A Lagoon 400 like the one we reserved.  Photo credit: SailCaribe via http://www.sailcaribe.com

Last night I booked a bareboat sailing charter in the Spanish Virgin Islands (SVI).  The Wards are sharing a 40-foot catamaran with friends for a week this summer.  I’ve sailed in the British Virgin Islands seven times, so this is a change for us.

The SVI is a group of islands off the eastern edge of Puerto Rico.  When I described our trip to friends, most gave me a blank stare when I said “Spanish Virgin Islands.”  The Puerto Rico tourism bureau is trying to be creative and borrow some allure from the British Virgin Islands.

To get there we’ll spend a full day flying from Austin to San Juan, Puerto Rico.  From San Juan we’ll drive an hour east to the town of Fajardo on the coast.  There we’ll board our catamaran provided by SailCaribe.

I’ve read several positive stories about the SVI.  So I started seriously considering it when we met a family with young kids who loved it.

We met Mark and Sarah at Opti sailing camp in Austin in 2013 (the International Optimist is a universally recognized sailing trainer for kids four to fifteen).  They had chartered twice in the SVI and said it was quiet, kid-friendly and full of ocean wildlife.  They showed us photos of their seven-year-old girl swimming with a giant sea turtle.  We were hooked.

Puerto Rico has 3.5 million people and plenty of tourism, but the sailing trade is tiny compared to the BVI just 50 miles east.  But that may be changing.  Here’s why:  until 2003 the island of Vieques was a U.S. military bombing test site.  After years of protests by locals and international groups, the military is gone and the bombing has stopped.

Still, my SVI ChartKit from Maptech has this startling comment:


Mariners are cautioned against anchoring dredging or trawling in this area due to the possible existence of unexploded ordnance.

Fortunately, there is plenty of room to sail around these spots!

svi_map (1)
The Spanish Virgin Islands. Photo credit: SailCaribe via http://www.sailcaribe.com.  Click for larger.

The SVI includes two larger islands, Vieques and Culebra, along with several smaller islets and cays.  According to A Cruising Guide to The Virgin Islands (Stephen J. Pavlidis, Seaworthy Publications) the sailing area is 24 nautical miles across, making for easy day trips between the islands.  I’m looking forward to sailing in a new place and the Latin culture.  Maybe our Spanish will improve on the trip!

We’re in full-planning mode now.  Looking at flights, provisioning options, on-shore excursions and overnight anchorages.  I’ve been poring over the charts and cruising guide, thinking about the itinerary.

Have you been on a sailing vacation?  If not, I recommend it.  It’s like having a mobile hotel room with the best waterfront patio in the world.  A perfect mix of sailing, onshore activities and lazy time in the tropical sun.

A practical note.  A question I get all the time is “how do you rent a big boat like that?”  Well, if you want to sail a boat yourself  — actually pull the lines and steer the vessel — the charter company will ask for a sailor’s resume.  You fill in your sailing experience and skill level with anchoring, motoring and other boating necessities .  If they are concerned about your ability they may suggest (or require) a captain aboard.  Captains run about $100-$150 per day.  Additionally, charter companies will require a damage deposit and insurance on the boat.

In a future post I’ll let you know how the trip went.

Anchored in the lee of Marina Cay, BVI.  From our 2005 charter.
Our “patio” on a previous trip.  Anchored in the lee of Marina Cay, BVI – 2005.