A Travellerspoint blog

US Virgin Islands

Turkey & Pineapple: An island-style Thanksgiving Day 1

Travel Day: Hurry Up and Wait.

When I tell my girlffriend that Matt and I will be spending Thanksgiving in the Virgin Islands, she sighs with envy..."How Romantic...."

Then I add that my 76 year old mother-in-law and her friend will be coming with us. To which she says: “Are you insane?”

To be fair, I’m famously lucky to have a mother-in-law who is funny and adventurous, who loves most of the same things I love, and who I truly enjoy spending time with.

She is not mean. She does not talk about other women my husband used to date that she thought would be better mates for him. She does not rearrange my kitchen. As far as mother in laws go, she's pretty much tops.

Still, no matter how lovely your mother-in-law is, a family trip – especially one of the multi-generational variety that includes someone who recently had hip replacement surgery – is bound to be fraught with potential problems. Throw in a remote island location that is not exactly known for being ADA accessible, and you're simply asking for it.

Nevertheless, we had promised this trip as a bright spot on the horizon when she was valiantly struggling through rehab after her hip replacement, and we wanted it to be amazing.

I was determined to make this trip everything it should be....a romantic island vacation for me and Matt, a wonderful tropical retreat for my sweet mother-in-law and her good friend, Elaine, and a smashing Thanksgiving all rolled into one.

Who says you can't have it all?

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I started to get nervous when it was an hour after our departure time and our plane still hadn't arrived. Mechanical issues, they said. Getting another plane, they said.

When a plane finally arrived, I thought we were saved. We had a pretty long layover in Charlotte, and we still had just enough time to make it.

That was, until the replacement plane also had mechanical issues and we sat on the runway for 45 minutes.

There was now no way to make our connection. We landed in Charlotte 10 minutes AFTER our flight to St. Thomas left. I wanted to cry.

It was the Saturday before Thanksgiving. They say the Tuesday before Thanksgiving is the worst travel day of the year. THEY are liars. All the other flights were sold out. On every airline. Until the following day.

"We'll get you a room at a hotel," they said. Matt and I looked at each other in our thin shirts and flip flops. We didn't even have socks for goodness sakes, much less coats. How were we supposed to survive a night in 28 degree Charlotte? We also had 2 elderly women with mobility issues in tow.

We would also lose our rental car reservation on St. Thomas and they were sold out for the week. We wouldn't likely get a car the next day.

This was not awesome.

"Well, there is one final flight today and we can put you on standby," they said.

What were the chances that 4 people wouldn't show up for this flight? The odds of getting 4 seats on that plane were impossible. One? Possibly. Two? Maybe. What would we do if we only got a seat or two? Both of our travel companions needed help getting on the plane and carrying their luggage. I was suddenly regretting my decision to insist everyone do carry on only.

I sat nervously biting my nails as the plane boarded. Happy passengers on their way to paradise smiled and practically danced onto the plane as we sat dismally on the sidelines....hoping....waiting.....

The flight was completely boarded and I was trying to figure out where I could buy a pair of socks in the airport when the gate attendant called our name over the loudspeaker.

SEATS!!!!

But how many?????

Matt and I ran up to the gate.

"We have two seats," she said.

We looked at each other miserably.

"You take Mom and go," Matt said. "You love St. John more than I do. I'll stay here with Elaine and we'll meet you there tomorrow."

Wonderful sweet man.

I was so excited about getting on the flight that I didn't really think through the logistics of helping my MIL through the travel process......

She has difficulty walking and certainly can't carry anything. I sent her onto the plane with her purse as I wrestled with two overstuffed rolling carryon suitcases and my ridiculous beach tote that was literally overflowing with 13 pounds of camera equipment, a zip-loc bag so filled with toiletries that the seam had split, bags of snacks, my wallet, sunglasses, hand sanitizer, 4 magazines, my iPod, iPad, and iPhone along with all the necessary charging equipment, a GoPro, and a chapstick.

God help me.

Why do I always overpack? I cursed myself.

I don't want to sound like a helpless female, but I suddenly realized how wonderful it is to have a man that you can simply shove your bag at and say, "Get that."

I awkwardly pulled the two suitcases down the jetway behind me as my giant tote kept slipping off my shoulder. I had no idea what I was going to do when I actually got to the plane, with its narrow little aisles.

My seat was in row 8. Not too far. This should be okay. I pushed one bag in front of me and pathetically pulled the other one behind me as I walked sideways down the aisle. I could do this.

My confidence was short lived. Because the plane was fully boarded when I got on, that meant that there was ABSOLUTELY NO OVERHEAD SPACE LEFT ANYWHERE. The bins were 100% packed. People had put EVERYTHING in there. Their personal items. Their suitcases. Their shoes. Their jackets. Pillows. Boxes of crackers. I think I saw a crate full of chickens.

It also meant that everyone on the plane didn't realize I was a standby passenger and simply thought I was late. And that I had an excess of luggage. They hated me. I could see it in their eyes. It didn't help that I hit everyone in the head with my tote as I walked by.

Hundreds of eyes glared at me.

I tried finding a flight attendant, but they refused to make eye contact lest they be forced to actually help me.

I was on my own in a sea of angry passengers.

I opened every bin. Nothing. I started to sweat. My breath was coming in shallow little gasps. I'm pretty sure I had a torn rotator cuff.

When I reached row 24, I found some space. Unfortunately, it was on the inside of the plane. You know, the side that won't possibly accommodate a rolling bag but is just big enough for a small purse? Just as I was about to give it up and ask them to check my bags, a man grabbed his backpack out of the side I needed and started rooting around in it for something.

"Excuse me?" I said, "Do you mind moving that to this space on the inside bin so that my rolling bag will fit?"

He glared angrily at me, but then put his backpack on the other side.

I was elated until I figured out that I had to lift a suitcase that weighed over 1/3 of my body weight over my head. Have you seen my arms???? Somehow, I managed to shove it up there without taking off anyone's head, but I still had one more suitcase. This was hopeless. I looked over as my MIL sat happily in her seat, munching on Cracker Jacks. I whimpered.

A few more rows down, I found a space, jammed her suitcase in it, and dashed back up to the safety of my seat.

I was hot. I was sweating. My back hurt. This sucked.

I spent the 3 hour flight to St. Thomas wondering how I was going to get back to Row 20-something and retrieve 2 suitcases when everyone was jammed in the aisles trying to go in the opposite direction.

And there was still the matter of the rental car. We were late. We were very late. I had emailed Budget to let them know, but we all know that rental car agencies at Caribbean airports aren't always known for their customer service. Did they even check email anyway??

I hoped my Jeep would still be there when we arrived, but I needed to get off that plane fast. Before 200 other passengers got off and filled up that line and got my Jeep.

When the plane landed, it was every man for himself. I pushed and shoved my way through bodies to get the two suitcases, leaving my tote in my seat. I then pushed and shoved my way back up through those bodies to get back to my seat. People scowled. Some cursed. At least one forked the sign of the evil eye at me. Somehow, I managed to get back to my seat with all the luggage before the door opened.

Hallelujah!!!!!!

My elation was cut short when I remembered that there is no jetway in St. Thomas. You have to go down a rickety, wobbling, extremely steep and ridiculously narrow set of stairs to deplane onto the runway.

I had to do this with two 35 lb suitcases and a giant tote bag.

Why did I wear a maxi skirt???? With an elastic waist no less. Oh dear sweet Jesus. I just knew I would step on the hem of my long skirt as I deplaned and pull it right off. That would likely happen just before I crumpled under the weight of the bags and tumbled down the stairs, where I would land on the runway in my underwear.

I almost wished I was back in Charlotte, trying to figure out how to get my flip flops over my socks so that I could go to dinner.

Forget the whole "I immediately loved the rush of warm air and smell of the sea and looked forward to my free rum punch as I got off the plane" bullshit......I grunted and groaned my way down the stairs, legs shaking, unable to hold the handrail every time the stairs wobbled, and somehow got off without pulling off my skirt. I bolted to the Budget counter.

My Jeep was still there. Thank you, God, for small favors.

I again realized how much I take Matt for granted as I tugged the luggage across the median, up the steps, and through the parking lot to the rental car. Even more when I remembered I still had to drive us across the island on the narrow, winding roads, on the wrong side of the road, and then had to back the Jeep onto the car ferry in the dark.

I had a moment of panic when I pulled up to the gate at the airport where I was supposed to hand the gate agent my ticket to depart. I couldn't find the window button. My MIL and I both started looking everywhere.

HOW DO I ROLL DOWN THE WINDOW???????

WHERE IS THE %&$#@@@@**&$ WINDOW BUTTON????????

This was simply more than I could take. I was moments away from having a full blown nervous breakdown when the sweet gate agent walked around and showed me the window button.

Now, who the hell thought putting the button in the middle of the console was a good idea? That's just dumb.

We managed to get out of the airport and I even found my way across the island to Red Hook without getting lost.

Now came the fun part. Our Jeep was crammed in with 50 other Jeeps on a ferry dock in the dark. It was now time to back the Jeep onto the ferry, about 6 inches from the Jeep next to me. I wanted to vomit.

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Miraculously, we made it onto the ferry without me crying, cussing, or hitting another car.

I was exhausted.

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But we weren't done yet.

We had to get to St. John, get our groceries, and get to our villa before travel day would be done.

When we drove off the ferry, our villa agent was waiting for us. I have never been so happy to see another human being. She would lead us to the villa.

