BVI Mooring Ball Fees on the Rise

In a move that is sure to aggravate many BVI yacht charter crews, Boatyball announced on November 28th, 2022, that their fees are increasing.

  • First come, first serve (FCFS) mooring balls are increasing from $30 to $40 per night
  • Reservable mooring fees are increasing from $40 to $55 per night

This announcement came on very short notice with the price increases going into effect only 2 days later, on December 1st. For crews currently on charter in the British Virgin Islands, they might be in for a surprise.

So what did Boatyball cite for the increase? “The cost to maintain and cover the moorings have increased significantly over the last 15 years which is when the last price increase took effect.”

They also mentioned other businesses have already raised prices to $40 for FCFS moorings, and they are following suit. This is true, with non-Boatyball moorings in Anegada currently at the $40 mark, and perhaps others.

The point they made about the first price increase in 15 years is a bit head scratching since Boatyball has not been in business that long. What I think they mean is that for 10+ years, mooring ball fees in the British Virgin Islands have been at the $25-30 level.

$30 is what I paid when I first visited the BVIs in 2012, and my old versions of the Cruising Guide confirm the fact.

Perhaps it is time for an increase. I would not doubt labor and material prices have increased since then. When you consider recent inflation levels, it’s hard not to believe.

If you are unfamiliar, Boatyball was started a few years ago to offer a web-based reservation system for mooring balls in some of the BVI anchorages. Learn more about how Boatyball works and why they have created controversy amongst yacht charter crews. It seems most either love, or hate Boatyball.

My view on the increase? Perhaps it is time for a price increase for the first time in 10+ years.

It certainly seems justifiable on the basis of labor and material price increases to install and maintain moorings. A move from $30 to $40 over 10 years represents a roughly 3% annualized increase. You can’t tell me prices haven’t increased since then.

With Boatyball so polarizing, they are sure to be the scapegoat for the move. I would argue, however, the industry was overdue for an increase. Boatyball will be the fall guy.

Don’t like it?

  • You can choose not to use Boatyball, but others will also soon be at the $40 level as well. And yes, I understand in certain mooring fields like Cooper Island, you don’t have a choice
  • Drop the hook, however this is getting harder and harder to do in the BVI as additional mooring balls are installed in already crowded bays. I talk about some anchorages I like in this post (just please don’t use them when I visit!)
  • Go visit the US Virgin Islands. Mooring ball fees in the Virgin Islands National Park are currently $26
  • Explore other charter destinations such as the Exumas

Bottom line? $40 is the new $30 in the BVIs. 

USVI Bareboat Charter: November Sailing Yacht Adventure

USVI Bareboat Charter

Alright, batten down the hatches. This is a detailed trip report with lots of pictures from my recent USVI bareboat charter trip (oh, and we snuck in a couple days to the Spanish Virgin Islands as well).

You’ll get all the juicy details.

My original USVI plan called for a couple crossings to and from St. Croix. However, we had to change our plans when a tropical disturbance passed nearby and veered strong winds into the SE and then the SW.

So instead, we went straight to the Spanish Virgin Islands (Culebra) on our first day, and then later spent a few extra days at St. John.

We had an absolute blast, and I love the prospects of the US Virgin Islands as a future sailing destination again (this was my first time). St. John, especially, blew me away, and we just scratched the surface. We’ll be back for sure!

Frenchtown Marina in St Thomas, where the Waypoints charter base is located
Beautiful evening at the Waypoints charter base in St. Thomas on our sleepaboard night

Arrival and Sleepaboard at Frenchtown Marina

One benefit of yacht charters in the USVI? Travel is much easier with multiple long haul flights direct from the US. In contrast, the BVI airport’s runway is too short and requires a puddle jumper or ferry connection.

After touching down, we were at the Waypoints base within 30 minutes…not bad! We opted to have our provisions delivered by VI Provisioning, despite much cheaper DIY alternatives, such as Cost.U.Less. With later flight arrivals, we paid up for the convenience factor this time.

The rest of the evening consisted of an excellent dinner at the French Quarter Bistro, stowing provisions, and prepping fishing gear for our trip to the South Drop on day 1.

Lagoon 46 in the Spanish Virgin Islands, Culebra at sunset; culebra anchorage
Our charter yacht, the Lagoon 46 at Culebra in the Spanish Virgin Islands

The charter yacht: Lagoon 46

A couple quick points about our sailing yacht, the Lagoon 46. This was my first time on the 46 but I’ve previously chartered it’s older sister, the Lagoon 450, many times. My impressions?

