USVI Bareboat Charter: November Sailing Yacht Adventure
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!
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.
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
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.
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. 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.
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. 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! 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. 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.
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. 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!
Yacht Charter Day 4: The storm breaks and we sail to Magens Bay, St. Thomas
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. 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.
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!
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). 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.
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. 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. 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??
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!
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