I was super happy that I had decided to pay the small extra fee to pre-order my groceries online. They were packed in boxes and waiting at Starfish Market. All I had to do was pick them up.

Then it was on to Azul Peter Bay! Woo Hoo! We were almost there.

I did my happy dance a moment too soon.

As the villa agent pulled away, it started raining. No, not raining....POURING.

It was in this downpour that I had to unload all our luggage along with 6 heavy boxes of groceries, 2 gallons of water, and 2 cases of soda.

The cherry on top? I had no choice but to give my MIL the beautiful upstairs master bedroom with a giant walk out balcony because I didn't want her going down the stairs to the downstairs bedroom.

I was sleeping in the basement.

No worries. I WAS FINALLY HERE! I took a deep breath and let the stress of the day wash away as listened to the sweet sounds of tree frogs coming in on the breeze.

It was late, and we hadn't eaten since breakfast. We were so worried at the airport that we didn't even think to stop and grab a bite of lunch while we waited.

It was dark and drizzly, but that didn't stop me from driving down to Morgan's Mango for a bite.

It's amazing what a tall frozen drink, an order of mahi tacos, and a giant slab of key lime pie can do.

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All was right with the world.

We were on St. John and the week was just beginning.

Posted by vicki_h 09:41 Archived in US Virgin Islands Tagged tropical coral_bay stj st._john virgin_islands usvi cruz_bay Comments (3)

Boat Bites and Other Disasters Part I

A First Timer's Account of Sailing in the Virgin Islands

Picture it: It’s a still and quiet December morning. Three couples scattered along the east side of North America….from the deep south of Tennessee….up to the hustle and bustle of the D.C. area…..and finally reaching up to the frosty shoreline of the St. John River in Canada……all are waking up at 3:00 a.m., dragging their sleepy bodies toward various airports….duffel bags and boarding passes in hand…. heading down to sunny St. Thomas to spend the next 8 days together aboard a 45 foot monohull sailboat in the clear warm waters of the Virgin Islands. Brought together by some twist of fate, a USVI message board, and a few jello shots, these 3 couples have barely met and two of them have never sailed.

Insanity? Sure it is. But what the hell…you only live once, right?

Let’s go sailing.

Tuesday, December 8

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It was sometime after 10:00 a.m. when I looked across the Charlotte airport and saw a familiar face. Scubagirl!! I raced over to give a hug to my friend who, in the last 24 hours, had lost her power in a storm, left her favorite bra at home, left her travel cash sitting in Canada, and discovered a flat tire late on a Sunday night far from home. Hopefully, the bad karma monster had done its worst and had nothing left. Particularly since we were about to board (and were on the same plane).

We shared our flight to St. Thomas, arriving at 2:00 p.m. My husband, Matt, was shuffled off to the Avis counter while Mr. Scubagirl and I slurped our tiny cups of free rum that were stingier than a Chanel sample at Saks and Scubagirl scanned the baggage area for their luggage. Gromit and Mr. Gromit were arriving about an hour later, so Scubagirl waited at the airport while the rest of us took the luggage to the Frenchtown Marina. We dropped Mr. Scubagirl off at the boat with the bags and headed back to the airport. When we arrived, a smiling face greeted us with open arms. Gromit!!! The gang was all here.

We piled bodies and luggage and more bodies and more luggage into our rental and headed back to Frenchtown. We met Jay at CYOA and he hooked us up with our home for the week: Island Sister, a 45 foot Hunter monohull.

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Gromit and I ran below and took a look at our cabins.

Eventually we did stop laughing.

I kept looking behind the doors, thinking maybe the size of the cabin was an optical illusion, like in a fun house, and there was actually a king sized bed that was going to pop out of the wall. Yeah…um….no.

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We shoved our luggage in our teeny tiny cabins to deal with later. We needed to get provisions and I was STARVING. Knowing that if we went grocery shopping while I was hungry we’d come back with six bags of Doritos, 2 chocolate cakes, some mustard and no real food, we stopped in at the Frenchtown Deli for a quick snack.

The Grand Gobbler at the Frenchtown Deli was, as the girl behind the counter phrased it so eloquently, “the sandwich that changed my life.” I gobbled and away we went.

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Three shopping carts of groceries, 9 bottles of liquor, 2 cases of water, and one very confused check-out girl later (as in, “Can you put $68.29 on this credit card, $167.25 ½ on this one, and the rest on this one?”), Gromit, Scubagirl and I emerged from the grocery store with a receipt that was at least 4 feet long and more groceries than we could possible hope to fit into our rental car, much less that galley on the boat.

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We did have a small accident in the Pueblo parking lot when a case of Diet Coke fell off the top of our overloaded grocery mountain and one can exploded. We lost a good man that day, but his 11 comrades would still serve us well. We piled the bent and battered cans into the car and headed down to a gourmet market Scubagirl remembered being down by the waterfront. After wandering around the docks in the dark, we found our place, got our goodies, and headed back to the marina.

Boat Lesson #1 : Be careful where you put your groceries.

We discovered that milk only lasts about 2 days and the lettuce freezes. Chips go stale in a day and bread turns green and fuzzy before your eyes. We did what we could with the groceries and hoped for the best.

When grocery duty was done, we met Jay and Deb at Hook, Line and Sinker for dinner. A lobster dinner, some good friends, and a little bit of rum washed travel day away.

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Or so we thought.

Gromit and I still had to unpack.

Before we unpacked, Mr. Scubagirl, aka “Our Fearless Captain,” talked dirty to us. More specifically, he told us how the head worked.

Boat Lesson # 2: It really sucks if you forget and accidentally toss your used TP in the toilet. That’s all I’m gonna’ say about that.

Potty Talk out of the way, it was time to figure out how to unpack 40 cubic feet of luggage into 10 cubic feet of locker space.

Gromit and I squared our shoulders, patted each other on the back for luck and headed into our cabins. Every few minutes you’d hear a loud “BANG!!!” followed by cursing under the breath as one of us forgot the ceiling was only 4 feet high. After about 15 minutes, Gromit wandered out of her cabin with a dazed look on her face, hands full of clothes,staring vacantly into space and said, “I have no hope. No hope.” She turned aimlessly and wandered back into her cabin. She had not yet resorted to babbling, drooling, and drawing on the wall with a crayon, so I saw it as a positive sign.

BANG!!!! Dammit.

Somehow we did the impossible and the bags were eventually stowed.

Boat Lesson #3: You get creative on a boat.

I had stuff hidden EVERYWHERE. No nook or cranny went unused. I even rigged up storage contraptions with clothes pins, rubber bands, and Ziplocs. Getting our luggage unpacked was a feat of engineering, I tell you.

We were sleeping aboard at the marina that night and as much as I was dreading it, it was time to crawl into that little bed and try to sleep.

I only hit my head 3 times during that first night.

Boat Lesson #4: Don’t sit up suddenly in your bunk in the middle of the night.

You only have about 18 inches of clearance. Sit up quickly in the night….BANG!!! Dammit.

Wednesday, December 9

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We were able to have “real” showers at the marina that morning. By “real” shower, I mean that you were able to shower with hot water, without a swimsuit on, and in a space that was bigger than 12” in diameter.

Still, it wasn’t exactly a “luxury” shower. It was a basic stall with no shelves to set your stuff on (you had to sort of juggle it in your hands) that had a shower curtain rigged up on a tenuously perched pole and a chain that you pulled and had to keep pressure on for water flow. This was not an optimal set up for a clumsy person. Lucky for me, I was alone in there because somehow, I managed to get all soaped up, had my shampoo in one hand, tried to pull the chain and hold it while I rinsed with the hand holding my shampoo, and then proceeded to stumble, drop my stuff, and knock my shower curtain down in the floor, where the rings all came off the rod as it spun across the room. I had to run out of my shower stall, scurry across the cement floor of the bathroom chasing my rod, and try to hook all the rings back on it while wearing nothing but rubber flip flops and squinting through a face full of shampoo suds.

When I got back to the boat from my shower, no one knew my shame. I hung my towel to dry on the side of the boat. It was time for food!

Breakfast took us back to the Frenchtown Deli. I was all for it, since they had the “sandwich that changed my life.” Not a huge egg eater, I got oatmeal and a bagel. I was hungry, so I got a large. Have you ever seen 16 ounces of oatmeal in one container? It isn’t pretty. Gromit and Scubagirl couldn’t eat for laughing at my food.

Do you even need to ask if I ate it all?

Even though we had so many groceries we needed a moving van to get them to the boat, we still needed a couple of forgotten items from the Pueblo, so Gromit and I headed out with me driving. Despite the poor driving skills I had displayed the night before, no one else was interested in trying to drive on St. Thomas, so Gromit was subjected to my ineptitude a second time. We headed out, chatting away.

“Left,” I heard Gromit say casually. I just kept chatting.

“Left,” she said again, a little more intensely. I just kept chatting.

“LEFT,” she said one last time, as I looked up just in time to see the car that I was about to have a head on collision as I drove down the right side of the road.

“This might be a good time to tell you I don’t know left from right,” I grinned as I swerved back into the left lane, narrowly missing the oncoming bumper as Gromit wiped the sweat off her brow. Funny thing is, she thought I was joking.

We managed to get back to the marina without a serious car accident and without Gromit stuffing me in the trunk to take over at the wheel. When we got back to the boat, I went to get my towel to put it back down in my cabin.

“Did you get my towel already?” I asked Matt.

“Haven’t seen it.”

