By Don Street
Are you among the sailors who plan to come from the east coast of North America to the Caribbean in the fall via the “Thornless Path” rather than sailing offshore directly to the Lesser Antilles? See my article “Sailing Eastward Along Puerto Rico’s South Coast: Puerto Real to Vieques” in last month’s Compass and follow up with this!
I recommend using Imray Iolaire chart A23 for overall navigation from the Spanish to the US Virgin Islands. A234 is detailed chart of St. Croix from Salt River to East End. A231 covers the northern US Virgins and the western half of the British Virgins.
For detailed piloting and sailing directions, my Street’s Guide to Puerto Rico and the Spanish, US and British Virgin Islands is available from iUniverse.com and Amazon.
For up-to-date information on the US and British Virgin Islands use Cruising Guide to the Virgin Islands by Nancy and Simon Scott, available locally in all marine hardware stores, at www.cruisingguides.com, and at Amazon.
Spanish Virgins to St. Croix
If the wind is east or north of east head from the Spanish Virgins to Christiansted, St. Croix. The course from the eastern end of Vieques is 133° magnetic, 40 miles.
From Culebra the course is 145° magnetic, 43 miles. The course from Culebra gives a much better sailing angle. Make sure you leave Vieques or Culebra to arrive at Christiansted by 1500. Christiansted Harbor should not be entered except in daylight. If the wind is well in the north it will be a glorious reach. If it is slightly north of east, a tight reach, and if in the east you will be hard on it, so do a little cheating. Start the engine, put it in gear, and run it about 1200 to 1500 RPM — but continue to sail as if the engine was not on. The fact that the engine is on gives a little push, which will mean you can head a little bit higher than if sailing with no engine on. If the helmsman hits a wave slightly wrong, instead of stopping theboat will continue on.
If the wind is south of east forget about St. Croix, head for St. Thomas and St. John, and visit St. Croix from the eastern end of St. John. Doing this will guarantee a good fast 30-mile reach to St. Croix. Details on that route follow later in this article.
If you are hard on the wind do not be tempted to head to the western end of St. Croix, planning to spend the night anchored in Frederiksted and then sail to Christiansted the next day. The beat to windward of 12 miles from Hams Bluff to Christiansted is very tough, so avoid it. As you approach Christiansted note
that the entrance channel is well to the east of town. Once you pick up the sea buoy, set a course of 164° magnetic, which will lead you up the channel. The radio mast indicated on chart A234 is no longer there but Fort Louise Augusta is still there. Note that the soundings are in fathoms and feet NOT metres.
Follow the buoyed schooner channel, round up and anchor right off the beach in the northeast corner of the harbor; there are six to eight feet of water two boat lengths off the beach. Or continue on in and anchor off St. Croix Marine. Do not think of sailing between Protestant Cay and town and anchoring west of Protestant Cay. That area is filled with local boats on moorings and is subject to a strong reversing current. Also note that in periods of heavy weather, water piles in over the top of the reef
and exits to the east of the reef. In periods of heavy weather there can be a strong northerly current in the entrance channel that can make things very choppy. It also creates crazy currents in the harbor, so it is advisable to use a Bahamian moor.
St. Croix to St. Thomas or St. John
After a couple of days in Christiansted it’s time to move on. Sail out of the channel and head east inside Scotch Bank. Use eyeball navigation, favoring the shore. Work your way eastwards to Green Cay. If you draw six feet or less and are good at eyeball navigation, it is possible to sail between Green Cay and St. Croix. Boats drawing over six feet pass north of Green Cay.
You can anchor off the southwest end of Buck Island. There is deep water close to shore; anchor bow and stern. Hop in the dinghy, head east and find a gap in the reef. Pass into the deep water inside the reef, anchor the dinghy and follow the named underwater snorkeling trail. Those that like to hike can follow the trails on Buck Island up to the lighthouse and enjoy the magnificent view.
From Buck Island there are various routes to get inside the reef that runs alongside the northeast coast of St. Croix. All routes are clearly shown on chart A234. The barrier reef produces four miles of relatively calm water. The reef breaks the ocean swell, so all one encounters inside the reef is a small wind chop. This is a great area to get away from other boats, just work your way eastwards to Knight or Cotton Garden Bay and you will be clear of any anchored boats.
When the time comes to head onward, check the wind. If it is east or south of east head for the eastern end of St. John, to either Coral Harbor or Salt Pond Bay on a course of approximately 020° magnetic, 30 miles. This normally gives you a glorious reach.
From the eastern end of St. John you have two choices: clear Customs and explore St. John, working your way westwards to St. Thomas, or do a short sail to Road Town, clear Customs and cruise the British Virgins.
[Editor’s note: As this issue of Compass goes to press, rules for yacht entry into the BVI are changing and might require advance notification. See https://bvigateway.
bviaa.com for the latest information.
If the wind is north of east forget about St. John and had direct to St. Thomas, course approximately 350° magnetic, 33 miles. Again, usually a glorious reach. From St. Thomas you can work your way eastwards to St. John.
Spanish Virgins to St. Thomas
If the wind is east or south of east, rather than fighting your way pretty much hard on the wind to St. Croix, head to St. Thomas — but do not fight your way all the way into Charlotte Amalie; rather anchor in the lee of Saba Island or in Brewer’s Bay just north of the airport runway.
From Culebra it is a dead beat 18 miles due east. From Vieques, the course is approximately 065° magnetic, 17 miles — a long starboard tack and a short port tack. If the wind is south of east you may be able to lay the course. Saba Island (not to be confused with Saba Rock in the BVI, or the Dutch island in the Leewards) has a good anchorage in the lee.
Brewer’s Bay is a good anchorage off a mile-long white sand beach lined with sea grape trees to give shade while you consume excellent hamburgers and really cold
Heineken produced from a van that parks on the road that parallels the beach. After a day at either anchorage, sail, motorsail, or motor through West Gregorie Channel to Crown Bay Marina, or on through East Gregorie Channel and pass between Hassel Island and Frenchtown; the depth in the channel is nine feet. Once through the channel, you tie up at Frenchtown Marina or IGY Yacht Haven Grande, or anchor among the yachts in the harbor.
After a few days in St. Thomas work your way east, visiting anchorages in St. John until you get to Salt Pond Bay or Coral Harbor. These are excellent jump-off points to head south on a course of approximately 200° magnetic, 30 miles, to Christiansted and explore St. Croix if you haven’t been there yet.
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