Hike A Head

“There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.”

Beverly Sills

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.

– Eric    

Hitchhiker

Words have a life of their own. There is no telling what they will do. Within a matter of days, they can even turn turtle and mean the opposite.

Craig Brown

Three species of sea turtles are known to visit the Virgin Islands. First is a Green Turtle, seen above, named for the color of its fat and not its external coloration. I suspect it is the most common as it is the only species I have witnessed. Second, the Hawksbill turtle, known for a serrated shell near the tail, is apparently in the area, but I’ve never seen one. Finally, leatherbacks spend their lives in the deep ocean, far from land. There have been only two reports of leatherbacks in Virgin Island waters in the past 20 years.

All these animals are listed as endangered. As such, they enjoy protection in the US and most other waters. Back in the day, sea captains would bring home a turtle for feasting to celebrate the return from a long voyage. Those days are gone. Now, around the beaches of St John, the turtles are relatively abundant and, for the most part, ignore the snorkelers who have traveled thousands of miles to swim with them. They are even tolerant of the remora, which seem pretty persistent in their hitchhiking. However, I find them annoying as getting a turtle picture without a photobombing remora is becoming much more challenging.

Have you ever seen a young sea turtle? You likely won’t, as they spend their early years at sea in pelagic sargassum communities only to return to the coast to spend a vegetarian adulthood eating seagrass.

Explorers

After all these years, I am still involved in the process of self-discovery. It’s better to explore life and make mistakes than to play it safe. Mistakes are part of the dues one pays for a full life.

Sophia Loren

Eric refects upon his first experience hehind the wheel of SeaSea. By the end of the week he was a competent helmsman . BT

Sailing (The Spot Between Two Points) 

If it is not already obvious, a 42 foot Fountaine Pajot does not handle like a car. It takes far less from the wheel to respond to course direction, and the speed isn’t controlled by a pedal but by two levers or the wind in your sails. Where a slight right in a car may take about a quarter-turn of a car’s wheel, that same sort of adjustment might take a little less than an inch on the SeaSea. I think of it as steering with the tips of your fingers instead of the full grip of your hand. At first, it’s all daunting given what you have grown to know over years of operating any other kind of vehicle. All of your habits seem to nag at you subconsciously, and you’ll make a few common mistakes as you go because of that. Imagine doing something like feeling for a pedal that isn’t even there. It makes you feel about as green as anyone could be at something. Then you’ll graduate to genuine sailing mistakes like having your sails flog. 

The trick is not to unlearn what you have learned (sorry, Yoda) but to just slightly adjust. That is all it takes. Slight adjustments. No overcompensations or hard turns. That is how you can make mistakes. Of course, easier said than done, but what exactly is? Actual sailing is a challenge with catching and keeping the wind with the sails, watching your telltales, keeping in the right direction, and adhering to the rules of boat traffic. It is crucial to have more than one set of eyes scanning the boat and the water when first learning. Not only does it keep you from having any major accidents with the boat or sails, but it also gives you the chance to have a less stressed experience. Thus, allowing for a better initial embrace of the fundamental pleasures of sailing and the enjoyment of being an explorer. 

The best trick I learned was picking a spot between two points. The concept is this: To keep yourself sailing in a straight line, pick a reference point on your boat and center it between two things you see in the distance toward the direction you are going. Keep that point steady between the places. Then, if you find yourself drifting away from that point, slightly adjust until you are back and steady in that sweet spot again. As you begin to close in, keep picking points as many times as you need to. Just keep slightly adjusting.  

The sweet irony is that the spot between two points is, fundamentally, what sailing is. It is what any journey is. It is everything that happens between two points and, more so, the most pivotal part of getting from one place to another. All the while, you are making slight adjustments on your way there. It’s an odd place where your mind can both drift and focus at once. Where you can simultaneously think about where you’ve been and where you’re going, reflect on what you have done and what you will do, remember the people who were with you along the way and those you will come to know, maybe. You breathe it all in and out in influx the rushing wind throughout the subtle passing of time. 