I asked everyone. No one had moved it.

Boat Lesson #5: Unpinned towels sprout wings and fly.

Never, never, never, never ever put your towel, or any item of clothing for that matter, on a boat railing without a clothes pin. Or seven clothes pins. And some duct tape. Maybe a pad lock.

It was finally time to head out. Before we even managed to pull away from the dock, Gromit smacked her leg a good one and got the first “boat bite.” It was a doozy. Little did we know, Gromit would win the coveted title of “Boat Bite Queen.” By the end of the trip, we decided purple was definitely her color.

Boat Lesson #6 : Every fixture on a boat that sticks out, sticks up, or just plain sticks was designed to impale the most tender or bony part of your body as you walk by.

It was about 12:30 when we pulled out, CptJay waving goodbye and good luck.

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For our first night, we were headed over to Leinster Bay on St. John. As we made our way over, Scubagirl showed Gromit and I our first “rain blob,” what looked like a rainbow that had spent a little too much time in the sun and had melted into a puddle of insane color on the horizon.

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Scubagirl had also warned us that the roughest ride of the trip would be the passage from St. Thomas to St. John. Was she ever right. Within the hour, we had a man down. Mr. Gromit was SICK. Gromit soon followed suit. They turned greener as the boat pitched and swayed its way toward St. John. Between the green of her face and the purple of her leg, Gromit was becoming more colorful by the minute.

“We need to make lunch. Food will actually help their seasickness,” Scubagirl said.

“What? Down THERE?” I said as I looked down into the kitchen as it swayed heavily to one side and then heavily to the other. “Are you NUTS??”

Boat lesson #7: Scubagirl is nuts.

The next thing I knew, I was standing with her in the galley with my legs spread about 2 feet apart so that I could shift my weight from side to side to keep my balance as we made turkey sandwiches with our supplies and plates literally sliding from one end of the counter to the other. It seriously felt like my body was spinning on a merry go round while my legs were on a see saw, it was so disorienting. The boat heaved. We smeared mustard. The boat pitched. We sliced cheese. The boat rocked. We piled on turkey.

We emerged, victorious, with a pile of mostly edible turkey sandwiches. We only dropped one on the floor. Sssshhh….I’m not telling whose.

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We arrived at Waterlemon Cay around 4:00 in the afternoon. The sun had settled behind some clouds, so it wasn’t a great time to snorkel. Matt took a swim while Gromit and I did our next favorite thing: we broke out the rum. We mixed up some rum punch. After some drinking, Gromit felt that it needed a little “something extra” so we dumped in some Coco Lopez. That is how the Pink Painkiller was born.

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Was it good? After a few rum punches we certainly thought it was. However, the fact that only Gromit and I would drink it should have told us something.

Boat Lesson #8: Coco Lopez doesn’t belong in everything.

For dinner, we grilled up some hot dogs and hamburgers and ate them in the fresh open air. I’m pretty sure they were the best hamburgers and hot dogs I have ever eaten.

Boat Lesson #9: EVERYTHING tastes better on a boat.

It was finally time for our first night of “real boat sleep.” No marina, no air conditioner, lots of movement. We popped open our two little windows and drifted off much more easily than I could have imagined. It was surprisingly comfortable.

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Splat.

Splat splat.

Splat, splat, splatter, splat.

I woke up wondering if the dog was licking my face. I rolled, hoping that would make her quit so I could go back to sleep. I was tired. I had to work tomorrow.

Splat.

I sat up.

BANG!!! Dammit.

I ducked my head and realized 1) I was on a boat and 2) It was raining on my bed.

Matt never even flinched. He was out like a light. I think he would have drowned in there before he would have woken up. I jumped up and closed the 2 windows. I lay back down and drifted off.

Boat Lesson #10: When you close your windows for rain in the night, stay awake until the rain passes and open your windows back up before returning to sleep.

I woke up about 30 minutes later….dripping with sweat….certain that the boat had capsized in the night, that I had drowned, and that I was now in hell because that is the only place I could think of that could be that hot.

I groggily opened the windows back up and as the cool night breeze blew across my skin, I drifted back to sleep.

Splat.

Splat. Splat.

You have to be kidding me.

It was just a few short hours later and it was raining again. I went through the window ritual again, this time staying awake to reopen them, because I had figured out that it only rained for about 2 minutes.

Boat Lesson #11: It rains many times at night, but not for long.

I learned quickly that it rains at least 3 times every night, but only rains long enough to wake you up, get your bed wet, and force you to jump up, hit your head, and shut your windows. Just as you get the window shut, it quits again.

Thursday, December 10

Boat Lesson #12 : Coffee tastes better when it’s rocking to the rhythm of the waves in your cup.

We woke up to the serenity of Waterlemon Cay and the company of good friends. As I sat in the breezy morning air, sipping a cup of coffee, I think I truly realized the beauty of a sailing trip. It was glorious. It didn’t matter that all my possessions were crammed into a locker the size of a shoebox. The small cabins didn’t take away from it either. Neither did the rain in the middle of the night. This was truly wonderful and I felt blessed to have been asked to be a part of it.

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We had coffee topside, followed by breakfast. Then Matt and I, Gromit and Mr. Gromit decided to snorkel Waterlemon.

Boat Lesson #13 : Having a small bedroom becomes way cooler when you realize you can snorkel just outside your window.

The one thing I really wanted to see but had never found snorkeling was an octopus. I had been paying attention, taking notes from Liamsaunt, and was DETERMINED to find one on this trip.

Guess what I saw within 5 minutes of getting in the water? Octopus.

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I did my underwater happy dance (which isn’t much better than my above water happy dance) and called Matt over to ensure that someone could validate my experience. The little bugger wouldn’t come out of his hidey hole, but I could see him all the same. I was happy. My first Octopus!

As we rounded the end of the cay, Matt blew a fin. The top of it ripped right off. Don’t worry. I towed him back to the boat. I’m awesome like that. Okay, the real truth is that I had Scubagirl’s fins and THEY are awesome like that.

Boat Lesson #14: Cheetos cure motion sickness.

We sunned on the boat for a bit and before we knew it, it was time to head to the BVI. The previous day, Gromit had discovered that, for her anyway, Cheetos were a cure for the queasy feeling she got when the boat started heaving its way through the water. She literally never got more than 3 feet from a bag of Cheetos for the rest of the trip. As we headed out, Gromit grabbed her Cheetos. Pretty soon, we were cruising into Tortola. First stop was Soper’s Hole to clear customs.

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I must confess here that, while Scubagirl is a natural beauty, Gromit and I are helplessly addicted to beauty products. So, while Scubagirl did no more to “get ready” than toss her naturally gorgeous hair to the wind, Gromit and I started spritzing and combing, brushing and spraying, trying to tame our sun freckled cheeks and sea frizzy locks, not yet ready to admit it was hopeless….as we had somehow become boat girls while we weren’t paying attention.

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Now, I thought I was bad when it came to “products,” but I knew Gromit was the superior beauty addict when she pulled out 3 ziploc bags filled with every item that can be begged, borrowed, bought, or stolen from the Sephora beauty counter. I stood there in awe.

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Pretty. Shiny. Sparkly. Aaaahhh……

Scubagirl (and her perfect hair) just rolled her eyes.

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We all did a little shopping, found the world’s largest flip flop, and headed over to Pusser’s for sustenance. Delightful. We had painkillers by the number (#2 for 2 oz., #3 for 3 oz., or #4 for 4 oz…..I’m not telling who had what…..), wings, bang bang shrimp, nachos, and an awesome looking deep fried hot dog. Tip: Never order a mojito at Pusser’s. Someone decided it would be a good idea to serve Mr. Gromit’s mojito as a frozen blended drink. Everything was blended. Even the mint. Ever suck tiny pieces of mint up through a straw? Mr. Gromit has.

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Our captain let us know that we better be moving on if we were going to make it to Marina Cay in time to get a mooring ball before dark, so we piled back on the boat and headed off.

Boat Lesson #15: Always wear a clip on your hat on a boat. Oh, and blue hats are a bad idea.

About halfway to Marina Cay, Matt’s hat blew off. It was just a $10 hat, but you know men and their hats….well the next thing I knew, we were on a hat chase. We were using a 45 foot boat to find an small blue hat in a big blue sea. Mr. Scubagirl was whipping the boat around, Gromit was yelling “There it is!” and Mr. Gromit was trying to fish it out of the water with a pole. We must have circled around that darn hat for 10 minutes as it floated for an impossibly long time. How in the hell in stayed above water, I’ll never know. This insane hat dance ended when Gromit busted her toe, Mr. Gromit gave up with the pole, and Matt lept frantically off the back of the boat and just swam for it.

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I know that at this point, Mr. Scubagirl had to be wondering WHY he had invited this motley crew on his sailing trip. Gromit had a severed toe, the boat’s front deck looked like a pig had been slaughtered on it, Mr. Gromit was running for the first aid kit, and Matt was trying to swim the mile back to the boat.

He did get the hat though.

We pulled up to Marina Cay just as the last of the daylight was fading from the sky. We grabbed a mooring ball and whipped up an easy dinner of Gromit’s wonderful marinated chicken on the grill and a Caesar salad.

Boat Lesson #16: Being able to step outside on deck at any moment is heaven.

After dinner, we noticed that you could see every star in the sky. The sky seemed impossibly big and the stars impossibly bright. We lay there listening to the water quietly lap against the sides of the boat while watching the night sky.

