The Virgin Islands Charteryacht League (VICL) hosts its semi-annual charter yacht show in early May at the Crown Bay Marina in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, USVI.
We motor sailed into the gale force winds driving the Dreamwalker out of Charlotte Amalie and deeper into the open channel, past Water Island, Hassell Island, Morningstar Beach, Bolongo Bay, Stalley Bay, Deck Point, and around the eastern flank of Red Hook where ferries churned between St. Thomas and St. John. After losing sight of The Billie Jean, we were the only visible boat out in the blistering weather, and we loved it.
After Roger shorted the main sail to about a third, and he nipped and tucked it so the wind blew it open like a puffed-up cheek, the Dreamwalker walked across the swells with crashes and salt spray, but with nary a roll. The helm was an ease to use with out bullying the wind or the waves.
A couple of hours of squall sailing found us in the safe St. James Bay Harbor with the green clutches of St. John safely wrapped around us. The wind had limped slack under rolling gray skies. Jack's visible anxiousness was relieved as he lit yet another cigarette and breathed with a nic0tine-stained grin: "We made it!" Then he thought of the Billie Jean far behind in our wake.
"Billy Jean, Billy Jean, come in Billy Jean," radioed Jack, but receiving no short-wave response back from our compadres. A wireless message squawked from the Charteryacht League office stating Billy Jean had blown out a jib and wrapped the dingy rope around the propeller, so they turned back and were drinking beers at The Green House Bar and Grill in St. Thomas.
Ship chef, Rona, a Trinidadian or 'Trini,' prepared bean-soaked (not brewed) coffee, and then Jack ladled out a round or two of drinks in the galley as the night crept over us with gusty clouds of intermittent rain. Rona barbecued her specialty - West Indian Spiced Shrimp that I swear was stolen from a galleon galley recipe book. Jack, a former University of Wisconsin philosophy professor cranked up the Barry Higgins tunes on the CD, and brought the nautical know how between him and Roger to a crescendo of technical jargon. I could not have plopped down in a better Zen sailing atmosphere.
The next day Roger popped back a snapped mainsheet pin he found rattling around the deck, and then we winched him up the mizzenmast in the bosun's chair to replace a lost halyard. (Hoisting the "Jolly Roger" took on a new meaning.) A few more sail and maintenance checks and repairs and then it was a relaxing ocean dip.
The anchor was raised for the circumnavigation of Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands. The sun came out, and more to the delight of all, stayed out, as we beat the Dreamwalker into the wind for hours. After stretching as much canvas as possible, Roger sank back on a seat cushion propped up against the lifeline, leaning over the side as if in an "Around the World" 12-meter racing tournament, steering expertly with one bare foot on the wheel. The Dreamwalker caught plenty of breezes sailing down wind with tightly trimmed sails. Jack's Zen zig-zagging tacking commands were kept to a minimum. Roger was a fount of sailing lore and logic, while Jack interspersed with long forgotten lore and tales of the islands. The Dreamwalker was a sleek, slicing, wind-driven muscle, unleashed like a wild stallion. Real Virgin sailing.
Snacks were served during the low-key drinking and sailing interrogation, continuing into the evening. Once in our bunks the stars peeked in and out from splattering patches of rain lightly drumming on the half open hatches.
"I love your backyard," I replied.
"How would you like to sail down island to Trinidad at the end of the season?" asked Jack.
It was a question that didn't need to be asked, and one that begged for an answer someday soon, even if I have to scrape the barnacles off the Dreamwalker. - By Kriss Hammond, Editor, Jetsetters Magazine.
The First Caribbean Sailors -
The mariner Christopher Columbus put the Virgin Islands on the map in 1493, during his second voyage to the New World, but the archipelago was long discovered by Ciboney Indians around 300 to 400 B.C. Waves of Indians followed with the Arawaks, 500 years later, and then the formidable Caribs (found now only on Dominica) in the mid-14th century. Columbus' only known landfall was on Salt River Bay on St. Croix's northern shore.
