May 30, 2019

Celebrating in St. Croix, Virgin Islands

After enjoying several relaxing and wonderful days in Culebrita, Spanish Virgin Islands we set our sights on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. We've previously visited the two other U.S. Virgin Islands - St. Thomas and St. John - so we wanted to visit St. Croix on this trip. The conditions were also excellent for us to SAIL to St. Croix, a luxury after so many recent upwind motorsails along the Puerto Rican south coast!

We left Culebrita just after sunrise on Thursday, April 25 for the 40 nm sail south. We had sunny skies and calm seas and sailed along for most of the morning at 5 knots on a close reach in 10 -13 knots of wind.

AIS Malfunction

While in Culebrita, our AIS - or boat trafficking system - suddenly stopped working, and with a weak cellular signal in the anchorage, we weren't able to diagnose the problem. AIS allows us to see (and be seen) by other vessels broadcasting a signal - especially important for night sailing and navigating around large commercial vessels.

For navigation onboard, we typically feed our AIS and heading data into an iPad, which overlays on our charting software. Without our AIS heading data, we had to rely on our the iPad's built in GPS, which we'd never done before, and we quickly realized that it was necessary to keep the iPad pointed directly ahead otherwise our charts showed us pointed in a different direction than our course! [After our arrival and getting ahold of tech support, we determined it was a software glitch, and we were able to successfully reinstall the AIS software.]

Nick trying to figure out why we are sailing sideways to St. Croix
Thankfully, we had lots of time to troubleshoot the AIS and GPS on our sail to St. Croix since the winds waned throughout the day and the last few hours we averaged only 4 knots of speed. It took 10 hours to sail 40 nm, but it felt great to sail again! We arrived that evening just before sunset to charming Christensted harbor on St. Croix's northern shore.

Christensted is the largest town on St. Croix and formerly the capital of the Danish West Indies; it still boasts many of the pastel-colored historic buildings along it's waterfront. The main harbor was crowded with boats, many on permanent moorings, so we anchored in 30-feet of water behind Long Reef near Fort Christiansvaern.

The Christiansted wharf area has a boardwalk lined with small hotels, restaurants and bars, and shops that attract visitors from the cruise ships that arrive to St. Croix's southern shore. We spent our first day in St. Croix exploring the waterfront and Fort, which was built in 1738 and is administered by the U.S. National Park Service. With its many cannons and dungeons, the fort was built to defend the harbor and capital, but it has an unpleasant history as it also served as a jail, and mostly to the many slaves that labored on St. Croix's sugar cane plantations.

After a full day of exploring on foot, we headed to a lovely little restaurant, Savant, to celebrate Sara's birthday. After a delicious meal (Nick dined on an impressive 3-inch thick pork chop), we ended the evening with a slice of strawberry frosted Fun-fetti cake, baked special by the captain!

The following day we met up with fellow cruisers Ryan and Kathryn on S/V Turtle and rented a Jeep for a day of exploring the rest of the island. We were introduced to Ryan in Annapolis in 2017 by Mia Karlsson and Andy Schell of 59 North Sailing, which operates an offshore passage training aboard their 48-foot Swan, Isbjorn. We sailed aboard Isbjorn in April 2017 from BVI to St.Vincent & the Grenadines, just a month after Ryan joined them on a similar passage. Ryan and Kathryn spent the season in the southern Caribbean and were making their way north toward New England, so we were happy that our paths crossed and we were able to spend time together.

St. Croix is the largest of the three Virgin Islands at 28 miles long and 7 miles at its widest point.Our first stop of the day was Point Udall, a scenic spot with a sundial monument to celebrate the millennium on St. Croix's eastern shore, which overlooks beautiful bays on either side.

Unfortunately, it was not a cruise ship day, so many of the island's most popular tourist destinations - like the rum distilleries, botanical garden and Salt River Bay National Historic Park - were closed. Nonetheless, we enjoyed taking in the many scenic vistas and ruins around the island. We also stopped to visit Frederiksted, St. Croix's only other settlement, along the island's western shore, but many of the shops and restaurants there were also closed given there was no cruise ship in port.

Sara and Kathryn picking papayas along the roadside

Our favorite stop was to Ridge to Reef Farm, a small organic farm in the St. Croix rainforest on the northwest shore, which hosts farm stays and tours, and monthly "slow down" dinners made from fresh, organic and locally raised foods. We enjoyed a lovely hike around after chatting with one of the farm's apprentices and learning more about the history and purpose of the farm.

The following day, on Sunday, April 28, we weighed anchor to sail 37nm to St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. We had another fantastic day of sailing in 15-17 knots of wind and 3-5 foot seas, both on the beam, and we made a great 6+ knots of speed. We had less luck fishing and only caught one barracuda, which we quickly released back into the sea.

While our time in St. Croix was short, we very much enjoyed our visit to the island (and the sailing to get there)!

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