 15 knots. We skipped along, and midway along our 20-mile course, Eric turned on Spotify and selected a George Winston album, Summer. The music sprang out, and suddenly, instead of the rush of wind and waves, we were surrounded by our own personal soundtrack. It felt as if we had leaped into a movie, one of those scenes of sparkling blue sea and sky with a free-spirited sailboat winging over the whitecaps. Yes, it really is like that.
We glided into Culebra in mid-afternoon and anchored in the bay of Ensenada Honda. Just seven miles long, Culebra is charming. The one small town, Dewey, has colorful buildings and shops, bars and restaurants, and we zoomed in on a sweet shop with ice cream sandwiches made of both homemade cookies and ice cream, utterly delicious on a hot day.
The next morning we rented a golf cart to tour the island. We walked beautiful Flamenco Beach on the northwest end and ate our packed lunch at Zoni Beach on the east end. We gave lifts to a couple from North Carolina and Italy and a barefoot surfer dude toting his board. We visited the one-room Culebra Museum, housed in a brick-and-mortar structure that had been a munitions storehouse for the US Navy. The displays include pottery and other relics from the native Taino people and information on plant and animal life. A video interspersed interviews with old-time residents with movie clips of life on Culebra in bygone days. Both Culebra and the neighboring island of Vieques were used as bombing ranges for many years by the U.S. Navy, and the interviewees had some succinct recollections of the pros and cons of the Navy presence.
Because few restaurants in the islands offer much in the way of vegetarian fare, it was a treat to dine that night at The Dinghy Bar on delicious broccoli-potato cakes, tostones (fried plantains) and a bean salad. A vivid sunset, some constellation IDs (Scorpious and the Southern Cross), and then we hit the sack.
Our next stop should have been Vieques where we hoped to see the spectacular bioluminescent bay. Unfortunately, a recent rash of dinghy thefts, along with reports of police indifference and unwelcoming locals, gave us pause. It would also have set us back to the west when we need to keep moving east. With a tropical depression developing off Africa, we opted to make for the US Virgins instead.
This time the winds were out of the east, and we motorsailed and tacked 17 miles to the west end of St. Thomas, USVI. There we picked up a mooring overnight in Brewer’s Bay, right beside the airport. The runway extends out into the ocean, and it was fun and not at all noisy watching the few planes land and take off. Having visited St. Thomas several times by air on business/vacation trips, we felt no need to go ashore. Our real goal in the USVI was St. John, two-thirds of which is a National Park. For me, nature is bliss. Say the word “park” and I’m hooked. So we left Brewer’s Bay just after sunup, and with the sails close hauled and only a few tacks, we reached Francis Bay on the north side of St. John by noon.
Click the link below to see a video of Corroboree underway:
Eric and I had camped on St. John on a vacation more than forty years ago and were hopeful that with National Park status most of the island had remained undeveloped. Yes! Except for a few private homes here and there on the mountainside, the park lands were as rugged and beautiful as we remembered it. We went for a long hike along the road to neighboring Maho Bay. Except on the beaches, hiking on St. Johns is up and down, sweaty work, and we were happy to accept a lift back from a vacationing family with two daughters in a rented jeep. A dip in the cool water off Corroboree’s swim platform and we were clean and refreshed.
The next morning we hiked the short Francis Bay Trail, then we motored to Cinnamon Bay and hitchhiked into the main town of Cruz Bay. Our friendly drivers this time were a vacationing couple from CT in another rented jeep. In a classic “small world” moment, it turns out the man knew Eric’s cousin—they work at the same company and he once fixed her computer. Then came another lovely coincidence. Though resorts have taken over some of the areas outside the park, Cruz Bay is still small and laidback, and right there in the harbor was the VI Hospital Boat that Eric had a hand in developing about a decade ago.
Eric and Captain Sprauve on the hospital boat
St. John had been in need of a new transport boat to take injured people on the island to the hospital on St. Thomas, and Eric was hired to advise the local hospital officials on the procurement process. The boat was ultimately built by Eric’s friend Roger Hatfield of Gold Coast Yachts on St. Croix. Now there she was, looking spiffy, and right across the street, sitting in a chair in the shade, was Captain Liston Sprauve, with whom Eric had worked on the project and for whom the vessel was named. Eric and the captain recognized each other right away, and we all went aboard for a tour. How fulfilling to see it and know a small part of us resides here in this vessel. A good day!
Meanwhile, the tropical depression was moving closer, and a second one had formed close behind it. After much debate, we opted to leave St. John for Soper’s Hole at West End, Tortola, BVI. Well-protected except from the west, it seemed the best place to ride out whatever might be coming. We rented a car to tour Tortola and hike on Mount Sage, which being part rain forest was misty and wet. Overall, however, Tortola and the main city, Road Town, left us unimpressed.
Over the next 48 hours, the first depression became Tropical Storm Harvey, and a third depression joined the lineup off Africa. In the end, Harvey passed south of us, and the other two depressions moved to the northwest with no ill effects. Though we probably could have stayed in St. John longer, hurricane season is forcing us to make some hard choices. So with the Atlantic now clear, we plan to leave tomorrow for an overnight sail to St. Martin, about 95 miles southeast.
Keep calm and sail on.