Thursday, June 14, 2018

A Week in St. Croix

I wasn't sure I'd like St. Croix. It's not visited by cruisers a lot since it's 35 miles south of all the other Virgin Islands and isn't really "cruiseable" the way the rest of the Virgins are: there are only three anchorages, two of them open roadsteads and the third notoriously rolly, plus one nice offlying island. I knew it was as populous as St. Thomas - 50,000 souls - with a fair amount of industry and a reputed crime problem. I knew of its relatively flat geography and colonial past and imagined one big sugar field with a couple of beaches and windmills. But I figured it was a convenient stop for a few days on the way from St. John to Vieques, and we could leave early if we didn't care for it.

We almost left after the first day. We couldn't find a good protected spot anywhere in Christiansted Harbor and endured several very rough nights, some of the worst of this season. Our initial attempts at renting a car (or better yet, a Jeep) yielded closed, sold-out or thoroughly indifferent rental agencies. On our first walk-through Christiansted didn't impress us as much as we thought it would. Yeah, the Danish colonial architecture was nice and the waterfront and first two blocks inland were too cute by half, but beyond that there were an awful lot of boarded up and thoroughly trashed former shops with vagrants hanging around outside giving us the evil eye. It struck me as a pretty depressed place, which after talking to locals and learning the details of the island's last decade turned out to be an accurate assessment.

And yet we ended up actually liking the place. We finally procured a car the morning after we arrived, and kept it for two days, thoroughly exploring the island. Much of it is gorgeous, particularly the rainforest on the northwest side and the scrub desert on the east end. The northern half is actually fairly mountainous, just not quite so steep as the other Virgins. The flat terrain, dense population and industry (or what remains of it) are largely confined to the south-central portion of the island. We visited Fredericksted several times and really enjoyed its ramshackle charm. It surely helped that there were no cruise ships visiting at any point during the week, as I'm sure they'd entirely change the character of the place. Actually there weren't very many tourists at all, other than in Christiansted and even there outnumbered by locals 5-to-1.

Highlights included tromping around plantation ruins, visiting the Lawaetz estate house and museum, running Piper along some deserted trails and beaches, touring the Cruzan and Captain Morgan Distilleries (the former tour is far better, despite the latter's greater resources), visiting the brand new and already excellent Leatherback Brewing Company, participating in Monday night hermit crab races at BrewSTX, driving roller-coaster roads and braving some remote two-track despite our lack of a Jeep,
touring the 17th-century fort, doing the once-monthly Art Thursday street fest in Christiansted, and patronizing quite a few excellent cafes and watering holes in Christiansted and Fredericksted.

A few days after we arrived I
jumpseated from Christiansted to Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas and back on Seaborne Airlines' Twin Otter on floats, mostly on a lark but also as some source material for my monthly column in Flying Magazine. The Seaborne captain turned out to be a sailor and aspiring cruiser as well, so the following evening Dawn and I met
him and his wife for drinks and then had them out to Windbird. We got to know some other locals, too, and that was a large part of why we ended up liking St. Croix; people were pretty open and friendly and non-jaded to tourists. It felt like more of an organic community than the more touristed Virgins we'd been plying for a month and a half.

The wind blew hard on Saturday & Sunday (May 19th-20th) and we spent as much time off the boat as possible because the anchorage was even worse than usual. The city park just east of us that we'd been taking Piper to was quite lively with locals, and on Sunday we joined them for a beach day on a nice stretch of sand down a dirt road and just around the point, on the windward facing side. Monday was supposed to be much calmer, and we were looking forward to a nice smooth, fast downwind sail to Vieques, 45nm to the WNW.