US Virgin Islands: Open for Business
Visiting the US Virgin Islands during the Pandemic includes several changes, but with the effort of the USVI government to keep the economy healthy, access to COVID testing facilities and the wonderful marine environment, cruisers will still find the island life they enjoy. This report by Joan Conover, President of the SSCA, for Caribbean Compass Magazine.
Published 1 year ago
Reproduced with kind permission from Caribbean Compass Magazine
St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix
St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix are all open for visitors post COVID. There are some changes, not the least the increased number of charter vessels found in all harbors. For vessels wanting to visit, there are also new regulations with the addition of COVID test requirements, and anchoring permits.
USA vessels coming from USA directly do not need to check in for entry, but still need to go to one of the entry ports (Charlotte Amalie or St. John Cruz Bay) to submit previously approved travel clearance forms/and or anchoring permits.(S3.00 USD/ft per month).
A Seven Seas Cruising Association Member in the area reports: “If the cruiser has Verizon or AT&T, their phone will work on arrival and isn’t international roaming. The best way to check in to the US-VI if they have service is by using the CBP ROAM. If they don’t have service then they go to one of the ports of entry in the US-VI and do it the old fashioned way – Q flag, radio ashore and wait for instructions.”
Boat captains/skippers must still physically go to US-VI Customs offices to provide the approved portal documents for crew/and or anchoring permit. US ROAM app is for US Custom Border Patrol and is going to provide a “touch-less” check in. Be aware, this app is being updated (December 16, 2021) so check for updates when you have internet. Again, see the relevant country entry information on Noonsite.
Charlotte Amalie has marked its small vessel anchorage area on most current maps. It is smaller than in the past as the updated cruise terminal and turning area has encroached on the older anchoring areas. Both IGY Marina/Yacht Club Grande at the west side of the bay to the north-side of the commercial cruise dock and American Yacht Basin (Red Hook) can make arrangement for COVID19 testing for their customers.
Elephant Bay has a large number of anchored vessels including cruisers; this area seemed to be very full this spring season, with some vessels almost in the main channel as they struggled to find anchoring positions. In almost all areas there are sunken objects scattered underwater in the deeper areas with some marked by private markers.
Cruising the Southern Coast
Leaving Charlotte Amalie, cruise the southern coast to the east, to find an interesting and steep coastline leading to the southeast side of St. Thomas. When trades are light, pass Bolongo Bay, round the headlands and Cos Cay and find Benners Bay.
Follow the marked channel which does get narrow. Enter in daylight and good weather to find marinas, a fun dock bar with seating in the mangroves and fish feeding is allowed!. The local Budget Marine store is near by, as well as a excellent grocery market and for pet lovers, a veterinarian clinic.
As you sail/motor east past Benners Bay and Jersey Bay (watch for the marked rocks) there are two small islands. The west side has Christmas Cove at Great Saint James Island. This is a small cove and is a favored mooring spot. Some anchoring is possible. Take the cut between St. Thomas main island to the north and Great Saint James Island, through to Red Hook, toward the northwest, or go east across to St John.
Boats can also continue east along the island group to round up into the passage between St Thomas and St. John. One land mark is the rather infamous Little Saint James Island. Head north in the deep passage to either east side harbors of St. Thomas or on the west side of St. John. Ferry and boat ferry traffic has active routes as do some cruise ships, so be aware.
Red Hook has all amenities, medical offices, and excellent restaurants, plus catch the ferry to and from St John here. The beaches and beach bars in this area are well known! Sapphire Beach is just to the north of the harbor.
St John National Park
For St John National Park, boats usually favor the northern park areas, starting with Cruz Bay and traveling clock wise around St. John park area/moorings with Hawksnest, Cinnamon Bay, Frances Bay and other bays having moorings. See this Interactive Map which shows moorings as well as two areas which are marked as approved anchorages.
Be aware that these moorings are in high demand, with rumors of boats squabbling over them. Frances Bay, like all park areas, has well spaced moorings, with beach, snorkeling, and walking trails. Leominster Bay the next bay east, has fewer moorings, a more quiet anchorage with walking trails and Watermelon Beach Cay. Boats then can passage around the east side of St John, with options of stopping in the various bays and coves on the south side of St John, returning to St Thomas with trade wind assistance.
Since other island countries have various rules and require recent PCR tests for entry, its advisable to depart from VI ports where COVID tests are available. For example American Yacht Basin/Red Hook has PCR COVID testing as does Charlotte Amalie at medical facilities. Its just something to add to your cruising plans.
Keep a Close Eye on the Map!
Be sure to keep a close eye on your map and GPS locations, do not stray into BVI waters, COVID has made the normal ‘innocent passage’ through their waters an issue previously, so check the current regulations.
Travel Clearance Required
As a reminder, all travelers must submit their travel clearance (from the US-VI Travel Screening Portal, an email with a GREEN QRC code) as well as an approved COVID19 test result, to the local marine personnel.
All arriving yachts must complete the US-VI Travel Portal for all aboard the vessel within five days’ prior to your arrival. If not approved, vessels face a 14 day quarantine aboard their vessels. See www.noonsite.com for email addresses and contact numbers for inquiries. Virgin Islands government offices are open during weekdays for permits and questions.
Vessels must submit a Virgin Island anchoring permit (USD3.00 a ft per month) if not going on to a marina or state park anchorage. The contact number for this office is (340) 774 -3320. Temporary and Long Term permits are available via internet forms and are submitted via email. A anchoring permit is not needed for anchoring for check-in/entry, only for anchoring after arrival. If, after check-in, you go to a marina, and/or if you pick up a St John mooring, no anchoring permits are needed. This recent article, describes some of the ongoing challenges.
Several of the non-park “restricted” anchorages at St John have ongoing issues with locals, Round Bay for one. The popular floating taco bar, Lime Out, has moved to the outer edge of Coral Bay due to the anchoring and mooring conflicts. Be aware.
If concerned over anchoring regulations, there is always an option of checking in at Puerto Rico, Puerto Marina Del Ray (east side) or Marina Pescaderia, and cruising the southern side of Puerto Rico or Culebra. See articles in www.caribbeancompass.com on this area.
Be aware, follow the rules established to keep everyone as safe as possible and visit the Virgin Islands.
See this report in the December issue of Caribbean Compass.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of Noonsite.com or World Cruising Club.
Related to following destinations: Christiansted (St. Croix), Coral Bay (St. John), Cruz Bay (St. John), St. Croix, St. John, St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands, Virgin Islands National Park
“All arriving yachts must complete the US-VI Travel Portal for all aboard the vessel within five days’ prior to your arrival.” the actual statement from the USVI travel portal is: “Domestic travelers must submit a negative antigen or NAAT COVID-19 test result within 5 days of travel.” That is departure not arrival, this is a nod to boaters and the time it takes us to get to our destination.