I haven’t written about the British Virgin Islands in a long time, even though it is only a moderate swim from the north side of St John, because it didn’t seem right. The BVIs were closed during covid to just about everyone, including US-based bareboats. No point in writing about a place you can’t go.
That has changed; SeaSea can sail to go to the British side again. But since SeaSea first sailed, the rules have changed. You used to be able to go to customs on Tortola, pay the fee, and be on your way. Of course, it still helps to check in on the British side to avoid fines and jail time, but now the boat must also be licensed. Fortunately, that license is in hand, albeit at tremendous cost and effort. On the bright side, due to the new rules, is a portable VHF radio to play with, and the vessel’s name and a whistle now decorate all the lifejackets.
I don’t know the politics behind these changes, but my hunch is that it had nothing to do with covid or safety. It was inevitable; the Queen was getting old, and the Brits knew they would eventually need a boat load of pounds to pay for a fancy coronation. So why not find a way to make American boat owners pay for it? Make sense to me. Thanks, Charles. ( It probably does not need to be said, but know this last bit is in jest.)
The feature photo is of Jost Van Dyke, close to Foxy’s, looking out at the anchorage. There is ( or was I haven’t been there since 2020) a customs office here, and they will be happy to check you into the BVI’s and take cash, and cash only, off your hands. 😉
The end of the year and the end of a rainbow are curious things. I sit back and think. The rainbow, as beautiful as it is, does not exist without stormy weather. Likewise, I have yet to endure a year without some hardship. It’s how it is.
But I perceive neither negatively. Clear skies follow the rainbow, and growth comes from hardship and storms, especially if one is a sailor. Tomorrow is a new year with new hopes and dreams. Yes, there will be rain and harsh seas, but then there is the rainbow to remind us of the beauty in the world.
I took the featured photo in November on a hike to Ram Head with my son and daughter-in-law. The sky opened up, and the winds howled. It was cold and uncomfortable, yet one of my more memorable moments. My dear wife was looking after SeaSea at the time, or perhaps more accurately, SeaSea was looking after her.
It has been a year since my first time traveling to St. Thomas. Over time, even as short as a year, you sometimes have to fight with your memory to retain specific details, like time, places, those you were with, etc. One little recollection is usually all it takes to ignite memories. Those kinds are generally made dormant by the more critical and mundane thoughts at the forefront of daily routine.
If you’re like me, you have a memory based on senses. There is usually a sight, a smell, a sound, a feeling, or a taste that pulls you back through time. A reminder of things in your life that have ranged from sweet and straightforward to bitter and complicated. It’s a natural mechanism we use to learn and better ourselves for many reasons. I’m by no means an expert on human behavior. I experience everything like all the rest but perhaps contemplate things to an extent beyond the average person a bit more. That might seem neurotic, but as someone who, self-admittedly, overthinks nearly every interaction with the world outside my mind, it’s practically unavoidable.
To get back on track, sometimes, small details are elusive. I’ll even mention that cliche of people not being able to recall what they ate for Breakfast that morning because they are more focused on that day’s goals. Unfortunately, even much richer journeys are subject to that same thing. Sure, you’ll hold on to the highest points. The kind you capture in a photograph or maybe a souvenir. Still, even an adventure has things like Breakfasts, bathroom breaks, and sunsets.
Anywhere you are in the world, the same sun rises and falls every day for everyone. You can easily forget the delicate, miraculous balance it provides as it feeds our world light and warmth. That’s not as easily avoidable in the Virgin Islands.
Every evening, no matter where we were anchored or moored on St. Thomas, there was always a pause in everything we were doing to view the sunset. In whichever variation, whether it be falling beyond the blue, wavy horizon, behind a cliffside, or accompanied by a far-off raincloud, its pronounced, breathtaking majesty demands your attention despite the vantage point.
That monotonous, everyday occurrence made a declaration to me to be recognized as a thing of beauty and an improbable miracle. Personal goals, ambitions, and desires momentarily took a back seat to the rest of the world that lived and thrived around me. During sunsets since, I’m reminded to think beyond myself and feel a connection to the world. Those few simple, fleeting moments help me to acknowledge the precious beauty of being alive. I find hope in the promise that the sun will set again and again, whether I’m available to acknowledge it.
All sorts of sea creatures grace the pages of this blog. But, unfortunately, I’ve shamefully neglected the beasts that roam the land. Like most other locals that have hosted a human civilization, the Virgin Islands have farm animals. But, in the case of St John, they own the place and act that way. The donkeys and goats ignore the tourist and go about their merry way.
Some of the critters have been here longer than people but have adopted their schedules to that of cruise ships, as it enhances the chance of getting a french fry handout.
Five deer arrived in St Croix via a Danish cargo ship in 1790. They flourished. Some traveled to St Thomas in 1854 by boat, stowaways perhaps, and a few swam from there to St John. I can only assume that, at the time, deer were not allowed on the ferry or could not afford the fare. In the 1950s, as a part of a USDA deer vacation program, other hoofed creatures from Texas and the Carolinas came to the islands. Like many of other inhabitants, they never went home. Can’t say I blame them.
