Exploring the Virgin Islands

After an enjoyable week in St. Thomas, I decided that it was time to visit some of the other Virgin Islands and test my solo sailing skills. My departure from Red Hook Harbor in St. Thomas was anything but pretty. Overly eager to raise the sails, I flailed for a while until I was able to get far enough away from the shore to begin working my way to St. John’s. It did not help that I had 20 knots of wind out of the northeast, exactly the direction that I was attempting to go. Eventually, after a few minor gaffe’s, I was able to navigate over to St. John’s, passing up several harbors that were either too exposed to the rough seas or did not contain adequate anchorage areas.

Finally, I reached Francis Bay, on the north coast of St. John’s, which provided the most protected harbor available. Not finding any obvious area to anchor, I motored over to a National Park Service boat where I learned that 3/4 of St. John’s is a national park and that there is no anchoring permitted in the National Park. Instead, I was informed that I would have to pick up a mooring and pay $15 per night. After four failed attempts to motor close to the mooring ball and then run up to the front of the boat to grab the line attached to the mooring with a boat hook before the the wind pushed the boat away, I finally was able to tie up for the night.

St. John’s proved to be worth the cost of mooring for a couple of nights. The long white sand beach was virtually empty of people and the new moon offered one of the most amazing views of the stars that I have ever seen. During the day, I decided to take my bike ashore and explore the interior of the island. This is one instance where a voice of reason questioning if biking on an island that is nearly all mountains is really a good idea would have been helpful. However, no voice existed and I was reminded once again that, while I may not be dumber than an ox, I am not smarter either. In any case, after managing to get my oversized bike onto the dinghy and then pulling my heavy, hard-bottomed dinghy far enough up on the beach that I thought the tide wouldn’t take it away, I set out on an exploration of the island.

I managed to get about two miles before I finally had to begin walking the bike up the hills. After about an hour an a half of strenuous uphill walking, I finally made it to the road that runs along the ridge atop the mountain. I enjoyed a good 15 minutes of up and down biking before it became all downhill. Not being so dense that I couldn’t realize that the further I went down, the further I would have to hike back up, I decided to pull off to take a short hike and have lunch. Having made it about half way across St. John’s, I wisely turned back and spent the remainder of the afternoon riding my breaks as I screamed downhill, smelling the burning of rubber and praying that when my bike fell apart, I would not continue to slide face-first the rest of the way down the hill.

After two relaxing days in St. John’s, having not spoken to a single person for more than five words, I decided to proceed on to Jost Van Dyke. Since I had already visited Jost with friends from St. Thomas, this provided the confidence-builder that I needed and the passage across to the British Virgin Islands went smoothly. Once again, Jost Van Dyke proved to be about as close to the Shangri-La as I have ever been. Through the clear, blue water I could see schools of fish and large sea turtles.

In the evening, I went ashore to Foxy’s Bar, the famous Jost Van Dyke establishment. The owner, Foxy, was on stage playing music and telling lewd jokes to a crowd of about 15 sailors. Serving food and drinks were several of his 12 sons and 9 daughters – apparently, everyone on the small island is related in some way. He went around the audience and asked each person where they were from. For each person, he would sing a song about the location. When he came to me, I faced the usual quandary in figuring out which home to volunteer. Since he had already sang a song about Massachusetts, I decided to go with Connecticut. On the spot, he was able to sing a song and tell a joke about the nutmeg state. I’m not sure whether he has just had so many visitors that he has memorized a song for each place or whether he just interchanges places that might offer similar jokes, but his performance was amazing and it is easy to see why his bar is so popular.

My mornings were spent running and I was pleasantly surprised that the people were so nice that every person I passed offered words of encouragement, such as “good job” or “keep it up.” In the afternoons, I would lounge in my hammock reading and watching the charter boats come in. This served the dual purpose of assuring that no one anchored too close to me and it provided endless amusement watching people struggle to set their anchor. It is rare that I can enjoy feeling that I have superior sailing skills, so I cherish the few moments I can get.

On Saturday, I decided to head east again, initially intending to move on to Cane Garden Bay in Tortola. Once I reached the bay, there was a substantial swell that would have made sitting at anchor uncomfortable, so I headed south to Norman Island. Norman Island is supposedly the place on which Treasure Island is based. People still dig for buried pirate treasure and, as recently as 20 years ago, there was said to be a gold doubloon found. While this would provide a creative way to finance my travels, I passed up the more populated mooring fields in the Bight and Treasure Cove to settle in the pleasant anchorage in Benures Bay.

The water here is as clear as I have ever seen and I am even able to see the fish swimming around my lure without so much as touching my hook. As with pretty much every island down here, Norman Island has a signature bar. In this case, it is a floating schooner called William Thornton, or better known as “Willie T’s.” The boat is named after a Quaker from the BVI’s who was a doctor in Philadelphia and designed the US Capitol building.

Unless the Quaker’s down here are different from in the US, it is unlikely that the namesake would condone the activities taking place on the floating bar. The bar’s claim to fame is that drunken women get topless and jump from the upper deck into the water below. This is accompanied by a loud cheer from the predominantly male crowd and then followed by an awkward “swim of shame” as the young maiden has to pull herself up on the dinghy dock and run back to her friends while everyone gawks at her. Despite the temptation, I stayed for only one drink as I’m sure the sight of a homeless looking man drinking alone and gawking at half-naked strangers is one of the more pathetic sights in the Virgin Islands. Tomorrow, I plan to move on to Peter Island, Virgin Gorda, or Tortola. The destination depends on which way the wind blows.

Leave a Reply