The US Virgin Islands are a group of islands in the northern Caribbean, about 50 miles east of Puerto Rico. They are an insular area of the United States. The islands are geographically part of the Virgin Islands archipelago and are located in the Leeward Islands of the Lesser Antilles. The US Virgin Islands consist of the four main islands of St Croix, St John, St Thomas and Water Island together with many smaller islands.
The US Virgin Islands offers a wide choice of yacht charter and includes bareboat yacht charter, skippered yacht charter, luxury crewed yacht charter, monohull and catamaran charter and both sail and motor yacht charter.
The Ciboney, Carib and Arawak Indians originally settled the Virgin Islands. Christopher Columbus discovered and claimed the islands for Spain during his second voyage in 1493. Over the next three hundred years, the islands were held by many European powers, including Spain, Britain, the Netherlands, France, the Knights of Malta, and Denmark. The Danish West India Company settled on Saint Thomas in 1672, on Saint John in 1694, and purchased Saint Croix from France in 1733. The islands became royal Danish colonies in 1754.
For the remainder of the Danish time the islands were not economically viable and heavy financial support had to made by the mother country. An attempt to sell the islands to the United States was made early in the 20th century but an agreement could not be made. During the First World War, the USA, fearing that the islands might be seized by Germany as a submarine base, once again approached Denmark to sell the islands. A selling price of $25 million was agreed and the USA took possession of the islands on March 31st 1917, when the territory was renamed the Virgin Islands of the United States.
The US Virgin Islands is one of the most convenient yacht charter locations to the United States mainland. There are direct, quick flights from the mainland. If time is limited to only a few days, the US Virgin Islands is a great choice, as it is an easy quick sail to its two main islands. The US Virgin Islands is very easy for the first time yacht charter and families. There is no open water navigation, and the islands are all within a short two to three hour sail from each other. Navigation is always by line of sight. It is a popular destination, especially during the Christmas, Presidents Week and Easter week holidays. The first two weeks of July are also extremely busy due to Puerto Rico’s holiday schedule.
Three of the four US Virgin Islands have nicknames often used by locals. St. Thomas is "Rock City", St. John "Love City", and St. Croix is "Twin City".
During the November to January winter months the average wind is 15 - 20 knots from the northeast. On and off all winter, the famous "Christmas Winds" blow strong at 25 - 30 knots for several day periods. Beginning in February and finishing in June, the winds move from a northeast direction to southeast when 10 - 15 knots can be expected. Late summer to autumn, August to November, is the US Virgin Islands's rainy season. However, rainsqualls can occur at any time and they are usually short lived. Watch for approaching dark squall lines and drop the yachts sails and motor if in doubt. During September and October, the trade winds are unsettled and weakest. These months are considered the height of hurricane season, although the nominal season is June to November. Check yacht charter company policies in regards to hurricanes. Average high temperatures range from 25°C to 30°C with the highest in July to October.
Nowadays it can be such a hassle to go between the US Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands that some people do either one or the other. Since 9/11 every person on the boat must present themselves to customs and immigration for what can be a time consuming affair. It used to be that one crew could present all the passports for a quick stamp and the yacht would be on its’ way in the new country’s waters. For less than a one-week charter it may not be worth it to try to do both. If you do not carry the proper documentation on board the yacht it can be confiscated. Please check with your yacht charter company for more details.
The US Virgin Islands are working hard to protect the fragile ecosystem. You will find mooring balls at many anchorage destinations. Keep in mind that they are often all occupied by 3:30pm. If you show up after that, you will have to anchor. The only problem is, in some places there are so many mooring balls, that there is barely enough room left for the yacht to anchor.
Overnight moorings are 18” white balls, and cost around $20 - $30/night. The maximum vessel length allowed for overnight buoys is 60 feet. Other mooring buoys are 13 inches in diameter and are colour-coded. Please note that there is a 90-minute time limit on all non overnight moorings and these are on a first come first served basis.
