15 April – a taste of America in the US Virgin Islands


April 23rd, 2018


Caribbean – Leeward Islands, North Atlantic 2017 – 2019

Written by

Richard Farrington

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By Richard. Posted on April 23rd, 2018 in Caribbean – Leeward Islands, North Atlantic 2017 – 2019.

18:19N  064:57.6W

We shot out of the west end of Tortola with a fresh breeze behind us and some heavy rain showers to cheer up the chaps at Customs and threaded our way anticlockwise around the large island of St John, south of Lovango Cay, through the Windward Passage, across Pilsbury Sound and then along the south coast of St Thomas, leaving Great St James to starboard.  It was an enjoyable navigation exercise, identifying the myriad of islands and rocks, watching the tide push us around, seeing the water change colour dramatically with depth and waving at yachts beating to windward in the opposite direction.  There were any number of enticing inlets and beaches on St John, but since the hurricane there is nowhere on that island to complete immigration formalities, so we would have to return another day if we wanted to step ashore here.


Charlotte Amalie – that’s a Disney cruise ship on the right.  Not sure I can quite imagine that… Does the captain wear his Mickey outfit on the bridge?

Instead, we pushed on to the port of Charlotte Amalie, the capital of St Thomas.  These islands used to belong to Denmark but were sold to the USA in 1917.  As a result, much of the architecture has a Scandinavian feel to it and most of the placenames sound European.  The harbour is a fine one: a big dent in the southern side of St Thomas, with Hassel Island and Water Island sitting in the middle, creating three distinct areas: the main harbour with a big cruise ship terminal and the main town of Fredericksberg in the east, a container port and a petrochemical area further to the west.  We anchored off the main town and scrambled ashore as close to the Customs and Border Protection Agency offices as we could, in an adjacent marina in Frenchtown.


Downtown Charlotte Amalie: touristy but certainly not tasteless

Ashore, it felt immediately like small town America.  Everyone drives trucks or big lorries; parking lots everywhere, light industry scattered across the landscape with no shortage of space.  The seafront is not picturesque, like St Georges, but there is more than a touch of the tropics in the warm breeze and the thriving vegetation that takes hold wherever it can.  Whilst there had obviously been a major hurricane here, the clean up and restoration seemed well advanced.  The Customs people all wore guns, even when sitting at a desk, so I refrained from any humour which might be misinterpreted and we conducted the necessary business transactions quickly. 



Different view, different day, different cruise ship…

Back onboard that evening, having found quite a good supermarket at the eastern end of the harbour, hidden behind a huge, empty, superyacht marina, to my dismay the generator overheated and shut itself down.  I checked the salt water system and found no obvious faults.  I removed the thermostat and stuck it in a pot of water on the stove to see if it opened at roughly the right temperature: it did.  There was sufficient coolant in the fresh water circuit, so I dived into the books.  No moment of enlightenment, so we recharged the batteries using the main engine.  I emailed Dave at Vasi Marine back at home and went to bed wondering what effect this might have on our plans and the budget.



Charlotte Amalie is actually a fine blend of Scandinavian, American and Caribbean culture and architecture and one of the nicest towns we have visited.

On Wednesday, we went ashore in the morning to find an engineer.  Getting anyone to answer the phone was hard: apparently, since the hurricane many people have changed their Service Provider and number – and the only way to track someone down reliably was to walk to their office and wait for an audience.  I spent hours trying to get the housing off to examine the port side of the set, but this proved really difficult without causing further damage.  We made little progress, so weighed anchor and went to find the Barkers aboard Mina2, anchored in Honeymoon Bay on the west side of Water Island.  This is a super spot, well sheltered from the prevailing easterlies with a fine sandy beach boasting two promising-looking beach bars and overlooked by some fine holiday homes.  We had drinks aboard Mina2 and dinner onboard Escapade: a memorable evening with new friends with whom we have much in common and who are at least 10 years ahead of us in terms of cruising milestones.  I wonder if we’ll ever get as far as Patagonia and the Antarctic?  They are about to put their Oyster 485 on a transport ship and send it off to the Mediterranean for a new adventure.  Not such a luxury choice as you might imagine: factor in the war and tear on the boat of an eastbound Transatlantic, travel costs of crew, time off, waiting for weather windows and all the rest – and the shipping option looks increasingly attractive.



