Archive for August, 2008
It’s Labor Day weekend, an official holiday celebrated throughout the United States, its commonwealth’s and its territories. In actual practice, the holiday, which purports to commemorate the struggles and achievements of American workers, is celebrated as an end of summer ritual, characterized more by backyard barbecues than by marches with banners and bands.
On St. John and in the Virgin Islands, Labor Day is celebrated in much the same way. As native Virgin Islanders and long-time residents already know, the Virgin Islands seemingly enjoys more holidays than anywhere else in the world.
We have all the US holidays like Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving and Presidents Day and Virgin Island Holidays like Three King’s Day, Transfer Day, Hurricane Supplication Day, Bull and Bread Day and Boxing Day.
As most official USVI holidays are celebrated on Mondays, it appears as if every Monday is a holiday.
Follow this link for a list of all US Virgin Islands holidays and their explanations.
by Gerald Singer www.SeeStJohn.com
Arriving from St. John at the Charlotte Amalie waterfront on the downtown ferry yesterday, I had an attack of nostalgia, remembering the town as it was when I first arrived.
Charlotte Amalie had real soul back then. Trader Dan’s, billed as the only saloon in the Caribbean, was the focal point and meeting place for American expats, local hustlers, pirates and serious drinkers. The New York Times had referred to St. Thomas “a sunny place for shady people,” and nowhere was that more obvious than in Trader Dans.
Around the corner was Up Chucks, guest house, frequented by artists and hippies and dropouts and rock stars like Janice Joplin and the Mommas and the Poppas. Up Chucks’ owner, Chuck, was one of a group of Miami boys who made St. Thomas their home away from home and rumored to have connections with the infamous “Murph the Surf.”
The Crazy Cow served food all day and all night and you could dance until dawn at Le Club down the strand.
Along the waterfront, colorful native sloops lay tied to the town bulkhead, bringing and sending cargo to the Leeward Islands to the east and Puerto Rico and Santo Domingo to the west. Other boats brought fish and fruit and ground provisions.
Kiosks were set up all along the sidewalk, selling coconuts, fresh fruits and vegetables and locally caught seafood. Domino games and West Indian Checkers were played in the shade of the kiosks. People bargained and talked and argued in a polyglot of languages, different varieties of West Indian English, Creole, Patois, Spanish and Popumento and the fragrances of perfumes, oils, fruits, fish changed constantly with the breeze coming in from the sea.
Back Street and Main Street were rife with local restaurants and popular night clubs with live music ranging from jazz to calypso, to rock and roll.
The town beach was Morningstar Beach, which had a gay area, a hippie area and a tourist area. On Sundays skydivers with brilliantly-colored parachutes decorated the skies and drifted down to land on the beach (sometimes).
Outside of town was “country.” That was it, “country.” No K Mart, no Cost’s U Less, no Pricemart or Tutu or Four Winds, just country. St. Thomas Dairy had real cows back, which you could see wandering through the grassy valleys.
The East End was dedicated to fishing centered around the Johnny Harms Marina,a sport fisherman’s Mecca.
In short, St. Thomas was a very cool place to be. Don’t get me wrong. It still has charm, but I preferred the island in “the good ol’ days.”
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- Ron and I in Virgin Gorda
by Gerald Singer www.seeStJohn.com
Last year Habiba and I met the Van Cliefs at Sapphire Bay on St. Thomas. We became close friends with a lot in common, not the least of which is the friendship between their son, Kai and our son, Jacob. They seem more like brothers than friends, which is how I feel about Ron and I.
- Simina and Habiba at Virgin Gorda
Taking it one step further, I’d say the same about Habiba and Simina, being like sisters.
We’ve been talking about taking a trip together for some time and we finally settled on traveling locally.
We opted for a nice quiet getaway at a resort called Mango Bay on Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands.
- Kai and Jacob Virgin Gorda BVI
Ron Van Clief appeared in numerous Hong Kong Kung Fu movies in the 1970s. His character’s name, the Black Dragon, was given to him by Bruce Lee and Ron became the first African American martial arts superstar.
Among his many achievements, the one that impresses me the most, was his fight in the Ultimate Fighting Championship IV, full contact, no rules, at the age of 51.
Simina was a professional basketball player in her native Romania. She was a personal trainer when she came to America and now teaches physical education at Antilles school on St. Thomas
Habiba, Jacob and I made the journey from St. John in the US Virgin Islands all the way to Virgin Gorda in the BVI in our 15-foot Carib hard-bottom inflatable.
It was a beautiful ride!
We checked in with BVI customs and immigration at Sopers Hole (West End) on Tortola.
From West End, we continued around the north side of Tortola, past Apple, Carrot and Cane Garden Bays. After Cane Garden Bay, there is noticeably less development and the scenery is more natural.
We then past Brewers Bay and Shark Bay, now a BVI National Park preserve.