I’m guilty. I’m guilty of flying to a beautiful Caribbean island, and as soon as the boat is ready and my belly is brimming, I leave for other parts. I am guided perhaps by Thomas Aquinas’ admonition about never leaving the harbor. But not so fast; he said nothing about ignoring the port’s amenities before departure, and you shouldn’t.
Of the islands that make up the USVI, St Thomas is the city, and like other cities, there is the hustle and bustle, traffic jams, and on cruise ship days, crowds. But it is much more than the location of the airport and the Home Depot. The pace is slower; the merchants are friendly, there is lots of history, and the place has much local charm. A walking food tour is a great way to see some sights, learn island history, and sample local favors. You might even mix a painkiller.
Take a taxi to explore beyond Charlotte Amalie, and you will likely be amazed by the steepness of the roads. Snow is not allowed on the island because no winter tires on the planet could maintain traction on those grades. That steepness, a reminder of a volcanic origin, leads to the top of the island, where there is a giant gift shop complete with an enormous bottle of Cruzan rum in the parking lot. As cheezy as this may sound to the seasoned, read-jaded traveler, the saving grace is a balcony with a view that is stunning. Bring your camera.
I’m not a fisherman, but I have fish stories. My uncle Charles took me on my first fishing trip. I was four, armed with a bamboo pole, and had sunfish on my mind. Cousin Pauline was older; she had been to the lake before and already knew the ropes or, in this case, lines. I learned what bobbers, sinkers, and worms were all about but didn’t get the hang of casting that trip. My recollection is a little fuzzy on this, but I have a hunch my fishing companions were not anxious to have a four-year-old swinging around a sharp hook from the end of a long pole. Uncle Charles told me that fish like to hide in the shade under the pier and that I should just let the line drop straight down. He didn’t explain why he was casting his worms far from the dock and catching more fish than the rest of us. I’m not sure what anyone else did with their fish at the end of the day, but I had to take mine home alive in a bucket of water. Probably not the most convenient way of transporting the day’s catch, but for me, there was no other way, and it was non-negotiable. After all, I had to show mom my fish and see if she knew why it only had one eye. Pauline didn’t know, and this was way before Chornobyl.
A couple of years later, my family moved to a house in Annapolis on the water. Of course, a new home requires new furnishings, and one of the first purchases was a bamboo fishing pole from Juvenile Sales, the local toy store. Unfortunately, mom didn’t keep worms in her refrigerator, so I loaded the toy hook with a bacon strip and went off to the beach. Having done this many times, I was expecting minnows to peck the bacon off the hook, or maybe if I got fortunate, I’d reel in a crab until it decided to let go. But, I wasn’t expecting to hook anything big enough to snap bamboo in half. Unlike the rod, the line, taught with tension, remained intact. The imagination went wild; what could be zipping back and forth so fast and pulling so hard? Whatever it was must have made an awful lot of noise. Mom could hear it from inside the house and came to investigate. I remember being unable to reel this thing in; the toy store reel was not up to the task. So I just walked backward, dragging the creature into shallower and shallower water. It looks like a snake! Did I catch a snake? No, it’s a 2-foot-long eel! Soon enough, it was wiggling in the sand and making quite a spectacle. I didn’t want to put this catch in a bucket, it was a bit scary, and besides, mom had already seen it. I was happy to see it finally straighten the hook and slither back into the water.
Last week I brought home a handwritten note that said, “This is not a bomb.” It was attached to a NOCO battery charger box, but the package no longer contained a battery charger. So, deviously, I left it in our entranceway and said nothing. Then, later that evening, I heard, “what’s this?” “What’s what? Oh, that, it’s not a bomb.” She must have believed me because my curious wife opened it a few seconds later. Fortunately, there was no explosion. “Fishing reels, giant fishing reels; where did you get these?” I explained that Joe, a true fisherman, knows about SeaSea and gifted them to me. He left them at the office while I was out. ” Oh, that was super generous.” She responded, then added. “You know that the reel with the green line is mine.” I’m unsure if the bomb joke was Joe’s or our receptionist’s idea. But it doesn’t matter; the reels are great; they are a pair of 25-year-old Penn Senators that look brand new. I called Joe to thank him today and commented on the size of the reels. He reminded me we sail in the ocean, and “you never know what will bite.” I have visions, nightmares actually, of 20-foot moray eels. He dreams of 40-pound Mahi Mahi and tuna. He chuckled and advised, “happy wife, happy life” upon learning that Sandy appropriated the reel with the green line.
This one choked me up a little. Reminds me of fishing the South River for croakers with my boys when they were little.
People have been stacking rocks forever for lots of reasons. Sometimes the piles are directional indicators other times, they are markers of a boundary or even warning signs. Often the stacks are balanced precariously and are symbolic of the temporary nature of being. They can be monuments honoring people or events, as such are mentioned in ancient writings, including the Bible.
While most of the fleeting artwork here at Drunk Bay is not of the stacked variety, I think people make them for many of the same reasons. Not so much as boundary markers but as little tributes. These recognitions that take time and patience to create. They honor our time spent in this beautiful place and the special people in our lives. On a fundamental level, they also say to the world; I was here.
