US Virgin Islands : St John.
19 - 22th April 2013
The island of St John is pretty much all National Park except for a small section on the western tip around the the town of Cruz Bay. As this would be our final visit to the island before heading west to Puerto Rico we decided to spend a few days on the south side where we hadn’t been before. But before I get into what we did and where we went, I just want to mention a quick word to our fellow cruisers about visa requirements for the US Virgin Islands. Forewarned is forearmed.
Entering the United States Virgin Islands (USVI’s) on a foreign flagged yacht from the British Virgin Island’s (BVI’s) can be a bit of a pain if you, and / or your visitors, have purchased an online USA 90 day ESTA visa.This type of visa can only be activated by arriving on a commercial carrier into mainland USA or her territories. So if you are in the BVI’s that will mean finding a suitable place to leave your boat for the day and then hopping on a ferry to either St John or St Thomas. The ferry cost is a tad expensive at $60 per person but there is really no way around it..The fast ferries run out of both Road Town and Sopper’s Hole on Tortola and from Great Harbour on Jost Van Dyke.
St John Island
Leaving the BVI’s in our wake a lively 15-20 kt breeze pushed us along from behind. We were heading to Cruz Bay on the island of St John some 12 miles away. Here we’d where we’d meet up with our friend Ross who had to take the ferry across in order to activate his ESTA visa. Every so often we look back for the ferry but it was nowhere to be seen. Time slipped by and before we knew it we were halfway across and the ferry still hadn’t passed us, which it should have. The thought crossed our minds that it may have been cancelled and that Ross was stranded back on Jost Van Dyke. If that was the case it would mean turning around and bashing back into a stiff wind and big seas, and let’s face it, no-one in their right mind ever wants to do that !
A quick call to the ferry office kind of put our minds at ease. The man on the other end of the phone told us in a very laid back tone “no worry mon, ferry late, it will come”.That was all well and good for him to say, but did he mean later this morning, this afternoon or god forbid tonight. Pressing for a more accurate time frame the response was “ maybe 20 minutes, maybe 40 minutes, don’t know mon”. Once again this didn’t really instill us with confidence but then this is the Caribbean after all. Thankfully a half hour later, the ferry went tearing past us like a bat out of hell. It was a very welcome sight to say the least.
Our first stop after anchoring in Cruz Bay was to check in with Customs and Immigration. With the paperwork taken care of we found Ross and went for a stroll through town and a bite to eat.There are loads of little eating places right along the waterfront and we settled on a cheery looking place with very friendly staff. The busy streets are a mix of local and tourist shops. It’s a funky little place but because the anchorage is very tight and there is a 2hr time limit we didn’t stay long.The wind was still pretty strong so we tucked up inside Cannel bay for the evening.
Little Lampshire Bay on the south side of the island was our next anchorage.The maps and guides that we picked up from National Park HQ showed a myriad of hiking trails criss-crossing the island. We chose the one that would take us to some rock carvings known as Petroglyphs.The trail led us up hill and down dale through dry creek beds and lush greenery.
After a hot 6 kms we arrived at the carvings. Some of them looked like they were from another world, not at all what I had in mind.
The following in an except from the signage near by . “These Petroglyphs were carved around 900-1500AD by the pre Columbian Tanio and their ancestors. The carvings exemplify the designs found on ceremonial Taino pottery. The pool and symbols were sacred dwelling places and ritualistic sites for the spirits of their ancestors.The spring fed pool stays at nearly the same level despite rainfall, causing an interesting and perhaps intended mirror effect of the petroglyphs, a duality of the spiritual and living worlds often reflected in Taino art “
Back tracking down the trail we branched off towards the coast on the Reef Bay trail which took us to an old rum factory. The ruins were quite interesting and the big vats and some of the machinery used to make the rum were still intact. Not far from the ruins we stumbled across a couple of old graves. With no engraved headstones we could only assume that they belonged to either the owners or workers of the factory.
We visited one more ruin on our way back to the boat, The Great House. Again a lack of information left us wondering who had occupied this isolated place on the top of the ridge, miles from nowhere.
The walk back was not half as strenuous as the walk up. It had taken us about four hours for the round trip and was well worth the effort. Back at the bay we found lots more ruins of what appeared to be houses . Some of the walls were made from pieces of coral joined together by mortar.They had certainly stood the test of time and were a credit to their builders.
Feeling pretty stuffed after the long hike in the noon day sun the rest of the afternoon was very laid back. A bit of swimming, a little snorkeling an early dinner and off to bed.
We spent two more days on St John and again both days were full on. Saltpond Bay a little further along the south coast was just the most idyllic spot. A crescent shaped beach with wonderfully clear water greeted us as we made our way into the anchorage. As this bay is also part of the national park you must use one of the mooring balls provided, but during our stay no-one came to collect the fee.
Turtles swam around the boat and the sea floor was littered with conch shells ready for the picking. Park regulations say that you can take six conch per day per person which we did. Conch is like a large rubbery snail which when marinated in lime juice and mixed with peppers, onion and tomatoes makes a fabulous salad. The trick is to get the flesh out of the shell in one go, not an easy thing for the novice! Apart from some great snorkeling we hiked over to the Saltpond and on to the ocean side of the bay where industrious visitors had left their mark with unusual beach art from an unending supply of broken coral.
From there we climbed the rather taxing hill to the top of Ram’s Head passing through pastures of amazing Turk’s Head cactus along the way. I reckon they look like little people watching you.
On the way back down my faithful pair of sandals had a major blow out.The trusty pair of Rivers that had carried me through over 30 countries since leaving Sydney back in 2006 finally turned up their toes.They could take no more and their soles were laid to rest in the park trash bin at the end of Saltpond beach.