There is officially only one town on St. Thomas: Charlotte Amalie. The rest of the island is divided up into ‘estates’ dating back to the sugar era. Yet, thanks to the proximity of the British Virgin Islands for sailing and the North Drop for sports fishing, Estate Red Hook, or ‘Red Hook’ for short, has grown into an unofficial town for both local and visiting mariners.
Red Hook is located at the east end of St. Thomas. Mangroves, cactus, salt ponds and seabirds were the primary residents until the mid to late 1950s when the Dohm family constructed a simple building from which to run their water taxi business, an enterprise that eventually moved about a mile down the road and continued into mid 2000. According to an article published on the St. Thomas Source about Per Dohm at the time of his death in 2006, Dohm credited his father Lars for renaming the lone, tiny pier from Shark Wharf to Red Hook so that visitors wouldn’t be scared away. The road out to Red Hook, in the late 1950s, was dirt, rocks and potholes. Folks who remember those days say it wasn’t wise to drive out at night or without a spare tire.
It was in the early 1960s that Red Hook really started to come to life. Two things happened within a year of each other that sealed Red Hook’s fate as a nautical Mecca. First, Capt. Johnny Harms, who is credited with pioneering marlin fishing in the Virgin Islands, wanted to move his Lagoon Marina to Red Hook. In order to get the two acres of waterfront he really wanted, he had to purchase an entire 20 acre parcel. This turned out to be a blessing as it provided a site on which to build a club house for the Virgin Islands Game Fishing Club, which was founded in the fall of 1963. Then, a year later, in November 1964, and at the end of a donkey trail that led from Red Hook over a small rise to a two-acre salt pond rimmed with thick scrub, the St. Thomas Yacht Club was born.
Sailing and sports fishing provide year-round lifeblood to Red Hook. The seasons are marked by a sea of sailboat masts in the harbor and at IGY’s American Yacht Harbor (AYH) marina in the winter and spring, and a mass of tuna towers on the docked sport fishing rigs in the summer and fall.
“We are at the gateway to the BVI cruising grounds, which we know as some of the safest and most beautiful cruising in the world,” says Lee Hicks, AYH general manager. “We are also the closest marina to the famous ‘North Drop’, home to some of the biggest blue marlin in the World. We also have the South Drop nearby with its year round wahoo and dolphin fishing.”
Many shops and services, which directly and indirectly support these marine industries, have opened and in doing so turned Red Hook into a one-stop-shop. Sailors and sports fishermen don’t need to drive 30 minutes or more into Charlotte Amalie and can, in many cases, just walk to get what they need. For example, there’s the island’s only tackle shop, chandlery, dive shop and captain’s school within AYH. Banks with ATMs, a walk-in medical clinic, dentist, eye doctor, drug store, veterinarian and pet store, mail and secretarial service all located across the street. Eight bars and restaurants are within walking distance. A small grocery store is set to re-open and a larger supermarket, Food Center, is about a two mile drive. A car rental, East End taxi service, and a ferry dock with passage to St. John and the BVI are here as well as day sail boats, runabout rentals and luxury motoryachts for charter. There’s even a small salt pond with boardwalk for bird-watching. Villas, apartments and resorts are all within a mile’s drive.
“I really like Red Hook and what’s available there,” says Gary Domel, from Austin, Texas, who visits each summer with his 48ft Cabo, Deguello. “There are hotels nearby for my wife to stay, plenty of places to eat, the fishing is great and the people are friendly.”