the Forgotten Virgin
“It’s pretty far south of the rhumb line between Fajardo and St. Thomas.”
“The island pales in comparison to Culebra for cruising, dining, beaches, services, good holding, etcetera. We wouldn’t stop there unless we needed to on the upwind passage from Fajardo to St. Croix.”
“Isabel Segunda is an exposed anchorage.”
“Esperanza is protected, but too grassy for reliable good holding, and The anchorages east of there were in the ‘forbidden zone’ for so many years, it would never occur to us to go there.”
These are some comments made by seasoned Caribbean cruisers. But as cruisers increasingly complain about crowded anchorages in the Eastern Caribbean islands, it might be time to give Vieques — only a day’s sail west of bustling St. Thomas — another look. Thanks to the efforts of dedicated activists and a series of protests that began in 1999, the US military, which had expropriated a large part of the island during World War II to use for bombing target practice, finally ceased these activities and pulled out in 2003.
In his Cruising Guide to the Eastern Caribbean: Puerto Rico, the Spanish, US and British Virgin Islands, Don Street writes: “Vieques is one of the undiscovered islands of the Eastern Caribbean, with many fine anchorages… there is enough cruising to keep a yachtsman busy for weeks.” Street gives details of numerous anchorages on the island, and it’s well worth getting a copy of this book (available at iUniverse.com) to plan your visit.
Bruce Van Sant, in his The Gentleman’s Guide to Passages South: The Thornless Path to Windward, also give Vieques praise: “Many consider these bays, coves and beaches the best of all Virgin Island anchorages. Untouched by developers, they have stayed off limits most of the last hundred years…. A good plan would launch a cruise of Vieques from Culebra. While enjoying superb Culebrense cruising, you can watch for a window of favorable weather….” This is another book (available from www.cruisingguides.com) that will be a most useful reference for a Vieques’ cruise. Up-to-date charts are also a good idea for navigating the reefs and rocks of this beautiful, uncrowded cruising ground.
Van Sant predicts, “After munitions cleanup, perhaps years, you can look forward to rampant development to spoil these beautiful coves more than bombs could.” But that hasn’t happened yet. The largest resort on the island was closed, and had been for some time, as of this writing. Commerce is low key, driven mainly by small guesthouses catering to beach lovers. Small herds of Paso Fino horses, owned by humans but unfenced and unfettered, wander the beaches and roadsides. Long stretches of magnificent sandy beach are backed by trees and shrubs, not high-rises, and dotted with people only at long intervals, even in high season. We recently saw just two yachts anchored at Sun Bay, three on moorings off Green Beach, and four at Esperanza. On the weekends, sportfishing boats from Puerto Rico visit, but during the week peace and quiet reign.
Cruiser Betty Karl named Ensenada Honda in Vieques (there is also an Ensenada Honda in Culebra) as one of her favorite anchorages: “Ensenada Honda in Vieques is wonderfully wide open, sheltered and almost uninhabited. Such quiet! We saw only one other boat in the week we stayed there. It is totally lined in mangroves, so the water isn’t clear, but it’s very calm. When we were there, the bombing range was still practicing and we had to let them know we were nearby. It was interesting watching the ripples in our water glasses when a practice bomb went off nearby. That anchorage remains one of my favorites.”
If you clear in at Isabel Segunda, you can also stop at the bank there and visit the supermarket to stock up if necessary. At Esperanza, the only other “town”, you wont find banks or supermarkets but there are some good restaurants — try Mucho Gusto for local cuisine. Otherwise, you’ll be at anchorages with few or no facilities ashore.
Rental cars are readily available for shoreside exploration, and a Jeep is recommended for exploring rough roads. If you want to visit Puerto Rico without taking your boat there, there are daily ferries to Fajardo from Isabel Segunda, and commuter flights from the tiny airport to San Juan.
Don Street says, “Vieques is like Tortola in the early 1960s.” If that thought appeals to you, a cruise of Vieques might be just the thing, either this summer, for nearness to a hurricane hole (get to Ensenada Honda before the crowds from Puerto Rico or the US Virgins!) or in the winter, when the milk run anchorages are just too crowded.
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