Back in the eighties when Tommy worked on the docks and Gina was working the diner all day , Joe the anonymous aquarium enthusiast was importing Indonesian lionfish. In a copycat reenactment of innocent Nemo’s adventure, nefarious accomplices, perhaps with the help of a hurricane helped aquatic Ascari and friends escape to the coral reefs of Florida. They spread slowly and quietly at first but by the 2000s lionfish were becoming a nuisance and now are found along the warmer coasts of North and South America , the Gulf Coast and throughout the Caribbean. The problem is that they are horrible dinner guest. They eat everything. Imagine the patrons at one of Gina’s tables eating all the food in the kitchen, the other diners, the waitstaff, the cook and then not cleaning up or leaving a tip. How rude!
The reefs are suffering as a result. So how do you deal with a rude diner guest? Well the folks at Vox have a few suggestions. You can hunt them , you can eat them, you can even teach sharks to eat them and of course there is also an app for that. I prefer the eating part. Lionfish happen to be quite tasty and are served at many on the local establishments throughout the islands, including The Twisted Cork Cafe , one of our favorite places in Frenchtown and just a few short steps from the docks where SeaSea rest her sails between charters. In my humble opinion, the teaching of sharks to eat lionfish should be left to the more accomplished and daring divers of the group, aka the idiots.
On christening day I was caught with deer in the headlights surprise when asked how this dream came to be. From my mouth came the words ” well, nobody said no” , I was of course thinking of dear wife Sandy . While not always enthusiastic about my crazy ideas she rarely says no and eventually becomes my partner in crime. She has descended snow covered slopes in awful frigid winds , climbed mountain trails in breathless tropical heat, kayaked ocean waters in torrential downpours , swam with barracuda , danced in ski boots and eaten raw fish. Now she is driving our boat. All because I thought it would be a good idea. *
I’m perfectly happy letting her drive the boat. Taking pictures and snorkeling can be my job, heck I’ll even weigh the anchor and handle the sails. No biggy … SeaSea has an electric windlass and winches. Thanks sweetie .
*Well, in the interest of transparency and full disclosure climbing the subtropical mountain and kayaking in a monsoon were not entirely my idea … are you reading Nigel .
It has been exactly a year, to the day, since we returned from the islands and our giant pair of skis to the craziness of the corona virus world. I only managed to get the little skis out on the snow once this season and will likely be putting those away soon. There are many parallels , yes intentional ;-), between skiing and sailing. “Tacking back and forth” is just one of them. Perhaps a bigger one is the nature of the people the two sports attract. In a coconut shell, sailors and skiers are adventurous outdoor people who are willing to put up with the whims of mother nature in pursuit of a little fun.
We are a product of our families and dad was a sailor. On perfect days, tiller in hand, he would go into a trance like state, in the groove, his breathing would change and his focus would sharpen. I only observed this in him when he was steering his boat, but it happened many times. I , perhaps, experienced something similar as a lad when skippering a dinghy for the first time, but I think that was something different. I was making dad proud and that made me happy. After college, as youth often do, I came about and sailed on a different tack . Due to career building, young family and indecision, I was directionless, without a rudder, and in irons when it came to pastime passions. Eventually I became a skier, and pursued a sport that dad had never tried.
On perfect mountain days, I’ve occasionally found that elusive trance like groove where everything falls into place, is effortless and just happens. It’s quite a wonderful thing and as I’m discovering right now very difficult to put into words. Nevertheless, things internal and external change , it’s the nature of the universe. For me the wind has shifted and for now I’ll be sailing on a different tack in search of the perfect ocean day. With sails trimmed , hulls in harmony with the sea, and dancing to the rhythm of the waves, dad’s sailing trance can’t be that far away. The quandary remains, however, sailing and skiing , port and starboard which is which ? I’ll contemplate that the next time I’m ” in the zone” because I’ll need both to get anywhere.
