Cruising the Virgin Islands.
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This page updated: August 2009
      




Spanish Virgin Islands section
US Virgin Islands section
British Virgin Islands section

Note: I don't repeat information you can find on charts or in guidebooks. And I do focus on things that fit my cruising style: I anchor out, use libraries for internet, don't go to restaurants and bars.




Spanish Virgin Islands (between PR and USVI's: Vieques, Culebra, La Cordillera)

Guidebook: "A Cruising Guide to Puerto Rico Including the Spanish Virgin Islands" by Stephen Pavlidis (on Amazon) (2003; 50 full-color charts).
Also: "A Cruising and Watersports Guide to the Spanish Virgin Islands" by Bruce Van Sant.

Charts: Maptech's Region 10 chartkit (on Amazon).

Islands are part of Puerto Rico; entering/exiting PR covers the islands, and vice-versa.

According to "Cruising Guide to the Virgin Islands" by Nancy and Simon Scott (on Amazon), there is a special relationship between PR and USVI's: from PR to USVI, don't have to clear out of PR or in to USVI. From USVI to PR, don't have to clear out of USVI but do have to clear in to PR (because USVI is a duty-free area). To/from anywhere else (including USA and BVI's), have to clear out and clear in.

From Noonsite:
Culebra:

From "Delirious": nice hot pools on Isla Culebrita (small island east of Culebra).

From article by Becky Squires:
On weekends, lots of people come over from PR to party on the beach at Culebrita.
Mosquito Bay on Vieques is a bioluminescent bay. If it's calm enough, you can dinghy over from the Ensenada Sun Bay anchorage. Snorkel/dive at night.

My experience 2006 and 2007 and 2008:




US Virgin Islands (USVI's)

USVI Cruisers Group on Facebook

Entry fee: US annual cruising decal/permit; $25 for USA boat.

Guidebook: "Cruising Guide to the Virgin Islands" by Nancy and Simon Scott (on Amazon) (but I'm not too impressed with it, mixes USVI and BVI info and charter and non-charter info in confusing way; have heard that Pavlidis has a better guide (on Amazon)).
US Coast Pilot 5 (on Amazon), chapter 14 covers the USVI's.

Charts: Maptech's Region 10 chartkit (on Amazon).

USVI courtesy flag

USVI map from World Atlas
Excite about USVI

USVI's consist of three big islands: St. Thomas and St. John close together and near the BVI's, and then St Croix about 35 miles south of all of them.

Going from USVI to BVI: don't have to clear out of USVI, do have to clear in to BVI.
Going from BVI to USVI: have to clear out of BVI, and have to clear in to USVI.
Better to clear in at St. John, rather than at crowded St. Thomas.
If going from USVI to anywhere except BVI, Culebra or Puerto Rico, check out and get an exit clearance from the USVI: next country will want to see it.

From Noonsite:

St. Thomas is busiest island, St. Croix is quieter, St. John is mostly national park.

Regatta in St James Bay St Thomas: on Easter weekend / last weekend in March.
St John Blues Festival, Cruz Bay, late March.
Carnaval on St Thomas: last week in April, in Charlotte Amalie. A couple of parades and some nice fireworks.
Jump-Up and triathlon on St Croix: first week in May. Fun, but not great.


Store on St. Thomas: Lighthouse Marine. where ???

St John is mostly national park and has white-with-blue-stripe NPS moorings: free during the day, but $26/night (as of 1/1/2016) whether you moor or anchor (half-price for seniors with $10 NPS Senior Pass).
Orange-and-white moorings are day-use-only, 3-hour limit.

Avoid the hospital on St. Thomas: it has an awful reputation (high staff turnover, lack of supplies, bad results). [But that info is old; 4/2008 someone said they had a good experience there.]

Hiking on St. John: take taxi to top of Reef Trail, walk down past petroglyphs to sugar mill, get Park Service boat back to Cruz Bay ?

Salt River Bay on St Croix is really the only place in the USVI's I'd consider a "hurricane hole". Benner Bay on St Thomas, and Flamingo Bay on Water Island / St Thomas are possibilities too. But all of these are regulated by the marine police, and some have reservation systems; check before the start of hurricane season.

From "Insider's Guide to the Caribbean" by Jonathan Runge (on Amazon):
Residents of St. Thomas have a fairly hostile attitude toward visitors.