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Friday, December 11

Boat Lesson # 17: No matter what you do, everything you have will be damp within 2 days and your cabin will start to smell like an old gym shoe…and you will learn to love it.

We rose with the sunrise. I dug around in my locker looking for something dry to put on. Even the clothes that I hadn’t worn didn’t seem clean. Thankfully, Scubagirl had packed us lots of Febreeze and dryer sheets, which helped a lot. I did the “sniff test” on a few items and found something that wasn’t too offensive.

We had our breakfast on the boat. After eating, Mr. Scubagirl took the dinghy over to Marina Cay and Matt and I rode along.

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We pulled up to the long dock that led to the little fuel building and I jumped out and did what I do: I started snapping pictures. I tend to do a lot of squatting and crawling on my hands and knees when I do “my thing” and noticed Mr. Scubagirl and Matt ahead of me, snorting and giggling like two girls. Figuring they were just immature men who did not understand “My Art,” I continued to do my thing. I proceeded to continue squatting and crawling along the dock until I heard a voice behind me.

“Ahem.”

I looked behind me and there was the most amused (and patient) gentleman I have ever seen, one who had apparently been stuck behind me for several minutes, because my squatting, crawling behind made it impossible for him to pass. I looked up at Matt and Mr. Scubagirl.

“Thanks, guys.” I said through clenched teeth. They just laughed some more.

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We did our thing for the webcam, walked around for a bit, and headed back to the boat.

It was time to sail for the Bitter End and Saba Rock.

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Boat Lesson #18: Riding on the front of a sailboat is life at its very best.

This was true for me, anyway. I loved being up on the front of the boat, the wind whipping past me as we moved through the water. I loved the feel of the sun on my skin, the wind in my ears, and the salty spray on my face as we sliced through the sea. It didn’t feel like life could get any better than this. I finally knew how my dog feels when we go for a ride in the car.

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We arrived at Saba Rock before lunch and hopped off so that everyone could take a walk around. That didn’t take long, because you can walk across this beautiful scrap of land in about 20 seconds flat.

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Back on the boat, lunch was smoked salmon wraps made with salmon that Scubagirl had brought down from Canada. That stuff was so good it should be illegal.

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After I fought Mr. Scubagirl for the last bite, we headed over to the Bitter End Yacht Club in search of Scubagirl’s favorite drink: The Lemon Crush.

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We did a little shopping and walked around to see what there was to see. I stumbled onto their carved “Island Girls” which gave me a SERIOUS body complex and made me stop to consider the pros and cons of implants before I was dragged away to the bar.

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The Lemon Crush at the Bitter End Yacht Club is excellent. And not just because I was feeling vulnerable.

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Matt found a sailing yacht that I believe he would have traded me for, but we finally managed to pry his gripping, sweaty fingers off its hull and drag him away. I’m pretty sure he was crying, but it might just be that we got sand in his eyes during the struggle.

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We all took a walk along BEYC’s beachfront and checked out their restaurant and facilities. It was a pretty place.

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After hanging at the bar, we took the dingy over to the Sand Box Bar on Prickly Pear Island. I wasn’t sure the place was open as we pulled up onto the perfect little beach. There was no one around and the place looked deserted. Gromit and Mr. Gromit had already been dropped off and we were trying to locate them.

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Then I heard it.

Holy Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus. It was awful. I was certain someone was hurt. Or an animal was stuck in a trap. Or maybe someone was being tortured. There were some cats around….maybe one of them was sick.

The agonized wailing rose and fell on the breeze as we walked up to the bar. As we neared the bar, it got louder and more exuberant. I saw Gromit and the look on her face was priceless.

“WTF???” I mouthed to Gromit as I made my way closer.

Then I saw him.

It was the live entertainment.

Although…..I’m pretty sure he wasn’t actually PAID entertainment. It appeared to be a bleary eyed guy with a CD boom box and a microphone sitting at the bar, stoned out of his ever loving mind, moaning to the music in the most incoherent and tone deaf manner possible. When he saw us staring, mouths agape, he winked at us and carried on even louder, like he was Bob Marley himself. He seriously thought he was rockin’ it.

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Truth is, he was killing it…and killing it painfully from the sound of it. It was so bad, I felt queasy. I sat there, torn between wanting to throw myself onto the bar and wrench the microphone from his hands in order to save the others and wishing I had a video camera so that I could put this tragedy on YouTube, when the bartender broke my stunned silence.

“I’m going to need a really strong drink,” I said to the bartender as Matt elbowed me in the ribs.

As the wailing continued, we grabbed a round of drinks and headed to spread out in some chairs on their beautiful beach. The wailing went on for an eternity. Blessedly, he finally stopped when it became necessary for him to go light one up on the beach.

Thank god for small favors.

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It was getting late in the afternoon, so we finally headed back to the boat for showers.

Boat Lesson #19: Get used to showering with an audience and without hot water.

Why? Because showering on the back of the boat in your swimsuit is so much better than trying to shower in the shoebox sized indoor shower stall, where you hit your elbows and your head and if you drop your soap, you have to open the stall door to have the space to bend down and pick it up.

Real friends don’t mind watching you scrub sand off your butt.

We headed back to Saba Rock for a dinner of mojitos (blessedly unblended) and fish and chips and before we knew it, it was time to call it quits for another day.

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And don’t worry, no skeleton pirates were harmed in the making of this photo.

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Nights on the boat were deliciously cool, breezy, and filled with stars. I could think of worse places to be.

Posted by vicki_h 11:48 Archived in US Virgin Islands Comments (0)

Boat Bites and Other Disasters Part II

A Newbies Account of Sailing in the Virgin Islands

Saturday, December 12

We got up early and started the journey to Jost Van Dyke, wanting to get there as early as possible.

Boat Lesson #20: When the captain says “We’re leaving early tomorrow,” that means get your coffee made early.

As I sat on the counter in the galley next to the stove, holding my pot of coffee onto the burner with a pair of vice grips as the boat heaved to and fro…I realized what Mr. Scubagirl meant when he said, “Get everything done early.” Apparently, I wasn’t early enough.

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Speaking of coffee, we had to make 2 pots every day because my coffee got “voted off the island” by every member of the crew on Day 1. Well, except our captain. On Day 2, as I was making my pot of coffee and asked if anyone else wanted to share it, just as everyone else shouted “NO!!!!!!” Mr. Scubagirl looked at me and said, “Yeah…I kinda’ like the swill.”

Well, because we had the whole vice grips issue going on this morning, we didn’t want to have to make 2 pots of coffee, so Scubagirl and I were trying to compromise.

“How many scoops do you put in for 10 cups?” I asked her.

“Six,” she said.

“I put in 12,” I said, “How about we do 12? You can add some water to yours.”

“That works,” she said.

I started putting the heaping scoops in the pot.

“If you’re going to heap them like that, just do 10,” she said.

“Fine, fine, fine,” I replied, “How many is that so far? Three?”

“Nice try!” she said, “That was 8!”

Hey, can’t blame a girl for trying, can you?

Thirty minutes of vice grip percolating later, my butt was hot and sweaty and my hand was in a permanent claw, but Vicki’s Supersludge Coffee was ready! Don’t let them lie to you either, they secretly liked it. I know they did. I could see it in their shaking hands and dilated pupils. I heard a rumor that Gromit went into Starbucks the other day and asked if they could use 16 scoops in her Espresso.

We made a quick stop at Marina Cay for fuel and ice and I used the time for more photo ops, during which I managed not to squat in front of any strangers but during which I did manage to annoy the hell of a pelican for about 15 minutes. Then we were on our way to Jost.

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Boat Lesson #21: Sailing feels like you are flying on the water.

Sitting at the front of the boat, with the wind in my hair was like flying. I was tempted to do the whole “Titanic” bit, but I thought that might be a bit much.

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As we neared Great Harbor, I couldn’t help but smile. This happy little island always greets you with a warm breezy hug and a salty kiss. I could already hear Mic putting the nutmeg on my painkiller and could feel the cool water of White Bay swirl around my feet. Gromit, Mr. Gromit, Matt and I headed landside while Scubagirl and Mr. Scubagirl decided to take it easy on the boat. After a quick stroll down Great Harbor’s sandy main street, we grabbed a taxi over to White Bay.

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The first order of business was a visit to Mic for a painkiller. His smile alone is worth $6. Painkillers were followed by drinks from Gertrude’s “pour your own” bar. Another tip, never let Matt pour yours….unless you want it to taste like gasoline. Drinks were followed by a cool swim, lounging in the sun, and walking in the sand.

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We even bumped into Cpt. Brandi at the Soggy Dollar and managed to make a video without any of us drooling or falling face down in the sand. When you have to be on video while inebriated, it helps to have one member of your party who is a PR Wiz so that the rest of you can just smile stupidly, nod a lot, and toss out the occasional thumbs up or stupidly intoxicated “woo hoo!” like some idiot girl on MTV Spring Break. Not that I did that.

Eventually all that relaxation made us hungry, so we grabbed some food from Gertrude’s kitchen. Gromit swears the wings were some of the best she’s ever had and my roti was so good I was licking it off my arm. Okay, that last bit might have had something to do with the fact that I am a messy eater after a Gertrude’s Pour Your Own Matt Style Drink.

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While we were snacking, Matt made a new friend, a little brown Chihuahua with two gimpy legs. Have you ever noticed that there never seems to be a shortage of interesting dogs on Jost? Sucker for dogs that I am, he got about half of my roti…well, the half I didn’t have to lick off my arm.