Orange - Non-diving, day use only.
Yellow - Commercial dive vessels only.
Large Yellow- Commercial boats or boats over 55 feet in length.
White- Non-commercial vessels, daytime dive use only.
Blue - For dinghy use only.
Sailors must, by law, obtain a National Parks Permit, either from the yacht charter company, or when the yacht clears customs, or from the National Parks Trust Office.
The capitol city of St. Thomas is Charlotte Amelie, the busiest cruise ship harbour in the Caribbean. Because of its thriving commercial activity, as well as its crime and drug problems, it is often referred to as the least virgin of the US Virgin Islands. The people are also not necessarily the friendliest either and tend to cast a cynical eye on tourists, especially in the midst of all the cruise chaos. The beaches on the island are renowned for their calm turquoise waters and pristine white sand. Charlotte Amelie is filled with history and charming white homes with red roofs that shimmer in the sun. It is famous for some of the best duty free shopping in the Caribbean. Once away from the hustle and bustle you will find seclusion at the many beaches.
The lovely white sands of Magen’s Bay make it a family favourite. The calm turquoise waters are ideal for swimming, although the snorkelling is not very good. This is an extremely popular beach and tends to get crowded.
Sapphire Beach is one of the finest on St. Thomas and a favourite among windsurfers. Here on will find some of the islands finest diving and snorkelling and diving off Pettykilp Point.
On the small island of Great St James, just off the southeast tip of St. Thomas, is the well protected Christmas Cove. Legend has it that this cove was the site of a huge potluck Christmas dinner between cruising families who visited the US Virgin Islands. The dinner became an annual event and from then on it has been known as Christmas Cove. The cove is a common first or last night yacht anchorage. The snorkelling and diving are good here.
St John lies about a mile due east from St. Thomas and is the closest of the US Virgin Islands to the British Virgin Islands. Almost 70% of this tiny island is protected and maintained by the National Park Service. The Rockefeller Family donated land and this guaranteed the lovely hillsides would be protected from development and stays green forever. The coral reefs are also protected. The island remains non commercial and pristine in nature. There are many well-marked hiking trails that take you through the remnants of an old Sugar Plantation. The Reef Bay hiking trail passes by ancient petroglyphs on its way to the sugar mill ruins and the beach. St. John is only accessible by yacht, boat or ferry. A National Park permit is mandatory; ask your yacht charter company for the details.
Trunk Bay is one of the best in the whole of the Caribbean. It features an underwater self-guided snorkel trail, with plaques describing the fish, corals and other marine life that you might see. There are shower facilities at the beach and you can rent snorkel gear. Yacht moorings are located in the bay for a fee.
Cruz Bay is the main landing spot for visitors who come to the island on the ferry. The bay is located on the west side of St. John. Cruz Bay is a US Customs and Immigration point of entry for yachts returning from the British Virgin Islands. It is so small that the streets have no names but it does have the Mongoose Junction shopping plaza. This is an attractive complex of restaurants, galleries and shops with a distinctive Caribbean flavour. No cruise ships that dock here so the place does not get that crowded.
The tiny yacht anchorage of Hawk Nest Bay is very peaceful. The beach is a favourite with the locals and good for families with children.
Salomon Bay, on St John, is known as a "clothing optional" beach and you may come across nude sunbathers. The Virgin Islands Nation Park object to the practice but it seems laws and ordinances against nudity are not strictly enforced. The beach has white sand, lush vegetation and beautiful views.
Cannel Bay is home to a string of seven beautiful sugar white beaches, Cannel Bay stretches from Durloe Point to Hawk Nest Bay. Yacht moorings are available for use free of charge.
Cinnamon Bay is one of the more popular beaches on St. John and a campground for those who enjoy their vacations in a tent. In addition to toilets and showers there is a general store and a restaurant. There is fine snorkelling right off the beach and around Cinnamon Cay.