Today was our big off-island day for the week. On the heels of the 2004 trip to Tortola (my birthday which had gone well, but expensively), and the 2006 Limnos trip (Fun but too structured), we wanted to do something a little more laid back and fun.
So, I went to work researching small boats and sailing charters. Shit…there are a lot of them out there. It all comes back to price. Because were it not an issue, we could have rented a cruise ship for the day and had Dobermans dressed as water polo players serve us ice cream if we wanted (Whoa…where the hell did that come from?). The options seem to be the following: charter your own boat or share. Power boat or sail boat.
Power boats looked fun, but lacking in some of the “romance” of the sail. Still, I had leads on several excellent outfits. Then…I noticed the fuel surcharges. Gas prices suck and when I saw that we’d be adding a ton and a half of money to the bill at the end, I started leaning towards wind power.
So, a sailboat it would be. So…do we charter a boat or go with a group? Groups make us nervous (so does Meals on Wheels) so we leaned towards getting our own boat. Whoopsie…that gets really pricey really fast. I think we found the best of both worlds; I found us a boat that only held 6 passengers. So, even if the other 2 people were horrid, there would only be 2 of them. We’d outnumber and out-dick joke them to death. I found the Wayward Sailor.
I did my research and found that I’d chosen wisely. Captain Phil comes very highly recommended from all the USVI geeks out there on the internet.
It was only a matter of location. We could do Jost Van Dyke or sail around the USVI. I wanted to do JVD, but for some reason, we settled on the 2 snorkel stop trip around the USVI. Things looked good.
So, on Wednesday morning, we didn’t have to be in town until almost 10:00. This gave us a good opportunity to ease into the day. We had water and everything was good.
We drove to town and noticed that JJ’s was not quote open. There were signs of life, but it was still closed. Hope sprang eternal in the backseat of the Jeep. I jumped out with the gear and let the other 3 go park the jeep. After longer than I would have expected, they returned. They’d had to pay to park.
Excuse me? WTF?
Part of why we have rented from St John Car Rental is that you’re allowed to park on their property. In 2006, their lot had always been full, so we were directed to park across the street in front of The Fish Trap (a local restaurant). Well, MerlotMan had been told by someone at said restaurant that if he parked there all day, he’d get booted (a $175 fine). St John Car Rental told him he couldn’t park in their lot either. Seriously, WTF? Fortunately, we knew that Slimman had daily parking. It was $15 we didn’t want to spend. This was not the first bit of crap we’d gotten about parking the car. Couple this with the oh-so-pleasant service we got from them and it looks like I may have a new project; find a new car rental place.
The group made it to me and I dashed off to see if there was more gossip or news about JJ’s. (I went to my secret source). She and I saw Capt Phil coming so I went to meet him. He was holding a Styrofoam cup of coffee. Wait? Only one place that close to the dock serves coffee in those cups!
Me: Hi Capt Phil. It’s Nogood. Where’d you get that coffee?
Me: I’ll be right back.
I tore across the street, up the sitars and into St John Spice.
Me: RUTH! JJ’s IS OPEN!
There was much rejoicing. (Yay!)
I made it back down as JewelrySlut was getting the scoop on JJ’s. The bottom line is that it was closed for some very insignificant violations noted by a health inspector who was just out of school. The inspector can’t be blamed for rating JJ’s 110% by the book, but this is a restaurant where chickens wander around your feet while you eat. That the restaurant had stayed closed for nearly a week was just another example of the “soon come” attitude in the islands.
Ok…back to Capt Phil. We met and he explained that 2 more would be joining us. We saw a couple walk up and introduce themselves as our sailing partners for the day. They looked mostly normal. As it turns out, they were on the island for their 10th anniversary and had sailed with Capt Phil on their honeymoon.
We set out for the Wayward Sailor. She was moored out in the harbour. We took the dinghy out and boarded with all the dexterity of a bunch of drunken cats.
On board, we met Tarn, the first mate, and got the safety spiel. That done, we set out.
The boat is small-ish. In the stern, there is seating for only 6 people. You sit 3 to a side and Capt Phil works the rudder and engines right behind you. There’s room for 4 people to sit up in the bow area. To get there, you have to walk/crawl along the length of the boat.
Capt Phil left Michigan over 40 years ago and has been living on islands or boats ever since. He has had the boat for a long time and has sailed it all over the place. Apparently, he and his ex-wife also lived on it for a while. It’s not a huge boat by any means and I can’t imagine taking such a small boat on such long trips. He casually mentioned a few trips he’d taken to Venezuela. Go look at a map. The Wayward Sailor is 30′ long. Go look at that map again.
We motored out of Cruz Bay and raised the sails. The wind was variable so we motored for a little while. Capt Phil started spinning his tales of life on the water and we all settled in. He’s a dedicated naturalist (not a naturist…that could have been awkward) and loves his boat and the islands. I mean…the guy has a glass eye. He’s awesome!
After about an hour of sailing/motoring, we arrived off Great St James Island. I’ll admit that I was immediately feeling a little uneasy. There were a handful of boats anchored in the same bay as us and 2 of them were from St Thomas and had names like “Ocean Ass Kicker” on them. The trip was looking, for the moment, to be a little canned and had lame potential. Fortunately, I turned out to be rather wrong.
I was ushered off the boat first and was told to swim around the stern and wait by the rocks. I hopped in and immediately spotted a sea turtle. I took off around the boat in pursuit of it. That’s always an excellent way to get started on a day underwater. The rest of the group got in and we puttered about for a bit. In a little while, Capt Phil was in the water with us. That was another reason I’d picked his boat. He gets right in with you and shows you the sights. Mustering his group (and cursing the boats from St Thomas), he led us around the rocks.
