The "Live-Anywhere" Boat - The Trip South, 2009, Part V, St. Croix to Culebra
Updated March 2, 2010

Fort Christiansvaern From the Commandant's Quarters

We had a wonderful trip south from St. John to St. Croix. The wind was never more than about 12 knots and the sea was about 2 feet. Conditions just don't get any better. Barbara chugged along, and in about five hours we were off Green Cay and calling Green Cay Marina where Steve Williams had booked us a slip.
A Last Look at St. John

The marina is protected by two breakwaters with a narrow opening between them and a sharp turn in the entrance channel. Most of the boats in this marina are smaller than we are, and the turn into our slip is also a little tight - we had about 70 feet to make a 90 turn and back into the slip. Barbara is getting used to slipping into tight places, however, so we were soon secured with bow lines and springs out to pilings and stern lines to the wharf.

We made our number with the office, and then the first thing we knew there was Steve with a bottle of Champagne to welcome us.

Fort Christiansvaern - The Parade Ground and Battery

That night we went to Cheeseburgers in Paradise and had (naturally) cheeseburgers. The story going around (which may not be true) is that Jimmy Buffett sued then for using his phrase, and the result is that they changed the name very slightly and refuse to play his music.

On Saturday we had a whirlwind tour of the western half of the island and Steve grilled some steaks at his condo. The next day we did the east end and fed Steve dinner on the boat.

The Customs House - Christiansted

Monday we took a deep breath and settled back into something like our normal routine. Although retired, Steve is working, so Barbara did a wash and I posted the last episode of this story. We found the marina bar to be pleasant (cheap drinks at happy hour!), so we watched a couple of Olympic hockey games there, though we did not get to see the U.S. play.

Steve had booked a rental jeep for us, but we could not get it until Wednesday because a Caribbean-wide agricultural festival had mopped up all the available cars, so on Wednesday evening we picked it up and began the process of figuring out how to get from here to there.

The Danish Compound - Fort Christiansvaern and Customs House

St. Croix is quite different from the other Virgin Islands. Where the others are all steep hillsides that had to be terraced (back-breaking work) to grow sugar cane at all, St. Croix has expanses of essentially level land. In fact, that was the reason the Danish West India and Guinea Company bought the island from France in 1733. The island was very prosperous in the late 18th and early 19tyh centuries, and this shows in the elegance of buildings in Christiansted, many of which have been well preserved.
Barbara Tucked In at Green Cay Marina

There is a fine fort on the harbor front, but it is not the heavy-duty fortification of a place like the Dockyard, in Bermuda. The main reason is that with the treaty that ended the Napoleonic Wars, in 1815, European countries regarded the Caribbean as settled and no longer "up for grabs." Denmark continued a military presence in Christiansted, centered on Fort Christiansvaern, up until the Danish islands were purchased by the U.S. in 1917, but this was principally for internal policing and containing slave revolts.

By 1917, the rise of the sugar beet industry in Europe and the U.S. and the abolition of slavery, together with droughts and hurricanes, had pretty well impoverished the islands, and the U.S. could buy them quite cheaply for their strategic harbors. Some cattle are still raised, but droughts in recent years have made this increasingly difficult.

With the unaccustomed mobility of our rented jeep, we replenished our supply of staples at Cost U Less, filled a propane tank at Antilles Gas, and in general enjoyed the freedom to tour the island. But perhaps I really should stop taking pictures through archways.

Company Street, Christiansted

We spent some time in Christiansted, exploring the fort and walking through the old part of town. Many of the old buildings are built of brick that came in ships as ballast, and it is not rare to find walks paved with a combination of local cobble-stones and narrow yellow bricks.

I do not know what it is with Scandinavian countries and yellow, but the public buildings in Christiansted are the same yellow ochre color we had last seen in Helsinki.

"Luncheria" - Courtyard Restaurant in Christiansted

We made the almost obligatory stop at the Cruzan distillery, where all of the Virgin Islands rum is made, and a young man named Peter showed us around. The plant seems very small considering the volume produced (on the order of 10 million proof gallons/year), and the methods are essentially unchanged since the 19th century. Molasses and yeast are allowed to ferment in large heated tanks, and then the result is distilled. The resulting spirit (at 194 proof) is aged in oak casks for at least two years, then the casks are opened and the contents shipped to Florida for bottling.
Cruzan Distillery - Headquarters Building

The rum used to be bottled on the premises (not, of course, on a modern automated bottling line), but since the distillery was purchased by the company that owns Jim Beam last year, bottling has been done in Florida. We did get to sample the raw distillate (still at 194 proof) - by dipping a finger in as it was being poured out of the casks - and found it surprisingly smooth. We also, of course, enjoyed numerous samples at the bar after the tour and had a pleasant conversation with our guide.
Cruzan Distillery - Where it all Happens

The St. George Botanical Garden

From the distillery, we went on to the Botanical Garden, which is set in the ruins of an old sugar "estate." The garden has the dual goals of memorializing the sugar industry and preserving rare or endangered plant species, and it fulfills these purposes admirably. So there is a cactus garden, a garden of plants useful for their fiber (cotton, sisal, etc), and an orchid garden, among others, but also the flume that used to carry water to the sugar factory, and the blacksmith's shop.

The ruins provide picturesque backdrops for the plants, while the plants give cohesion to the remains of walls and buildings. There are benches everywhwere, and the garden is altogether a lovely place to walk and sit.

Cactus Garden in the Botanical Garden

We walked along a trail through a semi-tropical rain-forest and paused under trees heavy with vines. We saw a whole garden full of bromeliads, a very varied species.We saw a "cannonball tree," whose fruits do indeed resemble cannonballs (we do not know if they are useful or edible) and a "sausage tree," whose fruits look like fat sausages. These fruits were formerly fermented to make beer, we read, and several had been collected and piled on a nearby bench. Maybe there is a party in the offing.
The Botanical Garden

Since it was a day of rain squalls, we were late in getting to the Botanical Garden, and we could not spend as long there as we might have liked. We wanted to get on to Frederiksted and do a little sight-seeing before we met Steve there for dinner at the St. Croix Country Club, which is actually a beach club.

We enjoyed St. Croix, and particularly enjoyed the time with Steve, but we were getting a little sense of guilt about our mail. Our forwarding arrangements, of course, were all out of kilter because of our extended stay in Bermuda while the new rudder was being made. We imagined bills piled to the ceiling and our credit rating going down through the floor, so we reluctantly returned the rented jeep and the next morning filled our fuel tanks for the year and headed out, running northwest for Culebra, where we could clear back into the U.S. The Virgin Islands are a U.S. terrritory, of course, but they are also a free port, so we had to clear through U.S. Customs again in Puerto Rico.

We had very pleasant conditions again for this crossing, with a southwest wind of about fifteen knots (whatever happened to the easterly trade winds?), and a very gentle sea. It was about 11:00 when we finished pumping 800+ gallons of diesel fuel through a nozzle that would have been slow on a gas pump, and just in the early dusk we were running into Ensenada Honda, the main harbor of Culebra, and anchored off the town of Dewey.

For the track/map of this leg, click here.

Bromeliads in the Botanical Garden

Cannonball Tree - Botanical Garden

Street in Frederiksted

Fort Frederik - Frederiksted

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part VI
Part VII