  • The yacht was a 2020 and in excellent shape – testament to the care provided by Waypoints (formerly CYOA)

  • Motor speed was average at around 7.5 knots and 2,500 rpms with both engines

  • She sailed great! We topped out at 10.5 knots with a following sea, 25 knots of apparent wind, and a reef in the main and jib. On average we were sailing 8-9 knots in these conditions

    • All the sheets are easily manageable from arms reach of the helm station

    • A self-tacking jib is always a plus on bareboat charter trips

  • The flybridge is our favorite hangout area, and this one had improved lounge space compared to the 450

  • Not enough storage! It seemed like we struggled to find places to stow provisions and gear

  • Our version had underwater blue lights, and those are always fun

  • Would have been great if the dinghy winch was electric

First fish of the trip, a barracuda | They love pink lures by the way

Day 1: Itinerary disruption, so off to the shelter of the Spanish Virgin Islands

In the days leading up to our trip, it became clear our plan to sail south to St. Croix was falling apart. There was increasing confidence that a tropical disturbance would pass nearby.

The result?

Strong southerly winds (25+ knots) and lots of rain. If I insisted on a deepwater crossing south in those conditions, I’m confident I would have had a mutiny aboard.

So change of plans. Where did we want to get stuck for 24-36 hours with protection from the south? I know!

Flamenco Beach in Culebra! I’ve always wanted to anchor here off a global top 10 ranked beach, and it looked like we could get at least a day to explore the area before the storm moved in.

Typically this is a day anchorage only because of it’s northerly ground swell exposure. It can also be rolly with stronger easterly trades that wrap the wind swell around into the bay.

So with our charter briefing behind us, we cranked some yacht rock, headed south, and picked up the drop for some fishing before turning west to Culebra. We quickly hooked up a few barracudas, but nothing worth keeping. Sargassum plagued our fishing endeavors most of the trip.

Carlos Rosarion reef at Culebra Spanish Virgin Islands
The reef at Carlos Rosario beach in Culebra
Our first USVI bareboat charter sunset in the Spanish Virgin Islands
Enjoying our first night's sunset at Carlos Rosario

We pre-loaded the necessary check-in info into the CBP Roam app. Once inside Ensenada Honda, we submitted our arrival. The whole process took only about 10 minutes to clear in, with a quick video chat for the one crew member didn’t have a known traveler number. With little interest in sticking around Dewey and Ensenada Honda, we went back out the channel and up the west coast of Culebra to Carlos Rosario.

After carefully checking the mooring ball (it’s a bit deep to anchor, and the bottom is coral), we decided to stay the night.

The snorkeling here is excellent, one of my favorite places. Did I mention epic sunsets over the cayos to the west?

Not bad for the first day. We celebrated with a few Caribs and Costco filets we froze and brought with us on the flight.

Our catamaran at anchor at Playa Flamenco
Our anchorage at the NE corner of Playa Flamenco

Day 2: Off to explore Culebrita and Flamenco Beach

With about 12 hours before the rain started moving in, we slipped our mooring lines and motored north around Culebra. We wanted to first check out the viability of Flamenco Beach as a 2-night overnight stop to shelter us from the approaching storm.

Trolling on the way, we reeled in a bonito, but not much else.

Bonito caught north of Culebra
Bonito we caught trolling on the shelf around Culebra

We poked into the anchorage area on the NE corner of the beach. Roll was minimal on the catamaran with winds already starting to veer into the south. With no approaching northerly swell for 48 hours, it would be a perfect place to hang out.

Before dropping the hook, we set out for a lunch stop at Culebrita, one of the prettiest beaches in all of the Virgin Islands. On our way, motoring through the channel next to Cayo Norte, we hooked, but couldn’t reel in, what looked to be a large wahoo, or perhaps a kingfish. Tough luck!

View of Culebrita from our anchorage
View of Culebrita on a quiet day as the storm approaches

There were a couple tour boats from Puerto Rico at Playa Tortuga, but they left soon after our arrival, leaving the place largely to ourselves.

We didn’t make the hike to the lighthouse this time, but settled for swimming ashore and floating in the beautiful water. And of course, we were visited by several turtles that call this bay home.

Sargassum is heavy on the west side of Flamenco Beach in the Spanish Virgin Islands
Lots of sargassum on this visit! But, only on the west side of the beach
Target practice tank at Playa Flamenco on our USVI bareboat charter trip
Hide tide at Playa Flamenco
Kiosks at Playa Flamenco where you can buy cheap Medallas
Kiosk vendors at Playa Flamenco where you can buy cheap Medallas

Back at Playa Flamenco, we took the dinghy ashore to check out the target practice tanks and grab a Medalla from the local vendors.

I’d heard of an unusually heavy year for the sargassum in the Caribbean. The west side of Playa Flamenco was the first victim that we saw on this SVI and USVI bareboat charter trip.

Wow! This was the most I had seen on a beach before, and it definitely takes away from some of the magic of this place.

Rain squalls on our USVI bareboat charter trip
We awoke to heavy squalls as the tropical disturbance moved in

Day 3: Riding out the storm at Flamenco Beach

We awoke to heavy rain squalls as the disturbance approached, and they persisted throughout much of the day. But, that didn’t stop us from fishing!

