Charter A Sailboat In The Spanish Virgin Islands

By Charles Fort

Explore these beautiful but little-known islands off Puerto Rico by bareboat sail charter.

Chartering a sailboat in the Spanish Virgin IslandsPhoto: Julian Love

Quick, name all of the Virgin Islands. Did you remember the Spanish Virgin Islands? Did you even know there was such a place? Lots of people don't, and although calling them that might sound suspiciously like a marketing strategy, the islands of Culebra and Vieques off the coast of Puerto Rico deserve to be mentioned with their better-known U.S. and British Virgin Island cousins. And it's not hard to see why these islands are becoming a popular destination for sailors.

Even though these islands, also known as the Passage Islands, are only a few miles from the Puerto Rican mainland, the area is becoming a sailor's paradise. Not long ago, The Moorings charter company in Puerto Rico began offering catamaran charters to the area, but soon found that fully 80 percent of the charter customers chose sailboats over powerboats to cruise the islands. The company also found that one-way sail charters from Tortola, in the BVIs, to Puerto Rico are also one of their most popular. The two big islands, along with numerous smaller ones, form a compact archipelago that is 8 miles east of the Puerto Rican coast, and 20 miles or so from the U.S. Virgin Islands, with plenty of sun and breeze in between them.

Spanish Virgin Islands aerial view

For a long time, visitors to Vieques, the largest island, were rare for a good reason; the U.S. Navy used the island for bombing practice until 2003. Starting in 1999, locals protested the Navy's use of the island and eventually the Navy pulled out and the Puerto Rican government sought environmental protection of the island. Much of the island is now an unspoiled wildlife refuge and has some of the most beautiful beaches anywhere. Fishing, snorkeling, diving, and a population of only 9,000 people make this a nice alternative to the more famous "other" Virgin Islands.

Keep in mind there is not much in the way of amenities like restaurants or resorts, but there is plenty of room to roam and the islands are blessed with protected anchorages, well-preserved reefs, flourishing marine-life populations, and uncrowded white-sand beaches.

Culebra, with about 2,000 people, is about a quarter the size of it's sibling and has its own interesting background. Some historians think this may have been the island that Christopher Columbus found on his second voyage in 1493. After that, it was used as a base for Caribbean pirates. Culebra was also used as a gunnery and bombing practice site for World War ll training, and relics from that era, such as military tanks, still dot the island.

Like the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Spanish Virgin Islands are convenient for sailors. There are no passport requirements for U.S. citizens, and flying into Puerto Rico is a breeze. The unique history and Spanish flavor of these islands make them some of the best sailing grounds in the Caribbean. The next time someone brings up the Virgin Islands, see if they know about these jewels, only a few miles from their more populated cousins.  

— Published: March 2017

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