Video: Escape to St. John, USVI
January 25, 2011
Okay, we admit that an article on boating in the Caribbean is beyond the normal purview of our New England focus, but we figured no one would fault us for serving up some tropical eye candy in the dead of winter. Besides, St. John is a fantastic place to visit (I’ve been there over 35 times), even if your plan is simply to lie on the beach all day.
Getting there is pretty easy, too. You can fly to the neighboring island of St. Thomas (direct flights from Boston are available) then take a short ferry ride to the town of Cruz Bay, on St. John’s west end.
Kayaking is a great way to explore St. John, although novices will need to be aware of the strong currents in some areas…
Cruz Bay is the hub of St. John activity, and home to most of the island’s restaurants, shops, markets and boat- and car-rental services. It’s also where you’ll find the headquarters of the National Park Service, which manages some two-thirds of the 7-miles-long-by-4-miles-wide island. The Park Service controls much of the surrounding inshore waters, and maintains a system of guest moorings in many of the island’s most spectacular bays. These moorings rent for $15 per day, and payment can be made at several drop-off sites around the island (see below for details). The moorings are popular among local day-trippers and bare-boaters, and availability is on a first-come, first-served basis. The NPS headquarters also offers loads of information on the island’s geology, history and ecology, as well as a guide to some of the plants and animals you may encounter during your visit.
If you’re an experienced boater, you may want to look into a bare-boat charter or a crewed charter aboard a power- or sailboat. These can be arranged through several companies, and allow you and your family to visit different islands and anchorages during your trip.
If you plan to stay on shore during your visit, there are lots of options, ranging from the Westin and Caneel Bay luxury resorts to camping at Cinnamon or Maho Bays. In between are numerous villas that can be rented by the week.
Both campgrounds on St. John feature on-site watersports centers where you can rent kayaks, paddleboards, windsurfers, surfboards, Hobie Cats and snorkel and scuba gear by the day or hour. Lessons are available as well, and highly recommended for beginners. The staff can also arrange day-trip dive, snorkel and sightseeing charters aboard crewed vessels.
Kayaking is a great way to explore St. John, although novices will need to be aware of the strong currents in some areas (especially off points of land) and the stiff afternoon trade winds, which can make paddling a challenge. Kayaks can be rented at the 2 campgrounds mentioned above, as well as at Crabby’s Watersports in Coral Bay, on the east end of the island. Kayaking tours to remote parts of the island can be arranged through Virgin Islands Ecotours and Hidden Reef Ecotours (see below for contact info).
Another way to see St. John by water is to rent an inflatable dinghy from Noah’s Little Arks or Cruz Bay Watersports, both in Cruz Bay. The dinghies can hold up to 4 people and allow you to access the beaches along the north shore of St. John (sea conditions permitting). You’ll soon find that getting around by water is much faster than driving. Just be sure to use the designated dinghy lanes and landing areas, marked by green and red buoys, when approaching the beach, and stay outside the swim areas.
If you want to range farther afield, you can rent a center console from Ocean Runner, also in Cruz Bay. Ocean Runner offers models from 22 to 28 feet, which allows you access the entire island. You can fish from these boats, and even take them to other islands.
Of course, there is no shortage of larger sail- and powerboats available for charter on St. John. These crewed boats can take you to remote dive and snorkeling spots, or on sightseeing trips to other islands, including those in the neighboring British Virgin Islands.
If you like to fish, the waters off St. John host a variety of species. Inshore you’ll find bar jacks, bonito, rainbow runner, pompano, Spanish mackerel, horse-eye jacks, African pompano, houndfish, barracuda, grouper, snapper and more. Offshore offerings during the winter and early spring include dolphin, blackfin tuna, wahoo and sharks, although strong winds at this time often make for choppy seas. The world-famous marlin fishery off St. John and St. Thomas takes place during the summer and early fall.
Names & Numbers
General Boating Information
An extremely useful guide for boating in the Virgin Islands is the “Cruising Guide to the Virgin Islands.” The Guide features valuable information and detailed charts of the waters of the USVI and its anchorages. It sells for $31.95.
National Park Service Mooring Information
- There is a self-registration fee of $15.00 for overnight anchoring or mooring between the hours of 5:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. Golden Age/Access Passport holders pay half price. Overnight fees must be paid prior to spending the night.
- Overnight stays in the Park waters are limited to 30 nights in a particular calendar year, and no more than seven consecutive nights in one bay.
- Payment stations are located at Cruz Bay Finger Pier, Caneel Bay Watersports Shop, Hawksnest Bay, Maho Bay Camp, Leinster Bay, Saltpond Bay and Great Lameshur Bay.
- For more information go to: Virgin Islands National Park Service.
Bare-Boat & Crewed Charters
Boat & Kayak Rental:
- Cruz Bay Watersports (340-776-6234): Located at the Westin Resort, Cruz Bay. Offers full- and half-day guided PWC tours and RIB rentals. RIBs include 12- and 14-foot boats, the latter with center console helms. Cost per full day is $155 and $245, respectively. Also offers private guided sail, dive and sightseeing charters.
- Ocean Runner Powerboat Rentals (340-693-8809): Rents powerboats from 22 to 28 feet for $375-$485 per day (plus gas). Guided trips available as well.
- Noah’s Little Arks (866-820-6906): Rents 14-foot inflatable dinghies with 30-hp outboards from Cruz Bay. Range is limited to north shore of the island.
- Crabby’s Watersports (340-714-2415): Kayak and snorkel gear rental in Coral Bay, on the east end of island.
- Bad Kitty/Calypso Charters (340-777-7245): Located in Cruz Bay, Calypso rents 13-foot inflatables powered by 50-hp outboards. Range is limited to the north shore of the island. Prices are $195 (plus $25 cash for fuel) for full day; $135 (plus $25 cash for fuel).
Sail & Powerboat Charters
- Lion in Da Sun (340-626-4783): Private cruise, sightseeing, dive and snorkel charters aboard a power catamaran.
- St. John Yacht Charters (340-998-9898): Sail and powerboat charters.
- Mixed Bag Charters (340-513-0389): Sportfishing charters.
- Double Header Charters, Capt. Jonathan Gatcliffe (340 777-7317): Sportfishing charters.
- For a full listing of St. John watersports companies go to: StJohnUSVI.com.
Where to Stay
- Caribbean Villas & Resorts (800-338-0987): Offers numerous fine rental properties around the island.
- Cinnamon Bay Campground (340) 776-6330): Tents, cabins and bare sites on Cinnamon Bay.
- Maho Bay (800-392-9004): Eco-tents on Maho Bay.