Tuesday, May 16, 2017

7 things we love about St. Croix

Downtown Gallows Bay

If you've been following our travels for awhile, you know we visited St. Croix last year (click here for the post gallows-bay-st-croix-usvi.html or do a search on the left for "St. Croix").  I'll try make this blog post more like a summary--but sorry, not short.  Lot's of memories to save from our visit!

What I'll remember about this year's visit is how rolly it was in Gallow's Bay anchorage!  "Hand me the Bonine".  There's nothing worse than being sea sick at anchor.  Some days we went ashore just to get a break!  I swear it wasn't like this last year.  There was an almost constant north swell the whole month.  The reef largely protects Christiansted, but not completely.  Monohull friends anchored over near the reef (where the seaplanes land) swear it wasn't bad over there.  Next time.  (Last year, we were here in May and of course, soon as we depart for St. Thomas, the north swell subsides.  Perhaps our timing was just off). 


First, let's make our way over to St. Croix:

Waiting for the winds to fill in but the main is UP!  I was beginning to wonder why we bothered to put it back on!

Goodbye Salt Pond!  (We'll be back). Hello, St Croix.  A whopping 33 miles straight south.

We ease of our mooring ball at 8:00 am, raise the main and unfurl the genoa with 4-13 kts of N to NE wind and a 0.5 knot westerly current.  Before The Captain can finish trimming the sails, I have St. Croix in sight.  

As we exit the boundary of Virgin Islands Reef National Monument, a fishing line goes out.  Pretty soon, we have a huge sportfish trolling perpendicular to our path where the water drops off quickly from 100 ft to 3000 ft.  "Watch those lines!  We're on the fish!"

What do we do while underway?  Lots of time to untangle fishing line...

FaceBook post:  "Wow!  I just saw a HUGE Mahi swim by the boat (yeah, he was that big, that fast & that close to the surface--that he caught my eye) & take a run at our lure!  We missed him but he was FABULOUS!  What a rush!"

Hello St. Croix!  Nap time...

St. Croix's "Schooner Channel" entrance is challenging in a north swell.  Again, there's a steep shelf of water going from 3000 ft to 100 ft.  A current flows over the reef & back out, opposing the ocean north swell.  "Was it this bad last year?"  Oh, yeah.  We were loopy after a 23 hour sail.  Hard to say.  There are no park mooring balls here, despite what the guide book says (just "private" moorings or as we would learn from the locals, moorings marking sunk boats!)  We drop anchor in Gallows Bay along channel markers G7, 9, 11.

Overall, a little bit of a lumpy ride but tolerable.  The Captain and First Mate disagree if it was better or worse that this or that...  However, we'll hear later from sailors going the other way that they had a wet ride!  Still better than the 23 hour trip we did last year.  (Our friends on Glory of Christiansted text to tell us they departed St. Croix for BVI the same day and we passed enroute.  Dang it!  See last years post for one of our favorite pictures of us, taken by Patti & Peter)

Summary:  Total time 6:55, avg speed 4.9 kts, total mileage 33.9 nm.  Motor-sail on one engine (avg 50% power) with main & genoa.  NE wind & swell 5-15 kts.

The next morning, we end up re-anchoring farther east, after one side of our bridle took a swim overnight.  Better.  Still rolly.

The Fort was built by the Danish in 1738.  See more pics under "Architecture"
Early inhabitants of the island were the Taino or Arawak indians followed by the Carib indians.  Christopher Columbus visited the island in 1493 on his second voyage to the New World.  He named the island Santa Cruz (or Holy Cross).  Later, the US Virgin Islands would become known as the Lesser Antilles and the Danish West Indies.  St. Croix has flown seven flags including the England, France, Spain and the Netherlands.  However, Denmark ruled for almost 200 years.  Sugar cane was the dominant crop (and of course the resulting rum).  

One of our founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton was born in Nevis but grew up in St. Croix.  Locals sponsored his travel to New York City for college.  He would become the first Secretary of the Treasury.  

We arrive just in time for the 100th anniversary Transfer Day fireworks (official holiday celebrating the Dutch selling the islands to the US).  The barge catches on fire after the display.  Locals: "Yeah, that happens every year."  Wow.  We are not in the States anymore!  The fleet of historic Danish ships escew us for Fredericksted.

