Thursday, May 17, 2012

St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands

Friday, February 3 - Thursday, February 16, 2012
Talk about misconceptions. Months ago, when we planned for our Virgin Islands cruising, we poo-pooed the idea of spending any major time on St. Thomas. Our perception of the place? Too crowded, too expensive, too touristy, and way too many cruise ships! Okay, so it IS all of those things, but it's also a lot of fun! Our first port was Red Hook on the eastern side of the island, where we were looking for a safe haven after our nightmare anchorage near Cruz Bay, St. John. Red Hook had been recommended to us by a cruising couple we met in St. John, who told us it was much more laid back than the capital city and main port of Charlotte Amalie. Red Hook turned out to be our kind of place, with laundry and free wi-fi at the marina complex, an impressive gourmet market across the street, and easy access to $1 or $2 "safaris" (big pickup trucks with benches built in the back) that could take you to the grocery store, K-Mart, Home Depot, the local Cash & Carry (like Costco without the membership card), or even all the way to Charlotte Amalie, where you could ogle the cruise ships and mega-yachts at Yacht Haven Grande. We found a little anchoring spot on the south side of Red Hook's outer harbor in 15' of water, just outside of the mooring field. It was a little rolly during the day thanks to the inter-island ferries that ran from 7am to 6pm, but things quieted down at night. Best of all, we were treated to the neighing of horses swimming with their trainers right next to our boat. We weren't sure if it was some sort of rehabilitation program or just simple exercise, but it was pretty cool to watch.

After a day of running errands and exploring Red Hook, we decided to explore St. Thomas's "big city". We took a safari from Red Hook to Charlotte Amalie, where we wandered around the high dollar shops (does "tax free" REALLY make a Rolex more affordable?), had lunch at Hooters (free wi-fi!), and met up with our friend, Shane, from Guiding Light. The visit also gave us a chance to see the Charlotte Amalie anchorage, which didn't look nearly as crazy as we'd expected. We and Island Dream moved the boats over a couple of days later and spotted our friends' gorgeous wooden ketch, Three Belles, as we entered the harbor. We hadn't seen Carl and Riva since Christmas in Salinas, and looked forward to spending some time with them before they continued on to St. Barth's for Carnival. We soon learned that Kevin and Jenny from Vagabundo and Dave on Cross Seas were also anchored nearby at Water about a Luperon reunion!

For people who never expected to visit St. Thomas, we somehow managed to fill two weeks on the island. A few of the highlights in Charlotte Amalie:

--We finally had a belated birthday dinner for Pat at a sushi place Darnell had read about. It took us two tries in the dinghies before we found it, but was well worth it. Spicy Tuna Roll...mmmmmmm!
--Shane on Guiding Light invited us to happy hour on his catamaran to catch up and take some pictures for his website. He's starting a new charter service in the Virgin Islands, and welcomes visitors to his website at
--We enjoyed an incredible happy hour to say goodbye to Carl and Riva at Big Kahuna on the waterfront. We have to give a huge thanks to bartender Mark, who fed us the house special, "Love Juice". It's vodka infused with fresh blueberries, strawberries, and pineapple, and is highly addictive. Afterwards, we found a local hangout (Pie Whole Pizza in Frenchtown) that served amazing brick oven pizzas with a fantastic selection of Belgian beers.
--Being anchored near the cruise ship dock, we could watch the monster ships come and go. There were 2-3 cruise ships at the dock on most days, and some days another cruise ship would anchor in the harbor. Add to that another dock at the West End of the harbor, and you could have 6-7 boats in the harbor at any given time.

After Carl and Riva left, we pulled up anchor in Charlotte Amalie and sailed the five miles to Turtle Cove on Buck Island for some great snorkeling. What a beautiful spot! We got to see turtles (hence the name), squid, a beautiful spotted eagle ray, and tons of fish. We enjoyed free mooring balls and the sound of the surf at night, and were one of only three boats in the area. This is why we got into cruising! An added benefit? We finally had a few much-needed "gold star" (i.e. "no money spent") days!

Our initial plan to begin moving towards St. John was cancelled thanks to a forecast of strong northerly swells. There aren't a lot of options in the area when strong ground swells are expected, so we went back to Charlotte Amalie until they subsided. Rather than anchor in the harbor, we found a spot at Honeymoon Cove on Water Island. It was still fairly rolly, but we were able to get wi-fi sporadically and extend our gold star days. The real excitement came the night before we left, when a massive cruise ship left the west end dock and came right past us. Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas is the 2nd largest cruise ship in the world...just two inches shorter than her sister ship, Allure of the Seas. This puppy can carry 6,000 passengers, and ironically, we've actually sailed on her for a friend's wedding cruise in 2008.

After nearly two weeks, we finally decided it was time to say goodbye to St. Thomas. The island was a great stop, but we wanted to get away from the lures of easy-access shopping and touristy happy hour spots. We sailed east to Christmas Cove, a marine reserve with FREE mooring balls. We enjoyed some good snorkeling and more gold star days, and could see St. John and the BVIs in the distance.

Our next stop will be St. John to check out Caneel Bay and the anchorages on the north side. Deana and Troy on Storyville have finally made the jump from the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico, so we hope to see them here in the next week. Till next time...

If you'd like to see more pictures of the USVIs, please click here.

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