The lulls in life are the same as they are when sailing the sea. They are not without focus. Instead they act to help us realize where we are at in that point between two places and afford us the opportunities to make those slight adjustments so we can be sure we get to where we want to be. That is what makes us all explorers. 

Secret Harbour

Curiosity is one of the great secrets of happiness.

bRYANt H. Hill

I can’t tell you where this is because, well, it’s a secret, a secret harbour. But, I will tell you it’s on the south shore of St Thomas, you won’t find it on any chart, at least not by the name Secret Harbor which is the unofficial name of this place. There are private moorings here but limited space for boats on the hook, which is your only option if one of those moorings is not yours; nevertheless, if you get a spot, it’s a beautiful place to spend the night—tired of galley duty? The on the beach restaurant will happily take care of you.

Look closely at the powerboat moored close to the beach on the left side of the top photo. That’s a dive boat operated by Aqua Action Dive Center. They will also happily take care of you. Not a certified diver? Not a problem. They have on-site instructors who will get you in the water on the same day. For divers like me, who haven’t donned a tank in a few years, they offer a brief refresher course. It consists of a short lecture, a safety film, and a shallow water check-out from the beach.

As fun and simple as a snorkel can be, the complexities and logistics of self-contained underwater breathing apparatus are definitely worth the trouble. It’s a bit of a paradox, but all that clumsy gear opens up a whole new level of underwater freedom. Deeper reefs become accessible. Half of the scenery in the islands is under water, and you don’t want to miss it. The Aqua Action Dive Center folks take you to the good spots; they rent the gear and literally do the heavy lifting with a smile. They come highly recommended.

I don’t trust my snorkeling camera at diving depths, so here are some shots from a previous dive, but no worries they are all from the USVIs.

Carribean Reef Squid

The only thing we have to fear is a giant wheelchair-crushing squid.

Well… uh… actually, I guess that’s the only thing I have to fear.

— Franklin D. Roosevelt

Curious creatures, these luminous swimmers be. Forward and backward, gliding effortlessly with the smoothest of directional shifts, they keep a giant eye focused on the floating human while maintaining a short but cautious distance. Which is stranger? Ten tentacles and undulating fins or a single air-filled glass eye and strap on rubber fins. I suspect each contestant would vote for the other in such a contest.

Before we cast our vote, let’s consider a few weird facts: On the one hand, the Caribbean reef squid has an enormous eye-to-body size ratio, the grandest of any land or sea creature. They also have chromatophores and iridophores that glow and change colors. They can leap out of the water like a flying fish and die after reproducing. On the other hand, depending on gender, snorkelers are known to shave their faces or armpits. They snore, fart, get bored, dream, sleep, kiss, worry, skydive, and snorkel. Perhaps, you can see where this is going? By my count, it’s squid nine and snorkeler twelve on the weirdness scale.

See the Chromatophores?

Setting Sail (For First Timers)

A great man is the man who does something for the first time.

Alexander Smith

It’s easy to have more than a few expectations about your charter when you first arrive at its dock.  For a first-timer, the call of the sea can be daunting as you watch it bob your vessel and wonder how well your lunch is going to stay down over the next week or so. Your mental preparedness might have you eager to launch yourself out into the open water before any more doubts enter your mind. You are willing after you you had to do to get to this point (Remember that inconsolable baby on the plane?). You fling yourself on board (don’t worry, you’ll get better at it) and begin stowing your things.  A boat isn’t as forgiving as a resort when it comes to space.  It forces you to rethink your idea of essentials, especially when there is no place to shave that doesn’t move. Razors and and boat movement … hmmm.  So, you’ll be a pirate for a few days (That was the idea anyway, right?).  You have to get used to the cabin situation fast and count your blessings quick.  The SeaSea is better equipped than most.  She’ll treat you right once you get to know her. 