Water-taxi in Charlotte Amalie harbor on St. Thomas: Oldport Launch, VHF 9.

Fishing regulations: VInow

Boatyards:

Sailmaker on St. John: Canvas Factory and Lee Sails, 340-776-6196. Where ?

Fishing: there is ciguatera around St Thomas and St John, but not St Croix.

My experience 2006:

Some BBC content on 1620 AM: midnight to 0500 every day, 0700-0800 weekends.
Some BBC content on 1340 AM, 1000 AM, 100.3 FM, 103.5 FM ?












British Virgin Islands (BVI's)

Guidebook: "Cruising Guide to the Virgin Islands" by Nancy and Simon Scott (on Amazon).
US Coast Pilot 5 (on Amazon), chapter 14 has a few pages of information about the BVI's.

Charts: Maptech's Region 10 chartkit (on Amazon).

BVI courtesy flag

BVI map from World Atlas

BVI's consist of four major islands: Jost Van Dyke, Tortola, Virgin Gorda, and Anegada.

Even more popular/crowded than USVI, but even better cruising than USVI. Some nice beaches. North shores of islands are exposed.
Peak season: December through February; crowded.
Festival: in Virgin Gorda on Easter weekend.
Festival: in Tortola in last week of July and beginning of August.
Full-moon party: monthly, at The Bomba Shack in Cappoon's Bay on Tortola.

Currency is US$.

British Virgin Islands
BVIPirate.com
Excite about BVI
Ginny's Catamaran Sailing Guide To The British Virgin Islands
British Virgin Islands travel group at eGroups/ONElist

Going from USVI to BVI: don't have to clear out of USVI, do have to clear in to BVI.
Going from BVI to USVI: have to clear out of BVI, and have to clear in to USVI.

From 11/2004 issue of Southwinds magazine:
When coming from USVI's, check in at Great Harbour on Jost Van Dyke is easier (less crowded, far easier to anchor) than at Soper's Hole on Tortola.
Told same by "Delirious" and others.

Have read this multiple places: do not check in at Road Town on Tortola; there is a very nasty lady at Immigration there.

Bringing meat into BVI's on private boat is not allowed. But I'm told Customs never asks or inspects for it, and they didn't ask me in 2006, 2007 or 2008.

From Judy Rouse on the SailNet Caribbean Islands list 7/2006:
If you want to keep your boat in BVI waters for more than 30 days during a calendar year, you will have to pay an annual $200 "temporary import fee" at Customs when you check in.
From Nancy Scott 10/2006:
I finally got through to someone in BVI Customs. From what the customs officer said, you would be exempt from import duty for a year providing the boat was used as a personal vessel only (no chartering). At the end of that year you would have to apply for an import duty exemption at a cost of $200, and if you stayed another year you would have to apply for another year's exemption for $200.

However, if you are going down there, make sure you ask Customs when you first clear in. Sometimes you get different answers from different people!

This is the telephone number I finally got through on in case you want to call them: 284-494-3475.
From "Nancy Ann" in Salinas PR: the $200 fee kicks in after 30 days in BVI.
I asked at the Spanish Town Customs office 4/2008 and was told: you can stay for 29 days at a time without triggering the $200 fee; you can leave and come back for another 29 days later in the year, and again, and so on. In other words, the number of days is not cumulative per year.
bvimarineguide.com says after 1 month.

From Noonsite:

From letter by Jerry Nisenon in 10/2002 issue of Cruising World magazine:
... the British Virgin Islands are already ruined by too many boats, too many moorings, and too many beach hotels. ... [Good anchorages are] covered with $20-a-night moorings ... leaving the worst spaces open for those who want to anchor. ... the charter-boat industry has outgrown the available space. ...

From 4/2004 issue of Southwinds magazine:
Overnight moorings cost $25/day.
Parks permit to use day moorings is $10/week.
Government cruising permit is $2 per person per day.

Places where you can anchor for free:
NE corner of Benures Bay [on N side of Norman Island];
near Key Point in Key Bay [on S side of Peter Island, near W end];
among liveaboards near De Loose Mongoose in Trellis Bay [on E end of Tortola, N side of Beef Island];
NE corner of Cane Garden Bay [on W end of Tortola];
Brewers Bay [on N side of Tortola, NW] (enter between east reef and center reef);
anywhere in Great Harbour / Jost van Dyke.

