Christmas in St. Croix & Culebra
Updated: Jan 28, 2020
Clarity was rented for New Year's, so we decided to go down prior to, and make sure the boat was ready. As has been the drill with Emma's school schedule, Emma and Cindy had to follow several days later, so Elise and I went down earlier. These trips have been a good Daughter/Daddy bonding time, and she is always easier one on one, than with Big Sis influence.
This time Elise and I were able to take American Airline's quicker flight, and made it there before 1, which is usually hard to do. We rented a car and provisioned from the other side of St. Thomas, and hit Home Depot for some items we needed for the boat. Provisioning in boat language is grocery shopping, or in New Orleans- Makin' Groceries. This is not 1 of my favorite things, but this time Cindy had me well organized, and made the provisioning much easier.
The next day we headed out to a small Island that our Captain suggested, Buck Island. Buck Island is a short sail, 4NM SE. Normally, it is just a day trip, but we decided to take a mooring ball here for the night, since we arrived late in the evening. There is decent snorkeling with turtles and rays. At night you have a beautiful view of the lights coming from St. Thomas.
Friday Morning I decided I wanted to invest in a offshore fishing pole for the boat. We anchored off of Red Hook, St. Thomas and took the dinghy into town. We had Neptune's Fishing Supplies load the reel and rolled the dice on 3 lures. I asked the girl what worked in the area, and she said close your eyes, they will all work. On the way back to the boat we saw "Gypsea", Kenny Chesney's Yacht.
From Red Hook it was off to my favorite waiting spot, Maho Bay, St. John. As mentioned in prior blogs, it has a little bit of everything: sea life, seclusion, music, and good food.
Elise, Captain, & I paddle boarded into the Paddle In Tiki Bar for some Painkillers and dinner. Unfortunately, the food truck had stopped taking orders for the afternoon, but the Captain was able to talk them into selling us a large Mahi-Mahi to take back to the boat. This fish would end up feeding us all week, probably my best buy of the trip.
Saturday Elise and I would spend the day between the boat and the beach. We had a couple of First, we swam with a large Spotted Eagle Ray and Elise jumped off the front of the boat. She went from scared to jump off the back of the boat, to going off the bow.
Saturday evening while we waited for Cindy and Emma to arrive, we enjoyed a Sunset on one side of the boat and a Rainbow on the other.
We ended the night by grilling some steak and Emma installed our Christmas lights on the boat.
The next morning we got with the Captain and discussed the weather, and our options. Cindy and I had discussed St. Croix and the Spanish Virgin Islands as areas we wanted to sail, while Clarity was in the Virgin Islands, and it looked like we had just the right weather window to make it happen.
This sail, would be the beginning of our Captain handing over the reigns for us to sail from here forward. He and I mapped out the approach and he said, "I'm going down to my cabin to read, let me know if you have any problems." Which means, "I'm going to take a nap, let me know if anything goes catastrophic." Thankfully, even though St. Croix was 40 miles away, you could see a glimpse of land in the distance, so we wouldn't end up in Guadeloupe.
St. Croix is a little tricky to navigate into, there is a reef on the starboard side as you approach, with navigational buoys that go to the left and the right. We were able to awaken the Captain prior to our approach, so we could discuss the safest entry and location to anchor. As mentioned, the left side markers bring you to an anchorage with sand and good holding, there is enough room for probably 20-30 boats. The right side takes you to the harbor with mooring balls. I can not speak for the mooring balls, but we were told, that they were not inspected as much as St. John and the BVI. Later when we took the dinghy into town, you could see there was several derelict boats that had been sunk in prior hurricanes. I was glad we made the decision to anchor and not try to moor in the town harbor.
St. Croix was originally inhabited by indigenous people and Christopher Columbus was reported of landing here in 1493. The Island changed many hands until the Danish bought the Island in 1733. The architecture you see today is Danish inspired and many of the original buildings still stand. St. Croix is also the boyhood home of Alexander Hamilton. There are 2 main cities on St. Croix- Christiansted and Fredriksted. The best way to get around St. Croix is by car. Unfortunately, we hadn't made plans early enough, so all of their cars were out for Christmas and New Year's. Make sure you call for cars prior to making the trip.
