The U.S. Virgin Islands are made up of St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix. There are many smaller islands included in the U.S. Virgin Islands group. The Islands were purchased from Denmark in 1916 under pressure to get control of the islands prior to Germany making a move on them. The Islands are deemed to be Insular possessions of the United States, meaning they are not part of any state. Insular comes from a war department from the first world war ‘Bureau of Insular Affairs’.
St. John was ‘discovered’ by Christopher Columbus who named all of these islands part of his “Once Mil Virgenes” or eleven thousand virgins. Denmark gained control of the islands and the Danish West India and Guinea Company named the island Sankt Jon or St. John around 1718ish. The early economy was sugar cane, rum and slavery. You can visit the remains of the Annaberg Sugar Plantation in Leinster Bay on the North Shore of St. John. You can visit the site on one of the walking trails that are numerous on St. John.
To cruising sailors St. John is different. The pace, the noise and the behaviour are all a sharp contrast to the ‘get this party started’ attitude of the BVI or other U.S. Virgin Islands. St. John is about 60% National Park. From the time of the U.S. purchase of the U.S. Virgin Islands there were moves to develop a national park on St. John. War intervened and the park took a back seat for a while. Around 1950 Laurance Rockefeller and other members of the Rockefeller family acquired over 5000 acres of St. John and they donated the property to the U.S. Government. In 1956 Eisenhower proclaimed the establishment of the park.
Within the park there are high end resorts and areas where you could tent and enjoy the many beaches within the park. There are a large number of villas for rent and many options to enjoy St. John from the land side.
The option we have used to fly into the Caribbean uses St. Thomas with Rick and Louise parking the boat at Francis Bay and our taking the ferry from Red Hook on St. Thomas to Cruz Bay on St. John. This involves a taxi ride from Cruz Bay to the boat which can be $15 a head and a per bag charge if there is luggage.
The mooring balls in the park are $15 per night with pay stations located on floating docks within each mooring area. Most of the anchorages (mooring fields) do not have restaurants directly associated with them. As you can see on the map there are restaurants but you will have to seek them out.
Francis Bay is a nicely sheltered anchorage on the north west side of St. John. There is a beautiful beach with a garbage station for the transient boaters and beach goers use. You must keep your dinghy within the buoyed channel and to the south end of the beach. The beaches within the park have restrictions on the use of motorized vessels of any kind within the markers. Even outside the markers you must use caution as there are snorkelers everywhere.
The store that was above the campground at Francis and Maho Bay has been closed and that was a bit of a pain. We had to go back to Cinnamon Bay where there is a store and ice is available. There are a few mooring balls at Cinnamon Bay and another nice beach as well.
Cruz Bay has shopping for baubles and groceries but the supply and selection varies considerably day to day based on the shipping schedules. Don’t be afraid to ask if you can’t find something because it might be in back or in the store but not on display. There is a fairly intense short climb in the heat to the grocery store, and a somewhat longer climb and walk to a fairly good hardware store but they are also downhill for the return trip. You can rent a jeep from several outlets or buy diamonds at Little Switzerland. There are beach front bars some fairly well known; my favourite is Woodys because that is the name of my parrot. Good food and lots of fun. There are a couple of ATMs in the village but they are like slot machines you can’t be sure they will give you anything…
There are a lot of boats anchored in the outer harbour. If you want to clear customs you can go in the north part of the harbour and carefully anchor just out of the marked ferry channel. It gets shallow and be aware of the tide even though it may be a foot or less. We usually take a mooring ball just before you make the turn into Cruz Bay and go in by dinghy. Everyone has to report with the Captain. You do not have to check out of the USVI.
Fuel and water is available at the fuel dock on the across the little bay from the customs office. There is reasonable water depth at the service dock.
We went around St. John counter clockwise and our next stop was Lameshur Bay. Lameshur Bay is a great spot to overnight and to snorkel. It can rock and roll a tad here but it is secure. There are about 13 mooring balls in Lameshur and 5 in Little Lameshur Bay.
There is a place to drop off your trash but that is the limit for services. Lots of places to walk and hike and you can visit the tektite project museum is open for viewing. This was a NASA project explore living underwater for an extended period to see what might happen to astronauts in space.
No restaurants, no bars, no noise. This is the anchorage where I can face to snout with a bull shark a couple of years ago. I did not snorkel there this year…. so informed and aware snorkeling…
Is located at the south east end of St. John. This harbour and village are outside the park. The harbour is full of private moorings and live-aboard folks. The normal dinghy dock is located at the northeast corner of the harbour near Skinny Leg’s restaurant. We had amazing burgers at Skinny Legs a couple of years ago. This year it was great but not quite as good…might have just been a bad cow?
The harbour is littered with abandoned boats and boats washed ashore during various storms. The community is hardcore live-aboards. If you had enough time and a shallow draft boat you could probably find a place to drop a hook for a couple of secure nights or for the rest of your life (many examples of that).
We anchored at the entrance to the harbour. The holding was good but we were exposed to the wrap around chop. I slept OK, not sure Rick did.
You can get groceries; from the skinny legs dinghy dock a short walk gets you to a convenience store (Love City Mini Mart(Sounds like a sex store but they had pringles))5/10* that is fairly well stocked. You can also get dropped off on the west shore (no accommodation for dinghies) and shop at a pretty well stocked grocery store ( Gourmet Market )8/10*. The gourmet market had block ice as well as cubes. The gentleman working the morning I was there was very friendly and helpful.
On the North Shore of St. John is my favourite harbour…Leinster Bay aka Watermelon Cay. Lots of mooring balls here. The snorkling out at the little island and the associated reef is amazing. I saw a peacock flounder here a couple of years ago…
Great hiking is available lots of trails connecting to the island roads. Hiking trail maps are available. Keep in mind that St. John is a hill and when hiking it seems that you are always going up hill…just sayin
From here it is just a short hop over to Soper’s hole to check back into the BVI.