St Croix also boasts the largest island barrier reef in the Caribbean.

A panorama of the historic fort

Not just "there are more restaurants than the Bahamas" or "less touristy restaurants than St. Thomas", but an abundance of restaurants a couple foodies can really get into.  I don't know how to describe it.  We've only scratched the surface.  Despite some favorites, we rarely eat at the same place twice.  Yes, many a cruisers dropped the hook here and never left.  I can picture that, but we'd have to get jobs to support our dining-out budget. 

Beautiful & historic downtown area:  "Are you coming?  Hurry up!  4 Strand is just up ahead!"  Silly me, stopping to take pictures!
We didn't catch any fish, so stop #1 is 4 Strand Eatery, a restaurant recommended by a local cruiser friend last year.  I'm pretty sure The Captain & I ordered the same thing we had last year--a steak and the chickpea bowl.  They don't disappoint, especially when the dessert menu includes a "gluten-free" cheesecake. 

I don't remember what kind of cheesecake it was, but it was FABULOUS!

No Bones, the pretty entranceway

The staff at the marina recommend No Bones for lunch & wifi.  It's across from the working port, so it's frequented by the DPNR officials, harbor pilots and customs agents.  It looks a little rough looking from the outside or even looks closed (the pic above is the prettier side entrance) but when you open the door, it's white table clothes and full of locals with "regular tables" and "the usual".  The food was a wonderful.  We were a little taken back!  I have a blurry pic of some nachos.  Apparently, I was hungry.

Reasonable cold beverages and FAST wifi

If you are looking for us, this is the place to start.  We become regulars at Ocean View Cafe (in the marina) during our stay.  We passed it up a few times before we realized they had FAST wifi.  The bartenders were low pressure & happily tolerated our presence as we nursed cold beverages and they even plugged my laptop in behind the bar.  (We tip well).  The best bargain is the all-day breakfast.  Try their homemade ginger beer.  Sv Three Sheets will finally catch up with us here for a brief hello.

Brunch at Toast

Sv Kailini invited me to a girls brunch at Toast downtown.  The pic above is breakfast sandwich arepa (gluten-free "corn pocket", origin Venezuela or Columbia, made from ground maize.  Must find recipe!).  They recommend a side, and I think I had fried plantains but I later learned one option was cheesy hash browns.  Dang!  Next time!  (Yes, that's a bloody mary.  BRUNCH WITH THE GIRLS!  They give you a slip of paper JUST for your blood mary order.  Wow.)

Lunch & wifi at Shupe's on the waterfront.  Owners and all the bartenders are from Missouri.  Small world!

Next stop is Schupe's on the waterfront.  It's a new stop for us and also came recommended.  Schupe's and the Brewery next door are both are owned by a couple from Missouri (and all the bartenders are from MO!).  Excellent burgers.  I know, expensive burgers, but yummy ("Go Jayhawks!")  Friends on sv Kailini also recommend their homemade veggie burger.  Wifi and a beautiful view.  Dinghy parking right out front.

Taco Tuesday's at Maria's.  Add it to the calendar!

We met sv Kailani in Culebra through our friends on Dos Libras.  FB tells us Kailani is also in St. Crois.  They text to invite us to lunch at Maria's in Gallows Bay.  "It's Taco Tuesday!"   Call 9 Juan Juan...

#Sailboats & #sunsets from #StCroix!

"But don't you post fabulous sunrise/sunset photos everyday?"  Well, yes.  Life on the water, and the Caribbean in general is known for its sunsets.  However, geography plays a role.  Our anchorage location vs the view to the east and west, is influenced by the sun is rising or setting behind land (and how big that land mass is).  I'd say over a small landmass is usually the most dramatic, and of course, with a few boats in the foreground.

Rain showers on the horizon made a spectacular sunset...

Random FB post:  "US Warship calling Christiansted (harbor) Pilot, US Warship calling Christiansted Pilot..."

Huh?!  Yep, there they are!  ("I wonder if we can take the dinghy out to get a closer look?  No?")

Good morning! #nofilter

Never seen this in a Chris Parker forecast:  "Fair sailing all times either direction with peak wind late overnights"
We should probably go somewhere!

