Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Virgin Islands: Sail & Snorkel

Here's a batch of fun photos from our week in St. Thomas. My Mom, Monique, Dick (my stepfather), and I took a sail & snorkel cruise aboard the New Horizons sailboat as a bit of a celebration of Dick's birthday. We scored a really sweet discount on the cruise for listening to a sales pitch on the new Wyndham/Margaritaville timeshare condos, so attending the sales pitch turned out to be a good use of an hour on a rainy Sunday. Sacrifices must be made if you want to sail the seas. Offering ourselves up as a desirable demographic worked pretty well.

For this post I'll tell you a bit about the trip, then throw a few helpful captions among the pictures below. Be forewarned: there are a lot of pictures. I threw a ton of photos together here to help recreate a bit of the experience of sailing to and fro in the Virgin Islands on a sunny day. So as a helpful hint let me remind you that a good way to see the photos full size while moving through the series is to click on one of them. That'll call up the little Blogger photo app, which will give you a large display of the photos and let you move click all of them on this post.

Unlike the rainy Sunday on which we earned our cruise, the Tuesday we sailed was beautiful. Thank you, weatherunderground.com for the accurate forecast. Small craft warnings were posted for most of our week in the Virgin Islands, but Tuesday looked like our best bet and it turned out perfectly.

We sailed on the New Horizons out of the Sapphire Marina on the west end of St. Thomas with about 20 total passengers on board. Our course took us out into the channel between St. Thomas and St. John. We sailed a couple of upwind tacks, and stopped at Honeymoon Beach on St. John to snorkel and then have lunch. We then semi-sailed downwind with the jib up and the engine running to Christmas Cove on Great St. James Island for a second snorkel stop. After that it was a quick sail back to St. Thomas.

All in all, a lovely relaxing day. The only fly in the ointment was that birthday boy Dick had stubbed his toe badly after we scheduled the cruise. That kept him from snorkeling very much, but it did give him a good opportunity to sit on board the boat and soak in the sun.

Let's start with a couple of maps:

The Virgin Islands. The four large islands are (left to right) St. Thomas (US), St. John (US), Tortola (British), and Virgin Gorda (British). St. Croix (US), the largest of the Virgin Islands, is about 40 miles off to the south. The map below is outlined by the box.

These arrows show our course: sailing towards the small islands north of Pillsbury Sound (the channel between St. Thomas and St. John channel. Those three small islands are Grass Key, Mingo Cay, and Lovongo Cay. Then we sailed another upwind reach to Honeymoon beach on St. John. After our a snorkel stop and lunch there, we sailed down to Great St. James Island, snorkeled again, then headed back to port.

All aboard!

Looking towards the Windward Passage and St. John. The Windward Passage leads between Tortola (left) and St. John and into the Sir Francis Drake Channel, the major channel through the British Virgin Islands.

Dick and my Mom found a comfy bench on the stern.

St. John.

This little space between Grass Cay (left) and Mingo Cay (right) isn't really passable. It does, however, look like a tempting place to have a picnic lunch one day.

Lovungo Cay (left), the Windward Passage, and St. John (right).

Congo Cay (left) and Carval Rock, which looks enough like a caravel (a type of sailing ship) to a drunken sailor in the dark to have once been blasted with cannon during one of the many battles that took place in these islands.

Oooh, ooh. A superyacht! This one came complete with its own helicopter, which hovered incessantly above it as it sailed through the passage towards St. Thomas.

Another superyacht! This one came without a helicopter, alas.

Honeymoon Beach.

Prepare to snorkel! We saw lots of great coral and fish here. My favorite was an immature yellow-tail damselfish, which had blue and green dots that lit up fluorescently in the sunlight. I'd never seen one before and the effect was spectacular:

(Photo taken from Reef.org.)

Back from snorkeling, and it's time for lunch!

After lunch it was time to weigh anchor and head back out onto the open seas.

One of the superyachts is back, though by now its helicopter had either landed on board or headed to shore. "Landed on board?!" you ask. Yup, this is the Kismet, a 308-foot superyacht worth somewhere north of $100 million. It was built in 2014 for billionaire Shahid Khan, who also owns -- among other things -- the Jacksonville Jaguars NFL team and the Fulham FC soccer team in London. The Kismet has six bedrooms, a private sundeck, a swimming pool, and ... a helipad!

This was my favorite of the superyachts we saw in the Virgin Islands because its grey and black color gives it such a James Bond supervillain look. We also saw it docked in the harbor at Charlotte Amelie.

Monique says she prefers our pontoon boat.

Farewell, Kismet. I don't even know what to think about the very existence of a private yacht longer than a football field, but it was cool to see.

On to more human-sized boats, which dotted the seas all about:

Hey kids, time for a photo op!

We arrived at our second snorkeling stop, Christmas Cove on Great St. James Island.

Didn't get enough for lunch? The Pizza Pi sailboat and pizzeria is open for business! (Seriously, it's a pizza boat. Nobody goes hungry in Christmas Cove. Okay, so maybe it's not exactly the wildest of hinterlands....)

Since Dick's toe kept him out of the water at our second stop, he volunteered to take a few photos of us all snorkeling:

Then it was back on board and time for our final leg back to port. Fruity rum drinks were distributed freely about the boat. Sailing the Windward Passage without a bit of grog would be a recipe for mutiny.

A car ferry heads out for St. John.

Farewell Windward Passage and Pillsbury Sound. We had a grand day at sea.

It may not have been a life-changing day. But it certainly was a skin-color-changing day! We all needed gobs of sunburn lotion afterwards. Still, the price our hides had to pay was well worth it.


  1. Wow! Wonderful sailing trip. And to get that CLOSE to the Kismet is an honor you care not fully capturing in the text...

  2. I can't help but think that if only I could maneuver myself beneath the Kismet's bilge outlet, I could finally get something out of trickle-down economics.