After Shark Bay we rounded the dramatic sheer cliffs of Rough Point, so named, I’m sure, for the unstable sea conditions produced by confused winds, currents and tides that cause steep tricky waves that seem to come from every which way.
The cliff walls are pockmarked by numerous small holes with openings about one square foot, which are populated by boobies and other seabirds who perch inside and use this inaccessible location to lay and hatch their eggs.
From Rough Point we continue down the channel between Guana Island and Tortola, passing by two of the most magnificent beaches in all the Virgin Islands, Trunk Bay and Rogue Bay, better known as Lava Flows for the sharp black lava-like rock field on the southern end of the beach.Past Josiah Bay, famous for its winter surf and then through the narrow passage at Monkey Point after which you can see the airport on Beef Island. On past Marina Cay, made famous in the book and the movie starring Sidney Pottier called My Virgin Island and past Great Camino Island where they are making a development that makes Sirenusa look like a low impact eco-resort in comparison.
Finally across the channel to Virgin Gorda, leaving the Baths and Spanish Town on the starboard and on to our destination the resort at Mango Bay.
The Van Cliefs arrived by ferry. We all reached Mango Bay within ten minutes of each other.
Our two-bedroom cottage was fully equipped, two bathrooms, full kitchen, air conditioning, satellite TV, beach chairs, floats and kayaks. The manager, Gino was friendly and helpful.
- Ron, Simina and Kai
The white coral sand of the beach extended into the water for about 10 yards until the beginning of an extensive reef that stretched the whole length of the beach. Unfortunately, almost all the coral, mostly elkhorns and brain coral, had died and all that was left was their calcified skeletons colonized in parts with fire coral and algae. This must have been a coral wonderland when the reef was alive. Nonetheless, this is the state of affairs throughout the Caribbean with some reefs better off than others.
Well, we kayaked and swam and snorkeled and just laid around relaxing. We visited the Baths and had lunch at the Fat Virgin, our favorite restaurant on the island.
- Jacob and Gerald Kayaking at Mango Bay
The highlight of the trip for me was when our three-year old son, Jacob, kayaked for the first time. He actually handled the paddles.
The downwind trip home was easy and comfortable.
It was a nice, easy getaway – and we plan to do it again sometime soon.
See a slide show of our Virgin Gorda trip photos
- The Baths
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by Gerald Singer www.SeeStJohn.com
Many tourists take advantage of the significant savings on alcoholic beverages purchased in the Virgin Islands. But now this perk to St. Thomas travel is being undermined by the airlines and here’s how:
If you are flying back to the United States from the US Virgin Islands, you are allowed to bring 5 bottles (one liter) of liquor duty free or six bottles, if one of them is produced locally in The Virgin islands. It’s quite a saving as tax amounts for a great portion of the price of liquor bought in the United States.
But, consider this: Wines and liquors are liquids and, under new homeland security guidelines, cannot by carried onboard – they must be checked in.
Checked in items, however, now incur a fee, which means that if you had no checked in luggage at all, your package of liquor would be charged $15.
If you do have a bag already checked in, that box of duty free beverages will be charged $25 as your second bag.
If you already have two bags to be checked in, you might want to consider flushing the booze down the toilet or passing it out free to whoever wants it, because as your third bag, it will be charged $100.
And if by some chance you already have five bags checked, there will be $200 charge for you reduced-priced liquor.
High Prices and Cut Backs
In case you haven’t noticed, the price of airline tickets is on the rise. Cheap tickets and special deals are almost a thing of the past. And travel isn’t as much fun as it used to be, to say the least. You need to get to the airport two hours before the flight, be humiliated at security checkpoints, squeeze into smaller seats and pay extra for everything from sandwiches to water.
The high-priced airline seats will also be getting harder to find at all. For example, American Airlines is cutting back Virgin Islands flights.
The twice daily direct flights between Miami and St. Thomas has been cutback to once a day.
The daily direct flight between St. Thomas and JFK in New York is now once a week
American Eagle flights between St. Thomas and San Juan have been cut back from eight a day to three a day and between St. Croix and San Juan the 576 available seats will decrease to only 216.
by Gerald Singer www.SeeStJohn.com
The year was 1967, I had just graduated from the State University of New York at Buffalo. Four great years of a fine liberal arts education including exposure to student activism and the hippie lifestyle had earned me a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology.
Why psychology? Well I really didn’t yet know the answer to a commonly asked question first asked during my early childhood, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” So when it came to choosing a major, I was lost. I didn’t have to commit for the first two years , but when I finally did, I chose psychology because I was interested in the subject, which had an almost cult-like following in those days, but mainly because it was the subject that required the least credit hours for a major, thereby freeing one up to take whatever other courses that struck one’s fancy.
