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Cruising the Spanish Virgin Islands

Spanish Virgin Islands - Visit Culebrita, a wildlife refuge and frolic in the warm waters of the Jacuzzi pools. Photo by Rosie Burr
Spanish Virgin Islands – Visit Culebrita, a wildlife refuge and frolic in the warm waters of the Jacuzzi pools. Photo by Rosie Burr

Everybody knows the United States and British Virgin Islands but when you mention the Spanish Virgin Islands people stare at you with a quizzical look on their face. This archipelago to the east of Puerto Rico has an undeniable Caribbean charm with a Latino twist and the people are warm and welcoming. There are a plethora of different anchorages to choose from, seldom crowded and often with free mooring buoys.

We will start at the western end of Vieques, a wonderful spot in the area of Punta Arenas, previously referred to by the US Navy as Green Beach. The US Navy had a huge presence on Vieques for over 60-years, which is why there has been no major development on the island. Except for the remains of target practice, you will find many unspoiled beaches. At Green Beach the water is the clearest you have ever seen. Small coral gardens and rocky ledges attract vast arrays of fish. Sand dollars and unusual sea urchins dot the seabed and rays eye you warily from under your boat. The beach is the epitome of an undiscovered paradise with thick tropical foliage and bent palm trees dipping their fronds at the water’s edge. It now forms part of Vieques Wildlife Refuge – the largest in the Caribbean.

Some cruising guides note that a clockwise circumnavigation of the island is the best route to take to help against the wind and the tide, however, when we were there, there was very little wind so we choose to travel east along Vieques’ southern coast. Esperanza is a small fishing village half way along this coast. It has a pretty Malecon (waterfront street) with a few small restaurants and a museum. Right next to Esperanza is Sun Bay, a large stretch of white crescent-shaped beach.

Puerto Mosquito and Puerto Ferro are bioluminescent bays. The bioluminescence can be seen on a dark night when microscopic organisms react on being moved and give off a bluish-green light. Sure enough, as darkness fell tiny lights twisted and twirled in the water. It wasn’t quite the spectacle we expected after Googling ‘bioluminescence’ on the internet but it was still impressive. With a six-foot draft, we were only able to enter Puerto Ferro although I understand that Puerto Mosquito is where the bioluminescence is at its best. Both bays have narrow entrances, which make them perfectly protected from the seas.

Traveling eastward, you’ll pass the large mangrove bay of Ensenada Honda that is reputed by some to be a hurricane hole, many a day could be spent gunk holing here. We made our last stop on Vieques at Bahia Salinas Del Sur. Despite the Navy returning the island to the people, some beaches remain off-limits as they are still to be cleaned and swept for unexploded ordnance. The signs posted every few hundred yards make it very apparent you are not to step foot ashore.

You will have a beautiful sail from the east end of Vieques to the west end of Culebra.  Stop first at Cayo Luis Pena and pick up one of the moorings on the west side of the island. Snorkeling is great, right off the secluded beach, in the rocky outcrops. When you are ready to move over to mainland Culebra, you have many choices. Perhaps pick up a mooring to the west of the island by the small colorful town of Dewy. Or perhaps you would prefer a free mooring behind the reef at Dakity Habour where the cool trade winds can blow through your boat unhindered. Many choose to anchor by the town to the west of Cayo Pirata. Make sure you take a hike over to Flamenco Beach on the northern side of the island. This is a stunning bay with a large white sandy beach and warm shallow water in which to frolic. They have showers and toilet facilities, a camping ground and wonderful food kiosks selling an array of Latino delicacies including empanadillas that are not to be missed.

There are many small islands to visit within the Spanish Virgins but if you have to choose just one, my favorite is Culebrita (Little Culebra). This little island is deserted except for wildlife and a lonely dilapidated lighthouse at the top of the hill, said to be the oldest in the Caribbean and now a US national monument – though in need of some repair. On the north shore a semi circular bay can be found with plenty of moorings, although it becomes untenable in a northerly swell. It’s a great place to snorkel or climb to the old lighthouse for spectacular views out across the island. But the main attraction is the ‘Jacuzzis’- a group of rocky pools to the north of the bay fed by the warm Caribbean sea.

So, if you are looking for something off the beaten track the Spanish Virgins offer a fusion of Caribbean and Spanish culture with fabulous snorkeling, beautiful untouched beaches and many uninhabited islands.

Rosie and her husband Sim Hoggarth, both from the UK, have cruised the Caribbean and North America for the last seven years on ‘Alianna’ their Corbin39. Visit their blog: www.yacht.alianna.co.uk

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