This in the dinghy dock in Coral Bay which is a few proverbial steps from the iconic Skinny Legs Bar and Grill. Google skinny legs and this establishment will be at the top of the list, just before all the workout solutions meant to remedy lower extremity flesh deficiency. I suspect this is because of the popularity of the place and rather than the magic of search engine optimization. According to their website it was established in 1991. We were introduced to the bar and grill in 2014, by the Jones’ which may or may not be their real name to protect the innocent …well they are not that innocent as we would likely be perfectly content on the mainland had it not been for them ( I put this part in just for you Lori). Anyway imagine my pleasant surprise to find a decorative wooden chart of the Virgin Islands in an Annapolis shop shortly after that first visit. I quickly identified St John on that map and was amused to find that the only thing labeled on the entirety of the island was the location of Skinny Legs. That’s how special this restaurant is to its patrons.
I like a good burger but don’t have them very often, I once went without one for over 5 years … a story for another day . When I do indulge the burger better be good as I have no time crappy run of the mill burgers . Unlike the Cheeseburgers in Paradise at Margaritaville in St Thomas ( nice place , underwhelming burger, sorry Jimmy) , the burgers at Skinny Legs are really good. Just don’t order fries or anything made in an electric blender as they proudly have no deep frier and are a ” blender-free-zone”. Which is fine with me.
SeaSea sits on the deck of SeaSea overlooking the CYOA dock with Frenchtown and St Thomas in the background. It is super nice to arrive a day before setting sail, visit a local grocery to provision, have nice meal at a Frenchtown restaurant , then enjoy a beautiful evening at the dock. It doesn’t get much better than this and the adventure hasn’t even begun . Picture yourself here and imagine what tomorrow will bring.
SeaSea motored into St. Thomas for the first time just a bit over 1 year ago , propelled by a pair of 50 horsepower Volvo Penta diesels quietly humming away . Her sails had yet to be rigged, but it was with great anticipation that she arrived. Reflecting back I honestly can’t say what turned the farfetched idea of owning a boat in the Islands , 1600 miles away, into a reality . We had not done any serious boating in a long time , our 18 foot Wahoo had been sitting on a trailer at my brothers house for nearly 7 years. Sure there are the little steps that occurred in the years prior to our purchase, trips to the islands and day charters were great fun but most people who enjoy their island vacations don’t make such commitments.
Back in 2019 something compelled me to research cruising catamarans . At first it was just a casual “look see” that I would do intermittently when the urge would strike. Eventually I was spending hours scouring the internet , reading everything I could find, addicted to the idea. The Atlantic Cruising Yachts website had a lot of useful catamaran information and their Annapolis branch is practically in my backyard. I really liked the lines of the boats they offer and I had learned to sail only 3 blocks from their docks. It seemed the stars were lining up. An Email and a few phone calls later and we were meeting Captain James Fachtmann , one of their Florida associates and a Southwest airline pilot , at BWI airport. We were on our way to Annapolis for a private tour of 2 Fountaine Pajot catamarans . James has since left Atlantic cruising Yachts to start is own business selling giant yachts and ships. The guy is an over achiever.
After many meetings with a multitude of super supportive people at Atlantic Cruising Yachts ( Lauren should get a raise) all systems were go and a plan was in place to start a new charter business. SeaSea arrived and her maiden voyage was a tremendous success. But then, screech , bang the world came to an abrupt halt. No-one had predicted anything quite like our current pandemic, understandably bookings were cancelled or postponed. Still we count our blessings, as a few fortunate sailors were able to travel and enjoy the U.S. waters aboard SeaSea. We were not among them. Our plans to return in 2020 were dashed. The bigger dream and its driving force , however, remains intact. Owning a yacht in the islands is something a little special , a little daring , and a lot exciting. We do not want let time pass us by. You can’t get it back. We now have significant skin in the game and are focused on being better sailors and better people. This is living and a very meaningful way to spend time . We are so looking forward to the next leg in our island journey.
