Photo above: The hills and beach of Brewer Bay, St. Thomas
We spent two weeks in December exploring St. John, Great St. James, and St. Thomas in the USVI. The rules at the time allowed us to spend only two weeks in the USVI, without filing a prepaid anchoring permit. COVID rules, regulations, and fees made a visit to the British Virgin Islands difficult and cost prohibitive; so we’ll reluctantly skip that this year. We plan to go where the wind takes us, generally west in the northern Caribbean Sea. We’ll move on to the Spanish Virgin Islands of Puerto Rico after two weeks.
Tom had a bit of maintenance to do after our ocean passage. He spent hours in the engine room chasing the fuel line air leak. He replaced every washer and the entire fuel filter assembly. After weeks of successful cold engine starts we are finally confident the problem is fixed. It’s a huge relief to have this problem behind us!
We made a quick stop in Cruz Bay (west coast of St. John) to check in with the National Guard with our printed health visas. Then we had a wander around town. There are very narrow streets in this old village. We found a market to purchase fresh produce. No haircut was available for Anita, so she finally cut it herself a few weeks later. No laundry services were readily available either. We have several loads of winter wear, including down vests, flannel sheets and blankets. Too big and heavy to wash in a bucket on board!
At the National Park Museum in Cruz Bay we learned Tom could obtain a senior pass for US National Parks at Trunk Bay (north coast of St. John). So that became our next destination. Many of the anchorages in St. John are part of the National Park system. To protect the coral reefs and wildlife, anchoring is not allowed, one must pick up a mooring and pay $26/night in advance. With the senior pass it is half price. We prefer to anchor, but still want to see these beautiful protected waters. After obtaining the pass, we sailed on to Francis Bay for a less bouncy and more protected anchorage.
We recall Coral Bay (southeast coast of St. John) as a popular stop for cruisers. It offers a fairly well protected harbor and a small friendly town. Sadly, the harbor was predominantly occupied by abandoned hurricane wrecked boats. The town had little to offer as most places closed due to COVID. We did find a take out breakfast place that was open and doing very well with takeout offerings.
Our next destination was Great Lameshur Bay on the south coast of St. John. Beautiful bay!
The water was a bit chilly, Tom needed a cup of tea after a hot shower to warm up after his two hour swim to clean the bottom.
The steep peaks of St. John are a challenge for the cruising sailor. The wind accelerates between the hills and creates shifty strong winds we call willywaws. We had numerous small rain squalls daily while visiting this mountainous island. Warm air rises and creates clouds, which dump rain and provide lots of rainbows.
Our next stop was in Christmas Cove on Great St. James Island. We enjoyed another beautiful downwind sail to get there.
Sailing to St. Thomas is a trip down memory lane. We last visited here on a cruise ship ourselves. Of course we visited all these islands in Sundsvalla back in 1988-89 as well as four different bareboat charter excursions.
One of the very special things we enjoyed in this busy harbor was the afternoon and evening entertainment of a steel drum orchestra. We heard them nearly every day, but we never saw them.
We scheduled our COVID booster shots at Walgreens and found a Budget Marine store where we could obtain needed spare parts. The best way to get there was to travel on the local bus system, called safari. Although, by the end of the day we were tired and settled for a private taxi to get us the rest of the way back.
When the weather finally settled down, and our errands were complete we moved on to our final stop in St. Thomas, Brewer Bay.
In summary, the harbors in the USVI were not over-crowded this early in the season. The majority of the boats we saw were charter boats and shoreside facilities and the authorities seem to cater to that style of tourism. It was a fun and all too brief visit. We are happy to be a bit further south this winter season. We are enjoying the steadier trade winds that most often come from the east. This makes for some very pleasant sailing! Also, the cold fronts with their accompanying wind shifts generally don’t get this far south.