Three great excursions to remember in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Michelle and Karl Teel

Island Wilson knew exactly where the best snorkeling would be for the conditions that day and set us up with ideal gear.

Any visit to the U.S. Virgin Islands presents an amazing array of opportunities, from beaches and water sports to sailing and eco tours. We discovered some great tours on our recent trip.

Sailing aboard the Starfish

They say the best way to experience the Virgin Islands is by sailing and, by far, the most comfortable way to do it is on a catamaran. Picture David Crosby being inspired to write Southern Cross, or Christopher Cross and his song Sailing. Wouldn’t you want to be there?

The Starfish is a luxury 46-foot catamaran with crew. Just bring your group and prepare for pampered fun.
The Starfish is a luxury 46-foot catamaran with crew. Just bring your group and prepare for pampered fun.

But with so many charters to choose from, which do you choose? While we are sure there are many good options, we are positive about a great one.

Our hosts, Sam and Jen Augspurger of the Starfish, certainly passed the qualified sailor test. They have circumnavigated most of the world, including a stretch of 22 consecutive days at sea crossing the Pacific Ocean with only their family of four. (Of course, in the Virgin Islands, you aren’t likely to lose sight of land, which is great, because the islands look beautiful by sea.)

Where do they take you? It depends, because all itineraries are custom tailored to maximize your personal experience. They each begin with a least an hour or two of dialogue over the phone as you and they plan a weeklong charter.

Staying on their catamaran is not exactly “roughing it,” as you enjoy the pampered feel of Egyptian cotton sheets, top-end luxurious towels, real glass stemware to enjoy your favorite wines, and numerous nice touches, all with the a starfish motif. The three additional guest staterooms are well appointed and surprisingly comfortable. You just don’t find this level of comfort and luxury from other charters.

This is the kind of vacation where Mom gets the kind of real vacation she deserves. Everything is done for you while onboard: cooking, cleaning, entertainment for the kids, a cocktail hour every evening — you name it.

While on board, you are treated to high-end foods you would expect to find in the restaurants that foodies salivate over. All fresh, all homemade, and all clearly from hosts who have researched what you like. Their choices show how well they know quality. You’d swear Jen was formerly a gourmet chef at a posh venue, but, in fact, she was an attorney.

Gliding along the peaceful sea, you can join Sam at the helm and relax, or learn to sail. He’s an excellent, patient teacher. Wherever your trip takes you, there are plenty of stops along the way where you can enjoy a host of water sports, including their stash of kayaks, standup paddle boards, and even a dingy that pulls water toys.

Of course, there is snorkeling as well. Not surprisingly, Sam and Jen supply high-end items you’ll only find at professional dive shops — even comfortable aquatic socks to go in the flippers. We swam with sea turtles and saw an amazing variety of fish and coral.

This charter is great for families of all configurations and ages, or three couples seeking to share a mix of relaxation, rejuvenation, and adventure.

You can learn more about chartering a crewed yacht through Ellen Stewart, a crewed yacht broker at Virgin Island Sailings. (visailing.com) Because there are 450 to 600 boats available to charter in the Virgin Islands, she can be a valuable resource in matching a yacht and crew with what you desire for your vacation.

For a Starfish brochure call 800-382-9666 or go to visailing.com/catamarans/starfish.

Virgin Island Eco Tours

The ecology of the Virgin Islands is fascinating and even more so when your knowledge is expanded on an eco-tour. In our experience, no one does it better than Virgin Island Eco Tours.

Let’s start with the basics. How did the Virgin Islands get their name? Early explorers found no natural sources of water, no natural fruits or vegetables, and no gold. Being without any of the resources the early explorers sought, it was deemed they would remain undeveloped by man and remain virgin. Just one of many examples of what our guide, Josh, explained on our tour.

Snorkeling
Island Wilson knew exactly where the best snorkeling would be for the conditions that day and set us up with ideal gear.

Josh was an energetic, enthusiastic, excellent communicator with an extensive college background in environmental science. All that complimented his island vibe of deep tan, dreadlocks, and laid-back demeanor. We began with a little outdoor lecture that covered safety, kayak basics, an outline of our day, and some questions. Then off we went in our perfect size group of about a dozen.

Kayaking in tandem kayaks, we paddled together through the mangroves in the largest salt water mangrove swamp in the world. Pausing in a few locations, Josh provided discussions that yielded information on plants, trees, marine animals, mangroves, and how these systems work together in a symbiotic way. Did you know a mangrove is a freshwater tree in a saltwater world? We now know how that works.

We gained further insights on the second leg of the journey with an underwater view. Snorkeling along the reef we saw the expected colorful fish and coral as well as a few surprises, including an octopus.

Hiking on one of the islands in the sanctuary, we learned even more. Initially, we stumbled onto a few hermit crabs, then around the next bend, hundreds, if not thousands of them. Of course, thanks to Josh, we learned why they were there and how they lived. We doubt any couple knows more about them than we do now. And, what eco-tour would be complete without knowing the geology of the area? A fascinating history lesson explained the visual wonders created by volcanos, lava flow, erosion over time, and wild singular events.

The tour continued with stories about the people who made the Virgin Islands a dangerous place. One tale was about the history of False Harbor, where cunning and deceptive privateers would make the harbor look inviting, only to lure trading ships so as to attack and loot the ships. Another was the story of local native islanders who tied their captives to the poisonous manchineel tree that, when it rained, produced drips of caustic flesh-burning acid.

Check out an excursion at viecotours.com.

Island Wilson Excursions on St. Thomas

Island Wilson Excursions tailors every tour to fit what you want to do, but Capt. Wilson perfects it. The Virgin Islands have a natural beauty that stands alone, but there is a depth to them that is even more enjoyable with the right guide. Capt. Wilson is the man for that role. You can tell he really loves the Virgin Islands and wants to share with you the history of the region, the geology, the nature, the lore of the pirates from the past, and even the tales of the rich and famous who visit today.

How do you imagine your day on the water? Swimming with sea turtles in a Caribbean-blue bay? Stretched out and sunning on a sandy deserted island? Snorkeling colorful reefs surrounded by tropical fish? Exploring pirate caves that once held a king’s ransom in treasure, and possibly still do? Bird watching? Boating around the beauty of islands created by volcanoes and techtonic plate shifts and seeing magnificant rock formations? Or, maybe simply relaxing on a postcard-perfect beach, feet in the surf, and the next round of drinks just a few steps away?

Whatever your idea of a perfect day is, Wilson will make it happen. He takes the time to find out exactly what you want to do with your time on his beautiful boat Deja Blue. He then maps out a day that pairs those desires with the conditions of weather and currents to create the perfect itinerary. He even matches your knowledge and skills for snorkeling to ensure an optimal experience. The Deja Blue is a double-hulled powerboat that is ideal for making the cruise smooth and fun.

You want to be sure to book this excursion before scheduling your plane tickets. It’s that special. Learn more about fees and inclusions by visiting islandwilson.com.

The Starfish is a luxury 46-foot catamaran with crew. Just bring your group and prepare for pampered fun.

Captain Wilson

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