After we had the anchor set, we took showers and road the dinghy into town for dinner. We had dinner at Zion Modern Kitchen, this was one of our favorite restaurants this trip. Christiansted has plenty restaurants right off the boardwalk, and many more a short walk from the harbor. Christiansted is very walkable and has great shops.
The next day we decided to walk all around the town and see as much as we could without the car, and because the anchorage was so rolly the night before, we would take the boat to an Island off St. Croix- Buck Island.
We were able to make it just in time to see a sunset and the girls had about 30 minutes till darkness set in.
The next morning was Christmas Eve and I couldn't sleep much knowing we were on anchor, I could feel the winds changing over night, and there was a reef about 300 yds. to port. This allowed me to wake up to a beautiful, quiet sunrise.
The whole point of coming to this Island, was for the Snorkel Trail on the other side of the Island. There is a small inlet inside the reef and honestly it is some of the best snorkeling in the Virgin Islands. There is an abundance of large brain coral and as many fish as you would see in an aquarium.
Next up, was a down wind sail, 45 NM to Culebra, Puerto Rico. Culebra and Vieques are part of the Spanish Virgin Islands. This would be the longest sail we had made to this point. We grilled burgers and more of our Mahi-Mahi, and just as we were about to sit down to lunch, we saw dolphins off the port side of the boat. They played off the bow for a couple of minutes, and were gone just as quick as they came.
Once we arrived to Culebra, we navigated the channel and anchored in Ensenada Honda Bay. The bottom in the bay seems to be mud and grass, and it took 2 tries to get the anchor to hold. I'm not sure of moorings, I didn't see many. The bay had a large Cruiser's population, because prices there are much cheaper than the US Virgin Islands and the BVI's.
After showers, we took the dinghy to the Municipal Dock, grabbed a taxi to eat Christmas Eve dinner Al Fresco at Suzie's.
The next morning was Christmas Day and the girls were excited to open presents.
Culebra has a population of about 1200 residents and once was used by the U.S. for bombing target practice. The practice ended shortly after the Vietnam War, some Sherman Tanks can still be seen on their beaches. Flamenco Beach is the gem of the Island, and considered one of the Most Beautiful Beaches in the Caribbean.
After a long day at the beach we grabbed a taxi back to the boat. The taxi driver told us not to miss the Christmas Parade, and we decided we would check it out.
The Christmas Parade was very unique. The Puerto Rican people know how to have a good time, and if you are ever looking for a different type of Christmas, you will not be disappointed. This sleepy beach island comes to life and we were all surprised, and would definitely do it again if the opportunity arises.
The next morning we checked the weather to make sure the window was still as was predicted. A front was coming in a little earlier, so we decided to head for CYOA. We had run into problems with our battery charger, and our batteries were not charging unless the engines were running, so we wanted to get in time to have it looked at prior to our next charter. Our passages up to this point were with 4-6 foot waves, and well spaced out. This trip back to St. Thomas were some of the biggest waves we had seen, 8-12 foot, and close together. I was ready to get the 12 NM trip over, but our Captain had other ideas, he decided to drop the line in the water unbeknownst to me. All of a sudden I hear the spool of the fishing pole go off, and hear the Captain say, "Fish On." Great, I run to the pole to start to reel, as the boat is bobbing and weaving. I've fished all week and only caught Barracuda's, I wasn't looking forward to wrestling with the teeth of a Barracuda in these conditions. Surprised as I reeled in, I could see the beautiful colors of a Mahi-Mahi. Unfortunately, unlike my past experiences with Barracuda's, I wouldn't have to worry about taking this one off the hook, for as soon as I got it to the back of the boat, he got off. A Perfect Catch and Release, wink wink.
Thankfully we arrived safely back to CYOA, and their staff had plenty of time to trouble shoot our electrical problem prior to our next guests arrival. Thanks to CYOA- John, Jay, Kyle, Nancy and all of the staff, they do a great job of taking care of the boats, and we look forward to our next trip. Hope to see you out there.