Good Friday, anchored just off the public boat launch. Locals camping on the park beach--the sounds of kids playing, dogs barking and music as the sun sets...

Time to crank up the generator & watch some Netflix...

(Again, see last years post for some surprisingly different and stunning sunrises and sunsets.  Hint, purple?!)


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Most rainshowers in the Caribbean are quick and usually over before we can close all the hatches.  However, it literally rained buckets while we were here. It turns out our modified sun shade is the perfect funnel for catching rain off the hard top. I've got approx 13 gals of free water for laundry (yep, when the 2 5-gal buckets got full, we had to pour them into a jerry can)!  Woo hoo!  Thank you, Mother Nature! 

And ANOTHER downpour, just after I went to bed.  Apparently, I muttered "buckets" and The Captain jumped out of bed.  They filled so quickly, he had to dump them into a jerry can before returning to bed.  The dinghy was more than ankle deep when we tried to head in for a laundry run (he had to dig out the pump instead of bailing!).  According to cruiser friends on other islands, they weren't getting the rain we were.  Maybe it's a St. Croix thing.  Good intel.  Maybe we don't need a watermaker, we just need to catch more rain water in St. Croix!
You know you're in the islands when: At the coffee house, the wifi isn't working...& the electricity blinks off...And locals don't even flinch.  They don't even look up!

A few more random thoughts:
As a friend noted yesterday, cruising is like being in college--grocery shop together, do laundry together...
Easter is a 5-day holiday in the Virgin Islands!  
Both of our neighbors have been all over the world and cruising for more than 10 years (88 countries?!)!  
A horse and their person just swam through the anchorage (twice, see below).  
Our neighbor's cats usually run out and hiss at other boats when they hear anchor chain, but apparently they didn't do that when we arrived (even before we over to give them cat food!)
It's been HOT the last week--heat index into the 90's & light wind.  Yuck. 

Is a horse out for a swim laid back enough for you?

OK, I know we say this a lot.  We're in the Caribbean!  But every island has a different vibe.  This island has attracted a lot of US expats (remember a US territory and the cost of living cheaper is than St. John).  I recommend the book, "Life in the Left Lane" by Emy Thomas to learn more about her wonderful life as an expat in St. Croix.

There is also fewer tourists.  The occasional cruise ship comes into Fredericksted but the bulk go to Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas.  There are no chain hotels here.

Another Caribbean translation:  “Come back tomorrow/next week/next month” doesn’t really mean that.
It means, “I don’t know”; “I don’t feel like doing that today”; “I don’t know who to ask but it definitely isn’t me”; or “I’m eating lunch right now”.
Still learning!
(credit: http://womenwholiveonrocks.com/all-the-things-the-expats-never-told-me/)

(Small soapbox:  An observation about getting off the beaten path.  We've noticed many islands have started catering to tourists by serving cheeseburgers and pizza.  Hawking trinkets (imported from China) instead of handmade wares.  Doing jetskis and zip lines.  In St. Thomas, the tourist safari from the cruise ship dock is something like $15/person, "So you don't have to make so many stops..." instead of a $1.  What's lost here is the chance to mingle with the locals (who are very friendly and helpful), trying their local cuisine, and learning about their native skills like basket weaving, boat making and carving.  When you move away from the "prettiest beach" (where the locals don't go because it's too crowded) to the "locals beach", you may get funny looks at first.  A "hello" is a nice ice breaker...). Anyway.  Moving on.

More fun local culture facts: #Camping in St. Croix for the Easter holiday is popular.  There is a large Puerto Rican population here (US territory) and they brought this tradition with them.  We're anchored off of Altona Lagoon and have been observing the activities of the two groups mentioned in this newspaper article!  One group has been here over a week.  Tents, outhouses, portable showers, huge water tanks, covered kitchen & living areas, generators & flat screen tv's, oh my!  Link:  St. Croix Source, Easter Campers

Entrance to Fort
Cruising is a small world--someone flags you down for a ride to the fisherman's dock & you realize you gave them a ride to their boat at Brewer's Beach, St Thomas!

Watching for weather windows.  Turtle!


