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Set Sail in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Grab your sailing gear and head out on a boating adventure in the waters around St. John and St. Thomas.

 

The waters of St. John and St. Thomas are “definitely one of the best places in the world to sail,” says Trevor Sichel, who spends his days at the Activities Information Center at Mongoose Junction, a shopping and restaurant hub on St. John, lining up tourists on a U.S. Virgin Island vacation with Virgin Islands sailing and boating excursions, including boat charters. Sichel explains the ideal conditions for sailing in area waters: The waters are protected due to the many surrounding islands, there are always winds and there are many short trips from which to choose like the popular Jost Van Dyke, an island which is around an hour roundtrip from St. John. Sichel especially recommends sailing tours because unlike motor boats that drown out conversation, sailing is “very sociable … just the noise of the wind in the sails and the waves.”  

Pretty Cays in All Directions

The most typical half-day sails involve visiting a choice of two cays, most of which are accessible from either St. John or St. Thomas. All the cays are beautiful; the choice depends on the wind and crowds. One popular destination for cruise ship passengers is visiting Trunk Bay on St. John. I took a charter to the area between two islands, Lovongo and Congo Cays, which offer pretty coral ledges for snorkeling and good protection from the winds. The islands are mostly deserted, although Boy Scouts sometimes use Lovongo’s shoreline for survival outings.

My second choice for mooring is Denis Bay on St. John, a national park area accessible only by boat or a hiking trail from the old windmill on Peace Hill. Situated just east of what is better known as Hawksnest Bay, Denis Bay is an especially sweet spot for snorkeling along shoals of coral featuring endangered elkhorn coral. Other favorite spots for day charters include Little or Great St. James, and Thatch and Grass Cay, along with Hans Lolick off St. Thomas, which features an isolated, white sandy beach. Three-hour half-day sailing specials can run as little as $70 for the first person and an additional $35 for the second person. Contact www.bestofusvi.com or call 340-715-4944 for a tour best suited to your needs. New Horizons (tel. 800-808-7604; www.newhorizonsvi.com), is also recommended for a full day of sailing and snorkeling adventures, as well as sunset dinner cruises.

Side Trips to the BVI

For families with young children, catamarans are strongly suggested, such as the 45-passenger Limnos, which has two decks, one in and one out of the sun, each with showers, a swim platform and plenty of room for antsy kids to roam. Limnos’ most popular trip is to the famous Baths of Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), the Stonehenge of the Caribbean with enormous boulders at water’s edge and tidal pools for wading. The expedition is followed by snorkeling at the nearby caves, which served as the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. A daylong boating escape is $135 for adults, $95 for children, plus a $30 customs fee per person. Visit www.limnoscharters.com, tel. 340-775-3203. (Note: excursions to the BVI require a passport.)

Other Boating Options

High-speed motorboat tours are available from St. John and St. Thomas for about $450 a day, like on the 31-foot Stamas, with twin 200-horsepower engines. Something important to consider with such tours is whether to relax or cover territory—there are so many islands but so little time. Just ask an expert like Sichel to find the option best suited for your tastes. (There’s no added commission for his expertise!)

In terms of sailing and boating around St. Croix, the third of the major U.S. Virgin Islands, there’s Buck Island, an underwater national park with wonderful snorkeling trails and protected beaches. Aside from Buck Island, Captain Ken Lessin of the s/v Diana sailboat that splits its time between St. John and St. Croix, says that there are really no convenient day-trips for sailing or boating from St. Croix, due to its distance from the other islands. Instead, he says of St. John and St. Thomas, which are surrounded by dozens of nearby islands, “This is the playground for boating.”


Destinations: U.S. Virgin Islands, Saint Croix, Saint John, Saint Thomas

Themes: Beach Vacations, Outdoor Adventures

Activities: Boating


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