We spent an entire month with the Virgins – two weeks with the Spanish, two weeks with the US, and one (legendary) night with the British.
The Virgins exceeded my expectations in many ways. Turtles swim around anchorages; deer, donkeys and goats come down the hills at twilight to graze by the beach; coral is full of colorful fish; quiet, well-maintained trails up big hills give views of crystal blue bays; and the water is so warm and clean you could float for hours. We finally got the water toys I’d been craving – a plastic floaty chair (that Jason hates) and a tiny yellow kayak we named Sunshine (of which I think Jason is a bit envious) – because I couldn’t get enough time in the water. We caughtup on some television shows over Hulu and Netflix while in US airspace. And we were able to find a lot of the groceries we’d been craving for months – Tostitos Zesty Bean and Cheese Dip, veggie burgers, goat cheese and spinach lettuce!
The US Virgin Islands (St Thomas and St John)
We spent a post-card perfect day in St Thomas with four of my friends whose cruise ship stopped at port for the day. Skirt and Sleeves (sailing friends from Mississippi) and Stacey and Aaron (neighbors from Michigan) sailed with us to Lindbergh Bay, where we grilled up some burgers (and a veggie burger for me), downed more than our fair share of beers and rum and cokes, tore threw a can or two of Pringles, and spent the entire day swimming in the bay. (No moms, we didn’t wait two hours after eating before getting in the water. I don’t think we waited two minutes.) It completely satisfied our cravings for time with good old friends and some good old fun.
Our week in St John with our friend Deke on board was like sleep-away camp for grownups. Two-thirds of St John is national park, and there are tightly controlled mooring fields and few anchorages, which keeps St John’s hills and beaches pristine and quiet. Every day, we sailed to a beautiful new bay, spent the day snorkeling, scuba diving, swimming and hiking, and made delicious dinners on board. Within a day or two of arriving, we started scouring real estate ads and discussing how to stay forever. We were also fortunate enough to have a bbq with our New York friends Ali and Darius Ali on their balcony overlooking Cruz Bay.
The British Virgin Islands
We didn’t slight the British for lack of beautiful beaches, good hiking, fun bars or clean water. They don’t disappoint on those fronts. We skipped them because we’d both experienced them at their pinnacle – 25 sailboats carrying 200 New Yorkers descending upon their anchorages for a week of the Manhattan Yacht Club Caribbean Regatta – and we knew nothing could live up to those memories. We’re also in a hurry to get to Grenada by June 1st, so we have to prioritize and make sacrifices. Sorry, mates, maybe next time.
We did stop for one night at Norman Island. Our friend, Norman Deke Jameison, was on board for the week. After a few days in St John we decided it was time to show Deke the real Virgin fun. We sailed to Norman Island, we moored deep in the Bite of Norman Island, we dinghied to Willy T’s (a bar on an old dilapidated boat), we stormed up to the second floor balcony, we stripped off our clothes, and we jumped into the water. There were no MYC metals to be awarded (Jason and I each have two from prior jumps) and there was no crowd of 200 New Yorkers cheering us on, but it was exhilarating and I can still see Deke’s beaming face as we scurried out of the water.
La Islas Virgines Espanolas (Vieques, Culebra and Culebrita)
The Spanish Virgin Islands were a mixed bag. The water at a few of the anchorages was not clean enough to swim, mostly because of water circulation problems, not human waste, thankfully. (My standards of swimmable water have skyrocketed after moving from the cesspool Hudson River to the crystal clean Caribbean.) A few of the anchorages had loud music playing till the wee hours (ok, our idea of “wee hours”, but we go to sleep after the sun goes down). Restaurants and groceries were nearly as expensive as the states. People were not as warm and easygoing as the Dominican Republic.
