Culebra, "Spanish Virgins" (Puerto Rico)
On Thursday we left the buoy on lovely St John and had another unhurried sail under jib alone across to the USVIs capital of Charlotte Amelie on the much more developed main island of St Thomas. We really only went there to meet up with another boat that we last encountered in Malta as Charlotte Amelie is not as pretty as its name suggests and mainly geared to the stream of cruise ships that visit almost daily. However catching up with a couple who have sailed all the way from New Zealand and all the way up the US east coast as far as Maine was both great fun and extremely useful for us. We acquired so much information about future passages and possible landfalls as we head north via the Bahamas and did a good swap of cruising guides and recorded films and TV programmes too. We did also have a look at the town which has some attractive old streets and traditional Caribbean style buildings but all fitted out with upmarket shops for the cruisers. There were whole streets of nothing but fancy jewellery, gems, watch and duty free drink shops. It was rather bizarre but at least we did see a bit of the more authentic island beyond the town when we took a taxi along the winding coast road to the nearest big chandlery. We needed to buy a courtesy flag for the US as we were feeling a bit bad about not having one flying as is the usual polite custom. There seemed to be quite a lot of poverty beyond the port itself.
The local taxis in Charlotte Amelie:
In the end we stayed 3 nights at anchor in the large bay of Charlotte Amelie (the island was Danish until they sold it to the US early in the 20th century). We had drinks aboard our NZ friends yacht, met some other yachties and as always exchanged stories and advice. We checked out on Saturday morning but then decided to be cautious rather than gung ho about the strong winds and big swell we knew we would be encounter and stayed another night in the choppy anchorage.
We are now on the island of Culebra which is 17 miles off the coast of Puerto Rico and described in the Lonely Planet as the island that time forgot and Puerto Rico’s weird, wonderful and distinctly wacky smaller cousin. It is one of the rechristened “Spanish Virgins”; apparently this little group used to be called the “Passage Islands” but had a rebranding to try to encourage more visitors. We are at anchor in another windy spot not far from the ferry dock and a waterfront lined with mainly modest homes with their own ramshackle docks. We are flying our “Q” flag (yellow) which tells the authorities we have not checked in with customs and immigration yet, but as it is Sunday afternoon in this sleepy place, we guess we will have to wait until tomorrow for clearance. Meanwhile we may sneak ashore this evening to join the throng in the jolly looking dock side bar we can see across the water. After a look at this island and maybe its sister “Vieques”, we will sail along the Puerto Rican coast in day hops we hope. Not sure yet whether it will be the north or south coast route but looking forward to seeing something of this, our first Greater Antillean island as it sounds very interesting. It’s about the size of Corsica for reference and part of the US Commonwealth so that the people are US citizens but not a full state and not independent either – an interesting position!
View from the boat in Culebra: