Maho to Cruz Bay is a great downwinder for experienced paddlers. On one of our raceboards it usually takes less then an hour, since you will have the wind and waves pushing you from behind.
Start at Maho which is the beach before Francis (and after Trunk, Cinnamon) on the North Shore Road. Take the second, larger parking lot right across from the beach. Paddle out straight / to the right towards Whisling Cay. Keep looking to the left to make out the pile of rocks at the Hawksnest Corner. That is that pile of rocks that is at the very outside point on the Western side of Hawksnest.
Once the Wind and Waves are in line with the Hawksnest Rock Pile, keep paddling towards it and start riding the waves. The wind is always coming from the East sometimes it is more North East, other days more South East, that determines how far you have to paddle out before making a left (further out if NE, less when SE).
This part from Whisling Cay to Hawksnest corner is the most fun part, stay on the outside line and do not paddle into the beaches (that will be much harder since you will be paddling against wind). A few hundred yards before the Hawksnest Rock Pile veer to the right to avoid hitting the rocks. You will now be entering the narrow passage between Ramgoat Cay on your right and the Hawksnest Rocks on your left, it can get bumpy especially if a boat comes by, you will get waves from the boat on your right and crashing back from the rocks on the left. If you feel tippy, drop down on your knees, keep paddling, do not stop into that passage.
Just a few hundred yards and you will see the first Caneel Beach where you can take a break. From there continue past the next Caneel Beach, Honeymoon and Salomon and then make a left into Cruz Bay. You might encounter some strong headwind as you come around the corner, but it will be only a few hundred yards until you reach the first row of moored boats, the wind will drop from then on.
Take note of the 2 boat lines marked by red and green buoys. One goes to the BVI ferry dock, the other one into Cruz Bay. You can cross them like a pedestrian crossing a street looking left and right and then quickly making your way across.
- Always wear a leash and a PFD
- Take a phone in a waterproof case or even better a VHF Radio
- Wear bright clothing ideally neon colors so that boats can see you
- Always check wind and weather here. Good conditions are wind from the East (slightly North East or South East, avoid if it is too much from the South it will push you to St. Thomas). You are looking for more than 20knots of wind and over 3ft swell ideally with a long interval.
- Check for rain clouds on weather underground app radar before leaving. You might think a bit of rain is no problem but it can lower visibility to only a few feet making navigation difficult and boats can’t see you.
- Take a cereal or energy bar and plenty of hydration ideally in a Camelback.
- Lucy from sup-stjohn.com has done the downwinder many many times and is happy to answer your questions or help you choose a good day.
- Sunburn, Heat exhaustion, dehydration, boat traffic
- Getting around the point at Hawksnest and the point before making a left into Cruz Bay. Avoid these points during times with heavy boat traffic which is usually in the morning between 9-10AM when the charter boats leave Cruz Bay and between 4:00 and 5:30pm.
- A sudden downpour can leave you cold and disoriented. In heavy rain visibility can be less than 20 feet. Check Weather Underground Storm App Radar for rain clouds (green blobs) before leaving
It is recommended to take the outside line and not paddling into Cinnamon, Trunk or Hawksnest Bay since paddling and and out of the bays will cost much more energy than following the wind. If you need to cut the paddle short you can abort at Hawksnest Beach, but be aware you might encounter some heavy headwind paddling in. Go on your knees if headwind is to strong. If you need a break before the first Hawsnest beach you can paddle into Dennis Bay. Beware of the reef and the shore break. Before entering water again it is recommended to walk with the board all the way to the Eastern end of the bay. If you need to abort at Dennis you can hike up to Peace Hill from there but it is a bit of a hassle getting up there with a board.