The Virgin archipelago is made up of a number of smaller islands and lesser cays - 68 cays in all. They were first named after Mil Virgenes, or St. Ursula and her army of 11,000 virgins. The black Conquistador, Juan Garrido, was dispatched to Santa Cruz in 1515 by Spain to suppress the Indians
In 1625 the Dutch and English settlers formally occupied Santa Cruz and then the French gave the island the Gallic name, St. Croix. St Thomas remained with Spain until 1666, when Dutch traders took over, failed, and then were driven out by pirates. The West Indies Company setup shop in 1671. Christian V, the Danish king, then had a naval squadron protect the new colony. Fort Christian in St. Thomas was built and Charlotte Amalie, named after the Queen of Denmark, was settled.
The Danes claimed St. John in 1717 and then there was a conflict with the English who owned nearby Tortola. The Danes then purchased St. Croix from the French in 1733, which was twice as large as the rest of the islands, and with more arable land.
The independent minded merchants and plantation owners petitioned the King to take over the administration of the Danish islands. In 1754 all the shares of the West India Company were purchased. Prosperity followed as both a free trade port and notorious slave market. Britain occupied the islands briefly from 1805 to 1815 during the Napoleonic Wars. By the late 19th century the islands were a drain on the Danish economy. They wanted to sell out, but a couple of hurricanes, earthquakes and a 27-foot tidal wave, all within a 120 day period, convinced the U.S. Senate during the American Civil War, not to ratify the sale.
After the Panama Canal opened and the start of World War I, the U.S. saw the importance of the islands and in 1917 purchased them for US$23 million from Denmark, one week before America entered the war. The Navy administered the islands until 1931. Today the standard of living is high in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the islands are a protectorate with the right to vote in local, but not national U.S. elections. But the British influence survives, with driving on the left. The French influence gave the islands parishes, not counties. The Virgins have been ruled by England, France, Spain, Holland, Denmark, the Knights of Malta, renegade pirates, and now the British and United States.
All beaches in the U.S. Virgin Islands are open to the public. When diving do not remove sea fans and living coral or touch living organisms - it is against the law. Some of the best snorkeling is on Buck Island Reef in the British Virgin Islands. A national underwater preserve is located off the shores of St. Croix. The 700-acre monument is the home for tropical fish, coral reefs, underwater flora and fauna.
St. John's Trunk Bay is protect by The Virgin Islands National Park, where you snorkeling along an underwater self-guided trail, with identifying life form plaques. Go to the park's website:
The heart shaped Magens Bay on St. Thomas is a favorite for snorkelers, rated one of the most beautiful beaches in the world by National Geographic Magazine. Or just jump off the Dreamwalker and discover what is down there.
Scuba hot spots on St. Croix are located at Cane Bay Reef, Davis Bay and Salt River Bay, and all are known for the 13,000-foot deep sub sea canyon and steep diving walls. Divers off the coasts of St. Croix may also experience close encounters with rare species of sea turtles that nest seasonally on island beaches. The waters of Pillsbury Sound off the northwest point of St. John, offers diving at various depths amongst large boulder formations such as Carvel Rock and Congo Cay.
Marine Parks -
Coral World Marine Park Observatory is located on St. Thomas' northeast shore at Coki Point. The popular 4.5-acre park consists of an underwater observatory tower, a tropical nature trail a marine garden aquarium, and an 80,000-gallon coral reef tank. The circular, glass enclosed tank offers glimpses of the Caribbean's underwater inhabitants. The aquatic panoramic view provides up-close looks at coral, tropical fish, stingrays, barracudas, tarpon, moray eels, sea horses, crabs, nurse sharks, sea anemones and more. The open-air shark pool features daily feedings.
The coolest feature at Coral World is the seven person Snuba, with a helmet fitted over your shoulders, a la Jules Verne. The long, snaking oxygen lines feed you air while walking a couple of hours along an underwater marine trail, followed by a Coral World employee using scuba tanks.
Coral World Marine Park
and Underwater Observatory
St. Croix Aquarium-
The St. Croix Aquarium is located in the Caravelle Arcade in Christiansted, consisting of a series of small aquariums showcasing local marine life in the region. Guided tours are Tuesday through Sunday
By Kriss Hammond, Editor, Jetsetters Magazine.