Using a sabiki rig, we hooked several bait fish. We saw a quick window in between thunderstorms, so we went out for a trolling trip around Cayo Norte.

We live baited the fish and moved slowly at around 3-4 knots. Alas, nothing memorable and we had to settle for riding out a squall before returning to our anchorage at Flamenco Beach.

Fishing in the rain at Playa Flamenco
Rain squalls couldn't stop us from fishing
Riding out a squall in the US Virgin Islands
Riding out a squall while we were fishing north of Culebra

What else to do while it was pouring? Well, we threw up the projector, set up a wifi hotspot, and streamed the World Series on the big screen.

Not a bad place to watch and celebrate the Astros win!

Watching the Astros win the World Series on the yacht on our USVI bareboat charter trip
Astros win the World Series!

Yacht Charter Day 4: The storm breaks and we sail to Magens Bay, St. Thomas

Clear skies at sunrise after the storm on our USVI bareboat charter
Sunrise departure from Playa Flamenco

We arose at sunrise and weighed anchor for a long day on the water. This was just in time as a forecasted northerly swell had just started to move in. Flamenco Beach is not the place to be when a swell is running!

Back around the west side of Culebra. We wanted to check wind and swell conditions in the unlikely event it was comfortable enough of a ride to attempt the crossing to St. Croix. Nope! Despite southwest winds, the seas were still very much confused with the addition of a northerly swell.

OK, now where to? The wind direction was perfect to sail all the way around the northern side of St. Thomas to beautiful Magens Bay. With 25+ knots of apparent wind, we tucked in a reef in the main and the jib.

Sailing from Culebra to St Thomas with reefed sails

This was probably one of the most fun sailing days I’ve had on a yacht charter trip. The catamaran was easily cruising along at 8 knots and clocked 10+ later in the day with following seas as we surfed the swell.

Our helmsman did have to take over hand steering as the autopilot wasn’t able to keep up with these rollers.

We put 4 rods out and 2 handlines. Clearing sargassum was frustrating, and I think that definitely affected our fish count this trip. However, we had some good luck when trolling over the Grampus Banks. We hooked up on a cero mackerel and landed it. Finally, a fish worth eating! Cero mackerel is considered one of the top sushi eating fishes out there.

Here’s a video of us reeling it in.

Magen's Bay USVI bareboat charter anchorage during a USVI sailing itinerary

At Magens Bay, we dropped anchor in about 30 feet. The yacht spun around quite a bit in this anchorage with strong winds still blowing out of the south and some backwinding in effect.

The anchorage was shared with a couple other boats, but we had plenty of elbow room. Some charter crews have complained about loud music and jet skis here, but we didn’t experience any of that.

The bay is truly stunning, and I’d recommend this anchorage to anyone planning a USVI bareboat charter.

To take the edge off a long day on the water, we took the dinghy ashore and cooled off with a bushwacker at the beach bar ashore. Back on the boat, we whipped up some cero mackerel sashimi for an appetizer, and sauteed mackerel with cilantro lime rice for dinner. Delicious!

Beautiful fall day at the Maho Bay mooring field on our US Virgin Islands bareboat charter trip
The gorgeous mooring field at Maho Bay

Day 5: Off to the beautiful beaches of St. John and the Virgin Islands National Park

OK, where to next? St. John was the logical next destination. We hadn’t planned to spend much time sailing the Virgin Islands here on this bareboat charter trip, but our inability to get down to St. Croix changed that.

Before setting off, we grabbed a taxi and made a quick run for a less expensive provisioning run at Cost.U.Less. Things would certainly have been more expensive at Cruz Bay, St. John. It took about an hour round trip, and was well worth the effort.

With lighter winds, we settled for motoring and cruised around the Hans Lollik islands just to the north. They are beautiful, and uninhabited, but we decided not to stop (there are 2 anchorages in settled conditions).

St John sunset on our USVI bareboat charter trip
Another great Virgin Islands sunset | Too bad I couldn't put up the drone in the National Park!

We slowly motored along the north shore of St. John close to the British Virgin Islands and took in the gorgeous surroundings. The Virgin Islands National Park is truly stunning. Maho Bay called to us with it’s busy beach and crews floating off the back of their charter boats. After being isolated for so long during the storm, we were ready for some people watching!

A cooler was packed, and ashore we went in the dinghy to chill out and have a beach day. We settled for liming away for a few hours and enjoyed the evening sunset show back on the catamaran.

North shore of St. Johnm
North shore of St. John looking west

Day 6: More beaching and a night out in Cruz Bay

After a lazy morning, we decided to stay put after having so much fun on the beach the previous day. Maho Crossroads is a good option for to go beach bar fare to eat on the sand.