We were in the middle of a beautiful reef that was positively teeming with fish. We followed Capt Phil around to the different sights. He did his own thing and JewelrySlut and I tried to stay as close as possible. I wanted him to see that we could keep up and that he shouldn’t worry about where we could go. We snorkeled in and out of little cuts in the rocks and saw a brilliant assortment of fish. It was funny being with him. It’s clear he loves to snorkel the reefs of the USVI and is more than happy just to go off and do his own thing. When he spotted something good, he’d surface and gather the group for a look. He’s pull something up from the bottom (something dead obviously) and explain what we were looking at.
After over an hour in the water, we all headed back to the boat for lunch. Sandwiches and drinks were served in the stern. Tarn had whipped up seafood salad and chicken salad for us along with some coleslaw. It was a good lunch. After we ate, Capt Phil took out one of his photo books and told us his octopus tales. He’s somewhat of a “nut” (in a good way) for the Caribbean Reef Octopus. We also learned that certain sea cucumbers, if you tickle their anus juuuust right, will expel their inner organs at you. In case you were wondering, this does not work with wives and donkeys.
We puttered off towards Little St James Island for another stop. Or, as I heard it called “Little St Jeff”. Some rich dude named Jeff Something bought the whole island for some obscene sum of money. He’s now in jail for stat rape. But, when he gets out, he’s got a whole island to play on. The guy must be odd…he’s got plaster cows on the hillside of the island.
On the ride over, I had mentioned how easy it looked for Capt Phil to dive at the first site (he had on a weight belt). He offered weight belts to us. JewelrySlut and I took them as did the other couple.
The 2nd stop had an underwater arch that we could swim through…assuming we could dive down the 10+ feet to get to it. Belts on, we set out. It’s amazing how much easier it was to move in the salt water with the belt on. I could stay underwater for a long time and not have to fight to keep myself from surfacing every 10 seconds. It made for a much more peaceful snorkel trip.
We got to the arch and watched Capt Phil go through it. The other couple went first and managed to mash their way through the reef. They were less than dainty. JewelrySlut went next. She’d almost made it through when she started surfacing…under the arch. I damn near crapped my pants and dove down to help, but she pulled herself through. She reported that she felt she needed more weight on her belt to stay under, because as she got under the arch, she started having to fight not to surface. I went last and dove down towards the bottom. The sea floor was lined with urchins, but fish teemed all around the opening. With a good kick, I shot through and up to the other side.
Of course…I’d done it best. I’m like that.
At one point, Capt Phil called me over to see some particular sight (Squeeeeeeee…he called me over and not the other goons). There was a coral-encrusted giant mussel that had its mouth open. We had to dive to see it and it was worth the ear-popping experience.
After over an hour in the water, we headed back to the boat for brownies and beer. On the ride back, I got Capt Phil to tell his Eric Clapton story. I can’t tell you it here…you have to go ask him yourself!
We got back to the harbour, bought some shirts, and dinghy’d back to the dock. It had been a great day. The weather had been perfect and the group had all gotten along well. We decided on the spot that a day with Capt Phil was now officially a part of our routine when on St John.
On the dock, the other couple had mentioned that they needed to bring gifts home to her parents. Grandma was watching 3 or 4 (can’t remember) kids back in Ohio. I told them to go to the nest store on the whole island; St John Spice! (Hey…if Calvin Trillin gets to declare that Arthur Bryant’s is the best restaurant on Earth, then a dope like me can declare the best store on St John!) We also referred them to a local jewelry store.
MerlotMan and I took the gear to the jeep and let the ladies bee-line to JJ’s. We moved the jeep to “more free” parking and headed back down the road.
Frowns abounded. Not only was “our table” not available, but there were no conch fritters on the menu. They were still in the process of opening I guess and had a limited menu going. And, our waitress from 2 years ago, seemed to be totally spaced out. We didn’t expect her to recognize us, but she didn’t seem herself. It didn’t matter to me. I downed half of my first Carib in none slug and was a happy man. We ate onion rings and all had more beer.
I also picked up a voicemail on my cell. After the 2nd dive, it had been chirping at me. As I listened to the voice on the other end, my face screwed into a concerned frown. JewelrySlut knew who it was on the line and was getting a bad feeling.
Thursday was to be massage day for the ladies. My message was from Cary from Paradise Massage. They’d had a death in the family and had to get to Seattle. The apologized profusely, but said that they would send over some colleagues to the house. It was very kind of them to not just cancel all together. It’s worth a mention how great Cary and Barb are and how sad JewelrySlut and ChurchBomber were not to get to see them. They’d become a part of the vacation routine on the last trip and our thoughts went out to them.
Pleasantly sated, we headed out. The ladies needed a stop at St John Spice to take in the sights and smells. We loaded up on souvenirs and noticed the couple from the boat. I led them through the store and sold them a few of Ruth’s starter items. Coffee and spices in hand, they left happy. The woman behind the register was amused by my salesmanship and offered me a job.
Loaded with yummy stuff, we went back to the house. We all had a quick dip in the pool (and more beer) and then JewelrySlut got to take the first shower. She was so happy.
Dinner was just leftover chicken and steak and assorted cheeses, but we all were happy. MerlotMan and I took up post on the deck and watched the clouds that were forming out to the East. Weather was coming.