The above photograph is of the salt pond in St John USVI, strait ahead is Drunk Bay to the right is Ram head.
When sailing the pristine waters of the Caribbean, surrounded by lush green islands, it is easy to forget this place had a difficult past. The sugar plantations that made their owners rich, and Europe prosperous required the arduous labor of slaves. Pictured here is the Annaberg Sugar Plantation that was establish in 1731. By the 1800 it was the largest of 21 sugar plantations on St John .
The best way to get here by boat is to moor in Leinster Bay , take the dinghy to shore and walk west along the beach until you reach the road and parking lot. There will be signage from there.
Christopher Columbus, on his way to the Caribbean, sailed through the Sargasso Sea, which is named for the sargassum seaweed that collects in the North Atlantic as the result of circular sea currents. The name is from the Portuguese word sargaça which means small grapes . These miniature air pods are responsible to for the buoyancy of the massive fields of vegetation that can span thousands of miles. The plants have no roots and they never touch the sea bottom. Nevertheless these fields of vegetation are the habitat for numerous sea creatures. Ever wonder where the baby sea turtles go after their mad dash to the sea ? They seek shelter and food in the floating seaweed.
Alas, there can be too much of a good thing. Between 2011 and 2018 massive amounts of sargassum made it to the beaches of the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico , often piled unattractively by tides and wave action in to mounds that are many feet high . The rotting vegetation releases a bit of a stench that by the account of one jewelry store owner in Belize is corrosive enough to blacken silver and to damage gold plating.
The scientist are debating the cause of the recent massive blooms which remain controversial. Maybe increased nutrient runoff from the Mississippi and Amazon rivers, maybe increased sea temperatures or even increased atmospheric CO2. Nobody is willing to say for sure. Whatever the reason there has been relatively little of the weed this year which is perhaps the one saving grace of 2020… unless of course you are a juvenile loggerhead turtle.
Good new for the sailor is that protected harbors we seek are typically on the lee side of islands which are generally free of flotsam. So we can view sargassum as mostly a good thing .
This is Rendezvous Bay on the South side of St John. The North Side get all the attention because of the white sand beaches but as you can see the this is a spectacular harbor. Yes the beach is mostly cobble stones but there are some sandy spots and the snorkeling is quite nice. Don’t be too surprised to see a reef shark as I’ve heard rumor there is a shark nursery in Fish Bay which is just around Ditleff Point to the East . This Bay was a haven for US sailors who were denied ,because of Covid !9, entry to almost everywhere in the Caribbean, during the spring of 2020,. In normal times it is rare to see a boat anchored here. There are no public moorings but since this is outside the National Park an anchor can be put to use.
As for rain, there’s just a little patch of it and it’s far off in the distance making someone else wet.
“The world is wrong side up. It needs to be turned upside down in order to be right side up.”
12/14/2020. We are past hurricane season and SeaSea is back afloat after spending a couple month on the hard in Puerto Rico. But it’s still 2020 and that quote of Billy Sunday pretty much sums up this year. As of this writing travel in the islands remains restricted . Entry into the British Virgin Islands is permitted only through the T B Lettsome International Airport. You will need a negative Covid 19 test before entry and again 4 days after entry . God forbid one tests positive after entry. Can you say 14 day quarantine … while on vacation ? Ferry ports for vessels from outside of the Territory are due to re-open on January 21, 2021.
But , no worries, the US Virgin Islands, can be entered with a negative test without need to retest ( unless you get sick) and they have plenty to offer: Quiet coves, spectacular beaches , crystal clear water, snorkeling, diving, good eats , history , culture, hiking , a pizza boat, and yes, sailing. Aside from that little jaunt on the airplane (wear an N95) , a bareboat charter in the Virgin Islands allows for some really great social distancing.
The above entry requirements were obtained form official sources but please double check . Requirements change rapidly .
For anyone needing outboard motor parts . Contact us for the location of image above. It might still be there.