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When it was time to head back to the boat, we went looking for our taxi driver. We had told him to meet us near the Soggy Dollar at a certain time. Gromit and I walked (staggered) down the beach in search of him and I saw a guy in a red polo and I just ASSUMED it was our taxi driver. You know what they say about assuming, don’t you? And please, no jokes, I heard more than my share that day from Gromit.

Anyway, thinking this was my guy, I walked (staggered) up to him and said, “Is it time?”

In retrospect, and viewed in sobriety, this was probably not the most intelligent thing to walk up and say to a strange man who was, in fact, not my taxi driver. It could have sounded a bit propositioning. Could have.

Which might be why he then offered me some weed and said he thought it was time.

Gromit dragged me away, laughing, as I stared stupidly, still trying to comprehend why our taxi driver had just offered me weed.

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As the red polo guy trailed behind us….we did find our actual taxi guy just in the nick of time. We piled in and were off to Great Harbor.

When we got to Foxy’s, Mr. Gromit, aka The Gadget Master, pulled out his 007 Walkie Talkie which was infinitely better than my idea of jumping up and down on the end of the dock waving my arms.

Sidebar: Mr. Gromit is truly the Gadget Master. Need a flashlight? He pulls out some supercharged light saber with a 400 foot beam. Worried your luggage is too heavy? Oh, he just happens to have a luggage scale in his pocket. Not sure what that plant on the beach is? Wait, Mr. Gromit has a plant analyzer in his pocket that will immediately break down its chemical components and tell you what it is. Okay, maybe I am exaggerating…but not much! He is a master of all things technological, I tell you.

Mr. Scubagirl made the pick up and we were back on Island Sister for a beautiful sunset and a great dinner of Gromit’s marinated filet cooked on the grill and plantains. That girl knows her meat, folks…that thing was so tender I could cut it with a butter knife. Sun soaked and full, it was nearing “boat bedtime” and we were all getting sleepy.

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Boat Lesson #22: No matter who you are, no matter what you do, you get sleepy on a boat by 9:00 p.m.

We probably turned in at the late, late hour of oh….about 9:30 p.m. I drifted off to the gentle rocking of the boat and the soft sound of the waves.

BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!!

What the?

BEEP! BEEP!

I jumped up.

BANG! Dammit.

BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!

Half asleep and 100% disoriented, my brain couldn’t figure out where I was much less figure out what that incessant beeping was.

Matt jumped up.

BANG! Dammit.

We both started scrambling, certain that we had some sort of important sensor in our cabin, like a carbon monoxide detector…knowing that we surely had only moments before we would all either die from inhalation or the boat would explode. We tore into our locker, pulling everything out….we scrambled in the small cabinet….we checked our phones, our iPods….where was that infernal beeping coming from????

BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!

I finally grabbed my little Roxy iPod speaker case and held it up to my ear.

BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!

Ah Ha! I found it! Somehow, we had accidentally set the alarm in the Roxy. Whew. We shut the thing off, got our cabin put back together, and drifted back to sleep.

Splat! Splat! Splatty splat splat!

Seriously? I sighed as I crawled to the windows to close them for rain. I waited …..listening to the rain pour for all of about 3 minutes…I reopened my windows and drifted back to sleep with the cool breeze blowing across my body.

Sunday, December 13

Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday dear Gromit, Happy Birthday to you!

Today was Gromit’s birthday and we were spending it on Jost because there could be no better place to spend a birthday, could there? We made a birthday breakfast fit for a queen of bacon, eggs, and banana bread and cinnamon rolls that we had picked up at Christine’s bakery the previous afternoon. We “got ready” which, even for me and Gromit at this point, consisted of throwing on a swimsuit and grabbing a towel.

Boat Lesson #23 : Minimizing “stuff” is freeing….not having to worry about lots of luggage, clothes, shoes, curling irons, hair spray….is bliss.

After breakfast, Mr. Scubagirl took us all in to Great Harbor where we grabbed a taxi to White Bay.

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Boat Lesson #24 : After being on a boat for a few days, you find that when you hit land, you will unconsciously stand and sway gently back and forth.
Gromit and I noticed early on that whenever we hit land, we’d stand and sway, back and forth, back and forth, unconsciously, apparently in an effort to cope with our new sea legs. If one person did it and the other one didn’t, we actually felt seasick. So…we stood….we swayed….we conquered.

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We piled up in some rent-a-chairs at Jewel’s and let the limin’ begin. Matt and I wandered down to the Soggy Dollar to see what Mic could hook us up with. I had enough painkillers the day before and wanted to try something new….I ordered my drink. Mic actually laughed as he started to make it.

“One, two,” he said as he pulled out a bottle of rum and poured it into a glass of ice. He chuckled. He put it away and pulled out another bottle of rum.

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“One, two,” he said again as he put it away, laughed, and pulled out a third bottle of rum. “One, two.”

Finally, I laughed and asked just how many bottles of rum he was going to pour into my glass.

“Ten,” he said, and started laughing again. “One, two.”

Ten flavors it was, with just a splash of grenadine on top. That my friends, is a Soggy Man. And it was delish. I don’t know how something with so much rum could taste so good, but I say it’s just the magic of Jost.

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We bought some t-shirts, took a walk, soaked in the beautiful water, and lounged in the sun. It was hard work, but somebody had to do it. Gromit had brought us a jug o’ rum punch (thank goodness the Pink Painkiller had mercifully been thrown out by this point) and we had a glass under the swaying palms, watching the Sunday party boat armada as it made its way into White Bay.

Eventually, hunger took over and we headed over to Seddy’s One Love for lunch with Gromit and Mr. Gromit.

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One of the girls in the bar was also having a birthday and they shared the birthday champagne with Gromit. We asked what their house drink was and were told they had the best bushwacker…so birthday bushwackers it was!

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Matt ordered a lobster salad sandwich that I must say was one of the best looking things I have ever seen. I had the lobster which came with peas n’ rice, corn, and cole slaw. The food was excellent, the drinks were frosty, and we even had some live music for entertainment.

Seddy’s even gave us a round of shots in honor of Gromit’s birthday.

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The party continued to arrive, filling the waters of White Bay, tanned bodies lining the sand and laughter filling the air around the Soggy Dollar. Scubagirl and Mr. Scubagirl headed over to the Soggy Dollar for lunch and Matt and I followed. Rueben was about to play and apparently, I felt like I needed another drink.

Drink count for Vicki so far: 1 Soggy Man (which is like….nine drinks….okay, for me anyway….), 1 Rum Punch, 1 Bushwacker, 1 Seddy’s Shot, and now another Soggy Man. To say that I can’t hang with the big dogs is an understatement. Hell folks, I can’t hang with the two legged Chihuahua.

I was getting soggy, man.

It was at this point that I decided it would be a good idea to walk the goat trail over to Ivan’s. Barefoot. And soggy. But then again, I’m the one that hiked the Reef Bay Trail up and down in flip flops and with no water.

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FYI: Don’t take the trail from the Soggy Dollar to Ivan’s barefoot unless you want to have significantly less skin on some of your toes and at least one big bruise on the bottom of your foot when you’re done. Trust me on this one.

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Somehow, I made it across what seemed like an infinite beach strewn with sharp rocks. Victory!

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I think if you run those photos together really fast, you can actually see my above water happy dance, but I would not recommend it because it is so ugly it has been known to scare small children and make old ladies cry. There is a reason I was always the last one picked for dodge ball.

We did a little hanging (and swinging) at Ivan’s before heading back over to the Soggy Dollar.

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When we got back, Gromit pulled out the rum punch and we headed for the water. Yes, it was classy, we were drinking it right from the jug at this point. But come on, we were next to the Woody’s boat and had a group with beer bongs in the water next to us. When in Rome, right? Anyway, I told you, I was soggy. I can’t be held accountable for my actions. Besides, it was Gromit’s birthday. No rules of propriety apply when it’s a girlfriends birthday.

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Remember that I said we’d lost Scubagirl to pirates the day before when Cpt. Brandi had us on video without her? Well, it was at this point that I made a daring rescue, swimming beyond the party boats, risking life and limb to rescue Scubagirl from the dread pirates. I leapt aboard their ship, smashing two of my toes and bruising my foot in the process. I then heaved my beloved iPhone at them, shattering it, and threw my book at someone’s head as a distraction. I fought valiantly, suffering great personal loss and sustaining battle wounds, but we got her back.

Or….I might have had too much to drink, tried to walk the path from the Soggy Dollar to Ivan’s and bruised my foot and smashed my toes on the rocks because drunk people often forget things like shoes, lost my book, and dropped my phone under my chair where I proceeded to sit my butt on it and smash it’s screen…but who really knows.

Boat Lesson #25 : You can meet wonderful strangers from a sailboat.

When we finally headed back to the boat, Scubagirl told us that we’d had a visit and a great dinner offer from Cynthia at Harris’ Place in Little Harbor. Free mooring for the night plus the first round of drinks free. Harris’ Place is right on the water, next to Sydney’s Peace & Love. She made us an offer we couldn’t refuse and did it with such a beautiful smile, we didn’t want to.

