Sailing to US Territory

We were planning to sail to Puerto Rico to spend the easter holiday with Thomas’ parents. But this is easier said than done! Puerto Rico is US territory, and it is quite difficult to just sail into the USA on a private yacht. Or even impossible.

If you take a flight to the USA, you fill in an ESTA form which you take with you to the immigration desk at the airport. There you get a stamp and you are allowed to stay for 90 days. This is all fine and easy as long as you take a ‘registered entity’ as an official plane or ferry. You are not allowed to do this with your own sailboat, as this is an unregistered entity.

So we had to get onto a legitimate ferry and spend a day in the US Virgin Islands to get a stamp in our passports. Once we cashed in the stamps, we got a ferry back and were allowed to take Scehawk to US territory for 90 days. This isn’t some weird workaround, this is the legitimate way to take your boat into America. Isn’t that weird? Luckily the US Virgin Islands are only a few miles away from the British Virgin Islands and the whole ferry was packed with sailors doing the ‘ferry thing’. We get to stay until the 18th of June on our ESTA stamps, which is a bit too short for our plans. Thats why we’re also applying for a visa at the embassy in the Bahamas.

The US Virgin Islands are quite touristic so we decided to skip them and sail directly to Puerto Rico from Tortola on the British Virgin Islands. The sail is quite far, 90 miles, so we cut it in two daysails. We were lucky to have southeasterly wind: we absolutely flew towards our destination. We anchored in the crystal clear bay of Culebrita. We had heard that its very pretty, but were not expecting absolute perfection. We dove right in and Thomas went for to snorkel around the bay. There were many turtles and fish, so I was out of there quickly. He told me later that he also saw a big nurse shark.. So glad I didn’t know that!


Sailing towards San Juan we saw many pristine beaches and were already surprised by the beauty of this country. After the destruction in the BVI’s it was such a relief to see that Puerto Rico was very green and not hit by the hurricanes as hard as we expected. San Juan is an enormous city, and after all these tiny little island towns felt like we were sailing into New York. There is a colourful quarter right along the shore, which must make every sailor smile from ear to ear.

Its possible to anchor right near the center of San Juan, in a very protected bay. We dropped anchor and enjoyed the metropolitan scenery. It was already late, so we didn’t bother to clear in. We went straight for the only restaurant near the marina and got an a bit of a culture shock. There was so much choice! And it was all so affordable! And the people were so fat! We were definitely in the land of plenty.


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