With two marinas planned and pricey vacation villas springing up on the hillsides, Coral Bay, St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands will soon be unrecognizable as the salty and slightly ramshackle port that lured sailors for decades.
"Most boaters don’t know about Coral Bay yet," said Sandy Mohler, who owns Coral Bay Marine.
Coral Bay is now a hidden gem and off the beaten path for many cruisers because it has no U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility. Boaters who need to clear into the U.S. Virgin Islands must go to Cruz Bay or Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas. That may change when the two new marinas are done.
T-Rex St. John LLC plans a marina and more on land leased from the Moravian Church. When the project first surfaced in 2004, the word was that the project called for 150 hotel rooms, 200 condominiums, a 50-slip marina, a supermarket, and office buildings. T-Rex’s St. Thomas-based attorney, David Bornn, said in mid-September that the project was still in the information-gathering phase. "We’re working with the government on various things," he said.
Coral Bay Marina Inc. got a Coastal Zone Management permit on Aug. 16, 2006 to build a 116-slip marina. Principal Bob O’Connor said in mid-September that the project was waiting for a wastewater permit from the Planning and Natural Resources Department. He said he didn’t think the marina would get underway in 2007, "but we’re going to go forward.”
Meanwhile, Coral Bay still has plenty to offer boaties. While anchoring can get tight during the winter season in the inner harbor, Mohler said boaters can always find a space a bit farther out. And the pristine Coral Reef National Monument is just a sort sail away. However, no overnight anchoring is allowed.
Coral Bay proper provides numerous services. With old salts at the bar and a bargain burger and fries menu, Skinny Legs Bar and Restaurant is the heart and soul of the boating community. Turn right when you come off the dinghy dock and follow your ears a few yards.
Other eating options include Donkey Diner, open for breakfast and dinner-time pizza. It’s located near the dinghy dock on Route 107 across from Guy Benjamin School. Further afield, the waterfront Island Blues, located between the inner harbor shore and Route 107, serves lunch, dinner and nighttime entertainment. Sweet Plantains, located on the inland side of Route 107 near Crabby’s Watersports, offers Caribbean food tarted up with nice presentations. None have docks, so you’ll have to wade in after anchoring your dinghy near shore or walk 10 to 15 minutes along the road from the dinghy dock.
Grocery shopping options are on the minimal side, with Love City Minimart a seven-minute walk from the Coral Bay dinghy dock. Cocoloba shopping center is another small spot about a 20-minute walk along Route 107 with Lily’s Market, a small deli and convenience store. It also has a restaurant, telephone and mail center and gift shops.
If you really need to provision, take the VITRAN bus to the island’s main town of Cruz Bay for $1. It stops right at the intersection of Route 10 and Route 107. Ask other boaters how the schedule is running. The VITRAN bus stops at Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center, located outside Cruz Bay on Route 10, if you need medical care. There are always doctors on duty, but if it’s not an emergency, it’s best to call 340-693-8900 for an appointment.
Got a DVD player on board? K2 Video rents movies. It’s located at the small shopping center across from Skinny Legs and open daily afternoons and early evenings.
Coral Bay Marine, located just off the dinghy dock, sells basic boater’s supplies: "Varnish, brushes, batteries, oil, ground tackle – that sort of thing," Mohler said.
Coral Bay is waiting, off St. John’s beaten track—visit now before new marinas bring major changes.
Long time St. John resident Lynda Lohr lives in Coral Bay. A reporter by trade, she has written for numerous international, national, regional, and local publications as well as travel and news websites.