As a charter boat captain in the Virgin Islands I am often asked which is my favorite island. As of this week I think I have a new answer…St Croix!
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St Croix sits 35-40 miles south of the rest of the US and British Virgin Islands and is a dead end since the wind angles are so harsh to the rest of the Caribbean. Therefore it is much less visited by the charter boats and cruisers alike. Shoot it even gets less cruise ship traffic than St Thomas or Tortola. Less tourism means that it is so much more special when you get there.
I left Tortola on Sunday morning around 7am and once I rounded Norman Island the Guiding Light fairly skipped over the waves on the 35 mile trip with 15-20 knots between a close and a beam reach. The waves were a very tame 3-4 foot just forward of the beam.
My first stop was Teague Bay, which is a 3 mile reef enclosed lagoon on the eastern end of the north shore. The main entrance is around the green buoy at the western end of the bay. There is plenty of water as long as you watch for the coral. There are not a lot, but the ones that are here are large and quite noticeable as long as you are looking. For this reason I would not enter this bay, or any on St Croix, without good sunlight. Once inside the reef you can head east around two miles and anchor off the St Croix Yacht Club. The holding is great in 10 feet or so of water, but it can be a bit bumpy. While here you can stop in for a drink, go to a public beach around the corner, or try snorkeling the reef. I did not find the reef to be fantastic, but I am told the best parts are near the green buoy.
On Monday I got up and sailed to Buck Island through the Cotton Valley Cut, which is hole blaster through the reef back in the 50’s by an ex army enlisted man who owned property right there and got tired of sailing the one mile down and then back up to get around the reef. I found the cut to be easy and straight forward, but make sure you know what you are doing before trying it. Once clear of the reef it is about one mile to Buck Island and worth every bit of it. Boats are only allowed to anchor off the beach on the western end. I found the anchoring to be better at the northwest corner of the island verse the south west corner and had the boat dangling 10 feet above the sand within swimming distance to shore. Once you are ashore you can spend the entire day hanging out on the amazing beach, but if you want a bit more adventure you can take a 1-2 mile hike over the island. You can pick up the trail at the restrooms on the northwest corner of the island or at the pavilion just east of the dock. At the top you will get one of the most impressive views of a reef around. After playing on the beach and taking in the hike I spent the afternoon snorkeling the reef. About halfway along the island on the south shore there is a break in the reef marked with a red and green buoy. Go through these and now you are in a reef protected lagoon where you continue to the east end of the island and can pick up one of several mooring balls (warning there is no anchoring allowed and the moorings are for day use only). I am told that this use to be one of the best reefs ever, but it was decimated by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. There are a lot a fish and it is cool to watch the reef break up the waves as they crash in it, but there was not a lot of color. Inside the reef you can follow a National Parks Service (NPS) snorkel trail, where plaques have been placed in 5-10 feet of water. While swimming along the trail I deviated and followed some blue tangs through a tunnel and voila I was on the outside of the reef in 20-30 feet of water. Even without the color I had a blast and even swam with a lemon shark.
Later in the afternoon I headed to the Christiansted harbor. Everyone I have talked to stated how difficult this harbor is to enter, but as long as you stay in deep water on your approach (you will have Scotch Bank to the east and Long Reef to the west) and know there is a reef, named Round Reef, in the middle of the channel you will be fine. I think most people are confused with the preferred channel buoy, since it is green, red, green, but you can go either way around the reef. I anchored in the lee of Protestant Cay, but you have to be careful of all the local boats anchored here. Another spot is west of the channel, but it is farther to the waterfront.
I found the town of Christiansted to be the jewel in the St Croix crown and spent an entire day just walking around this town of less than a square mile. Even though it never saw any military action a tour should start at the fort, which was built to protect the entrance channel from pirates. This is one of five buildings owned and operated by the NPS and they have done a very nice job showing it off with historical and replica furniture and props for the enlisted man’s barracks (where they locked them in at night), powder room (check out the vent which is designed with a bend to protect the gunpowder from a saboteur shoving a torch into the room), armory, and officer’s day room. You will also want to see the tiny holding cells, dungeon, and I found the commanding officer’s quarters to be over the top for the size of the fort. The other four NPS buildings are the Steeple Building (the original Lutheran church), the scale house (where everything was weighed for tax assessment), the Customs House (where you paid the tax), and the Danish West India & Guinea Company Warehouse (where the goods were stored).
The other building in town to check out is the Government Building. This building is actually two separate building (built in 1747 and 1794) tied together in 1830 and is still the center of the local government. You are allowed to explore part of the buildings to see the courtyard, old kitchen (the oven and stove were wood burning and took up an entire wall and now the break room), several graves of bones found during a recent renovation, and the outside staircase. But the best part is the formal ballroom at the top of the staircase.
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The rest of your time in town should be spent walking around and seeing the old Danish architecture. The buildings were usually two or three stories tall and the interior of the ground floor was set in about ten feet so pedestrians had a dry and shaded place to walk along the streets. Most of these building are kept up nicely and the entire area is regulated to protect the look and feel of the Danish times. I have even been told several blocks are listed as a World Heritage Site.
Next Sunday I will continue my story of St Croix, where I rented a scooter and drove all over the island. I would love to hear what you think so far by leaving a comment below.