US Virgin Islands (USVI)


Cruising Log of U.S. Virgin Islands

Preliminary Stuff

The USVI are 3 islands, all US possessions. St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John. They are considered great shopping areas because of numerous sales tax exemptions. We will focus on a couple of cruising areas in St Thomas and St Croix, but more particularly on St John, as it is probably the most scenic, and the one offering the largest number of protected anchorages, and magnificent beaches. (View a map of St. John.)

What also sets St. John apart is that more than 50% is managed by the National Park Services, which keeps the island immaculate. It is a good idea to pay a visit to the Park Office in Cruz Bay to check on this island's strict rules of cruising. Also, very recently, a large number of mooring balls have been installed in several anchorages, in order to protect the underwater life. (View new USVI mooring and anchoring regulations.)

We have not written a cruising log per say, but rather suggestions of itineraries and tips not necessarily found in the cruising guides. You will be able to adjust this information to the length of you stay, your desire to sail a lot or a little, and of course your skills level.

If you are planning to go around St. John, one way or another, you will have to beat close to the wind. You might then want to start with the North shore, beating, but in short hops, and finish with the South shore downwind or at least on a beam reach.

On top of the mandatory nautical charts, we strongly suggest you get your hands on the excellent Virgin Islands Cruising Guide by Nancy and Simon Scott. The book is "a must have" as it gives detailed anchorage approach information and charts, and GPS waypoints. The new versions even has a section on the Spanish Virgin Islands, off Puerto Rico.

(Note: We have no connections with the Scott's. We just know it's probably the best book you can get for this purpose.) But for now, while you're reading this, just follow with your BVI chart. Later, you can go to the Cruising Guide.

Also, do not take our headings and distances at face value. They are only an approximation. Good seamanship requests you check the information YOURSELF anyway.

Regarding the mooring balls: if you need them, always keep in mind that they are often all occupied by 1530. If you show up after that, you will have to anchor. Problem is, in some places there are so many balls that there is barely enough room left to anchor. So watch out!
Lastly, if you're cruising during high season, make reservations in the restaurants by calling them in advance on the VHF, usually Ch. 16 (check frequencies with the Cruising Guide.)

If you are leaving from Red Hook, St. Thomas, just keep reading below; if you are leaving from West end of Tortola, Sopers Hole, jump to that section now.

Day 1

You have 2 choices.

  • First night at Great St. James, Christmas Cove.

  • Note: This could also be your last night stop.
    Sail out of Red Hook, on a heading 096°mag for about 1NM. Round Cabrita Point (green buoy on your starboard side). Take heading 230°mag for about 1NM. Approaching Xmas Cove from the North, as you're doing now, you have to watch Current Rock (marked by a flashing red light), which you want to leave on your starboard side, getting close to St James. The current can ride in either direction, depending on the tide. I usually start the engine at this point, since St James blankets most of the wind. You can anchor on either side of Fish Cay, and close to the shore as the wind can be swinging from all sides. If and when you will leave Xmas Cove for St John, do not pass between Steven Cay and St John: there are numerous coral heads there.

  • First night at St. John, Caneel Bay 
    Sail out of Red Hook, on a heading 075°mag for about 3.5NM -leave Steven Cay on your starboard side- and you'll be in Caneel Bay where you can grab a free mooring ball. Caneel Bay has a famous resort (same name) at which you can have dinner, with reservations. Caneel Bay has beautiful white beaches.We strongly suggest you go ashore to the town of Cruz Bay. I personally never try to anchor in Cruz Bay with my boat. It is nightmarish: the ferries make it very difficult, there is shoal, no public moorings, and there is never any room anyway. AND the authorities will kindly charge you $18 if you tie to the pier for 5 minutes. So what is smarter, is to moor in the West part of Caneel Bay and go to Cruz Bay with your dinghy. It is a little bit long, but well worth it to avoid headaches; besides, you can tie up at the dinghy dock the whole day if you want. Alternatively, you can dinghy from your Caneel Bay mooring to the hotel, and take a cab ($2 per person) to Cruz Bay to do your clearance.I love the town of Cruz Bay, because of the multitude of little artist shops and great food places. I also recommend a visit to the Mongoose Junction mall, of wonderful architecture and great, unusual shops in the Caribbean.

Day 2

A (very) short hop from Caneel, is Hawknest Bay, just around Hawknest Point. It is a tiny, but lovely and peaceful anchorage, and a designated snorkeling and swimming area.

Day 3 (or alternative Day 2)

The Johnson reef area: Trunk Bay, Cinnamon Bay, and Francis Bay, all with mooring balls. The area is another very short hop from either Caneel or Hawknest, sailing eastward, and is about 1.8 NM wide.

Important: when approaching the area, stay well North of the Johnson reef marked by a green flashing light. Do NOT go between the little unlit yellow buoys.
The really neat part is the underwater snorkeling trail that extends to Trunk Bay. Francis Bay has about 30 mooring balls available.

Day 4

Leinster Bay Leaving Francis Bay, you can go around Whistling Cay but do not sail between it and Mary Pt. Then, here is the problem: sailing eastbound, you will be in the Narrows, where you both beat and go against a strong westerly current. If you choose to do that, you will need your engine, otherwise it will be painful and long. Now, odd as it sounds, try the following instead: leave Francis Bay on a heading 300°mag around Whistling. Then take a 065°mag for about 1.5NM. You will be on the North side of Great Thatch. Follow Great Thatch's shore for about 2NM. Then take heading 225°mag between the western tip of Tortola and Great Thatch, down to Leinster for about 1.5NM. It is much more pleasant, and besides, it will make you do some sailing, which you haven't done a lot of so far!

