The "Live-Anywhere" Boat - The Trip South, 2009, Part IV, British and U.S. Virgin Islands
Updated February 15, 2010

Early Evening - Peter Island

We had a surprise in Tortola. As we came out of Bolo's Department Store and around a corner we ran straight into Malcolm and Sandy, old friends from Chebeague. We knew they spent winters on Tortola, but somehow had not thought much about it. I don't know which of us was more surprised, but it was very nice to see them.

Thursday afternoon we weighed anchor and went around the west end of Tortola toward Cane Garden Bay on the north shore. We idled briefly around the west end to take advantage of the U.S. cellphone signal and make some overdue phone calls, but by 4:30 we were anchored in Cane Garden Bay.

Lush and Desert-Like At Once - Our Anchorage at Peter Island

We went ashore and walked around a little, and then we discovered it was happy hour at Quito's Gazebo, so we had a couple of drinks. More important, we found out that Quito Rymer (the Rymer family dominates Cane Garden Bay) would be playing that night in the bar, so we came in again for dinner and stayed to listen and dance a little.

Quito is an excellent musician in the Reggae tradition and often plays and records with his band, The Edge. I think I like it better when he plays solo, however, and this night was a night of old favorites: "Oh Tortola," "My Daddy's Calloused Hands," and others.

Main Street - Cane Garden Bay

It was a delightful evening, the sort you can't count on but that is wonderful when it happens. The bar was happily not crowded, but everyone there was enjoying the music and Quito was responding to them. We bought some of his new CDs and considered ourselves lucky to be there.

Cane Garden Bay is a village with some local government, or at least a local Council. It is not entirely clear to me what the Council has jurisdiction over, but until (relatively) good roads were built the village was very remote from Road Town, over the highest part of Tortola's mountainous spine. As mentioned, the village and its businesses are dominated by the Rymer family, and it stands to reason that they have a long tradition of lots of local autonomy. Quito, as a prosperous local entrepreneur, is of course a member of the Council.

There was a certain temptation to stay on, but you can't swim in the same river twice, and it's probably a mistake to try, so on Friday we headed over to Jost van Dyke, an island supposedly named for a Danish pirate.

Barbara Framed by Sea Grape Leaves - Cane Garden Bay

We ran into Great Harbour and anchored in fairly deep water outside the crush of moorings. Most charter boats are not willing to anchor in 50 feet, so we felt reasonably safe from inexperienced skippers anchoring too close. In these popular anchorages, however, we always enjoy the antics as people try to pick up moorings. Two popular highlights are the Downwind Grab (degree of difficulty 3.2) that in extreme cases can lead to Loss of Boathook, and the Crosswind Snatch (degree of difficulty 2.7) that can lead to Entanglement with the boats on either side. All of these maneuvers are accompanied with Shouts, and sometimes even Curses.
Part of the Beach at Cane Garden Bay

Cane Garden Bay

Where the Rymers own most of Cane Garden Bay, Foxy Callwood is one of the largest landowners on Jost van Dyke. He is also a very accomplished musician, and his bar, Foxy's, is the center of activity in Great Harbour, the major settlement on Jost. It is crowded every evening at dinner time, and I would not like to even guess at the number of meals they serve.

Many years ago, Foxy himself used to sit in one of the pavilions in the afternoon inprovising calypso verses around the guests that wandered in from boats, but this year we did not even see him.

Foxy's - On the Beach at Jost van Dyke

We walked around, noting the changes and seeing that the mongoose population was doing well, and because we had picked up a tip, we went by dinghy to White Bay, just west of Great Harbour, on Sunday afternoon to hear our old friend Reuben Chinnery play.

The venue was the "Soggy Dollar bar," a bar right on the beach where I felt overdressed in shorts and a T-shirt. There is actually no building, just a minimal roof, and the beach and surroundings swarmed with thirty-somethings in bathing suits drinking margaritas or painkillers. In the midst of all this, however, there were five or six people listening closely to Reuben, whom we

The Jost van Dyke Fire Barn

had not seen for probably ten years. We were not sure he knew us, but soon he started introducing Spanish classical guitar riffs between the songs. We figured that was for us, since we have always particularly admired his playing in that style. With a good manager he could have much more commercial success, but that would go completely against the person he is, the person who says, when complimented, "I practice. I work hard to be as good as I can."

We agreed to meet the next day; he comes into "town" every day to get lunch at Pola's. We bought his newest CDs (he wanted to give them to us, but that did not seem right), and exchanged pictures of grandchildren and projects.