We arrived at Harris’ Place and were immediately drawn in by the twinkling lights and warm smile of Cynthia, the hostess with the most-est. Mr. Scubagirl, Mr. Gromit, and Scubagirl ordered the BBQ plate and the rest of us asked for “the biggest lobsters they had.” Drinks arrived and we had some of the best painkillers and bushwackers on the island. These were quickly followed by our choice of lobster bisque or black bean soup and the best homemade bread EVER. Next up were salads. When the main courses arrived, she brought out a lobster that looked like something that should be on the Discovery Channel…so big it looked prehistoric…along with peas n’ rice and cole slaw. We were so full we thought we’d rupture, but the homemade desserts were too good to pass up: fresh coconut cake, caramel and banana pie, key lime pie, chocolate cake….it was bliss. She even brought Gromit’s with a birthday candle and a chorus of “Happy Birthday.”

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I was tired but happy. It had been a long day. I was tuckered out from drinks, sun, sand, and I was starting to get “boat battered.”

Boat Lesson #26: If some of your body parts don’t hurt, you haven’t spent 6 days on a boat.

By this point, my butt was raw from sitting on the rough seats up top or from too much swimsuit elastic too much of the day; my head was sore where I kept hitting the same spot over and over on the low corner of my cabin roof; I had sand in pretty much everything I owned, including my skivvies; my back was sore from constantly leaning against the hard edges of the boat; and my toes were skinned and bruised from going where I shouldn’t without shoes.

I was getting broken in, and I found that I liked it.

We all turned in early, as was becoming standard practice, everyone retiring to their little piece of the boat and reading, watching a movie, or catching some early zzzzzzssssss. Since getting on the boat, I hadn’t known what time it was. I got up when the sun came up. I slept when the sun went down. I felt drawn by the sun and the waves, the tide and the stars. I was becoming unplugged and it was heaven.

Monday, December 14

Boat Lesson #27: You can shower with a handi-wipe. Oh, yes you can.

Early in the trip, I was all about the shower. You never feel 100% clean on a boat because your showers are brief and usually involve some clothing left on and within minutes of the shower, you are salty or sweaty again. In the first few days of the trip, I looked forward to those 10 minutes that I could feel fresh and clean.

On the morning of my seventh day, I had lost the need for that “shower fresh feeling” and realized I was pretty ok as long as my hair looked reasonably clean and I couldn’t smell myself. I took my shower that morning with a handi-wipe and I liked it.

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We headed into Sydney’s for t-shirts before leaving Jost that morning. Sydney was in a chair stringing nets and someone was frying bacon and brewing coffee. We made our purchases, said our goodbyes to Jost, and we were on our way back to St. John.

We pulled into Cruz Bay to clear customs, but first things first, we went Customs AWOL and went to find the first lady of St. John. We headed straight for St. John Spice. RUTH!!! We popped in to say “hi” to Ruth and Ron and to soak in the delicious air conditioning for a minute. Gromit got the honor of wearing the birthday Chicken Hat and I got the honor of wearing Kelleana’s cowboy hat, as we swayed unconsciously back and forth.

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We left to clear customs and came back so that Ron could take us on the Grateful Shed Tour. Ruth and Ron’s house is AWESOME and they were so sweet to drive us up for a look. We then spent our afternoons in Cruz Bay visiting our favorite haunts and saying “hi” to our favorite people. Scubagirl and Mr. Scubagirl joined Matt and I at the Beach Bar for some lunch. I am happy to report that, although it seemed smaller than normal, the Tuna Down Now was as good as ever. So were the Lime n’ Coconuts. I also had an amazing burger with bacon and gouda. I would say, “It tasted GOUDa,” but that would be corny. So I won’t.

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We did some shopping and grabbed a coconut bar at Deli Grotto and before we knew it, it was time to head back to the boat. Scubagirl and Mr. Scubagirl had taken it on down to Francis Bay, so the rest of us grabbed a cab and headed that way. Mr. Scubagirl picked us up on shore in the dinghy and the water was rough. Getting in the tender from the beach was a challenge.

We all got quick showers (with more than a handi-wipe) on the boat, and we headed back to Francis Bay. As luck would have it, the owners of what I refer to as “my” villa, Sunnyledge, were there and since we were sleeping in their back yard, they invited us up for a drink and a gracious “hello.”

The water was rough, so we made two trips in the tender, Mr. Scubagirl dropping me, Scubagirl, and Matt off first. When he came back with Gromit and Mr. Gromit, I watched as the tender came to shore, Gromit and Mr. Gromit jumped out, a wave struck, and Mr. Scubagirl literally flipped backward up and out of the tender. At least a double gainer. I felt like I should hold up an Olympic scorecard… IT’S A 10!....but I was pretty sure that in that moment he would not find the humor in it.

Boat Lesson #28: Mr. Scubagirl, in addition to being an excellent captain, has the soul of a saint and the patience of Job.

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I have to insert here that, no matter what stupid or frustrating thing we did, from using a $300,000 boat to find a $10 hat to jamming the outdoor table so that we all had to eat indoors to flooding the dinghy to flipping him out of the dinghy, Mr. Scubagirl always had a smile and took it all in stride. How he put up with us newbies, I’m not sure I’ll ever know.

While he headed back to the boat to dry off, the rest of us were met by a smiling face on Francis Beach. I heard a familiar voice, “You must be Vicki.” Dave!

Dave took us up to the house where we met the other voice I knew so well from the other end of the phone….Bonnie! They offered us cocktails and snacks and we chatted the evening away as the sun set over Francis Bay. Being in Sunnyledge is like being home for me, and I was so happy to see it while I was there. Added to that was now the knowledge that Dave and Bonnie and truly wonderful people.

As night came, we knew we needed to head back and a dry and still smiling Mr. Scubagirl came back to the beach to pick us up.

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Boat Lesson #29: You can make some surprisingly good food on a boat.

That night, Scubagirl made her Kick A$$ Taco Salad, and kick a$$ it was. That was some seriously good stuff. Get the recipe from her if you can. It’s a keeper!

Tuesday, December 15

We woke up in Francis Bay to a beautiful sunrise. Tomorrow was our last day, and we still had tons of food. Hence, we pulled out what I like to call the “See How Much Random Crap You Can Eat For Breakfast Buffet.” Gromit won the Creativity Award of the morning with her peanut butter, jelly, and bacon bagel.

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After breakfast, we swam from the boat toward Mary Point for a snorkel. The swim was good, but the water was so muddled up, it was very hard to see anything. Despite that, I was lucky enough to see my second octopus! He blended well with the surroundings, but he was moving about, so I was able to spot him quickly. I was rushing over to find Scubagirl to show her when I nearly ran into the biggest turtle I have ever seen! It was about that time that I started worrying about running into other things I couldn’t see and decided I was ready to head back to the boat.

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After our snorkel, Gromit and Mr. Gromit headed to the beach to meet Pia. We were going to head into the beach too, but Mr. Scubagirl needed some extra fuel for the tender and Pia was sweet enough to drive him into Coral Bay to get some. By the time they got back, total laziness and lethargy had set in as we sunned ourselves on the boat.

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Boat Lesson #30: The BEST boat day is when you spend 24 hours on the boat without getting off.

This day was when Boat Time clicked in for me. You know you “Get It” when you realize you’d rather stay ON the boat than get OFF. That finally hit Matt and I on the last day. We realized we had zero desire to leave the boat. We were totally relaxed and content to lay on the decks and soak up the glorious sun, watching the blue waters of the bay and the sugary sand of the beach from where we were.

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Loathe to move a muscle, we declined when Pia, Gromit, and Mr. Gromit headed to the Tourist Trap for lunch. I don’t think I could have peeled myself off that deck for a million dollars at that point….and I loved it. Scubagirl made us lobster salad and egg salad on the boat.

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Boat Lesson #31: Remora like lobster but don’t like peanuts.

Scubagirl provided the after lunch entertainment by baiting in a remora with the leftover lobster. She tried peanuts first, but it would just take them and spit them out. After the remora feeding, we did another snorkel to break the lethargy.

Sun drenched and sea kissed, I headed in for a nap. I loved not having somewhere to go, or something to do. I was more relaxed than I think I have ever been on any vacation. I also had time to grab my second “real” shower of the trip (the first “real shower” being the pathetic attempt at the marina when I pulled the curtain down around me feet). By “real shower” I mean that I was able to remove my swimsuit. I still had to shower in under 60 seconds, but at least I didn’t have 5 people watching me scrub my butt.

That night we pulled out hamburgers to grill and Gromit took the leftover hot dogs and crescent rolls and made us some darn good, darn big, pigs in blankets. I tried to get her to make a foot long….but the foot long pig in a blanket was a miserable failure and she and I are very sensitive about it…..so we just don’t want to talk about that, okay?

Boat Lesson #32: You cannot make a foot long pig in a blanket on a boat.

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Posted by vicki_h 11:48 Archived in US Virgin Islands Comments (0)

Boat Bites and Other Disasters Part III

A First Timers Account of Sailing in the Virgin Islands

Our last day....

Wednesday, December 16

I woke up and couldn’t believe this was it. This was the last day. Was the trip really over? I had come to love the boat, to love my companions, to love the relaxed rhythm of our days as they drifted with the winds and the waves. I hated that it was almost over.

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We made our way from Francis Bay back toward Frenchtown Marina on St. Thomas.

As we rounded St. Thomas, we saw a little boat that was obviously stranded, being tossed mercilessly as the wake of the ferries hit it again and again. Mr. Scubagirl headed to the rescue. We couldn’t help but laugh when we saw the name of the boat was the S.S. Minnow….maybe not an optimal boat name choice? We pulled the little boat toward St. Thomas as a friend of his was headed our way. When his friend neared, we untied him and waved good bye and good luck.