It started innocently enough. We were going to do a little hike from Cruz Bay around the headlands to the North Shore Beaches of Honeymoon Bay and Caneel Bay. Then to make things exciting, return via the trail across North Shore Road that takes us to the top of Margaret Hill before the descent back to Cruz Bay. It was August 2017. The plan was to do a relatively easy hike to re-acquaint ourselves with the island and get a little exercise after spending the previous day in airports and airplanes. An experienced St John USVI hiker with a horrible memory for elevations recommended this particular outing.
It is easy to access the Lind Point Trail from the National Park Headquarters. It is a delightful and scenic trail with lovely views of the harbor to the south and St Thomas to the West. Once around Lind point, the trail descends to Honeymoon Bay and becomes a walk on the beach to Caneel Bay. There is a spur to Solomons beach for those inclined to visit a white sand beach with shallow entry into the water and some of the best snorkeling. It is about ten days before Hurricane Irma visits the island, so Cannel Bay resort is open and a great place to stop for ice cream and a drink. So far, so good, in fact, so wonderful.
The trouble starts when we enjoy the moment a bit too long and the August afternoon sun pushes the silver mercury snake up the glass capillary of the temperature meter. But, no worries, across Northshore road is Caneel hill trail. It’s under the forest’s canopy and on the north side of a big hill protected from the sun. Silly mid-latitude natives, we are 18 degrees North of the equator; the sun might as well be directly overhead. The trees may offer a bit of protection from the sun, but they are also offer excellent protection from cooling breezes.
Climbing the endless switchbacks of Caneel Hill in such conditions is a sweaty, dizzying ordeal. The summit seems like it will never come, and when it does, it doesn’t really. Only a brief plateau before another 129 feet of elevation to reach the top of Margaret Hill, a total of 848 feet above the beach. At least it is downhill to Cruz Bay, where any of the establishments will happily serve any beverage of choice. So give this hike a go, but don’t do it on an August afternoon. If you are acclimated to airconditioning, you will melt.
I think it’s the night that I like best. The sails are down; the diesel is silent, ripples lap against the hull, and the drink and wonderment are cracked open. There is infinity above, and tomorrow is a thousand possibilities. A poet best expresses the peace of a tranquil anchorage. But I’m not one of those. Fortunately, there is Google and many people who post their work online. I found the following on a poetry website. Sadly the author is not noted.
Sky has a different charm tonight, It’s so blue and so calm, The moon has a different glow tonight, Stars that are on the show, So deep are the thoughts, So deep the feelings, Nights is here, so embrace it in your arms, Feel the peace within, Tomorrow will be the day so bright, So smile and don’t you grin, Wishing you a lovely night, sleep tight!
Even sea legs need stretching sometimes, and the USVI has no shortage of areas to explore during your sailing journey. There are plenty of stores and restaurants easily accessible on the Islands. If that is not your thing, or you have had your fill, then hiking the trails of Virgin Islands National Park, St. John, is an excellent alternative. In particular, the path to Ram Head is a memorable sightseeing experience that could be one of the highlights of your entire trip.
Ram Head is Headland at the southern point of the park. At the top, you’ll be standing at about 96 meters. You will catch a scenic, all-around view of Coral Bay and the rest of the island. Be sure to wave to Sea Sea if you can glimpse her in the bay. All of the distance beauties shouldn’t detract you from Ram Head itself. The bluff has an abundance of exotic plants, wildlife, and natural formations to peak your curiosity.
As reachable and moderately difficult as the trail is, there are a few things highly cautioned before setting out so that you may have your best experience possible. First, apply plenty of sun blockers (reef safe, please). The trees on the hike up will offer a bit of coverage, but nothing will be protecting your skin when you reach the bluff. If you want to avoid the more intense heat or sun rays, it is best to start your hike as early as possible. It is an excellent way to prevent a crowded trail, too. Appropriate footwear is also essential. Hardly any accommodations have been made for foot traffic on the path. That means plenty of rocks, branches, and other obstacles will meet you on your way up and won’t take kindly to sandaled or bare feet. Finally, and most importantly, have plenty of water with you. As essential as it has been on the rest of the experience, it can indeed be a saving grace through your exerting and rewarding effort to reach Ram Head.
The trail starts at the Salt Pond Trail (another fascinating area to see if you have the time) and curves around a rocky beach until you reach the foot of the primary path. The climb up is reasonably steep at points, so take every opportunity you need to rest. There are plenty of viewpoints on the way up to enjoy while doing so. Watch your step as you ascend, but don’t neglect the opportunity to admire your surroundings. Your eye may catch some endemic wildlife amongst the green, lush wilderness along the way.
The gusts of wind at the top will aid you in your endeavor. Once you’ve finally reached the top, the award is one of the rarest views you expect from an island-hopping journey. Take in the many views both near and far, enjoy some time taking photos, or linger about investigating the features of the bluff itself.
Since it is such a crowd-pleaser, visitors often take multiple trips to Ram Head when visiting St. John. And that is not the least bit surprising, considering the multitude of experiences one could have on the bluff in varying conditions. If you choose to make Ram Head a part of your trip, you will not soon forget it afterward.