Sometime mid morning, a sailboat caught fire to our west. The crew got out safely from the traffic we heard on the radio.

Sailboat fire north of St. John USVI
Sailboat fire we saw to our west

Later in the afternoon, we were ready for a change of scenery, and perhaps a night where we didn’t have to cook. With that in mind, we motored back west to moorings at Caneel Bay. Cruz Bay was redlined by our charter company and this was the closest overnight anchorage.

80s Night in Cruz Bay USVI
Some of our crew ready for 80s night in Cruz Bay

We donned our best 80s gear and dinghied into town for a couple drinks and dinner.

Cruz Bay was so much fun! The people were friendly and it has a great local vibe. We started and ended the evening at The Beach Bar (yes that’s it’s name) where we had beached our dinghy. Did you say live music and dancing??

Christmas Cove anchorage on our USVI bareboat charter in the US Virgin Islands
The anchorage at Christmas Cove near St. Thomas

Day 7: Last day of the USVI bareboat charter: more fishing and back to St. Thomas

We rubbed our bleary eyes and cruised back around the north shore of St. John before heading down to the South Drop for some trolling. Again not much on the fishing count to report! In fact, I don’t think we had any bites on the over the drop itself, just on the shelf.

Oh well, it was still fun getting the sails up for a couple hours on the water.

As a last night’s anchorage, we chose the Christmas Cove mooring field. On our last morning, it would only be an hour motor back to Frenchtown Marina. I had thought Pizza Pi VI would be back in action for the season, but I think we were a few days too early.

Christmas Cove was fine, but it was probably my least favorite anchorage of the trip. Besides the convenience, there just really wasn’t much to do there. There are no beaches, the mooring balls are close together, and the snorkeling wasn’t that interesting.

We did have some catch and release fun with a school of jacks that hung around the boat and our blue underwater lights.

Had I another shot with my USVI sailing itinerary, I probably would try Water Island next time.

The sunset over Red Hook, St. Thomas, however, was pretty epic.

Check-out day: A smooth return of the catamaran

Not much to report for our last day, which is what you want! After a short motor back to the Charlotte Amalie area, we stopped at Crown Bay Marina to refuel. We raised them on Channel 16 and were able to come right in. The fuel dock is immediately to starboard after entering.

Back at Frenchtown Marina, we grabbed one of the Waypoints moorings and notified them by cell phone. The Waypoints team quickly came out to conduct the sail check before handling the med mooring back on the dock.

The check-out briefing also went smoothly and only took about 20 minutes.

I can’t wait to visit the USVIs on a bareboat yacht charter again! On our next BVI charter, I would even think about hopping over to St. John for a couple days. While the British Virgin Islands get most of the attention, crews should give USVI a closer look!

When are you going sailing next?

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When is the Best Time to Visit the US Virgin Islands?

Christmas Cove anchorage on our USVI bareboat charter in the US Virgin Islands

If you’re planning a yacht charter to the US Virgin Islands, you should consider the four different sailing seasons:

  1. High season: December to March

  2. Shoulder season one: April to June

  3. Peak hurricane season: July to October

  4. Should season two: November

My recommendation? The best time to visit the US Virgin Islands is during shoulder season one (April to June). Enjoy predictable weather, longer days, steady wind speeds, fewer crowds, and more affordable yacht charter pricing.

Below, I summarize each to help you make your decision. If you want to learn more about weather and marine resources for the US Virgin Islands, check out this post. It focuses on the USVI neighbor next door, BVI, but the conditions and tools are just as applicable.

US Virgin Islands Climate and Average Weather by Month

Jan
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
Jun
Jul
Aug
Sep
Oct
Nov
Dec
Wind Speed (kts)
13.2
13.0
12.2
11.6
11.6
12.9
13.8
12.8
11.1
10.5
12.0
13.1
Wind Direction
NE
NE
E
SE
SE
SE
E
E
SE
SE
NE
NE
Daylight (hrs)
11.2
11.6
12.1
12.6
13.0
13.2
13.1
12.7
12.2
11.7
11.3
11.0
Precipitation (in)
0.4″
0.4″
0.3″
0.9″
2.1″
1.3″
1.2″
1.6″
2.8″
2.8″
2.5″
1.1″
Avg. High Temp.
83°
83°
84°
85°
86°
88°
88°
89°
88°
87°
86°
84°
Avg. Water Temp.
79°
79°
79°
80°
81°
82°
82°
83°
84°
84°
82°
81°
Beautiful fall day at the Maho Bay mooring field on our US Virgin Islands bareboat charter trip
A typical USVI day, this one at beautiful Maho Bay, St. John

US Virgin Islands high season (December to March)

This is the busiest and most expensive time of the year. Hurricane season is over, and the annual pilgrimage of cruising boats has made it’s way from mainland U.S. and Europe to enjoy the warm Caribbean winter.

