SI Vault
 
A GRAND BASIN OF ISLANDS
Carleton Mitchell
January 11, 1960
To understand cruising the Virgins it is necessary to visualize the group from St. Thomas to Virgin Gorda. Two parallel lines of islands extend almost east and west, forming the Sir Francis Drake Channel, named for that intrepid Elizabethan sea predator when he proceeded through in 1585 to attack Hispaniola. In the words of the New Sailing Directions for 1818, "Nature has so arranged the islands as to form a grand basin...wherein ships may lie at anchor, landlocked and sheltered from every wind." Thus when the trade is blowing northeast, the water is smooth under the lee of Tortola; when it blows southeast, better conditions exist along the shores of the southern islands. This is not to say that during the heaviest weight of the trade winds the channel cannot get rough, but it is the sea of, say, Long Island Sound or Chesapeake Bay rather than the open ocean. And distances between islands are short and harbors plentiful. As Reed Chambers of Merposal III put it, "You could anchor in a different harbor every night for 30 nights and each would be perfect." Further, in only a very few places—well charted—is pilotage made hazardous by hidden dangers, such as coral heads or reefs. In the Virgins, if you can't see it, you aren't likely to hit it, a welcome change from many areas.
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
January 11, 1960

A Grand Basin Of Islands

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

To understand cruising the Virgins it is necessary to visualize the group from St. Thomas to Virgin Gorda. Two parallel lines of islands extend almost east and west, forming the Sir Francis Drake Channel, named for that intrepid Elizabethan sea predator when he proceeded through in 1585 to attack Hispaniola. In the words of the New Sailing Directions for 1818, "Nature has so arranged the islands as to form a grand basin...wherein ships may lie at anchor, landlocked and sheltered from every wind." Thus when the trade is blowing northeast, the water is smooth under the lee of Tortola; when it blows southeast, better conditions exist along the shores of the southern islands. This is not to say that during the heaviest weight of the trade winds the channel cannot get rough, but it is the sea of, say, Long Island Sound or Chesapeake Bay rather than the open ocean. And distances between islands are short and harbors plentiful. As Reed Chambers of Merposal III put it, "You could anchor in a different harbor every night for 30 nights and each would be perfect." Further, in only a very few places—well charted—is pilotage made hazardous by hidden dangers, such as coral heads or reefs. In the Virgins, if you can't see it, you aren't likely to hit it, a welcome change from many areas.

1