Country Road, Jost van Dyke

We always like Jost van Dyke, probably because it reminds us of Chebeague. Most of the charter boat people get soaked up by Foxy's and so do not have much impact on the island in general. There are always a few people in rented cottages or guest houses, but they came to this out-of-the-way place for peace and quiet, so they tend not to make much disturbance.

While anchored off Jost we were surprised by a call on the radio. We always monitor it, but do not really expect calls. This turned out to be our old friend Otto, a gunsmith from Machiasport. He had heard from Steve Williams that we were in the area.

The Church, Jost van Dyke

After lunch on Monday we cleared out at the government building on Jost van Dyke, weighed anchor, and set off for St. John and the U.S. Virgin Islands. We worked our way into the tight quarters of Cruz Bay to land at the Customs wharf ("If the ferries can get in there, we can!"), filled out a couple of forms, showed our passports, and were instantly in the United States.

Otto had recommended that we anchor in Rendezvous Bay and it turned out to be delightful, very quiet and the two other boats were on moorings, so we were quite alone. After work he picked us up in his truck and we spent a beautiful evening with him and his lovely friend Merry at her house overlooking our anchorage.

Remains of a Dugout Fishing Boat, Jost van Dyke

Much (most?) of St. John is a National Park, given to the U.S. by the Rockefeller family and is completely undeveloped except for a few campgrounds and trails. This means that developable land is at a real premium and commands exhorbitant prices. Many of the houses, of course, are huge and flamboyant, reminiscent of Newport or Bar Harbor, except generally in a different style.

The road by the beach near our anchorage is the driveway for a gated development and is evidence of the huge infrastructure costs associated with these developments. It is a concrete road cut into the side of a hill with a stone retaining wall on the uphill side.

Reuben Chinnery at the Soggy Dollar Bar, Jost van Dyke

Fortunately Merry runs a real estate agency and so had the key to the gate, and as owners of a 60' yacht we could more-or-less legitimately claim to be interested in buying a lot. This saved us a lot of walking.

The next day, Tuesday, Otto picked us up and gave us a tour of the island, which was a real treat for us, since we usually only get to see the sights that can be seen from the water. One can rent jeeps, it is true, but for some reason we generally don't. We drove from one end of the island to the other, stopping here and there where there was a good view or something notable to see.

Conspicuous Consumption - St. John, USVI

Coral Bay, on the East End of the island, is the first Dutch settlement on the island, going back to the 18th century, and we stopped to admire the Emmaus Moravian Church, the oldest building on the island.

We had lunch at "Skinny Legs," a bar in Coral Bay that seems frozen in the 60s, and after lunch we drove back through the park, stopping at one of the many ruins of sugar plantations to see the remains of the furnace and cauldrons where raw cane juice was boiled down into molasses.

The stonework on the old buildings and fixtures is striking, with much use of colors.

The Development Road Above our Anchorage, Rendezvous Bay, St. John

Even the stonework along the development roads is very well done; I guess that when a single 1-1/2 acre house lot sells for millions of dollars, a little extra spending on the infrastructure is justified.

We spent one more night in Rendezvous Bay and then headed out for a spot that Otto and Merry had recommended as having good snorkeling and "plenty of turtles." It turned out to be a beautiful spot (no surprise, local knowledge is a great thing!), very peaceful, behind an enclosing reef, the snorkeling was good and the turtles were as advertised.

Barbara in Rendezvous Bay, From Merry's Porch

These sea turtles are wonderful creatures. They live to a great age and although air-breathing can stay under water for extremely long periods of time. We never figured out how many there were, but we did often see two at a time. After a while they seemed to figure out that we meant them no harm and they became quite relaxed, swimming close to the boat and keeping their small "old man" heads above the water for long periods of time. It is really a rare treat to see so many and so often.

From the not-very-clear drawings in our guide book we think these are Kemp's ridley turtles (but they might be green turtles), not that the knowledge helps us much. Fortunately all species of sea turtles are now protected by international treaties and U.S. law.

The Emmaus Moravian Church, Coral Bay, St. John

We stayed in our unnamed and undisclosed location for two nights, then it was time to hoist the dinghy, weigh anchor, and set out on the 35-mile passage south to St. Croix, where we would meet our old friend Steve Williams. The trip was absolutely without incident, in ideal conditions, and at just after 2:00 we backed into the slip in Green Cay Marina that would be our home for the next week or so.
Ruins of a Molasses Try-Works, St. John

Otto and Barbara at the Sugar Mill Ruin, St. John

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part V
Part VI
Part VII