Christiansted, St Croix, USVI

We had a lovely downwind sail from Saba to St Croix, flat enough to comfortably eat soup for breakfast. We came into Christiansted in the early afternoon with the spinnaker flying, a glass of rosé in hand, with a pod of dolphins riding escort. It doesn’t get much better than this!

We dropped anchor at the northern end of Gallows Bay. We’d expected our Google Fi sim cards to start working again upon contact with US towers. This completely failed to happen, so we headed to shore to seek out wifi to check in and sort this out. On our way in, we passed a number of sunken boats; apparently there’s still a lot of hurricane damage here. At the marina, we met a tour boat gassing up for the next day, and they offered us the remains of their tour punch. Quite the greeting!

Christiansted is a pretty busy, tourist-friendly town, and a busy harbor with a mix of cruisers and tour boats. The lively boardwalk features several bar restaurants, including a micro-brewery, so of course we stopped in there. (Great brussel sprouts, too.) Apparently all of the USVI is as busy as it’s ever been, because it’s one of the few places that’s open to travelers from the US. So, after months of being some of the very few tourists on tiny islands, we were re-introduced to the concept of crowds. It was weird, and with COVID still around, a little unsettling.

But our main objective for being here was to get vaccinated. So we came into town the next morning, tried in vain to find a taxi, and settled for renting a car. The vaccine center was at the university, in the middle of the island, and the national guard got us in and out in no time flat with our first dose of Pfizer. Of course we headed straight to Leatherback to celebrate (seeing as we had a car, and all).

The rest of our car rental was less successful. We tried to tour the island, but found most of the land-based attractions still closed to us. This shot of a sugar mill museum gives a pretty good summary.

With the car returned, we welcomed some new neighbors by warning them about a sunken wreck, which they promplty hooked their anchor on. When they declined our offer to help untangle them, we turned to settling our laundry debt from the past month.

That evening as we sat down to dinner, we watched another boat come into the harbor under sail, miss the channel, and get stuck on a reef. When they didn’t respond on the radio, we hopped into the dinghy to try to help. The neighboring boat mentioned above followed along, mostly to rescue us in case our dinghy engine cut out (it had been fritzing lately, TODO for tomorrow.) We found ourselves circling the boat in choppy seas, along with a couple of other dinghies and a medium-sized fishing boat, shouting advice that would go mostly ignored. Our first attempt to get them moving involved our shallow-draft, aluminum-hulled dinghy playing intermediary to get a rope (formerly our dinghy anchor line) from the sailboat to the fishing boat. The fishermen immediately got it fouled in their propeller and ripped it to shreds. Oops. Plan B started with getting some of their crew offloaded; we took the two most panicked passengers back to Villa (much closer than shore). And one giant purse, would turn out to contain all the phones on the boat, so that was it for being in contact. Along the way, they told us that the engine had gotten water in it and stopped working, and the boat was taking on water. We left them with a bottle of wine while we went back for more people.

But by this point, someone in another powerful tender had convinced the sailors to pass them a halyard, and was able to pull the boat onto its side, to float it off the reef and tow it into the marina for an emergency haul-out. We circled back to our boat, brought the neighbors on board to join the refugees, and the six of us shared another bottle of wine while we watched the boat slowly progress towards shore. After a while the refugees managed to make contact, and we brought them back to shore, and went back to our boat for a late, cold dinner. Here’s the boat: picture from the next morning when we stopped by to drop off their forgotten vape pens.

We learned that this had been the new owners’ maiden voyage from St Thomas, with their freshly pained boat bottom. We never heard from anyone involved again, except the coast guard, who asked pointed questions about whether we’d seen oily discharge in the water. We had not. On the one hand I’m pleased that we care about the environment, but on the other, I’d have liked them to have shown a bit of concern for the safety of the people first.

After spending so long in places where everyone around has been cruising and crossing oceans for years, it’s kind of entertaining to be among the more experienced of local sailors.

Speaking of experiences, we went into shore later that day, planning to visit the fort, and found that it was the day of a poker run. A bunch of day boats gathered in Christiansted, with teams in matching shirts and other costumes. (Many of these we weren’t comfortable taking photos of, like the all-female team “Perpetually Wet”, or the numerous matching bikinis and mesh cover-nones. Many great team names.) This was the densest crowd we’d encountered in many months, and despite it being outdoors and USVI being far ahead of the vaccination curve, our impulse at the time was to get out of there as fast as possible. Looking back, as we write this a month and a half later and fully vaccinated, it looks like a fun local event we missed out on. Funny how perspective changes like that.

We found the fort closed that day, and settled for exploring Christiansted for a while.

The next day, despite the poker run being over, boat traffic remained high, and we got a constant stream of wakes from passing speedboats. We compensated Captain with an ample amount of catnip, delivered in an egg carton. Also pictured: one of the most obnoxious boaters from the day before, getting towed back into the harbor in disgrace.

And then came Andrew’s birthday, and we went out for a delicious Mexican lunch, with “$2.50” bait-and-switch margaritas that were actually $8. Amazing hot sauce though.

And we discovered that the fort was actually open on weekdays. It had some great views of the harbor, some extremely Jazz-sized spaces, and an incredibly resonant dungeon.

We walked around a little more, and found that someone had decorated for the occasion. And then, like any good birthday party, we ended up in the hardware store, and came home with the makings of a new surf board holder.

At dinner, we brought Captain out with us, and he discovered that he does not much care for full-grown chickens.

Another fun Christiansted fact: there are a number of private mooring balls around. Most are not very well marked, but this one definitely is:

Our next few days were consumed with a bit of business: with the delay between shots, we would spend enough time here to have some parts shipped in, and being back in the sort-of-US meant minimal taxes. So we spent a few days going over everything we would need on the boat for the foreseeable future. This meant everything from spares we’d used up, to long-term consumables, to supplies for some projects we’d been thinking about. More about this in another post, but for now, here are a couple of breaks from aggressive internet research and shopping.

A couple of quick stories before we leave this harbor. First, there’s a truly great cocktail bar, the first we’ve seen since probably Georgia. Fantastic tiki drinks, and a cat to boot.

One morning I woke up to a weird chuffing sound. I looked out the window and saw that a guy was swimming his horse. So that’s a thing. Then that night, we found we had a Cylon neighbor (Battlestar Galactica reference, Mom).

And finally, on our last day, we went out to breakfast, and were treated to the best-looking bad food we’ve ever experienced. Truly Instagram-ready, and yet somehow none of the food and drink you see here managed to taste good. We found this experience mystifying.

This was about all the Christiansted we could take, and we wanted to do some easy off-the-boat diving, so we hauled anchor and headed to Frederiksted.