The Other Virgin Islands Trunk Bay

By Mark Stevens 

Photographs by Sharon Matthews-Stevens

We’ve dropped the anchor in the northwest corner of Pillsbury Sound, hard by a channel bisecting two lush islands. Waters rush through the passage, lured by the beauty of St. John, an island that reclines in the afternoon sun like a Renaissance courtesan. 

Our skipper today, Captain Wilson, knows these islands like the back of his hand. He should – he’s boated here almost daily since 2008. “I will take you where you want to go,” he promises. “I will show you what you want to see.” 

I’ve cruised the British Virgin Islands numerous times but I’m just getting my feet wet here. Today’s the perfect introduction. 

I pummel Captain Wilson with questions. “Best anchorages? Must-do beaches? Navigational hazards to watch for?”

He’s a wellspring of information. I scribble notes furiously.

Our boat swings on its anchor line as we don our snorkel gear. The distant ridges of Tortola hover like mirages, painted campfire-smoke grey. 

But they aren’t waypoints on this float plan. 

We’re exploring the other Virgin Islands – the United States Virgin Islands.

Headline act is a tropical trio, though a multitude of islands and cays share these waters.  

St. Thomas is cruise ship landfall, the archipelago’s capital.

St. John is as different from St. Thomas as a sailor is from a landlubber. Two-thirds of the land is National Park; population is less than five thousand. 

St. Croix is laid-back and quiet – same population as St. Thomas but three times the landmass.

 

The Other Virgin Islands Magens BayAN ISLAND OF BEAUTY

In their book, Exploring the Virgin Islands, Joe Russell and Mark Bunzel describe St. John as “one of the most beautiful islands in all of the Caribbean.”

This may be an understatement.

Francis Bay, St. John. Early morning. The sun’s crested over Mary Point, spotlighting Whistling Cay, casting its rays on a blinding white beach. Waters further out are royal blue and shimmering. Here they are lime and turquoise. A tropical forest rises up behind your stern, a smattering of villas perched on the slopes like mountain goats. There is an unbroken expanse of vivid green behind Maho Point.

It is as beautiful as any BVI anchorage.

Now dive off the stern into crystal waters. Go ashore and take a hike. Take a lot of hikes: two-thirds of this island is protected national park. March through unbroken forests, turn a corner and discover a perfect beach or the ruins of a sugar plantation.

Lash the boat to a mooring ball at Leinster Bay, overnight near Coral Bay. “Do dinner ashore at ‘Skinny Legs’,” says Captain Wilson.

Snug down on the north side of Cruz Bay just outside the channel and visit one of my favourite Caribbean villages. It boasts a beach bar called Joe’s Rum Hut, pastel-painted shops with gingerbread trim, and a square replete with bandstand you share with roosters.  

Moor off Trunk Bay and snorkel along an underwater trail beside a beach that’s been rated among the world’s best.

Or slice through sapphire seas in fair winds. 

 

The Other Virgin Islands OndeckAN ISLAND OF BEAUTY (REPRISE)

Drop the hook off Great St. James Island in “Christmas Cove”.

Gaze through the lifelines at an undulating green promontory with rock formations that show like sculptures, cactus-studded hills. 

But it’s the underwater delights that earn Christmas Cove a place on the list of beauteous islands.

Sandy bottom. Perfect visibility. A sea turtle, mere metres from your snorkel mask, ascends gracefully from the sea floor. His snout breaks the surface; he floats suspended for a moment, then he dives. 

A cloud of sand is stirred up twenty feet below you: a stingray appears. Another ray rises up, flapping its wings like a bird in flight.

Now you cast off, headed for more islands of beauty. A spotted ray breaks the surface, glistening in the sun.

Beauty in motion.

Now you discover Lovango Island, snorkeling over prime specimens of star and brain and Elkhorn coral. 

You make for Hans Lollick Island, for an overnight anchorage and an early morning visit to Coconut Bay. “Amazing beach, hikes with great views,” says Captain Wilson pointing at it on the charts. “Best yet, it’s isolated.”

All well and good – unless you’re looking for nightlife. 

That’s where St. Thomas comes in.

 

The Other Virgin islands perfect watersA BEAM REACH FOR BUSTLE

Three years ago we visited the USVIs for the St. Thomas International Regatta, one of the Caribbean Circuit’s premier races.

One day we cut west out of St. Thomas Yacht Club in perfect easterlies. A few boats heeled behind us, more were dead ahead.

