A Journey to the Spanish Virgin Islands

When thinking of the Virgin Islands, the first things that come to mind are the U.S. or British Virgin Islands. But just 15-20 miles west, and only 6 – 8 miles east of Puerto Rico, are the Spanish Virgin Islands, also known as the Passage Islands. Handed over to the United States in 1898, this beautiful sailing area is made up of the main islands of Culebra and Vieques along with several smaller cays.

The Spanish Virgin’s have been a well-kept secret, even in the days of Blackbeard who used the islands for hideouts. The U.S. Navy and Marines used these islands for bombing practice until 2003, which kept land developers and sailors away until recent years when yachts like Spirit have now discovered this unique place. The Spanish Virgins are a step back in time with pristine unspoiled islands, deserted white sandy beaches, crystal clear turquoise blue water and intact reefs teeming with fish and coral. The islands reminded us of what the British Virgin Islands must have been like 35 years ago.

So, off we went, another adventure, leaving St. Thomas behind on a beautiful sunny day with following winds. If you don’t care to read all the boring copy in this post, you can just skip down to pictures below – they’re worth a thousand words.

After a 25 mile southwesterly crossing we sailed west along the Southern shore of Vieques – didn’t see one boat, but did see beautiful cliffs and totally uninhabited beaches. After 10 miles of coastal sailing we arrived in a little bay off one of Vieques’ two “population centers”, the town of Esperanza. Simply put – quaint, plenty of opportunities to satisfy one’s thirst and hunger, and a true step back in time. That night (a Friday night) the beach bar bands “entertained” us until 1:00 am – a short night of sleep.

The next day we motored to Sun Bay, just east of Esperanza, to anchor off probably one of the most beautiful beaches we’ve ever seen, anywhere. It took us almost an hour to walk its length – with a few dips in the warm aqua water along the way. There was only one other boat in the bay and we enjoyed a very peaceful and quiet (no bands) night with yet another one of Leah and Erik’s wonderful el fresco dinners.

The next morning, after one last Sun Bay beach walk, and an encounter with four of Vieques’ wild horses, we headed east along the southern shore, stopped for a swim and lunch, then proceeded to the largest, and most protected, bay on the island – Ensenada Honda. The highlight of this leg was getting into the anchorage. Spirit has a deep keel of 8’ 10” and snaking our way into the deeper water anchorage through cuts in a few reefs and a bottom that at times was only inches below our keel certainly made for an interesting afternoon. Once anchored, and blood pressures back to normal, we marveled at the beauty of the huge anchorage, totally surrounded by mangroves, and no other boats. Talk about being at one with nature…

The mangroves were calling so for happy hour we grabbed our Painkillers, jumped in the dinghy, and explored an incredible maze of waterways, which at times were quite challenging. Somehow we found our way back to Spirit by dusk. We were all confirming with each other that indeed the sun does set in the west.

Vieques was a great experience but it was then time to head 10 miles north to the other major island in the Spanish Virgins, Culebra. After a brisk sail we entered into a deep bay with the same name as the bay we had just left – Ensenada Honda. We anchored off the town of Dewey where we briefly explored the town and had a nice dinner ashore.

After waking up with the roosters we headed for a small island off the southern coast of Culebra for some incredible snorkeling. We were fortunate to get this in before noon as the skies decided to open up and deliver a 9-hour non-stop downpour. So, after lunch we headed back into the Ensenada Honda Bay in the rain to the Dikity anchorage behind a reef at the entrance. Our day concluded with naps, reading, an extended happy hour and a movie – not all bad!

The next day we sailed a short distance to the western shore of Culebrita where we hiked up to an old lighthouse that was built in 1880 – not functional but it looked like it was in the midst of some type of restoration. After we hiked back down and cooled off with a quick swim we motored across the channel to what the cruising guides described as a Spanish Virgin Island’s premiere anchorage, Bahia de Almodovar. The guides described the anchorage this way – “on one side lush mountains, on the other side the reef shields the anchorage from the sea. With the crystal clear blue water, trade winds blowing over the reef out of a clear horizon, it’s like an infinity pool effect”. One problem, just like the day before it rained all afternoon so we could only imagine how beautiful it really was.

Our last Spanish Virgin’s stop was back to the small island of Culebrita. We anchored in the Bahia de Tortuga anchorage while we ventured off to Treasure Beach so Sue could beachcomb and find “treasures”, we then took the path to Snorkel Beach where we once again paid a visit to the endless varieties of reef fish.

That evening was a night of reflection on how we appreciated the untouched islands and how we could only hope that there were more of these type places waiting to be explored.

As the sun rose It was time to head back east toward, St. Thomas, with a lunch and snorkel stop at a secluded anchorage on the north coast of St. Thomas, Santa Maria Bay. From there it was on to one last overnight stop at the remote Saba Island, just 3 miles southwest of Charlotte Amalie. The island, less than a quarter mile wide, is nothing more than a large outcropping from the sea with a small anchorage tucked in behind a beach – a memorable last stop before heading into the marina the next morning.

It was a great week, but then we went our separate ways – Sue boarding a plane back to reality while Dick stayed aboard with the crew getting Spirit ready for the 865nm transit north to Bermuda.

Spirit’s journey continues…

Leaving St. Thomas

Leaving St. Thomas

The Southern Coast of Vieques

The Southern coast of Vieques

Esperanza's seaside walkway

Esperanza’s seaside walkway

Overlooking Esperanza's anchorage

Overlooking Esperanza’s anchorage

An Esperanza sunset

An Esperanza sunset

Spirit alone in Sun Bay

Spirit alone in Sun Bay

The Sun Bay beach that seemed to go on forever

The Sun Bay beach that seemed to go on forever

Sue chillin' with Spirit off in the distance

Sue chillin’ with Spirit off in the distance

A few of Viequis' wild horses off the beach

A few of Vieques’ wild horses off the beach

Surrounded by mangroves in the Honda xxx anchorage

Surrounded by mangroves in the Ensenada Honda anchorage – no other boats!

An Egrit standing guard over the mangroves

An Egrit standing guard over the mangroves

Water paths through the mangroves

Water paths through the mangroves

Interesting navigation

Interesting navigation

Escaping the maze

Escaping the maze

Dick and Sue after escaping the maze

Dick and Sue after escaping the maze

Leah and Erik after escaping the maze

Leah and Erik after escaping the maze

Spirit left the lights on for us

Spirit left the lights on for us

Spirit at anchor off Culebrita

Spirit at anchor off Culebrita

The trail up to the old lighthouse on Culebrita

The trail up to the old lighthouse on Culebrita

The old lighthouse

The old lighthouse

View from the path to the lighthouse

View from the path to the lighthouse

View of Culebra from Culebrita

View of Culebra from Culebrita

Tortuga Bay anchorage on Culebrita

Tortuga Bay anchorage on Culebrita

Island street signs

Island street signs

A distant St. Thomas from Treasure Beach, Culebrita

A distant St. Thomas from Treasure Beach, Culebrita

Sunrise in Culebra

Sunrise in Culebra

The remote Saba Island, our final nights anchorage just south of St. Thomas

The remote Saba Island, our final night’s anchorage just south of St. Thomas

Spirit's Spanish Virgin Islands Journey

Spirit’s Spanish Virgin Islands Journey