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It was bittersweet as we pulled into the Frenchtown Marina. As we were greeted by the Frenchtown Welcoming Committee (the trio of iguanas that hang on the rocks), I was happy that I had just had a wonderful trip. I was sad that it was almost time to say goodbye.

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As we hit land, Matt and I said our goodbyes to Gromit and Mr. Gromit who had an earlier flight than we did. After several rounds of hugs, we grabbed a cab and headed into Charlotte Amalie, somewhere I have not been once during all my trips to St. John. We had a few hours to kill so we strolled around downtown and did some shopping. We also had a great lunch at Gladys’ café, ordering so much food she actually laughed and asked us if we were hungry. We also had a couple of overpriced, under-rummed drinks at some bar that looked like a Cancun throwback that was ready for the cruise shippers. CA is not my cup of tea, but it was an ok place to kill some time.

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We headed back to Frenchtown for one last shower, which I managed to accomplish without mishap, and a sandwich to go from the Frenchtown Deli. Then Scubagirl, Mr. Scubagirl, Matt and I said goodbye to Jay and the wonderful staff of CYOA and headed for the airport.

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We flew together as far as Charlotte.

It was eventually time for us to part. As I waved goodbye to my new friends in the Charlotte airport, I smiled on the inside, warmed by the post vacation glow that only comes from a great trip.

I sat in my seat on the plane….thinking back on the past 9 days. I couldn’t believe that only 9 days ago Matt and I had climbed aboard Island Sister with 4 near-strangers. For those first couple of days, I was consumed with lack of space, wondering when my next chance to escape the boat confines and get on land would be, dreaming of my next shower and worrying about just how bad my hair looked, and anxiously waiting to see if we’d all get along. Somewhere, somehow, sometime during our voyage, everything shifted. I was consumed with nothing but the waves and the wind and the sun, wondering when my next chance to feel the wind in my hair at the front of the boat as we soared through the sea would be, dreaming of plunging my sun soaked body into the cool water beside the boat and not worrying about how I looked, and anxiously waiting until the day that I would be forced leave my wonderful new friends.

I had learned another lesson.

Boat Lesson # 33: Agree to spend a week on a boat with strangers and be prepared to make friends for life.

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Posted by vicki_h 11:47 Archived in US Virgin Islands Comments (1)

St. John, USVI - Part I

Another stop in paradise.

For those of you looking for instant gratification, here is the Reader's Digest Condensed Version of my trip report:

Eat, drink, swim, sun. Rinse. Repeat.

The photos are here:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/42427255@N00/sets/72157619602287524/

For those of you who are looking for a little bit more, read on.

Saturday: Rum Come, Come Fast.

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“OMG…there’s a RUM BAR by our gate,” I screamed excitedly as I made my way through the airport.

“Calm down. It’s 7:00 a.m. It’s not open.”

“Damn.”

Really, I didn’t see what the problem with rum at 7:00 a.m. was. I was going to put some juice in it. Maybe an extra orange slice. That’s not a drink. That’s BREAKFAST.

Travel Day was underway.

Short lines, on-time flights, and pain free layovers got us to St. Thomas at 1:00. The thrill never changes, does it? That first step off the plane, when that blast of hot air reeking of jet fuel and salt tinged sea air hits you like a wall, you can’t help but feel exhilarated. As I made my way down the sidewalk, I saw a familiar face on the other side of the glass. Marybeth! A friend of mine was inside waiting for her flight home. We had a virtual hug through the glass and she passed the St. John vacation baton on to me, which I gladly accepted, along with the tiniest glass of rum possible at the rum stand.

Okay, is it just my aging brain, or did we used to get at least a “Dixie cup” sized glass that had some rum and some punch at the airport Rum Stand? I didn’t exactly consider that excessively large, yet someone has felt the need to downsize. What she handed me was about the size of a thimble. And it was just rum.

What the hell. I drank it anyway. Free is free. Right? Although all it did was make me want a REAL drink.

We got in the Budget line and there were about 7 people in line waiting. This couple comes strolling up and just walks to the counter……All the people in line just looked at them, but no one said anything. They were painfully polite and biting their tongues, faces turning purple with anger. That is the beauty of being a redneck from Tennessee. We don’t give a damn. We told her that there was a line and that she was expected to get in the back of it….and she actually tried to argue that there was no line when she got there and she wasn’t moving. That’s when it pays to be a BIG REDNECK FROM RURAL EAST TENNESSEE. By the time we were done with her, she was skulking in the back of the line. Hey, we start off nice, but when you make us mad…somebody is getting an ass whooping.

Oh, and just in case she reads this: Yes, you did so cut line. You did.

We made it through the line at Budget in about 5 minutes and were on our way. Wait…what was that? Our Jeep top was actually removable? Score!

At this point, I had been denied rum once and then had been rum-teased. I was officially on vacation, I needed a drink. We were way early so we decided to stop at Duffy’s Love Shack because it was the closest bar I could think of to the Red Hook Ferry dock on St. Thomas. If you have never been, Duffy’s is hokey. It’s like a really bad (and really expensive) episode of Gilligan’s Island. But I love it. So tacky. So touristy. So yummy. For about $70 we got 2 drinks, but ......we got to keep the glass. I named this one HINA and he became the trip mascot. Why? Because across his green butt it said, “Made in HINA.” Those Hinese can make some cute glasses.

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We pulled off the car ferry onto the island of St. John and all the wonderful and familiar sights and smells of St. John drifted through the open windows. I could smell the barbeque at Candi’s waving in on the breeze. Cruz Bay was alive with ladies in tight jeans and high heels darting across the streets holding Presidentes as the music from Cap’s blasted. Dinghies bobbed on the water as the charter boats started pulling in for the day full of laughing passengers.

We followed our villa agent to Terrahawk. After 6 stays in the same villa, Sunnyledge, we had to rent a different villa because we sort of planned this trip at the 11th hour. It’s my own fault for telling everyone how wonderful Sunnyledge is. As for Terrahawk, I will say this: Catered To were wonderful hosts and the house had an amazing location, walking distance to Gibney Beach and a very short hop back into Cruz Bay; a beautiful view of Caneel’s Hawksnest Beach; was very private; and was clean, comfortable, and well appointed. It was however, fairly basic. It is not a villa you want to stay in if luxury and décor are your priorities. For the money, you can get a much nicer villa. It is a great choice, however, if location is your priority. Did I enjoy staying there this time? Yes. Would I stay there again? No.

After we got settled in, it was time to go find some dinner. My favorite thing after a long day of travel is to go have a nice dinner and a few drinks to finally just let vacation brain sink in. I had a surprise planned for Matt this evening, though. His sheer predictability made the plan go off without a hitch.

Background: He has been drooling over the same watch for years. We go look at it on every trip to St. John. His birthday was on this trip, so I had pre-purchased the watch (major kudos to Drew at Jewels for helping me make the surprise happen) and had worked up a plan with Drew to surprise Matt with the watch the night we arrived. Matt always wants to eat at Morgan’s Mango the day we arrive and Jewels is almost next door, so I knew Matt would want to walk in there first and visit his watch.

“Where do you want to eat?” Matt asked me. “I don’t know. You?” “How about Morgan’s Mango?” he said. Ding, ding, we have a winner. “How about we stop at Mongoose first and see if they have that watch?” Score two for Vicki. “Whatever you want to do sounds fine.”

We stopped in at Jewels and Drew gave a performance worthy of an Oscar. Matt was surprised, shocked, thrilled. It couldn’t have been better.

Thank you Drew!

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After dinner, Matt was too psyched to go home and go to sleep, and I needed St. John Spice coffee, so we headed over to Wharfside Village. There was some sort of festival going on and the park and taxi area were filled with steel drum bands, food and drink vendors, and arts and crafts. Music was playing. Girls were dancing. The smells of island delicacies filled the night air.

I might have gotten a little too “into” the island spirit because I decided to buy a drink from the little Rasta man with a crazy card table littered with homemade pots and a cardboard sign. Yes I did. My drink choices were: “Chlorophyll (WTF? Really?), Sorrel, Beet, or Ginger Lime. Um. There was one obvious winner here. Ginger lime sounded do-able. I went with it. I gave him $3 and he pulled out an unmarked plastic jug of green stuff and poured me a glassful.

It tasted like ground up lawn.

And I’m pretty sure it was not FDA approved.

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Sunday: A Jost Kind of Birthday.

We popped awake freakishly early. It was Matt’s birthday and he wanted to go to the island of Jost Van Dyke. Besides, I think he was still all cranked up because of the watch.

With just the two of us, we opted for the ferry. $60 each and a 30-minute ride later we pulled into Great Harbor on Jost. A customs agent was standing outside the small blue building with a clipboard and checked us all through in about 5 minutes. The immigration agent wasn’t there, so she told us we had to leave her our passports and that we could pick them up at 3:00 before we left.

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I know….I know….never give someone your passport in a foreign country…right? But this is JOST, people. It’s all good.

We left the passports without even hesitating.

I had called a few weeks earlier to ask Paradise Car Rental on Jost about renting a car for the day, since Matt wanted to go all the way to Sidney’s Peace & Love for lunch. My conversation that day went something like this:

“I’d like to reserve a car please.”
“What day you comin'?"
"Sunday."
"Ooooohhhhhh......mmmmmm.....we don' open on Sunday."
"Oh, okay, well, thanks."
"Weeeelllllll......mmmmmm.....maybe somebody come in on Sunday."
"Uh..."
"Na, we not open on Sunday."
"Okay."
"But somebody might wan' come in for you on Sunday."
"Uh...?"
"What time you comin'?"
"In the morning. About 9:00?"
"When you leavin'?"
"That afternoon."
"Okay. Ya name?"
"Vicki H."
"Ya. Okay."
"Okay?"
"Okay."
"Um....okay....thank you.....Good-bye."
"Good bye."

