My parents and I left Charlotte Amalie after I had my refrigerator’s compressor replaced. I have left this harbor many, many time over the last year and a half, but I have always turned left and headed upwind to the British Virgin Islands. This time we headed to the right in order to visit the Spanish Virgin Islands, which are just as close as the BVI.
I am surprised how many people don’t know there are islands to the west of St Thomas. In fact there are two main islands, Culebra and Vieques, along with many smaller islands before you get to the first Greater Antilles, Puerto Rico. I think this is due to the US Navy restricting access in the past because they used the islands for target practice and training. The islands are owned by Puerto Rico, where Spanish is the primary language, giving them the moniker of the Spanish VI in order to keep with the USVI and BVI naming practice.
On the downwind sail to Culebra you will pass a very distinct rock called Sail Rock. From here you head for Ensenada Honda, but do watch the shoals outside the harbor. We anchored behind Cayo Pirata, a small island towards the west end of the harbor and right next to the town of Dewey. When you get here the first thing you need to do is check in by calling Customs and Immigration at 787-729-6840, even if coming from other US owned land. They may have you walk to the airport to finish the process, or not. Once you have cleared in you have to check out the town. My favorite stopping spots were the Dinghy Dock (both a place to tie the tender and a restaurant), the lift bridge (which was raised one time got stuck and was never raised again), Zaco Taco (a wonderfully relaxed backdoor patio restaurant), the post office (it looked like it was out of the old west), and the museum (note it is a long ways from town and is only open on certain days).
The next day we moved the boat all of five miles by leaving the harbor and going to Bahia de Almodovar. The winds were 20 knots from the east and had been for several days, so it was a bit bumpy until we rounded the corner and got behind the reef where the water was flat calm. You will never find a cooler anchorage as the wind sweeps over the reef in this quiet, calm, and uncrowded place to pick up a free mooring. Check out the photo of the anchorage. We were moored behind the small mangrove island.
From here we sailed to the north harbor of Culebrita, a wonderful island a couple miles from Culebra. This island has it all from a fantastic beach on the north and west side, to wonderful hiking trails, an unbelievable lighthouse, a “Jacuzzi” (a calm pool of water on the windward coast), eye popping snorkeling, and free moorings to boot. What a great way to spend a day.
Another great place to spend a day is at Flamenco Beach, but I don’t recommend taking your boat here because when I was here it was a bit rough and this was the middle of summer. During the winter when the swell is rolling in I can imagine how rough it could get. I would recommend walking, biking, or taking a cab from Dewey when you are safely anchored in Ensenada Honda, but don’t miss this beach. It is beautiful and crescent shaped with fantastic sand, but the coolest feature is two WW2 Sherman tanks on the beach. These tanks were used as target practice by the Navy and when they stopped using the island back in 1975 they left them to rust on the beach. Now it is super cool to have your photo taken on them, near them, and of them.
The last stop we made was another small island, but this one is on the west side of Culebra. Luis Pena is part of the National Wildlife Refuge and affords a great place to pick up another free mooring. From here you can take your dinghy to the islets strung off to the west. I would say on a calm day you can go exploring as far as you trust your tender. It is also a perfect place to spend a quite night before you set sail south to Vieques, which I will tell you about next week.
Gorgeous pictures. What an adventure!