[On Norman Island:] From "Delirious" and others:
Instead of anchoring in Norman's Bight (deep), anchor in Benures Bay.

From Mike Branton:
Little Harbour, Peter Island: This always looks popular because the crewed yachts hang out there off-charter. They have a lot more anchor chain than bareboats, and air-conditioning. The bay is plagued with mosquitoes and has no breeze at night. Some have complained that the crews party all night and waterski all day. The surprising depth and lack of wind mean boats swing eclectically during the night. It would be quite simple to collide.

Looks very tempting but there are much better anchorages in the area!

Few hurricane holes, and those fill up with charter boats.

Fishing: there is ciguatera in most places in the BVI.

From Rich Border on Yacht-L mailing list:
Best snorkel -- George Dog [island off W end of Virgin Gorda, W of Long Bay], but don't miss the Baths [SW corner of Virgin Gorda] or the Caves [Norman Island, W end, Treasure Point] either.

Best beach -- the little one way around on the right at the Baths.

Best restaurant -- is a toss up between Paradise at Jost Van Dyke and the restaurant at the Bitter end YC Virgin Gorda.

From Rick Emerson on Yacht-L mailing list:
The Baths can be crowded and, in general, if you're not on a mooring by around 1300, it's going to be a long dinghy ride. Anchoring works in many places but really and truly some charterers are utterly clueless about anchoring. Proceed accordingly.

Although not well-known, a drift snorkel (take the dinghy in tow) or shallow dive along Spyglass Wall, extending north from Benures Bay on Norman I (there's a single white dive buoy at the north end) is time well spent. It was one of my best dives ever and, staying around 20', went on for over an hour. I came up when the rest of the folks, who were snorkeling, called it a day. I still had enough air to hold on for a while longer.

...

Although not a tenable overnight anchorage, Sandy Cay, just east of Jost Van Dyke, has a superb beach.

...

Finally, I dove with Dive BVI and recommend them as a good, friendly, competent dive operator. There are light currents and the water can be cool (I don't chill too easily but I'm glad I wore a 3mm shorty and would wear a full 3mm suit for more than a couple of dives).

From Rick Kennerly on The Live-Aboard List:
... all the reports from the BVI are that anchoring is increasingly not permitted in the more popular spots and you must pick up a mooring at $20 a night. This has come about for a number of reasons. First of all, it's because of the sheer number of boats in the BVI, due to both the charter trade and the larger number of baby boomers retiring aboard each year. Moorings ensure that you can get more boats into a given area because moorings are more space-efficient. Second, moorings prevent many of the anchoring mishaps that frequently cascade through an anchorage when one charterer screws up and in the middle of the night his boat pulls three or four loose. Finally, people on vacation, like charterers, don't mind forking over $20 a night (cruisers, on the other hand, do). But the islanders themselves like them because more boats in your harbor means more people eating ashore, shopping ashore, etc. I wouldn't let this discourage you, but it's something you should be aware of.

From Jeff on the SailNet liveaboard-list:
I recently got back from the BVI's. You need to have a cruising permit to sail in the BVI's which you can get at any of the Custom offices. The permit was around $3 per person per day in the winter, $.75 in the summer. But once you have this it's free to anchor. Without the permit the fines are hefty. I was told $1500 and up depending upon your crew. I was boarded twice in a month in the BVI's, so I would strongly advise you get this permit.

From John / New Life on the SailNet liveaboard-list:
The 32-degree ice (was lucky to last one day) in the BVI was $3 - $4 per bag in the year 2000.

Virgin Gorda "The Baths" (SW corner of the island): giant boulders forming many grottoes and beaches. Now a special $6 charge to enter (but maybe only from land ?).
Fallen Jerusalem: similar to The Baths but less visited.
Anegada: good deserted beaches, and great diving on Horseshoe Reef to SE.
Best snorkeling: "The Indians" (Pelican Island, NW of Norman Island); Norman Island Caves.

From "Muskrat": in Fat Hogs Bay (SE corner of Tortola; 5 miles E of Road Harbour), there are two smallish but good/cheap stores. One is a grocery store, the other a fish store. For some reason, prices are better than in the big supermarkets.

Some BBC content on 780 AM ?

My experience 6/2006 and 5/2007 and 3/2008 and 6/2008:

Boatyards:







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