Tim and Maria Barker readying Mina2 for the shiplift (removal of the RCC burgee meant rehoisting a red duster…)

On Thursday, we made some progress with the generator.  I spoke with Vasi Marine and found a chap in Crown Bay Marina with recent history as a generator mechanic.  I returned to the boat, removed the thermostat, confirmed that the fresh water pump was working properly and then ran the generator without incident for an hour.  Without a temperature regulator, it took longer than usual to reach its normal operating temperature, but it sounded happy and produced electricity without overheating or shutting itself down.  I even found an Onan dealer in Puerto Rico who should be able to source spares.  I just hoped that the set was not too old: Tim Barker had told me a gloomy tale about his old generator, where the company had gone bust and no spares existed for the fault his developed – an expensive exercise.


Honeymoon Cove – the nicest anchorage in Charlotte Amalie

Friday was spent chasing IT, but we now have an account with AT&T which will last for 12 months and should work everywhere between St Thomas and the North Pole, with the possible exceptions of the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba.  The ageing iPad is now the onboard ‘hotspot’ and we should be into a new phase of being ‘connected’ which we have not enjoyed since Gibraltar.  We failed to find a replacement thermostat locally, but I’m confident that we can run as we are until Puerto Rico, if necessary. 

Ashore, Julie met some locals who explained that the hurricane recovery effort had been greatly assisted by generous grants from the US Government and a steady stream of volunteers coming down from the mainland and giving their time and skills in site clearance and the restoration of services and basic amenities.   They encouraged us to return to St John, which is largely given over to the US National Parks.  We nearly went on Saturday, but some rougher weather came through and rather than flog to windward, we went for a good walk around the island and then recovered in Dinghy’s Beach Bar, listening to a classic ‘soft rock’ band belting out Eagles and Johnny Cash tunes.  I was intrigued by the lead singer: in his fifties, he was technically very competent but seemed to rely heavily on a large fan placed just in front of him.  I still haven’t made up my mind if it was to stop him evaporating in the heat, or simply to allow his bouffant hairstyle to flow unimpeded behind him.  The angle of the fan was crucial: the bass player had a poorly fitting wig which looked quite precarious.  Everyone else had a seat for security… the delights of being an ageing rocker!



Check out that big old yellow fan!

We nearly stayed rather longer than planned. We had decided to leave the boat keys onboard Escapade and go ashore without a rucksack to carry paraphernalia.  After all, we could drag the dinghy up the beach and there was nothing to padlock it to in the sand… except that the handyman at the beach bar was putting the finishing touches to his new dinghy dock as we came ashore and without thinking, we padlocked the dinghy to it.  We realised our predicament about an hour before sunset: Julie nobly volunteered to swim the couple of hundred yards out to Escapade and back to bring the keys ashore.  She never much liked Johnny Cash anyways…

The following day we weighed anchor and beat upwind to Francis Bay on the north west coast of St Johns.  It wasn’t as difficult as we anticipated and was actually quite enjoyable, apart from a weird spot halfway across Pilsbury Sound where the wind died, backed and veered round in circles, causing significant sense of humour failure and a minor mutiny.  It was worth it though – although there were no beach bars or bands playing, the beach itself was beautiful, the backdrop impressive and the anchorage uncrowded.  We had to pick up a buoy – part of a National Park scheme to protect the seabed ecosystems from the ravaging of yacht anchors – but it was free.  A night without worrying about dragging the anchor is always a bonus!



St Francis Bay, St John, US Virgin Islands