Expect crowded mooring fields.

Days are shorter (~11 hours vs ~13 hours in the summer).

Most notably, you can expect the Christmas Winds: several days of strong winds (15-30 knots) created by strong high pressure systems in the Atlantic. Make sure you know how to reef those sails!

Wind is usually out of the E to NE and less precipitation falls this time of year.

Magens Bay anchorage in the US Virgin Islands
You can enjoy fewer crowds when you visit during one of the shoulder seasons

USVI shoulder season 1 (April to June)

This is my favorite and I believe the best time to visit the US Virgin Islands for yacht charter trips. The crowds have thinned out somewhat and the weather has become more settled.

Expect easy 10-15 knots from the E to SE and an occasional shower to cool things off.

US Virgin Islands peak hurricane season (July to October)

It can be hot, the trade winds lessen (5-15 knots), and tropical mischief can be brewing.

But, you might have the place to yourself. On the flip side, however, some establishments are closed, such as Pizza Pi VI, so keep that in mind.

This is the wet season thanks to developing low pressure systems.

Riding out a squall in the US Virgin Islands
Riding out a squall on a recent trip in November as a tropical disturbance passed nearby - no problem!

USVI shoulder season 2 (November)

This is my second favorite time to sail in the Caribbean and the US Virgin Islands.

Again, the crowds haven’t arrived yet and the weather tends to be settled – similar to April-June.

Trades blow 15-20 knots with wind direction from the E to NE.

The biggest downside of this time of year is that the days are shorter. It can make a difference if you plan to spend long days on the water. Otherwise, not a big deal!

Sailboat Catches Fire North of St. John, USVI

Sailboat fire north of St. John USVI

On Tuesday, November 8th, 2022 at around 10:00am, a sailboat caught fire just off the northwest coast of St. John, US Virgin Islands.

The crew escaped safely and numerous other boats in the immediate vicinity were able to offer assistance.

I took these photos from our charter yacht at Maho Bay. The vessel burned for nearly two hours but apparently did not sink.

sailboat catches fire off the northwest coast of St. John US Virgin Islands
This photo offers further perspective on the location of the sailboat fire

Sailing in Puerto Rico: Spanish Virgin Islands Cruising Guide

Sunset at Green Beach Vieques

The Spanish Virgin Islands may be my new favorite Caribbean bareboat charter destination. Solitude, beautiful beaches, and excellent fishing are just some of the highlights that rank at the top of my list of must haves for a boat trip. Many people describe the SVIs as what the British Virgin Islands were 20+ years ago: raw, quiet, undiscovered – I was too young back then, but I’ll take their word for it!

Located just to the west of the USVI and BVI, the islands of Vieques, Culebra, and Culebrita dominate the Spanish Virgin Islands cruising grounds. You’ll find all sorts of habitats including mangroves, rocky coastlines, vibrant coral, and gorgeous caribbean sandy beaches.

Top highlights include hiking to the lighthouse on Culebrita, catching lots of fish, visiting the notorious target practice tanks on stunning Flamenco Beach (or Playa Flamenco) at Culebra, and witnessing the bioluminescence at Mosquito Bay.

There are several wildlife refuges which help protect and make the Spanish Virgin Islands such a special place. This includes the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge which used to be controlled by the U.S. Navy until 2003.  You can still find several anchorages marked as off-limits to anchoring due to potential unexploded ordnance.

Don’t expect beach bars at every anchorage. This is a place to get away from it all and soak in the natural surroundings. I’m really looking forward to sharing our experience with you and hope this cruising guide inspires you to visit this overlooked and beautiful cruising ground. Here is what I’ll cover:

SVI Logistics and Planning

Source: Puerto del Rey

Travel from the U.S. is easy with several direct flights to Puerto Rico from the mainland, and there is no passport requirement for U.S. passport holders. However, there is only one yacht charter operator in Puerto Rico at Puerto del Rey.

Puerto del Rey is located in Fajardo, the boating hub on the Puerto Rican east coast. As you would expect, it has plenty of amenities which includes a small store for forgotten provisioning items. They also have golf carts that meet you upon arrival to take you and your gear down to your yacht.

Having charted in the Spanish Virgin Islands from Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, I would actually recommend the later. The charter fleet is much deeper in the USVI and it is easy to clear in using the CBP ROAM app. I did this on my recent November USVI and SVI trip.

Make sure you are aware of the latest clearance requirements when entering and exiting. I talk more about how you can do this in my St. Croix and Culebra sailing itinerary.

Bareboat Charter Provisioning

Unloading at Puerto del Rey
Unloading upon arrival to Puerto del Rey

One thing that I love about this destination is that there is a Costco located in San Juan. We arranged with our charter company in advance for our driver to make this stop on our way to Marina del Rey.

