The Spanish Virgin Islands
14 February 2013 | Brewer Bay - St. Thomas
Bert Dorrestyn / Blue Sky and E Wind 17kn
After spending over 2 weeks in Puerto Rico it was time to move on. Our next destination was Vieques the largest island of the Spanish Virgin Islands. The Spanish Virgin Islands are part of Puerto Rico and consist of 4 separated areas, Isla Palominos, the islands and reefs of La Cordillera, the islands of Culebra and the island of Vieques. After the US Navy stopped using Vieques in 2002 and Culebra in 1975 as bombing practice areas the islands completely depend on tourism. But this industry is developing very slowly and that makes it a paradise for cruisers and other visitors who are not looking for resorts with wining, dining and gambling. Walking over Flamenco Beach in Culebra you believe that you are back in the late 1960’s with people camping in primitive tents and huts along the beach in the brush. These are the prime “Beach Bums” I always wanted to be.
We left Salinas at 6:30AM on our way to Puerto Patillas on the east coast of Puerto Rico. This was a short 16 miles hop using the philosophy from Bruce Van Sant in his very widely used book “The Thornless Path to Windward”. The guidelines are based on the fact that the “Trade Winds” are reduced in strength during the late night till the early morning by the land winds created by the islands. However, when you meet a big squall coming off the islands that will not always create the smooth sailing you are aiming for. We had such a squall of this strength, some rough seas, the wind and waves on the nose. In Puerto Patillas we snuggled close to shore behind the reefs for a quiet day since we planned to leave at 12:00 midnight to sail to Vieques. Early in the morning when we came close to Vieques we did not see land. The east and west sides of the island were used for bombing range and ammunition storage and these parts are completely uninhabited which means absolutely no light on the west side of the island. With the moonless night we saw north of us the contours of the mountains that sometimes looked like the low clouds around us. It was very spooky. We arrived at 6:30AM in Vieques and anchored in Ensenada Sun Bay with one of the most beautiful beaches I have seen.
At the anchorage we did not have internet connection and for that we had to walk along the one mile beach to the next bay in front of the little town of Esperanza. We had lunch in the Trade Winds Restaurant with a great view of the bay and enjoyed the non-tourist like atmosphere of the Spanish Virgin Islands. This place is so close to the US and so far away from our typical life style in the US. We played on the beach, did a lot of swimming, and met a lot of cruisers and other visitors including a family from Vermont, visiting their daughter who is an intern, assisting with a program to monitor several turtle species coming on shore on the beaches. All this time we were the only boat in the bay, but suddenly late in the afternoon boats started coming in including a large charter catamaran with at least 10 people onboard that anchored just next to us with little room to spare. When we left the next morning at 5:00 AM, we had to maneuver a little in the dark to get away from this boat.
It is about 22 miles to Culebra our next destination, 11 miles along the coast of Vieques to the east and at the end of the island after a sharp turn to the north another 11 miles to Culebra. We estimated that this trip would take us about 4 to 5 hours. But an unexpected high easterly wind created very short and high waves and together with a 1 mile current against us we did not make more than 3 Kn and it took us 4 hours to get to the east point of Vieques. After making the turn to the north and passing Vieques it would be smooth sailing to Culebra. So I lost my patience, turned too early and consequently we came in the breakers on the east point of Vieques. The sea punished me directly, as for the first time since we have Island Girl a big wave came in the cockpit and I was soaked. After this it was a smooth sail to Culebra. We used a free mooring buoy in the large “Ensenada Honda” bay. We need to stay in this bay for a couple of days due to weather conditions with what Chris Parker our weather guru, described the seas as “Horrendous washing-machine of large North Swell and large and steep seas from the ENE”.
To spend some time in Culebra is not bad at all. Culebra has some of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean. The most famous one is “Flamenco Beach” that I described above and 5 others with Zoni Beach as our favorite. This beach is a little isolated compared to Flamenco Beach and is wide and long with pure white sand and the colors of the sea are really like in the commercials. The Spanish Virgin Islands are connected with Puerto Rico by a ferry system with ticket prices of $2.00 one way. In the weekend many people take the ferry and buses are waiting to transport the people to the beach. The ferry landing place is a very fun area with small restaurants with side walk cafés and a nice part with great benches. During the week it is a nice, quiet area where people are waiting for the ferry, eat something, sit and read a book or just sleep on the benches. It is our favorite lunch location. We used the dinghy to go around, walked in town and used the bike to do some exploring. We rented a brand new jeep for one day and drove all the roads on the island and visited every beach. Using a car on the island needs some skills to drive steep roads and I can tell you the roads are steep. Every hill has a different view with not only a view of the island but the surrounding islands such as Puerto Rico, Vieques, Culebrita and St. Thomas. The weather is great except for the day the storm blew in. We needed to use the dinghy to go back to Island Girl, the rain was coming down, the water in the bay was quite rough due to the wind and as a result we were wet and cold. The wind was blowing the entire night, but we slept like babies safely on the mooring buoy.
Due to the very high north/easterly swell we did not visit Culebrita but sailed this morning directly to St. Thomas were we are anchored in Brewer Bay in front of a nice beach and the runway of the airport and a very high mountain. But in our next blog we will describe St. Thomas.