Sailing to the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean 1500

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If you arrive anywhere in the Caribbean as sailboat crew, it might be possible to continue crewing, since the Caribbean islands are a major winter cruising ground. In my case, though, I wanted to fly back to the States, and I had reserved a flight before we had left Portsmouth.

Although there's an airport on Beef Island (which is connected to Tortola by a short bridge), the runway is too short for big jets. All the flights are connectors to other Caribbean islands, with the major hub being San Juan, Puerto Rico. Instead, I opted to fly out of the much bigger airport on St. Thomas, U.S.V.I., which can handle big jets and has many more connecting flights to the U.S. mainland. The high volume of flights on various airlines gives you the best opportunity for a convenient schedule and low fare.

To get to St. Thomas from Tortola, you take a quick and interesting ferry called the Road Town Fast Ferry, which goes directly from the ferry dock in Road Town to the ferry dock in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas (which is very close to the airport). When I took the ferry (November 2007) the one-way fare was $25. You also have to pay a $5 BVI departure tax before boarding the ferry. (FYI: You pronounce "Amalie" as a-MAHL-yuh.)

My flight departed in the early evening, but I took the morning ferry so I would have some time to explore Charlotte Amalie. You have to clear U.S. Customs when you get off the ferry; the process was very slow but uneventful. As I exited the ferry terminal, I saw a cab stand and arranged for a later ride to the airport. By reserving a ride, I was able to check my bags at the cab stand so I could walk around unhindered by luggage.

Although I was only there for a few hours, I thought Charlotte Amalie was an interesting place to visit. There were many quaint side streets with colorful buildings and shops. It's a very busy city, though, with much more traffic and activity than Tortola. One reason is that it has a huge cruise ship facility that can handle three giant ships at once. I never did make it over to that part of town, though, since it was a long walk from the ferry dock and I ran out of time. As an aside, even though St. Thomas is part of the United States, they drive on the left like they do in the British Virgin Islands.

After an interesting stroll around the island, including having lunch and snapping numerous pictures, I walked back to the taxi stand and rode the shuttle van to the airport. As part of checking in, you have to pass through Customs and Immigration, and again it was a slow but uneventful process. For a little island the airport was quite busy, and it seemed to be straining at the seams. There was only one big waiting room which was very crowded and very humid, with limited ventilation. Unlike mainland airports, services were very limited. I had "dinner" at a small crowded food stand; the specialty of the house consisted of greasy lukewarm hot dogs or refrigerated prepared sandwiches.

My flight back to the States was reasonably pleasant, but I got a big surprise as I walked out of the terminal building in Washington, DC: it was cold! I was still dressed in shorts from my balmy Caribbean sojourn, but clearly, back in the States winter was already in-progress.

As before, I have arranged the pictures into subsections; you can click on any of the following links, or you can click the "Next Page" button at the bottom to read all the pages sequentially.

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