This means cheaper prices and much more variety than what is typically available on a provisioning list. It is absolutely not as convenient (we arrived to the base after dark), but I think the payoff is worthwhile.  Worth noting that the Costco also carried beer, wine, and liquor.

Your charter will be able to provide you with a provisioning service so that you make your selections in advance and upon arrival, your groceries are already onboard. You may also have your driver stop at a grocery store along the way.

If chartering from the USVIs, provisioning services and grocery stores are plentiful.

Additional Cruising Guide Resources

Given that the Spanish Virgin Islands are less visited than their sister islands to the east, there are not as many cruising guides available.  Stephen Pavlidis’ book Cruising Guide to Puerto Rico is your best bet. Be aware that the last revision was done in 2015, so some information could be out of date. It is still an excellent resource.

Cruising Guide to Puerto Rico (Amazon)

Stephen Pavlidis' guide has some great, detailed information on what to do and where to go. The last update was from 2015, so some information could be outdated, especially navigation info.

I also like to use the Navionics Boating App for planning. You can research routes, anchorages, and fishing spots. The ActiveCaptain Community feature is also very helpful to learn from other sailors experiences.

Here’s the link to the chart that was aboard our catamaran. If you are chartering from the USVIs, you may be required to provide your own. It might be cheaper to print these out, which are freely available online.

  • NOAA 25650 – Virgin Passage and Sonda de Vieques, Scale 1:100,000 (Passage planning
    from western St Thomas to Culebra, Vieques and eastern Puerto Rico)
  • NOAA 25653 – Isla de Culebra and Approaches, Scale 1:20,000 (Large scale coverage of
    Culebra)
  • NOAA 25664 – Pasaje de Vieques and Radas Roosevelt, Scale 1:25,000 (Large scale coverage of western Vieques). No large-scale NOAA chart is available for all of Vieques
NV Atlas 11.1 Chart (Amazon)

Current edition of the SVI navigational chart that we found on our sailing yacht during our last trip.

When to go Sailing in Puerto Rico

An occasional squall is common, but they often don't last long

My favorite time of year to visit the Virgin Islands is April-May. The trades blow consistently out of the east at 10-20 knots. The weather is more settled and since this is considered the shoulder season, prices are cheaper.

Late November is also a great option, but the days are shorter and you run more of a risk of tropical mischief.

While the USVI and BVI can get very busy during peak season (Dec-Mar), I would not expect the SVIs to become quite as crowded. It sill flies under the radar as a destination and the bareboat fleet that serves the cruising grounds is much smaller.

For a more comprehensive overview of weather conditions, check out The Cruising Guide to the Virgin Islands. SVI is not covered, but the weather and cruising conditions information is applicable. You can also read my post about BVI marine forecasting and resources, which is just as applicable for the Spanish Virgin Islands.

Cruising Guide to the Virgin Islands (Amazon)

This guide DOES NOT cover the Spanish Virgin Islands, but it has some info on weather and cruising conditions that would apply.

Northerly Ground Swells

Ground swells are common between November and April. Make sure you check the forecast since it could have an impact on your itinerary. Any anchorage exposed to the north, such as Playa Tortuga at Culebrita, will be untenable if a ground swell is running.

The NWS Marine Forecast will include information about ground swells. They are very well forecasted.

Spanish Virgin Islands Sailing Itinerary

Our suggested bareboat yacht charter itinerary assumes 7 days on the water beginning in Puerto del Rey. I take you clockwise beginning with Culebra and then continuing on south to Vieques.

Why does this plan work?

The prevailing trade winds in the Spanish Virgin Islands are typically from the east. A current also runs from the east.

Sailing clockwise will afford you some protection from the lee of Culebra as you head east. Once you get down to Vieques, in normal conditions you’ll be sailing west, downwind under more comfortable conditions.

Spanish Virgin Islands sailing itinerary including Vieques and Culebra
Sample itinerary, heading clockwise around the Spanish Virgin Islands

Day 1: Overnight in Marina

We recommend coordinating with your charter company for an airport transfer from the airport to Puerto del Rey. They will be able to help schedule the pickup and make sure the vehicle is large enough for your crew and gear (and potentially provisioning items if you decide to stop on the way).

Get settled into your yacht, stow away your provisions, and familiarize yourself with the boat’s systems if you’d like. Crack a beer – you’ve arrived in paradise.

First night is spent overnight in the marina.

Day 2: Begin your trip on the west coast of Culebra

Culebra sunset at Carlos Rosario beach
Enjoying an epic first night's sunset at Carlos Rosario

Try and set your yacht up to be first in line for the boat briefing and walk through. You don’t want to waste valuable cruising time in the marina!

Get that sailing playlist jamming and head east towards Culebra – it is probably easiest to motor under the prevailing conditions: dead into the wind. Get those fishing lines in the water – there is not a moment to lose!

