After dinner, drinks and a good night’s sleep we woke early and visited the coffee shop/breakfast spot near the dock. I savored the last triple espresso, vanilla, breve latte I would have for a week. It was delicious. Back on board we secured our belongings and with the help of a couple of CYOA Charter deckhands we shoved off and headed out to sea. On the way Captain Jim took us on a brief tour of the main marina at St. Thomas so we could see a number of multi-million dollar yachts that were on display. We would get a look at even more of these beautiful boats as we travelled from island to island.
We left St. Thomas under motor power because, as Jim predicted, the winds were whistling upwards of 30 knots and coming from a direction into which it would be impossible to sail. We ended our marina tour and turned toward the channel that would take us to St. John Island. With a smile in his voice Jim said, “We call this stretch Puke Alley…” I didn’t hear what he said after that because I had ducked below to take a Bonine (hoping I wasn’t too late). I popped open the container, dropped two pills into my mouth and swallowed. Then I read the label which said the recommended dose was ONE a day. “Oh well,” I thought “I’m either about to be really sick or really not sick” and I headed back up top. Once there, it didn’t take long to see and feel why this particular part of the Caribbean had earned that not so subtle nickname. Days Like This bobbed and weaved over the waves and then slipped and slid between them. We all held on tight and were often splattered with ocean spray and occasionally doused with a substantial splash. The sea water was cold but it felt great. We loved every minute of it and the double dose of Bonine worked like a charm.
Despite the stronger than normal winds, we were just one of dozens of boats on the water, some headed into the marina and others, like us, headed out. It was weird because even though the sails on the catamaran were safely tucked away, the orchestra leader in my head struck up the band with sailing songs. As I looked out on the horizon the lyrics to the 1979 Christopher Cross song, “Sailing” meandered between my ears,
“It’s not far down to paradise at least it’s not for me
And if the wind is right you can sail away to find tranquility
Oh the canvas can do miracles…”
“You okay?” my wife, Sarah, interrupted my internal, very personal concert.
“Yeah, good,” I answered as the cat took another dip, then hit another wave soaking us all.
“Sailing takes me away…”
Christopher Cross’ song wasn’t the only one that bounced around in my brain during the trip. At various times on deck or at the wheel I silently sang along to Jimmy Buffett’s “Son of a Sailor”, Crosby, Stills and Nash’s “Southern Cross”, “Brandy” made famous by Looking Glass, or Lyle Lovett’s “If I had a Boat.” And, of course, the only time I actually went in the water, I immediately heard the “Da Dum, Da Dum, Da Dum” from the soundtrack to Jaws. Before you call me completely crazy, I dare you to climb aboard a sailboat in the middle of a lake, the sea, or an ocean and NOT think about sailing songs. In fact at one point during the adventure our entire group tried to recall the lyrics of “Dead Man’s Chest”. “Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest, yo ho ho and a bottle of rum,” was as far as we got before cracking open the bottle of rum.
Exploring our surroundings I noticed we were joined on our journey by a handful of frigate birds, with wings spread wide, alternately riding then fighting the wind that wasn’t too strong for them. We even saw an intrepid giant fly (it looked like a big, black bumble bee) trailing the catamaran for several hundred yards before disappearing. It either gave up or just gave up on us and found a more interesting vessel to tail. There were also countless other cats, mono hull sailboats, power yachts, ferries, water taxis as well as an occasional tanker and cruise ship. That was what was ON the water. I’m sure there were millions of other things, mostly carnivorous, beneath the boat at varying depths that I couldn’t, nor did I want to, see and you can’t convince me otherwise.
On rough seas it took us several hours to travel the roughly four miles between St. Thomas and the neighboring U.S. Virgin Island of St. John. The closer we got the calmer both the winds and the waves became and we could see the bay that, once we found our mooring, would be home for the rest of the afternoon and night. On the island, above the shoreline, we also spotted a very old stone structure standing sentinel. Jim informed us that what we were looking at what was left of the Annaberg Sugar Plantation which produced sugar, molasses and rum, thanks to slave labor, back in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. Jim added that 2/3rds of the island was dedicated National Parks land and there was a walking trail that would take us to the old plantation. We decided to take the hike in the morning and since it involved being on Terra Firma I was all for it. After attaching the cat to the mooring ( a task, by the way, that proved a little more nerve wracking than I’d like to admit) Sarah, Susan, Bob and Jim decided to do a little swimming and snorkeling. I stayed on the boat and read the Jo Nesbo mystery that I had brought along.
That night we enjoyed a delicious meal (even at sea my mother-in-law is a gourmet cook and my father-in-law expertly handles a bar-b-cue), cracked open the Cruzan, Hendricks, and McCallan, played a fun card game called Over/Under and marveled at the stars. There were no lights on land to adumbrate the heavens. We gazed upon the stars and tried to identify the constellations spotting only Orion and his brilliant belt. I mused that there must be thousands of constellations and wished I could identify more. Actually there are 88 constellations (a fact we all discovered while playing Over/Under) but I still can’t identify as many as I would like. We drank a little and laughed a lot and went to bed early that night. We woke up early the next day too. Coffee was made using an old fashioned percolator and a breakfast of fruit, yogurt, protein bars, and peanut butter on toast was available, in addition to my daily dose of Bonine of course.
After breakfast we all hopped into the dinghy (FYI there is no graceful way to get in to or out of a dinghy) and headed ashore to hike up to the plantation. Jim had navigated the trail on many occasions so he decided to head back to the catamaran and take care of some “captainy” things leaving us with a radio and a “have a good time.” It was a comfortable and interesting walk starting along the water and then turning uphill to get to the ruins which turned out to be impressive and thought provoking. We saw where the slaves ate and slept as well as where they helped make the sugar, molasses and rum. The most dramatic and complete structure was the windmill that supplied the power to the plantation. The main building was also striking featuring huge stone blocks which comprised what was left of the walls. After about a half an hour we headed back down the hill passing curious tourists on their way up and catching more than a whiff of cannabis that lingered after one particular group.
We made it back to the beach stopping for shelter under the thick foliage on a couple of occasions to avoid, as best we could, a passing shower. We hailed Jim on the radio and he picked us up then skippered the dinghy back to the cat. After climbing back on board we prepared to head to, this time under sail, to the British Virgin Island of Tortola.
Up next… another country, a new adventure.