The easiest of all the Virgin Islands to get to is St. Thomas, which is located at the western end of the Virgin Islands.
St. Thomas, USVI, is a great place to start your bareboat charter, as grocery shopping there is better than anywhere else in the U.S. or British Virgins. There are four charter companies that work from St. Thomas.
Getting to St. Thomas is simple from almost anywhere in the U.S. thanks to the relatively large (for the Caribbean) airport, which can handle long-haul jets. Nonstop flights by almost all the major U.S. carriers fly from several hubs on the east coast.
St. Thomas is a U.S. territory, so U.S. citizens are not required to have passports or proof of citizenship when entering the U.S. Virgin Islands from a U.S. airport. However, everyone leaving the U.S. Virgin Islands, whether American citizens or not, must be prepared to show proof of citizenship to return to the mainland, and everyone will have to go through customs – so carrying passport will make things much easier.
St. Thomas is a major cruise-ship destination, with as many as five ships a day disgorging thousands of passengers. The shopping, which is duty-free, is plentiful and good, especially in Charlotte Amalie. It’s a good idea to check the cruise ship arrivals in the local paper or online and pick a day when there are no ships, or only a couple visiting, as the streets, stores, and restaurants will be less crowded.
Ashore, you’ll get the best shopping deals on alcohol, jewelry, linens, and crystal. For electronics, research prices available online before you buy in St. Thomas.
There are also several excellent beaches and many daytrip adventures such as parasailing, snorkeling trips, and daysails.
St. Thomas is awash with good restaurants and fun bars, with prices ranging from less expensive hamburger and beer joints to over-the-top, high-end dining. Local fish dishes are plentiful, as is Caribbean cuisine. The more popular restaurants get busy in the evening, so reservations are a must. There is a wonderful and relatively new enclave at Yacht Haven Grande Marina in Charlotte Amalie, which has quite a few shops and four excellent restaurants. It’s a great place to take a break from anchoring or mooring and giving your crew a “night on the town” without heading into Charlotte Amalie proper.
St. Thomas suffers from a bit of a bad reputation when it comes to tourist safety, but it’s not particularly well earned. As in any urban area in the U.S., it’s important to take a few basic precautions. Going into downtown Charlotte Amalie at night, unless you’re in a cab, isn’t a great idea. Neither is leaving your rental car or boat unlocked, anywhere. Stick to well-traveled areas where tourists are welcomed, and you should be fine.
At the east end of St. Thomas is the town of Red Hook, a quieter scene than Charlotte Amalie, with a ferry linking travelers to another U.S. Virgin, St. John, just minutes away. For charterers, St. John is home to several excellent harbors, and offers an easy transition point to the British Virgin Islands if you’re headed that way.
Before leaving St. Thomas, though, it would be worth visiting the deep, protected harbor of Magen’s Bay on the north side, where there’s an excellent beach. On your way there you could stop at the privately owned Hans Lollik islands, whose waters offer good swimming if the weather isn’t rough and rolly.
Just southeast of Red Hook and across from Cowpet Bay on St. Thomas is Christmas Cove on Great St. James Island – a good spot to pick up a mooring on the first night of a charter out of Charlotte Amalie. There’s fine protection from easterly weather, and good snorkeling there, but the harbor can be quite rolly, especially for monohulls, when the inter-island ferries and crew boats churn through nearby Current Hole.
For an adventure on a crewed charter, and to miss some of the crowds, you might consider asking the skipper to head to the Spanish Virgins -- Culebra, Culebrita, and Vieques -- where Spanish is the native tongue and life is a little slower than in St. Thomas. The Spanish Virgins aren’t as set up for charter boats as the US and BVI are, especially when it comes to available moorings and marinas, but they are a destination well worth visiting.
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.