I love the Carlos Rosario mooring field – I’ve stayed multiple times. Take a dip and enjoy some of the best snorkeling of the trip at Carlos Rosarion. It can be accessed right from your mooring.

Relax, pour yourself a sundowner, and enjoy the sunset show off to the west.

Carlos Rosarion reef at Culebra Spanish Virgin Islands
A view to the north of the reef at Carlos Rosario

Day 3: Hike to World Famous Playa Flamenco

Hiking back from Flamenco Beach
Hiking to Playa Flamenco

We are staying put today, unless you’d prefer to explore Cayo Luis Pena. We’d suggest, however, going ashore for a hike to the world famous Flamenco Beach (Playa Flamenco). The trail is easily visible on satellite. Again, bring some shoes you don’t mind getting dirty. The hike is just under a mile and should take you about 30 minutes. The trail dead ends into the back beach parking lot.

Another option is to actually anchor in settled conditions at Playa Flamenco. We did this on our recent November trip when we were sheltering from strong southerly winds.

Tank at Flamenco Beach
One of the tanks previously used as target practice at Playa Flamenco

While I haven’t been to the South Pacific, Flamenco Beach feels distinctly like a beach that could be located in Tahiti or the other Channel Islands. It also holds the title of one of the top 10 beaches in the world. Aside from the beautiful setting, the main attraction is the abandoned tanks scattered across the beach that the US Navy used for target practice up until the 1970s. 

Make a day of it and relax. Food, restrooms, and beach chair rentals are available.

Once back on your yacht, enjoy another great sunset. If the weather is settled and you aren’t worried about losing your mooring ball to another boat, I highly recommend an evening cruise. Make a loop around the Cayos to the west and enjoy the rugged natural beauty of the area.

You can also consider switching mooring balls to Punta Tamarindo, just around the point to the south.

Our catamaran at anchor at Playa Flamenco
Our catamaran at anchor in front of the NE corner of Playa Flamenco as we got ready to ride out a storm

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Day 4: Picture perfect Culebrita

View of Culebrita, one of the Culebra anchorages
Beautiful view of Playa Tortuga and the lighthouse at Culebrita

The islands of Culebra have a distinctly different feel than Vieques. Rather than one large island, there are many hidden gems to explore. Another must see place is Culebrita and Playa Tortuga (Turtle Beach).

Make your way lazily around the northern shore of Culebra past Cayo Norte to Culebrita.

This was our favorite beach in all of the Spanish Virgin Islands. Crescent moon shaped, white sand, coconut palm lined, and few other visitors – what else could you ask for?

Make sure you are aware of any northerly ground swell forecast as this anchorage is exposed. If it is day stop only conditions, try the Bahia de Almodovar (Les Pelas) anchorage for your overnight.

Culebrita is a small, uninhabited cay with an abandoned lighthouse at its highest point. The only residents are wild goats that you will be sure to bump into. Grab a pair of hiking shoes you don’t mind getting dirty (mud, puddles, and goat droppings are expected), plenty of water, and head ashore.

Culebrita Hiking Map
Culebrita hiking map | Source: Google Earth

The hike to the lighthouse is about 3/4 of a mile and should take you about 20-30 minutes. You’ll be rewarded with a beautiful 360 degree panorama of the surrounding islands – the best view from any hike I’ve taken in the caribbean.

The old Spanish lighthouse dates back to 1886 and is interesting to explore. It is falling apart after battling it out with several hurricanes and it is not being maintained – use caution. You are not supposed to venture inside.

Relax and watch for turtles as you lime away the afternoon.

Day 5: Sail south to Vieques

Fishing route in Vieques
Great day fishing rounding the south coast of Vieques, pins mark where we landed fish | Source: Navionics

Get an early start for a longer day on the water as you make the passage from Culebra to Vieques. Again, get those fishing lines in the water. We did really well hooking up in 50-100 feet of water (see pins in the picture above). Mahi and mackerel were the catches of the day. If conditions warrant, head farther south to the drop.

Troll back and forth across this area to target the pelagic species: mahi-mahi (dolphin fish), tuna, and wahoo.  This may be a bumpy ride given the strength of the tradewinds.

If you want to step up your fishing game, check out our sailboat fishing guide.

Before you leave Culebra, you can also consider a provisioning stop in Dewey before you depart.

The protected bay in Culebra is also known as Ensenada Honda (which means deep cove). Colmado Milka is well stocked with food, liquor and ice. Anchor close to the Cayo Pirata in about 15 feet. Take your dingy under the Lifting Bridge where there are several other spots to tie off to.

Mahi hook up in the Virgin Islands
Mahi hook up off the drop south of Vieques
Town of Dewey at Culebra
Dewey, the main town of Culebra

If you prefer to stick around Culebra for another day, Ensenada Dakity is a lovely mooring field with great protection tucked in behind the reef at the channel entrance. You’ll enjoy minimal roll and a nice breeze over the reef. The sunrises here are spectacular.