No credit card. No confirmation. No email. I had no freakin’ idea if I had actually rented a car or not….for all I knew a 3-legged donkey with a cart was going to show up. But that’s just part of the beauty of Jost. It’s all good.

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Well, Paradise was sitting there with a Jeep at the ferry dock waiting for us when we arrived. Someone came in on Sunday just to give us the car. I highly recommend Paradise, but I don’t recommend renting a car on Jost if you are uncomfortable with ambiguity. You gotta’ be willing to go with the flow. Trying to discuss how we’d get the car back to them was a lot like the reservation conversation. It went like this:

“Should we bring the car back to the office at 2:30?”
“Nah. No one be here. Jes leave it.”
“Leave it at the ferry dock.”
“Yeh.”
“What about the keys? Do you have another set? Should we lock them in the car?”
“Yeh, we have another set.”
“So, lock the car?”
“Nah.”
“No?”
“Nah. Leave them under the mat. Someone get it later.”

If you think about it, it would be pretty pointless to steal a car on Jost since it's only a few miles long with a couple of roads.

We spent a glorious, sun-soaked morning at White Bay. Matt had the ladies at Gertrude’s giggling like school girls and it scored us free chairs and when it came time for drinks, they just handed him the bottle, “Pour your own rum, Sweetie.” I have no problem pimping him out for free chairs and rum.

9:30 a.m. too early for a drink? Nah. We’re on Jost. It’s all good.

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I am always mesmerized by White Bay, and no, it’s not just the rum. The water is nearly electric, the color impossible. The lazy palms trees rise tall and lanky and seem to sway with the rhythm of the ocean. Brilliant white boats rock lightly with the breeze. The sand is deliciously soft, unnaturally white. Colorful tables litter the beach and laughter carries from one end of the bay to another. It’s simply perfection.

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After Gertrude liquored us up for breakfast, we headed to the Soggy Dollar. Mic, the man with the most beautiful smile in the Caribbean, was mixing up painkillers. Matt had a second birthday surprise, free birthday drinks from some friends had been left for him on the message board. Thanks, guys!

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I planted my slightly...okay moderately...okay whatever... very intoxicated butt on a stool and we enjoyed some painkillers and left a few to pay it forward.

Do you know what happens when a 102 lb. person consumes multiple alcoholic beverages between 9:30 a.m. and noon? She starts getting stupid. To avoid excessive silliness on Vicki’s part, or some embarrassing incident involving me face down in the sand, we headed off in search of food. It was Matt’s birthday after all, and he had his heart set on lobster at Sidney’s Peace and Love in Little Harbor on Jost.

We drove over to Little Harbor and found Sidney’s....beautiful and deserted. The water in Little Harbor is a soft blue-green and paint peeled boats in sunbaked colors are scattered in the dry dusty grass beside the water. Sidney’s sits perched at the water’s edge, a happy yellow open air structure with t-shirts hanging from the ceiling and the scribblings of 1,000 visitors covering every available surface.

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We were greeted warmly and asked the only question there is to ask at Sidney’s, “Lobster?” A question that only needs to be answered with a huge grin and a nod of the head. While our lunch was prepared, I was guided behind the bar and shown how to make a Rum Punch.

“Ya got to grate the nutmeg good. Rum punch no good without nutmeg,” she said just before she called me “Sweetie,” patted my back and wandered back toward the kitchen.

We wandered around, bought some t-shirts, and took the beautiful view when I heard a voice calling me, “Come, Sweetie, come come.” She waved us into a dining area where a table was set with two giant steamed lobsters, corn on the cob, and bowls of cole slaw, potato salad, and peas and rice.

Heaven on earth, I tell you.

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With some food to soak up all the alcohol, we reluctantly left the peace and quiet of Sidney’s and headed over to Great Harbor to stroll along the sandy “main street” before having to catch the ferry. Main Street, Great Harbor was ALIVE. Boats loaded with smiling tanned faces lined the shore and children played in the water’s edge.

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The only bad thing about spending a day on Jost? You eventually have to leave. We headed back to the ferry. When we arrived at the little blue customs building, a worried and anxious little group stood on the porch. I could hear them nervously, “Do they have our passports?” “No one is here?” “What do we do?” You can tell the difference between people who have been there before vs. those that haven’t.

Was I worried? Nah. It’s Jost. It’s all good.

Someone showed up with the passports. We went up to collect ours and, I kid you not, he looked at me and said, “Do you have a photo ID you can show me to confirm this is your passport?”

Okay. Pause.

You can read my mind here, can’t you?

I have difficulty responding appropriately to rampant stupidity and it only intensifies when I am under the influence of alcohol. I could see Matt starting to sweat, picturing me being hauled off in handcuffs in about 2 minutes by an insulted customs agent. However, I did a pretty good job of stuffing smart-a$$ Vicki way down in my pocket, putting some duct tape over her mouth, and cramming a bag on her head.

“Isn’t my picture in the passport?” was all I said. “Oh, ya, here you go.” It was time to head back to STJ.

It was all good.

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After some down time at the villa we were hungry for a little something so we headed down to the Beach Bar for some snacks. The jazz was still playing when we got there and we had some drinks and a light dinner while the sun set over Cruz Bay.

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Monday: Drinking Right, Keeping Left.

Because of our location, we decided to spend the day at Hawksnest, since it was so close to the villa. It was a beautiful morning and we had the beach entirely to ourselves for about an hour. It was a perfect morning, bold blue sky dotted with white clouds gracefully drifting above calm turquoise waters.

It was a quiet day. Even when the beach got “crowded” there weren’t more than 15 people on it. My toes were in the sand, I had a good book to read, and the island breathed a calm into my soul.

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The snorkeling was pretty good that day. Shortly after I got in the water, I happened upon a baby turtle. He was very curious and just kept swimming along with me. That was sort of cool. To me, there is nothing more calming than a long snorkel, with nothing but the sound of my own breathing in my ears and the underwater world swaying gently below me.

After about 5 hours of beach time, we opted to head back and have lunch at the villa. Ham and gouda on ciabatta bread with chips and salsa and ice cold pineapple and watermelon with a million dollar view can’t be beat.

It was a gorgeous afternoon, so we yanked off the top and cruised on over to Coral Bay. Let me clarify, we yanked off the JEEP top.

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We decided to drive out to the East End and it must have been buy-one-donkey-get-one-free day. They were everywhere. My favorite was this guy. He stood in the middle of the road and wouldn’t move. No matter how close we got, he didn’t budge. Not even when we drove past him. He made it clear that it was his damn road and that we would like it. What a stubborn ass.

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After donkeys of all shapes and sizes, immovable donkeys, and donkey trios, we headed back toward Aqua Bistro for a drink. I love Aqua Bistro in the afternoon. There is always a colorful collection of locals drinking the afternoon away. I could sit and listen to their conversation for hours. The last time I sat and listened I got a story about a guy making everyone mad at the St. John Hobo Camp because he just stuck his hand in the spaghetti pot. You never know what you’re going to hear there.

With a Drink Right, Keep Left to cool me off, I just sat and soaked the calm and ease of Coral Bay in.

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We spent the afternoon at the villa and a heavy rain blew through, providing a soothing soundtrack to read by and filling the cistern. After the rain, the world was a magical place of sparkling water droplets strung like jewels across the palm leaves as a delicate rainbow arched across the sea.

Matt decided to play bartender at this point and concocted what I call the “Watermelon Vomit Drink.” You have to understand, Matt gets creative in a very bad way. The last time we were on St. John he mixed up something that had a whole banana in it and at least a teaspoon of cinnamon. All I know is that it was thick and brown and required chewing. I forbade him to use the blender after that. Well, while I was distracted by a great book, he whipped out the blender and made something “special.”

“Here. I made a drink. Try it,” he said.

“It looks like someone ate watermelon and threw it up in a glass.”

“No really, it’s good, try it,” he said.

I tried it.

“It tastes like someone ate a watermelon and threw it up in glass.”

Matt was once again fired as villa bartender.

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It was Monday night on St. John and in Vicki World and that can only mean one thing: the Caneel Buffet. In case you haven’t picked up on a trend here, I am all about food. My idea of vacation is: Eat, swim, do some stuff, Eat, read, Eat, take a drive, Eat. The Caneel Buffet never disappoints. The setting is beautiful, with tables right at the edge of the sand facing the sunset over Caneel Bay to the soft sounds of a steel drum musician playing rhythmically in the background. The food is fantastic. They had cracked crab claws with drawn butter, cold shrimp, oysters, salmon, and tuna. Salads in every flavor, fruit and cheese, made to order lobster ravioli, grilled fish, vegetables, bisque, prime rib, and my favorite: grilled lobster. After 3 plates full (Yes, I eat like a truck driver) I hit the dessert bar. Four desserts later, I walked out doubled over ….but I didn’t care.

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We walked it off along Caneel’s many winding paths, the little mushroom shaped lights glowing softly, the night sounds a lullaby in the dark.

Posted by vicki_h 13:10 Archived in US Virgin Islands Comments (5)

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