Thanks to their easy accessibility, the U.S Virgin Islands are a popular destination in the Caribbean. Part of the island chain that includes the British Virgin Islands and the Spanish Virgin Islands, the USVI trio – St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix – have an appealing mix of sandy beaches, sapphire seas, tropical breezes, serious shopping, and exciting nightlife. For charterers, they also provide some of the world’s best cruising.
The weather throughout the islands is tropical, with persistent easterly trade winds providing relief from the heat. The most popular chartering months are from November through April, when the trades tend to blow from the northeast or east-northeast. The midwinter winds can be boisterous, providing great sailing for experienced crews. In late spring, summer, and early fall, the winds tend to be southeasterly. Changes in direction from north of east to south of east can make a big difference when selecting anchorages for the night.
St. Croix lies 30 miles to the south on its own, and is not generally regarded as a charter hub or destination, although crewed charter boats do visit, especially to sample the shopping in Christiansted – less of a bustle than Charlotte Amalie in St. Thomas – and the great snorkeling at Buck Island, off the northeast coast of St. Croix.
Those who charter out of St. Thomas often sail right out of U.S. waters, go through customs in Soper’s Hole or Road Town, Tortola, and then head into the fabled cruising waters of the British Virgins -- but bypassing the harbors of St. Thomas and St. John to head immediately up Drake’s Passage is too hasty. The U.S. and British Virgins are separated only by an invisible international boundary – the waters, skies, and breezes are the same on both sides of that boundary.
St. Thomas, the main U.S. island, features a fabulous mix of shopping and entertainment. Charlotte Amalie, the capital, is served by several marinas, including Yacht Haven Grande, flagship of the Island Global Yachting group, which offers both megayacht slips and trendy boutiques. Frenchtown, just off the main harbor, is the place to go for fine dining.
The pace is decidedly more laid-back on St. John, thanks largely to the fact that the majority of the island is designated as U.S. Virgin Islands National Park land, while thousands of underwater acres surrounding the island are part of the Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument. As a result, St. John has dozens of well-maintained and generally quiet beaches, and 22 self-guided hiking trails.
Meanwhile, bustling Cruz Bay at the west end of the island acts as the entertainment hub, taking in ferry-loads of tourists and providing food, drink, music, and revelry. It is also a U.S. Customs point of entry.
For charter boats, both bareboat and crewed, St. John is a deservedly popular destination, whether you’re limiting your cruise to the U.S. Virgins or headed on to the BVI.