Not to be confused with the Culebra Ensenada Honda, check out Ensenada Honda, the Vieques version, for your first overnight on this island.

Anchorage Details: Entering the Ensenada Honda anchorage can be tricky, but the charts are well marked – stick to the course shown on the charts. The water is not crystal clear so you’ll need to rely on your instruments and use extra caution. Depths range from 10-30 feet. We recommend tucking yourself farther in to the east side of the bay where it is shallower.

Ensenada Honda is extremely well protected. You will likely be the only boat here. Come here for the peace and quiet. There is no beach access given the mangroves that line the bay. For something different, launch the dingy and explore the mangrove river located in the far eastern edge. Expect to see some rays and a nurse shark or two if you are lucky.

Day 6: Isla Chiva lunch stop and the Bioluminescence of Mosquito Bay

Anchoring at Isla Chiva in Vieques
Getting ready to dive on the anchor at Isla Chiva

Get underway and head west around the coast of Vieques. Make for a lunch stop at Isla Chiva.

There are two anchorages, one on either side of the island. We recommend anchoring on the west side of Isla Chiva in 10-15 ft with a grassy bottom. There are a few patches of sand you can aim for when you drop the hook.

The beaches here are beautiful and you can often see the wild horses that come down to the shores edge. Dingy ashore for a picnic or enjoy the view from your catamaran (monohull is OK too!). 

Make sure you save some time for a snorkel over to Isla Chiva located at the dive spot marked on the charts. The last time we were here there were some large abandoned fish traps that were interesting to explore. If a SE swell is running or the trades are really blowing, snorkeling in this spot is not recommended.

After lunch, sail to Sun Bay Vieques. This a postcard worthy crescent moon shaped bay with a sandy beach and lined with coconut palms. It is just to the east of the town of Esperanza and within walking distance.

Anchorage Details: The best place to anchor is tucked up in the northeast corner to avoid as much swell as possible that wraps around into the bay. Holding is good in 10-20 feet with a grassy bottom. Make sure you get that anchor set. If the wind is really blowing, Puerto Ferro farther down the coast offers complete protection from all directions.

If you want to go ashore, you can beach your dingy on either side of the the swim buoys. Look out for the wild horses that may come up to say hi at the beach. Esperanza has a few options for dining and shopping. Use the cell phone service to check hours of operation since they may differ from what you’d expect.

Sun Bay can also be used as a base to tour Mosquito Bay, which has the claim to the brightest bioluminescence bay in the world. You’ll need to arrange a kayak tour as dinghies are not allowed. There are plenty of tour operators that can be found online and they will pick you up right at the Sun Bay Beach.

Day 7: Magical Green Beach

Sunset at Green Beach Vieques
Epic sunsets await at Green Beach

On the west coast of Vieques, Green Beach awaits.

Aside from the solitude, you come to Green Beach for the sunsets – they are epic with the main island of Puerto Rico and the El Yunque rain forest in the backdrop. Arrive early enough to also jump in the water for some snorkeling. You can expect to swim with sea turtles, rays, and lots of colorful fish. There are no amenities ashore, so plan to cook aboard.

Anchorage Details: the Green Beach anchorage is large and you’ll notice several markers on the chart. The water is usually crystal clear so pick a spot in 10-15 feet of water with a white sandy bottom. There will be areas of sea grass and coral/rock you should avoid. You are likely to have the place to yourself, but if you are there over the weekend, expect a few local boats that will join you.

Day 8: Final night at Isla Palominos, or return to the marina

Approaching Isla Palominos to anchor
On approach to pickup a mooring ball at Isla Palominos

Last day on the water!

If you have extra time you could head towards Cayo Santiago further down the coast of Puerto Rico. It’s known as monkey island. You can’t go ashore, but there is an anchorage on the west side. Drop the hook and dingy in closer to get a view of the monkeys which have been free roaming since 1938. There are approximately 1,000 rhesus macaques monkeys that call the island home.

Isla Palominos is a great last night anchorage. It’s close enough to motor back the next morning before you debark and head home. 

It’s a very popular local destination, so don’t expect any peace and quiet! You have been warned.

Upon returning to the marina, your charter company may request that you first stop at the fuel dock – leave yourself plenty of time to checkout and return to the airport the next morning.

I hope you enjoyed my post about the Spanish Virgin Islands and sailing in Puerto Rico. If you are new to sailing trips and enjoyed this post, subscribe to my newsletter check out our beginner’s guide here.

Interested in a Spanish Virgin Islands Yacht Charter?

We have relationships with the Spanish Virgin Islands yacht charter companies and have personally chartered with them.
Let us find you the best option - it doesn't cost you anything extra.