Our craft that day was a serious Farr 65, courtesy of OnDeck Sailing (available packages include race training, each race in the regatta and the option of either staying aboard or ashore).

I ground winches, back straining. I watched the scenery gliding by ever more quickly, but not quickly enough. We passed hotels reclining on the shore; we nosed through the lateral buoys marking Scorpion Rock and Rohde Bank, heading up and hardening the sheets.  

We were on a beam reach for bustle.

Three towering cruise ships lurked off our starboard beam, houses and buildings of Charlotte Amalie cast helter-skelter over green slopes dead ahead, past a mega-yacht marina and an explosion of shops, restaurants and bars housed in historic buildings. 

But we were not bound for shore. We were pointing at a race marker deep in the inner harbour. It was a race we were losing even as the crew tweaked sails. 

But that seems to matter less here than it does on Wednesday race nights back home. And St. Thomas Yacht Club, with its red tile roofs, is well stocked with Caribbean brews.

Besides, Charlotte Amalie (though invigorating) probably boasts too much bustle for the average boater.

Red Hook, in the east, is a great compromise. Still bustling, to be sure, but fewer people, if an impressive list of amenities; great restaurants, even greater bars, provisioning opportunities galore.  

And it’s located in Vessup Bay, a pretty if busy cove. Overnight at American Yacht Harbor and cast off first thing in the morning for some serious passage-making.

Discovering, at the end, another other Virgin Island.

 

The Other Virgin Islands Cruzan Rum DistilleryANOTHER OTHER VIRGIN ISLAND

St. Croix, the third member of this tropical triumvirate, is roughly thirty-five nautical miles from her siblings, almost always a beam reach. It’s either a fun romp or a lumpy ride in three-to-four -metre seas. 

You should only consider it on a ten-day or two-week charter.  “Allow a minimum of three days,” write Nancy and Simon Scott in their Cruising Guide to the Virgin Islands. “One to sail there, one day to sightsee and one to sail back.”

It’s that middle day that does it for me. 

Take a Cruzan Rum distillery tour, stroll Christiansted’s historical downtown with its fascinating eclectic array of architecture where Denmark meets the Caribbean by way of France, England and Holland; check out the mustard-coloured fort dominating a gorgeous harbour inside a nasty reef. Head west to a somnolent but equally historic village called Frederiksted, boasting its own fort – this one cherry-painted.

Visit the site where Columbus and Amerindians first clashed, climb towering hills through rainforests to discover views that will take your breath away. Stroll along beaches you can call your own.  

Watch a pig drink a beer.

Even if you choose not to make this passage you should still consider a visit to St. Croix.

If not now, then next time, when you choose to embark on yet another voyage.

Another voyage to the other Virgin Islands.

 

 

FLOAT PLAN

• For more information on visiting the other Virgin Islands go to www.visitusvi.com

• If you’re a cruiser of a different sort (or even more lubberly) but still want to hit the water, check out www.islandwilson.com for a fantastic day (or half-day)

• Go to www.cyoacharters.com for both skippered and bareboat charters originating in St. Thomas.

• Island Yachts – out of American Yacht Harbor –offers a fleet of Island Packets for skippered or bareboat options. www.iyc.vi 

• To book a berth for the St. Thomas International Regatta (March 27-29) go to www.ondecksailing.com 

 

Photos:

Photo 1 - One St. John ‘must-do’ is snorkeling at Trunk Bay, rated one of the world’s best beaches.

Photo 2 - Despite the bustle of St. Thomas, even there are lazy afternoons on beaches like this one at Magens Bay.

Photo 3 - On a beam reach for bustle. Racing on an OnDeck boat, headed for Charlotte Amalie.

Photo 4 - Perfect waters for sailing are found north of St. John.

Photo 5 - Every sailor who makes it to St. Croix has to visit the Cruzan Rum Distillery.

 

Related Articles

Boat Reviews

Video Gallery

 

 

Beneteau Oceanis Yacht 54By Zuzana Prochazka

Beneteau saw an opportunity to add a little thrill to any cruising adventure, so they took the hull of the First 53 racer (introduced just last year), and with a few fashionable changes, created the Oceanis Yacht 54, the new entry-level of Beneteau’s swanky Oceanis Yacht line. The result is a performance cruiser that sails like a witch and looks like a grande dame.

Design

Roberto Biscontini is the naval architect and Lorenzo Argento created the details of the exterior and interior design. 

