Pilotage through unknown waters is one of the major concerns of the cruising yachtsman. However, in the Virgins, where there is very little tide rise and fall and only minimal current to worry about, pilotage is extremely simple.
Since the weather is so warm, we don't experience any fog and you can always see the island for which you are heading.
Reefs and shoals are not a major problem as they are well marked and, provided time is taken to study the pertinent charts on a daily basis, your cruise around the island will be most enjoyable.
The islands themselves are high and volcanic, rising steeply from the crystal clear water. In many cases, it is possible to position your bow almost on the beach, providing you have a stern anchor set.
Since the island chain is close together, you will have no difficulty in distinguishing them. Using the contour marks on the charts you will usually be able to pinpoint your location without the use of navigation tools.
Every cruising yacht should be equipped with the basic tools of navigation—parallel rules, triangles, dividers, plotters, etc. However, it should be noted that in order to navigate throughout the islands, the only equipment needed is a compass, chart, pencil and leadline or fathometer. Those wishing to brush up on navigational skills will find ample opportunity, although celestial observations are often difficult because of the proximity of the islands.
It is possible to navigate throughout the U.S. and British Virgin Islands with one chart, NOAA 25641, which covers St. Thomas to Virgin Gorda. Many of the charter companies have duplicated this chart in one form or another, which they hand out to each charter group. If you're chartering, be sure to ask the charter company in advance what charts they'll provide and whether the charts are yours to keep. Then look carefully at the areas you intend to cruise and obtain any additional chart coverage you may want.
Charts are sometimes difficult to obtain in the Virgin Islands, so taking your own charts is the best way to be sure that you have coverage you're comfortable with. Your own charts will also serve as nice mementos of your trip. A complete set of Virgin Islands charts will range from $48 to $140, depending upon the charts you select.
The following charts cover the Virgin Islands and are available from larger chart agents in the U.S., Canada and Europe:
U.S. National Ocean Survey (NOAA)
25645 - Christiansted Harbour, St. Croix 25647 - St. Thomas, Pillsbury Sound and
St. John 25649 - St. Thomas Harbour
25641 - Virgin Gorda to St. Thomas and
25644 - Frederiksted Road and Pier
U. S. Defense Mapping Agency
25609 - Tortola to Anegada 25610- Approaches to Gorda Sound
25611 - Road Harbour and approaches
2008 - N.E. Virgin Gorda to Anegada 2016- Virgin Gorda - North Sound 2019 - Tortola to Virgin Gorda 2452 - Tortola to Culebra including St. Thomas
Imray - Iolaire
A23 - The Virgin Islands - St. Croix A231 - St. Thomas to Virgin Gorda A232 - Tortola to Anegada
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