Whenever you think you’re ready, you usually aren’t.  Don’t let the excitement distract you from the little things.  Little things tend to become big things once they are forgotten.  Get your checklist, locate everything, and make sure it works.  You might find yourself out there packed with provisions without any way to use them if your heating elements don’t work. (Actually not a real worry as CYOA has already done this, but no harm being a little OCD) Provisions?  That’s just the nautical term for food.  Did you remember you need that too? GrubHub won’t find you out on the water, so you’re kind of on your own if you aren’t moored or anchored somewhere with restaurants or shops.  Lucky you, St. Thomas has some places to stock up.  Take a cab and your wallet (you’re gonna need it).  Sticker shock is becoming pretty standard in the states these days.  When comparing that to the prices on the Virgin Islands, there probably needs to be a new term coined.  Maybe something akin to “price tag concussion.”  You’ll have to get over it quickly because there’s not much you can do about it, except maybe grab an extra bottle of rum to help lessen the blow. Rum is cheap in the islands.

Back at the dock, the provisions are stowed.  You’ve finally had enough time to think about having no idea what you are actually doing.  Fear not.  As the saying goes, “We’re all on the same boat.” Just be sure that the boat has a capable Captain, which basically means anyone but you (for now). Depending on your charter’s scheduled departure, you may be spending the night docked.  If so, you’ll have even more time to familiarize yourself with the boat and get your head wrapped around things. Another suggestion is to take advantage of walking on some stable ground.  CYOA has a few restaurants within walking distance.  The French Quarter Bistro is highly recommended.  There are no promises on how stable the ground will be on the walk back to the dock after a couple of Painkillers though. 

The morning just before you start out goes quick.  You double-check.  Then triple-check. Then you are forced to resolve to the idea that if you forgot about anything, you probably didn’t really need it anyway.  The CYOA crew will skillfully get you off the dock (think maneuvering a house in a tight parking lot), but from that point on, you and your crew are on your own and finally sailing SeaSea.   Eric.

Eric

We have a new contributor, who is in the process of writing a series of posts from the prospective of the brand new sailor. His dad is noticing for the first time that the OCD trait appears to have been passed to the next generation . Bill

Barracuda

The books all say that barracuda rarely eat people, but very few barracuda can read. — Dave Barry

These guys get a lot of respect in this world. Think of it: cars, hard drives, security networks, books, and songs all carry their name. They are the bad boys of the sea. Eyes wide open, the new snorkeler or diver will recount their first encounter. Old-timers still feel the tingle of a meeting and keep their distance, knowing there is no way to counter 30 knots underwater velocity. Fortunately for us, humans are not that tasty. Other fish may not be so lucky; The smaller ones risk being swallowed whole, and the larger ones often find themselves bitten in half by 2 rows of teeth before dinner.

So what is the story of the little guy flanking the boss? Opportunity! He’s looking for crumbs. Not in the photo, but this big guy had a whole entourage. It’s a common theme in the natural world. Many species are up for a good scavenger hunt, given the right situation. Think, vultures, hyenas, crabs, lobsters. Perhaps less obvious are bear, lion, shark, eagle, and of course, people. Not to be left out, barracuda are known to follow divers around hoping to steal some spoils. Respect but don’t fear the barracuda. They swim throughout the Caribbean and most warmer oceans. This one was patrolling Frances Bay just a stones throw from the popular Maho Bay Beach on St John.

Only one music video is appropriate here.

Saint John Pumpkins

If you’re ever wondering what to wear, just dress like a pumpkin, you’re good to go.

Devendra Banhart

I’m about to let you in on a bit of a secret. There are pumpkins all over the Caribbean. They hide in plain view, typically on higher ground or a drier microclimate. Botanists who are in on the rouse call them with a wink, Melocactus intortous. The uninitiated think they are cactus and wonder why they are here. ” I’m in the islands; I got here by cruise ship. Aren’t these things supposed to be in the desert?” Well, yes, they are, but these aren’t your typical cacti. These are pumpkins incognito, on vacation, avoiding carving knives and pie makers. They are most definitely trying to stay out of the dessert. Pretty good costume, I’d say. Happy Halloween.

I’ve eaten a lot of pies since the following song came out in 1981.

How Wet Can You Get?

Do you know the phrase, ‘The word ‘water’ will not wet you?’ It’s one thing to write down an idea and another thing entirely to execute it.

Alejandro gonzalez inarritu

Too much screen time lately? YouTube, TV, movies, or don’t say it, video games. All are perhaps redeemable pastimes if they endeavor to spawn ideas or inspire. But eventually, you have to get wet, or things become a little artificial and mundane.