Even a modern "US-style" strip mall has arched arcades to protect pedestrians from the sun and rain

More architectural ideas we could use in the States:  When the Danish occupied the VI's, the buildings were built with the warehouse on the bottom, business on second floor, residential on the third floor & an "arched arcade" or overhang to shade the sidewalk. There are several beautiful, historic streets in downtown St Croix that preserve this architectural style. You can walk blocks in the shade or out of the rain. 

The world would be a happier place if we painted buildings bright colors

I can't believe I don't have a picture, but historic "sugar mills" (dutch windmills for grinding sugar cane) still dot the island.  There is one overlooking our anchorage.  Another on the way to the grocery.  Another preserved in a private residential community.  Love it.

Arches at the Fort

More random thoughts:
Cruiser Brain:  
We decide to start the generator in the middle of the day to 
1) charge the laptop so I could finish a blog 
2) Do an EQ on our batteries.
30 min later:
"Is the generator running?"
"I don't hear it."
"Oh, maybe I forgot the turn the charger on.  It's just idling."
{stick my head out a hatch} "No, I really don't hear it."
"Oh, you know what?  I went to put gas in it & got so excited that the I caught 2 gallons of rain water that I forgot to start it!"

A shaded arcade at the Fort

A possible weather window back to St. John/St. Thomas is approaching.  We've been here for a month!  I always do better with a deadline.  Time to make up for lost time.

We head to the fort, attempt apply for a permit to Buck Island while we're there (nope), head to Taco Tuesday at Maria's Cantina, then a quick grocery stop in case we get to spend a week in southern St. John.  While I unload groceries, The Captain heads back with our boat registration & to return our permit application.   "OK, we'll get back to you."  "How long?"  "A few days...".  Dang.  I was still optimistic.  (My phone will ring as we motor out of the channel..."You're permit is approved..."). Ughhhhh

After posting a blog, one last run for water, a stop at our favorite bar/wifi spot and a SUP around the bay, the dinghy was raised up into the davits.  Ready!

There's a great grocery, and a GREAT grocery.  My foodie friends will understand

We like the little community of Gallows.  Let's take you on our 0.6 mile walk into town:  St. Croix marina dinghy dock, marina chandlery, (breakfast at the marina restaurant, optional), Yamaha dealer, No Bones restaurant, hardware, post office, bank, coffee shop (wifi), book store, Seaside grocery, second grocery.  Stop at the marina restaurant on the way back for a cold beverage and FAST WIFI.  A slight detour and you're at the laundromat, that for some reason, I find cozy despite the lack of air conditioning or wifi (Wow.  I'm spoiled but that's my dream laundromat.  I've been there.  I'm going to open one in the Caribbean with a coffee bar!). While drying laundry, I usually do the short walk to the well-stocked pharmacy.

Lot's of expats mean a good wine & "American food" selection.  There is also a large rastafarian population thus the wide selection of produce and vegetarian options.  (The first decent avocados I've seen.  Really?)

St Croix cruiser notes: 
NOTE:  St. Croix Marina is even more rundown than last year.  They've changed hands again.  However, it is convenient access to the Gallows Bay area with water, trash, fuel and a nice bar with wifi.  We still recommend. $20/week for access.  (Anchorage wifi not currently working and doesn't seem to be any motivation to get it fixed.  "Keep trying."  "It works sometimes."  "We don't know what's wrong with it."  (I suspect, they should pay the bill).  Be sure to visit in the dinghy before paying for a slip.  It's just as rolly as the anchorage.
  • Dinghy:  St Croix marina ($20/week & didn't charge us extra for trash) or cleats along town waterfront/boardwalk
  • Groceries:  Seaside grocery, good produce & selection, gf options, decent liquor prices for USVI (small Gordon's Gin $9, Bombay (regular) $18. Rent a car for CostULess (& the grocery next door is supposed to be good also).
T-Mobile roaming

