St. Thomas in The U.S. Virgin Islands

We left Culebra with winds once again coming over our port side, a northeast wind, around 15 knots. This was one of those blissful days when Perky went on vacation granting Neptune and Aeolus free rein for a day. Ocean Angel is in her element as she slices through the water, parting the waves with a hiss and a sigh. We scarcely had time to get settled when Sail Rock appeared off to starboard at the midpoint of our crossing, and just as quickly faded into the distance behind us. I had anticipated the rock being just that – a rock – when in reality, the rock is a rather large island. It seemed like only moments later that other islands began popping up all over the horizon, and suddenly we realized – we were in the Virgin Islands!

Approaching St. Thomas from the southwest
Approaching St. Thomas from the southwest

After all the miles that have passed under our keel this year it is hard for me to explain the elation we felt at actually sailing Ocean Angel among islands we hadn’t seen for more than 30 years. I know I felt a few shivers running up and down my spine as I gazed at the scenery unfolding before us; I’m sure Joy was having the same sensations. I still pinch myself every so often just to be sure it’s not all a dream!

As we tucked up under the south shore of St. Thomas a number of showers began popping up over the mountaintops to the north. The clouds would rise up, start dropping rain, then gently glide down towards the seashore where just as quickly they would dissipate and be gone. Off to the left you see one of those showers nearly obscuring the end of the runway at the Charlotte Amalie airport. From the western end of St. Thomas we rapidly approached Water Island, and I had to scoot up to the mast to hoist the lazy jacks in preparation for dropping the main and furling the jib. We were shocked at how fast we’d sailed this passage. Normally, I try to have all the sailing gear put to bed by the time we approach an anchorage, but this time, Joy had to take the boat through several circles while I finished putting the gear away.   

The runway at the St. Thomas airport socked in
The runway at the St. Thomas airport socked in

We bypassed our first choice of anchorage, Honeymoon Bay, as it was much too crowded. We motored up West Gregerie Channel towards downtown and found an empty mooring along the western shore of Water Island, but we later discovered we weren’t supposed to use this one as it was a private, commercial mooring, though it was not marked where we could see it. It seemed we had little choice as the water was almost 50 feet deep, and even our anchoring gear was insufficient for this depth.
Off Water Island
Off Water Island

Off to our left is one of the commercial harbors of St. Thomas where we spied dry docks, a couple marinas, and what the charts said was a cruise ship dock. Next morning when I rose early I was just a little surprised to see a 600 foot long cruise ship slide close by my port side, slowly and carefully snuggling up to the long empty dock. Guess the chart was right.
This guy passed right off our stern
This guy passed right off our stern

This area is very busy. Ferry boats service Water Island; water taxis run around all day; private and commercial yachts are always on the move. It was fun to sit back and watch all the action, and we would like to have stayed here, but knowing about the mooring, we felt we should find another spot where we would be able to drop the hook safely. So we dropped the mooring tether, drifted back, then pointed our bow towards the busy Charlotte Amalie harbor.  

There are a couple of different passages to the main harbor – you can pass between St. Thomas and Hassel Island through the narrow reef-lined Haulover Cut, or you can circle Hassel and enter through the deep waters. With zero visibility peering down into the water that morning coupled with our recent reef encounter, we elected to take the 2 mile detour. Joy was very uneasy about the cut; I had mixed feelings, so we chose safety over a few minutes saved. Later, as we were able to look back through the cut on a nice sunny day, we realized how easy it would have been, but a few yards too close to one side or the other might have spelled disaster. So the right choice was the one we sensed at that moment.  

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