Lately, I’m guilty of spending too much time watching educational pirate videos. I know, that’s odd on a couple of levels, including that the videos even exist. Now, I imagine myself sailing the Islands between 1650 and 1730 during the golden age of pirates. I’m an adept seaman; operating tall ships is my only skill, and tiresome low-level land jobs aren’t available or don’t appeal. Because it is peacetime, nations aren’t funding privateers to harass their enemies, and the navy isn’t hiring. Still, I’d like to continue cruising the islands. YouTube hasn’t been invented yet, so I can’t create a sailing channel to entice paying Patreons. So what do I do? One option is to cruise the islands until provisions get low and find a merchant ship willing to share. It is simple enough to raise a black flag, sometimes adorned with skull and crossbones, to alert passing vessels that I desire supplies. The black color of the flag indicates that I mean no harm to a cooperative crew that is willing to share. It’s understood that I get grumpy with selfish victims who don’t want to play. This ancient game, essentially a nautical version of trick or treat, is still enjoyed in some parts of the world. It is one option for me, an unemployed seafarer until the plundering gets boring, war breaks out, or I get caught and hung.


That is the inspiration, and I’m itching to get wet. I’ll modify the execution in these modern times to avoid being a total pirate copycat and to avoid the risk of hanging. Rather than having a kidnapped musician for entertainment, my vessel will be equipped with a blue tooth-enabled stereo. It will have twin auxiliary engines, air-conditioning, electric winches, refrigeration, electric freshwater heads. A happy, comfortable crew is much less likely to stage a mutiny. When provisions are low rather than hoist a Jolly Rogers, I’ll just sail to port and raise the credit card from my wallet at the grocery or restaurant.


Notice that Mr. Chesney has a black flag, not a red one. He means no harm to a cooperative crew.

Three Gray Lines

Companies and capital operate internationally, often beyond the economic reach of any particular nation-state. People are pretty global , too, living lives that freely cross national borders

Chrystia Freeland

It is a  strange pastime, but  I’ve been looking at nautical charts lately. They are full of cryptic symbols and squiggly lines, all of which have a deeper meaning for those willing to take a close look and do a little research. Those mariners who manage to keep their vessels off the rocks recognize the symbols representing the aids to navigation and the soundings. But what about some of that other stuff. What exactly does that gray line interrupted by little fishies represent? The three nautical mile line and twelve nautical mile territorial sea line are also gray, and their meaning seems self-explanatory, but what exactly is their significance. Call me a nerd, but I looked it all up. 

The gray line interrupted by little fishies between St John and Tortola marks the Exclusive Economic  Zone. Typically this extends 200 miles out to sea from the coastal state, but when neighboring nations are close together, they draw a  line down the middle and call it a day. In this situation, the British have economic dibs on everything to the right, and the  Americans have economic dibs on everything to the left. This 200-mile line is a big deal and changed almost overnight in the mid-1970s by a  UN  resolution. Before this, commercial fishing vessels would travel across oceans to fish close to the shores of distant nations.  A problem because there was no practical way to enforce fishing limits and maintain sustainable fisheries. A surprise to me, but there was widespread if not universal agreement.  Perhaps nations that did not gain from a fisheries standpoint saw it as a way to keep foreign oil rigs from springing up off their coast, but that is speculation on my part. 

Also by UN agreement, the territorial sea extends  12 nautical miles from the shoreline of a coastal State. Within this zone, the coastal State has full sovereignty and may legislate on matters as they see fit without obligation to make these rules compliant with international standards, other than allowing the innocent passage of surface vessels.

So what about the 3-mile line?  In 1608, Hugo Grotius published in his book MARE LIBRUM the idea that the oceans belonged to all states equally. He supported the premise that all vessel have the right to navigate and fish without interference. He allowed for a territorial sea belt for self-defense of 3 nautical miles, which was about the maximum range of the cannons at the time. The use of the oceans for the next three and a half centuries was bound to this legal framework. Now, the  3-mile line marks the boundary beyond which we can empty our holding tanks without fear of being fired upon by cannons.

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