  • Internet:  Our T-Mobile is better than St. Thomas but still very slow (early mornings and late evening is best.  Again, T-Mobile isn't supposed to work in USVI).  We have a 10GB for $60 AT&T sim card (but again, AT&T sucks.  Uses 1 Gb/ day instead of 1 GB/week with T-Mobile).  A friend mentioned we get a certain amount of roaming included in our T-Mobile plan. I hadn't tested it until yesterday. While at the laundromat, my phone switched to Innovative 3G!  I was able to download a few books from the library before I got this text. Good to know! (Innovative had been so slow in STT, it was unusable)
  1. St Croix Marina:  good signal if anchored in Gallows Bay, but currently down (we pay $20/week for use of the dinghy dock, trash & wifi because we like this end of town)
  2. Ocean View Cafe has opened IN the marina.  THEY have wifi & it's FAST.  This is our afternoon beverage stop.
  3. The Bistro Coffee Shop (Gallows):  Popular with locals.  I can stay as long as I want.  Stop on the way to the grocery.  Next to the bookstore.  Open wifi.  Outdoor seating.  Decent speed (ask for reset if it's not working after you buy something!)
  4. No Bones (Gallows) :  Restaurant just outside the marina.  Excellent food (have the pork nachos.  The best since Culebra!).  Better speed than the Bistro.
  5. Waterfront/boardwalk:  Schupes, Angry Nates, library
  6. Library:  We haven't visited yet, but fellow cruisers said to take your computer to the front desk so the librarian can type in the password.  Bring a jacket (air conditioning!)
Laundry Time, St. Croix
  • Laundry:  Gallows, see above
  • Water:  marina (dang, I forget how much/gallon.  Not bad.)
  • Trash:  Marina or public trash cans (recycling & solar trash compactors downtown at the Boardwalk & Queen?)
  • Restaurants:  see above
  • Hardware/Marine Parts:  Chandlery at St. Croix marina, Yamaha dealer/Gallows Bay Marine outside marina, hardware store in Gallows Bay
  • Propane:  ???
  • Mail:  Post office in Gallows Bay.  Not sure if they take general delivery.
  • Cruisers Net:  No, but lots of resident liveaboards.  Knock on some hulls if you have questions
"Da new ferry is here!  Da new ferry is here!" 
  • Ferry:  to St. Thomas multiple times a day for $50/each way.  Limited baggage.  Yuck.  I wanted to check it out.  Maybe they'll lower their prices eventually.
  • Library:  yes
  • Park/Attractions:  The Fort, the historic district downtown, Buck Island, the Cruzan distillery and numerous historic sights around the island
How do we know where we're going?  Guidebook pic
  • Channel entry:  Two channels.  One is mostly commercial.  Unless you're going downtown, I'd do the sailing channel.  Even though they converge on the way into St. Croix marina, we've seen a lot of confusion out there with small boats.  Beware of channel marker "RR".  It's a dual-marker red & green.  It confused us both times and without an accurate chart, you could turn OUTSIDE of it.  We saw at least one large sporfish run aground here trying to keep the "green to port".
An excellent find at the book store:  Don Street's Cruising Guide!

RANT: I'm not a fan of the Virgin Island cruising bible, Scott's "Cruising Guide to the Virgin Islands".  There.  I said it.  Even Bruce VanSant recommends this book.  The pics are great but it seems to be geared more towards bareboaters & marinas (advertising).  There's also quite a few errors & no errata on their website (ie. Enter Salt Pond with rocks awash to starboard--after snorkeling that side, I'd recommend the port side--deeper & less intrusive to the reef & wildlife.  Also, the description of anchoring in St. Croix is confusing & contradictory to their map).  I also despise the organization.  I can never find the area I'm looking for.  I wish they'd get rid of the tabs because they just lure you into the idea that it's easier than a Table of Contents with page numbers (Wait.  There are no page numbers in the Table of Contents!)

The Pavlidis books are better, despite the rumor he's not really updating them anymore.  They are more geared towards cruisers and include more anchorages with fuel, water & trash info that doesn't always involve a marina.  Not perfect but better.  They are now available as Amazon ebooks for my iPad & cheaper because you can buy it in smaller "chunks" than the published book (I usually prefer my reference books in paper but when you need a guidebook, a download is handy).

I guess I'd say you should have them both.  Add in a little googling and you're close to the Bahamas Explorer Charts.  Someone should work on that...

UPDATE:  The Don Street book (above) is dated but with Active Captain, you would be set. 

(Slightly dated but still relevant) 

(Local knowledge):
FB USVI Cruisers or

And always ActiveCaptain.com

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