Culebra and Vieques both had beautiful anchorages on their west coasts – where only a few sailboats anchored at night and a few dive boats ventured during the day. The anchorages near the main towns on both islands were not swimmable and a bit loud. Culebrita was gorgeous; when I popped my head out of the cabin to see the anchorage we’d just arrived to I exclaimed, “This is the most beautiful anchorage we’ve ever been to!” (and we’ve been to a lot of really beautiful anchorages). Within an hour or two of arriving, however, 30 big fishing boats showed up full of people, water toys, and speakers. It was a family affair, so really not at all offensive, just an intrusion on my own perfect little world, which I admit is completely selfish. I imagine that on a weekday we would have had the place to ourselves, and would think it is the most beautiful place in the world.
The Spanish Virgins were faced with a tall order. I’d visited Vieques ten years earlier. In January 2005, I was 26, about to finish law school, travelling with my parents, very single, and very focused on the career I was about to start. It was a stressful trip, driving around Puerto Rico for three weeks. Over my father’s objections, I drove us to Fajardo, reserved seats on the ferry from Fajardo to Vieques, and rented a room at a B&B on Vieques. It was a breath of fresh air, a place with one beach restaurant to eat at and infinite beach shorelines to walk. When we tried to get a taxi back to the B&B, all of the men of the island were drunk, enthralled in a domino game on the beach. One of them called his wife to come get us. He got a good ribbing when she showed up, and his friends all teased him, knowing their wives would have similar words for them when they found their ways home too. All the years I’d spent learning Spanish were giving me a peak into this very special community – I was in love. Sitting in the B&B’s infinity pool looking out over the Caribbean, I told myself I would honeymoon on this island. I was very single, and very confident I would never marry. I’d left boyfriends largely because they wanted to marry me. Yet, there I was, alone, planning my honeymoon.
Ten years is a long time, both for a young woman and an undeveloped island. I’m 36, just retired from that career in big law. In the last ten years, I’ve travelled to more than 25 countries and fell in love with many of them. I’ve warmed to the idea of marriage but broken off two engagements. Vieques has a new swanky W resort on the north shore, and an entire street of restaurants in Esperanza. The little beachside shack we’d eaten at ten years ago now has a page-long microbrew beer list. I don’t think I heard a single word of Spanish spoken the entire day we spent in Esperanza. The island’s male population over 50 was still playing dominos down on the beach, and the beaches were as beautiful as I’d remembered. But the American tourist that stopped the gentleman riding horseback through town to take his picture, exclaiming, “It’s so cute!” brought it all crashing down. I wanted to suggest that she go back to mainland; there are horses there too.
Probably I bailed too soon, unwilling to let my memory be altered, not patient enough to let the old world, small town charm expose itself to us. The Spanish Virgins get marked up as a definite maybe, I think. We’ll see if the site administrator (read: Jason) edits that out.
Puerto Rico Proper
We skipped along the south shore of Puerto Rico. We were in a hurry to get to St Thomas by April 6th. We spent almost a week pounding into big seas, directly into the wind, diesel engine screaming. If we stopped at night, it was just to sleep. The two or three times we did stop to go to land and swim a bit, the water was murky (again, lack of circulation, not human waste) and the beaches were packed (it was Semana Santa, so everyone was on vacation). We had a nice hike at Cabo Rojo’s lighthouse and enjoyed a meal or two at Copa Marina near Gilligan’s Island. And I was delighted to see so many wind farms along the coast.
We stopped at Sunbay Marina in Fajardo, and were impressed by the facilities and really pleased to meet other young liveaboards – some even raising and homeschooling young kids on board. It seemed like the kind of place we could stay for a while. Fajardo also has a West Marine, Walmart and Papa Johns, so we could definitely stay for a while. (Dream big.)
We road tripped to San Juan for a day. Like our day in Santo Domingo, we spent the day wandering around the streets of the colonial part of town, drinking beers at outdoor cafes, and people watching.
On our way out of town, we happened to make a wrong turn and ended up in what looked like the business district. The high-rise office buildings appear to have spectacular views of the ocean, not that I’m office shopping again quite yet.