Read More

Riverest MarinaThe new owners of L’Orignal Marina offer boaters a new destination. Located in a charming francophone village in Eastern Ontario, this joined marina and restaurant venue is the ambitious initiative of long-time entrepreneur André Chabot and biologist Alexandra Quester, both residents of L’Orignal.

The purchase of the L’Orignal Marina was made official in November 2020. The new year was barely underway when all 50 available slips were already reserved. No wonder the addition of member and visitor slips is already planned for the 2022 season – the 2021 count is up to 62 power and sail already. At the moment, the Riverest Marina offers boaters a stop where they can launch their boat...

Read More

Lifestyle

  • Prev
Photograph taken on Sept 15 while drifting home after the last Wednesday evening race at Collins ...
On the afternoon of Sunday, October 3, fourteen exceptional sailors were inducted into the Canadian ...
My husband and I purchased this beauty in Gananoque two weeks ago and boated it from there across ...
Last issue we featured a story about the engagement proposal aboard Via-Mara, a 1969 Trojan 42 Aft ...
With thanks to Sail Canada, here’s a collection of photos that are Olympic quality. Clearly our ...
Wow. That was a lot of fun reading the collection of boat names that came in from all over the ...
No individual had a greater impact on the modern sport of sailing than Bruce Kirby. Known and ...
Just off The Ocean Race European Tour, Daniel is setting his sights on competing in The Ocean Race ...
After being our fearless leader and publisher since CYOB kicked off, Greg Nicoll, handed over the ...
Swim Drink Fish is spearheading the Vancouver Plastic Cleanup by installing, maintaining, and ...

DIY & How to

  • Prev
Finding the right PFD can seem like a daunting task and extends beyond finding one that fits and ...
If chartering is something you’ve been dreaming about, this series is really for you. BUT be ...
So many decisions to make when planning for haul-out. When/how to winterize? What type of ...
It’s a scary thought - whether your boat is made of wood, fiberglass, aluminum or composite – it’s ...
It’s a scary thought – but whether your boat is made of wood, fiberglass, aluminum or composite – ...
Last summer there was tremendous interest in buying a boat to have fun in the restricted world ...
The boat buying or selling market is hot now and has been since the late spring of 2020. Sean ...
Last issue we got up with Montreal sailor Marc Robic who has accumulated a lot of tips and tricks ...
While some parts of the country are lucky enough to have year-round boating, there are plenty of ...
A Transducer is a device that is installed below the waterline that provides underwater data to a ...

Galvanic CorrosionIt’s a scary thought – but whether your boat is made of wood, fiberglass, aluminum or composite – it’s slowly deteriorating under you. Part of this is the nature of the marine environment: Sun, moisture, waves, wind, movement and vibration all contribute to components breaking down.

But there are other factors that are much more concerning and act at a significantly faster rate that the environment can take credit for. One of these is commonly spoken of, but not terribly well understood: Corrosion. As boaters, we’re concerned with two main types of corrosion: Galvanic and Stray-Current. This edition will focus on galvanic corrosion – in two weeks, stay tuned for info on stray-current.

Read More

 

  

Marine Products

  • Prev
Dockmate®, manufacturer of advanced wireless remote controls for yachts, has announced expanded ...
PORTS Guides are The Essential Boating Companion and Look Great in Gift Wrap!    
Updated features and benefits offer next level of product excellence by integrating innovative ...
AkzoNobel Yacht Coatings has introduced a new, easier to apply topside system with two new products ...
Whether for news, weather or just to watch the game, onboard television reception is important. But ...
Kanvaslight® was specifically engineered for a long life in a salty, sun-drenched environment. The ...
Watermakers take ocean water and create perfect drinking water using reverse osmosis. A Schenker ...
If you’re headed out for a weekend afloat or on a week-long cruise you often must park your vehicle ...
Ten years ago, St. Margaret’s Bay (Halifax), Nova Scotia-based SailTimer Inc. made the first ...
Between the odor and working in confined spaces, replacing an onboard sanitation line is never a ...

Mia and Caleb's EngagementOn July 23 last year, CYOB published a piece on a beautifully restored 1967 Trojan 42 Motor Yacht in Oromocto NB. (That piece was also expanded in CY magazine later in the year.)

One of our Canadian Yachting contributors, Denise Miller, had shared the article on my social media and a young man reached out and asked if she could connect him with the owners of the boat, Dave and Barb. Denise leapt into action and Dave and Barb were thrilled. They concocted a plan that the young lady, Mia, thought she was coming to model for a sales brochure for Dave to do charter tours.

Read More