US Virgin Islands Sailing Article

Virgin Territory Ahoy! Caribbean sailing and chartering in the Virgin Islands

US Virgin Islands sailing article written by Travel Writer & Editor Linda Jackson

US Virgin Islands sailing charter

It was exciting to be navigating the same seas as did Christopher Columbus in the 15th century, and to be visiting the US Virgin Islands sailing as did he, and which he personally named Santa Ursula y las Once Mil Vírgenes after the legendary beautiful Saint Ursula and her 11,000 virginal handmaidens: an archipelago much coveted and fought over by colonisers (Danes, English, Knights of Malta, French, Dutch and Spanish) who jostled for control for over 200 years.

American Caribbean Virgin islands sailing

The group of islands were divided between the English and Danish during the 17th century, with the Dane’s selling out to America for $25 million in 1917: the western islands being of particular importance to America because of their strategic position along the Anegada Passage (a key shipping lane for the Panama Canal) and the possibility that Germany could use them as a base for U-boats.

Caribbean Sailing holidays & yacht charter vacations in the Caribbean

The picturesque chain of 70-plus islands, rocks and cays stretching to around fifty miles in length (located east of Puerto Rico between the North Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea) today remain peacefully divided between the British Virgin Islands (BVI), a British Protectorate, and the United States Virgin Islands (USVI), a US territory. This archipelago with its steady trade winds, sunny climate, stunning scenery, sheltered anchorages and short passages between islands is considered to be one of the finest sailing grounds in the world attracting hundreds of sailboats, catamarans and yachts to its crystalline waters. So, even though I’m not much of a sailor, how could I possibly refuse an invitation to follow some exciting races? I didn’t….

Charter a boat in the Caribbean & sailing vacations in the Caribbean for beginners

The desire to merge chameleon-like into the sailing fraternity already on deck failed miserably as I stumbled into sailing companions-to-be when the 90-foot-plus motor yacht swayed at its moorings. Despite nonchalantly kicking off newly purchased deck shoes at the gangplank in nautical expert fashion, it became patently clear that my sea legs had not been informed they were at sea and that an experienced boater I was not. Without opening my mouth I had succeeded in announcing that a fully qualified landlubber had arrived.

As my eat-drink-sleep fellow boaters, legs as firm as oaks, sipped their Mimosas I continued across deck with an uncontrollable quickstep in time to the sway of the boat, somehow balancing a champagne cocktail in one hand and a gargantuan strawberry in the other. All aboard and several popped corks later, I watched in anticipation as the crew cast off the bowline and we headed out into the turquoise waters of the beautiful Virgin Islands – idyllic cruising grounds for a high-end yacht charter holiday.

Want to crew in a Caribbean yacht race? Then sign up at St Thomas Yacht Club – you don’t need your own yacht

Racing alongside our motor yacht, making the most of the dependable Caribbean trade winds, were hundreds of sailors on boats ranging in size from 24 to 80 feet taking part in the International Rolex Regatta being raced off the island of St Thomas, USVI; the lucky winners of each competing class of which would go home with a coveted Rolex timepiece. The relaxed low-key affair with plenty of sailing over the three-day event, known as the “crown jewel of Caribbean yacht racing” and considered perfect for first-timers to Caribbean racing, had attracted contestants from Europe, America and all over the Caribbean.

Awe-inspiring 75-footers with hardcore racing teams; boats ranging from 30-50 feet with semi-pro racers, and mere mortals sailing the more laid-back Racer/Cruiser and Non-Spinnaker Racing classes plied the crystal clear Caribbean waters for three days, followed by evenings at the host yacht club with beach parties, reggae and rum.

“Every sailor in the world envies our constant north-east trade winds and lovely Caribbean weather conditions” says a long-term (UK) St Thomas resident and stalwart sailor on the Caribbean racing scene who hasn’t looked back since first navigating a 74-foot ketch to the Virgin Islands in 1961. “The St Thomas and Antigua Rolex Regattas are the best in the world”he adds “and not just for the elite; you don’t need your own yacht, anyone can charter a boat, fly here with their crew, find crew on location, or add their name to the yacht club’s crew pool. It’s a wonderful experience.”

As we anchored in the crystal clear turquoise waters of Christmas Cove, relaxed in the deluxe surroundings of “our” motor yacht (unfortunately just for the occasion) and sipped exotic aperitifs on deck while lunch was being prepared, it was easy to see the appeal of chartering a yacht; either to race, combine racing and sailing with a family holiday, or simply for a relaxing escape from a stressful business world.

Bareboat boat charter in the Caribbean or all-inclusive Cruise class yacht charter with skipper and hostess

Whether experienced boaters or not, with or without an itinerary, for a day or a month, there are charters available with ‘class’ options ranging from Bareboat (boat rental, no crew, perfect for the experienced boater); Discover class with boat and skipper (for those not afraid of some hard work but need instruction), and Cruise class with yacht, skipper and hostess on an all-inclusive basis, to Luxury (with full crew and nothing to do, all-inclusive basis).

As the boating capital of the Caribbean, the scenic Virgin Islands have a plethora of stunning marina and anchorage options… from luxury marinas to private coves where boaters can slip into a secluded bay to moor for the night or make their way to beachside hotel accommodation on terra firma; and with its colonial past, you can find some quaint historical towns to explore – as I discovered on three islands I visited in the region.

US Virgin Islands sailing vacations around the Caribbean island of St John

St John is the smallest and most enchanting of the three US Virgin Islands where stunning beaches rim the shoreline and over half the island’s 21 square miles are under the protection of the Virgin Islands National Park (a gift from philanthropist Laurance Rockefeller in 1956). With quaint shops in Cruz Bay, a host of nature and hiking trails, superlative diving and pristine beaches, this is a real treasure island, and although no marinas on St John, there are around fifteen anchorages in beautiful bays.

US Virgin Islands sailing charter

St Croix has a gentle rolling terrain, a few rugged mountains, a tropical rainforest and numerous ruins of sugar mills dotted around the island, remnants of the plantations owned by Danish colonisers who purchased the island from the French in the 17th century. The island has a Casino, three marinas and a handful of anchorages: one in the harbour of Christiansted, a picturesque old-world Danish town with a treasure trove of neoclassic buildings; and one in Salt River, where Christopher Columbus landed in 1493 on his second voyage to the new world.

US Virgin Islands sailing regattas and yacht charter around the Caribbean island of St Thomas

St Thomas, the lively island: mountainous and busy, with duty-free shopping, trendy restaurants, palm-fringed white sand beaches and awesome views. The island has around sixteen anchorages and seven marinas with options ranging from bareboat necessities to state-of-the-art luxury facilities; yachts (racing, motor and mega) line the waterfront and marinas, and berth in the beautiful harbour of the historical US Virgin Islands’ sailing capital, named in 1692 after the Queen of Denmark – Charlotte Amalie – where my nautical experience ended. Or so I thought, until I took my first few steps on solid Virgin territory that is, when I soon discovered my recently-acquired sea legs were still very much at sea.

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