Some may think of the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) as the entry point for cruising to the British Virgin Islands or Spanish Virgin Islands. Yet St. Thomas, as well as its sibling islands of St. John and St. Croix, were some of the first destinations in the Caribbean where chartering got its start back in the 1950s. Today, there’s everything from bareboat and crewed charter yachts available, quiet anchorages and a soup-to-nuts of amenities to enjoy a week or more of sailing only in U.S. waters.
“The allure of the USVI was that as newbies to the area we were able to plan our own trip knowing that there were plenty of locations and events to choose from,” explains Michelle Kruger who, with her partner Robert Charboneau and their five teen and twenty-something-year-old kids, bareboat chartered in the territory in August.
The Kruger-Charboneau family chartered a 44ft catamaran from CYOA, located at the Frenchtown Marina, a mile west of Charlotte Amalie, in St. Thomas. CYOA’s fleet includes 36 to 50ft catamarans, similar length monohulls and a 39ft poweryacht. Island Yacht Charters, in Red Hook, St. Thomas, offers 32 to 50ft Island Packet monohulls for bareboat charter. There are also a number of crewed yachts that base out of St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix that are members of the Virgin Islands Charteryacht League (VICL), headquartered at Yacht Haven Grande, in St. Thomas.
“All of our yachts very much enjoy staying in the USVI for a week’s charter as well as cruising to other locations,” says Brianne Beatty, VICL executive director. “After all, the majority of us have made the USVI our permanent home.”
A typical St. Thomas-St. John itinerary might begin at Honeymoon Bay on Water Island, the site where a romantic sunset scene was filmed between Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett for the movie, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Weather permitting, a the yacht could either go west around the north shore of St. Thomas towards Magens Bay or head east along the south side of the island by way of Buck Island. Buck Island is popular with day sail cruises for its chance to swim with the sea turtles and snorkel in shipwreck cove. An hour’s sail to the east leads to a beautiful anchorage at Christmas Cove, on Great St. James Island. From here, there’s a great opportunity to snorkel and explore Lovango and Congo Cays, in Pillsbury Sound, before heading a short distance by line-of-sight to St. John.
“We enjoyed many anchorages in St. John: Caneel bay, Waterlemon Cay, and best of all, Hawksnest. At Trunk Bay, we were able to drop anchor, see the local wildlife and have a short trip to the underwater trail,” Kruger shares.
St. Croix, located 40 miles south of St. Thomas, is a wonderful cruising destination that’s off-the-beaten track. Ellen Sanpere, who with husband Tony, has cruised St. Croix for many years on a variety of boats and now calls the island home.
“I love St. Croix because it’s remote but civilized. It’s perfect for those of us with ties to the US because it is US legally, if not culturally. We have few cruise ships and no visiting day boats, not even a ferry, yet there are plenty of fun things to do and interesting places to visit,” says Sanpere.
Some of Sanpere’s favorite sailing destinations include Christiansted, where shops, art galleries and restaurants line the Boardwalk, Company, Queen and King Streets; the Buck Island Reef National Monument, five miles east of Christiansted and home of an underwater snorkel trail where there are dolphins, spotted eagle rays and sea turtles; and Teague Bay, across the Buck Island Channel and home of the St. Croix Yacht Club.
For those who would like to charter or cruise the USVI, Kruger recommends, “Sit down ahead of time, make a list of all of the options and have fun creating a sail plan. We found that the USVI was the simplest choice as a ‘do it yourself’ destination to charter from the planning to the execution.”
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.