The U.S. Virgin Islands are easy to access from air hubs in the eastern U.S., and provide great chartering , whether or not you intend to sail on to the British Virgins.
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.
Day 1 After arriving and provisioning, you won’t have time go far. But you won’t need to. Head to Christmas Cove on the west side of Great St. James Island off the east end of St. Thomas, pick up a mooring, and relax. The sunsets and snorkeling are terrific.
Day 2 Head north through Current Hole, past Red Hook, and inside Thatch Cay to Magen’s Bay on the north side of St. Thomas. It’s deep and well-protected, and there’s a spectacular beach at the end. If the weather is settled, visit the uninhabited Hans Lollik islands on the way. There’s good anchoring in Magen’s Bay for the night.
Day 3 Reverse course and head east to St. John. If you forgot to pack something or need to top up on provisions, stop either in Red Hook, St. Thomas or across the way in Cruz Bay, St. John. Then it’s minutes to the harbor at Caneel Bay around the corner to the northeast. Plenty of U.S. Park Service moorings, and a quiet, top-notch resort ashore if you want to take the dinghy in for fine dining.
Day 4 Take a long sail across the tradewinds toward Jost Van Dyck and the Tobago islands of the BVI. Then sail back to Hawksnest Bay or Trunk Bay for a night of peace and quiet, or to Cinnamon Bay for a bit more activity. The Cinnamon Bay campground is run by the U.S. National Park Service. There’s a good bar and restaurant, and a bit of shopping – and it’s all laid back.
Day 5 Keep sailing east, with plenty of diversions, and end up for the night in Leinster Bay, home of Waterlemon Cay, where the snorkeling is excellent. There are Park Service moorings right across from the hiking path out toward the point nearby, and within an easy swim of the cay itself.
Day 6 Sail around East End, St. John, and into one of the protected harbors south of the fork or far up into Hurricane Hole. If it’s blowing too hard, stay there; otherwise you could head around the southeastern tip of the island at Ram’s Head and pick up a mooring in Salt Pond Bay, or, if time is short, backtrack to one of the north-shore harbors or run all the way back to Caneel Bay or Christmas Cove.
Day 7 If you were wise enough to book a seven-night charter, relax in Salt Pond Bay for the morning, then run down the south side of the island and over to Christmas Cove for your last night. That way you’re within striking distance of a noon return to Charlotte Amalie, Red Hook, or Cruz Bay.