Now you're in! Leinster Bay has about 20 mooring balls, courtesy of the Park Service. If none available, anchor only in the sand. Or try the southeast of Watermelon Cay. The Old Sugar Mill is a traditional visit.

You are now done with all the possible anchorages on St. John's North shore.

Day 5

Leave Leinster Bay and sail on a heading 125°mag for about 4NM, along the NE shore of St John. At this point, you have 2 options for the day.

  • If you have time, we recommend you make a lunch/snorkeling stop at Pelican Islands/The Indians. If you go for that, alter your course to heading 135°mag for about 2.5NM. At Pelican, pick up a Park Service mooring ball. The snorkeling there is famous, and well worth it. When you leave, take a heading 283°mag. for 2NM to Privateer Pt, on St John. Then see below.
  • If you go straight to St John South shore, take a heading 200°mag. and sail between Privateer Pt. on St John and Flanagan Island, all the way down to Red Point on St John. You can take a GPS waypoint to help you to get there: 18°19.4N / 64°40.3W.

Get around Red Point and you now have a choice of 3 coves (from East to West): Round Bay, Hurricane Hole, and Coral Harbour. Here is what you ought to know about the 3 places: In the rainy season, of when the wind is light, bugs are numerous and hungry! Because the anchorages are deep inside St John, you will have to beat for quite a while to get back out to sea.

Other than that, Coral Harbour has lots of liveaboards, and is considered one of the places to eat in on the island. Hurricane Hole is rather secluded. From any of them, you can take a bus for $1 (or even hitchhike!) to anywhere on the island.

Day 6/7

Leave the area above by taking a heading of about 160°mag. NOTE: Use your marine chart here, to make sure you leave Leduck Island on your starboard side. One you pass Leduck, alter your heading to about 193°mag. You want to be careful with the Eagle Shoal, which is very difficult to see, and sits about 2/3 NM South of Leduck. Remember, the easterly wind can make you drift toward it, so beware. After leaving the shoal on your starboard side, take a heading 270°mag. to get to Ram Head Point, about 1NM from where you are now.
At this point, there are 3 possible nice anchorages remaining for your St John tour.

  • Salt Pond, just round the corner of the Ram Head. To get in, leave the rocks on your starboard side, it is easier. It is a great anchorage, and once again, there are mooring balls waiting for you!
  • Great Lameshur and Little Lameshur, which both offer good snorkeling AND free mooring balls.

Back to St. Thomas

From Lameshur take a heading 182°mag. for about 4NM, hugging St John South shore. Then alter your course to about 310°NM for 2NM toward Cabrita Pt. to enter Red Hook.

Passage to St. Croix

The island sits about 35NM South of the BVI and USVI. If you leave from the USVI, you want to leave from the most Eastern part of St John. Even better, if you are leaving from the BVI, leave from the most Eastern part you possibly can, for the optimum point of sail - the wind is blowing from the East or the SE. If you're lucky and have a NNE wind, you will have a great sail down. On my last passage, we got very lucky and got not one but TWO large dolphin schools, giving us a great show.

The heading from the USVI is about 170°mag. and from the BVI about 200°mag. But, of course, establish your own heading depending of where you are leaving form. A waypoint for Christiansted: 17°46.0N / 064°41.9W. Note: There is a westerly current in this passage to St Croix. So you want to point to the Eastern part of the island in order to make it to Christiansted. Correct your heading accordingly both and visually and with your GPS if you have one.

Anyway, since the basic rule of sailing is that you never know how long a crossing will take, leave very early to reach Christiansted right after noon. Count on the crossing takes anywhere from 5 to 7 hours. The entrance of the harbor is a channel that you have to follow carefully with your chart, and this cannot be done in poor light conditions. We suggest you study the chart in advance, as well as a picture of the harbor.

OK... so now you are in Christiansted. The simplest is to tie up at St. Croix marina, or to anchor off the marina. We will not describe what can be done ashore. The Cruising Guide and tourist guides will be more useful for that purpose. Just know that there is a lot of shopping areas and restaurants on the island. Also worth a visit: a nice historic section downtown Christiansted, the Whim Plantation, St. George Botanical Garden, and he Cruzan Rum Distillery.

Buck Island

It is one of my favorite anchorages in the USVI. Go back out of Christiansted the same way you came in. Then alter course slightly to NE along Scotch Bank. Then proceed on a heading 90°mag for about 1.7NM and you'll be at Buck. Anchor off the sandy beach in about 15/20ft of water.

The main attraction at Buck is the snorkeling trail. Take your dinghy and go inside the south eastern reef all the way to the eastern end. Tie up the dinghy to a Park service buoy. The snorkeling is fantastic, one of the best I've seen anywhere. As usual do not touch any coral head.

Buck Island is not an overnight anchorage unless the weather is very calm.

There are other areas in St Croix, like Green Cay marina or St. Croix Yacht Club, but there is nothing particularly attractive in going there. We feel that if you do the ashore visit and Buck, you will have gotten the most off the island.

Leaving from Sopers Hole, Tortola to Caneel Bay, St. John

Do not forget to clear out of the BVI first. You can do it in Sopers before leaving, or in Road Town beforehand. Out of Sopers, take a heading 270°mag through the Narrows for about 4NM. That should go pretty quickly with the favorable current and the downwind point of sail. That should take you to the northern tip of the Johnson Reef, marked by a green flashing light. Keep the green light on your port (left) side and do NOT go between the little unlit yellow buoys. After passing the reef, alter course to 220°mag for about 1.8NM. You will see Caneel Bay on your port side. Pick up a free mooring ball. Since you are arriving from the BVI, you MUST go to Cruz Bay to clear the US Customs. When coming bcak to the BVI, you will have to clear in again.

See how to continue from Caneel Bay on.

St. John chart property of St. Thomas Graphics