The downside came after I graduated. What was I going to do then? Go on to graduate school and become a “psychologist?” That ugly question reared up its head once again – what do want to be when you grow up? a psychologist, an engineer, a doctor, a lawyer (Indian chief was out because I lacked certain credentials for the position)
Actually it was stressing me out. My dad, apprehensive about my state of mind, had, what seemed to be, a reasonable temporary solution, which was,forget about it for a while and go to the Virgin Islands.
My dad was a dentist in the Bronx and he had a patient, Estelle, who was then living in a place called St. Thomas with her boyfriend who was from St. Vincent. He had already spoken with Estelle and she had agreed to show me around the island.
“Good idea,” I thought, and I was St. Thomas, Virgin Islands bound. By the way, I didn’t know anything about the island, not where it was or what it would be like. It might as well as been Mars, but I was happy for the distraction.
The first flight took me to San Juan Puerto Rico where I changed to a small Prinair flight to St. Thomas. The old airport was a converted Navy aircraft hanger built during World War II. I stepped off the plane and took my first breath of the sweet, warm, fragrant Caribbean air. It was intoxicating! Love at first breath.
Estelle and her boyfriend met me at the airport and installed me in a small guest house in the Contant area and for the next two weeks I wandered about the island in a kind of euphoric daze. I spent the day at Coki Beach and snorkeled for the first time. Talk about another world, that was another world especially in those days when the reef was vibrant and alive.
I got a ride back to the guest house with Judy, an absolutely beautiful young lady, who I met at the beach. We sped along the curving mountain roads in Judy’s Mini Moke, an open little jeep-like Australian car popular in St. Thomas in those days. Exotic tropical landscape whizzed. Judy’s long red hair flew in the wind.
Well that was that. I knew what I wanted do do. I was coming back to live in the Virgin Islands, which I did.
by Gerald Singer www.SeeStJohn.com
Habiba and I were at Hawksnest Beach when we noticed the St. John Surfing Iguana. He surfed to the beach and swam back out – back and forth – delighting the crowd.
Learn more about St. John Iguana with more photos and see our Iguana Video shot at the Westin Resort on Great Cruz Bay, St. John Virgin Islands (USVI).
St. John Surfin' Iguana Paddles out to the lineup
Surf's Up! Iguana Style
St. John Surfin' Iguana Checks Out the Scene
St. John Surfin' Iguana Riding the Wave
St. John Surfin' Iguana makes it back to the beach
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my boat tied up alongside the Cruz Bay dock behind the St. John Ferry
by Gerald Singer seestjohn.com
When I first came to St. John in the early 1970s, crime was almost non-existent. People were honest, accepting and helpful and children were respectful. The following anecdote may serve to illustrate this aspect of St. John in those days.
During the 1970s, I worked as a commercial fisherman on St. John along with John Gibney. We set fish traps off the coast of St. John, hauled them in the early morning and sold most of the fish at the dock when we returned to Cruz Bay around noontime. Certain fish were reserved for special people. Eric Christian, for example, would buy all the Ole Wife we had for his restaurant. Other species of fish were reserved for Power Boyd and the residents of Power Boyd Plantation, many of whom were from Dominica and St. Lucia.
As much as possible, we outfitted ourselves with whatever we could get on St. John, which mostly came from the land. We cut West Indian birch sticks for fish pot braces, tyre palm for strapping fish and used old Clorox bottles for floats.
Chicken wire for the traps, line to haul them and other basic fishing necessities we bought on St. Thomas. Some items, however, were sent to us by my parents who lived on the mainland.
One of these items was a state-of-the-art fishing knife, which my mother had purchased for me as a present. It had a stainless steel blade, with a fish scaler on one side of the blade. On the scaler side, near the point was a blunt flattened area used for stunning fish by giving them a blow to the head.
I used the knife the day after it arrived ion St. John. The first time I hit a fish with it, the knife broke – that beautiful, shiny, stainless steel blade that my mom had sent all the way from New York City just broke into two pieces.
That night I called home to let my parents knew that I had received the present and even though I promised myself that I wouldn’t let on that the knife had broken, it seem that moms know their kids and right away she sensed that something was wrong. After that it didn’t take much to squeeze the information out of me.
No problem, son. The knife came with a 100% no questions asked lifetime guarantee. So I sent the knife back and about a month later a brand new knife arrived in the mail.
The next morning we went fishing, but the knife remained unused.
The Dockmaster on St. John was Mr. Titley
In those days, I often would leave the boat tied up at the end of the Cruz Bay dock. If it was in the way, Mr. Titley, the dockmaster would let me know so I could move it.
It was a great fun, but hard work and after a day of pulling traps and selling fish, we were tired and didn’t always leave the boat in total “shipshape.”
This was one of those afternoons. We left the boat tied up to the dock and I left my new knife lying on the deck in plain view.
The next morning John and I arrived at the dock – we hitched a ride from Hawksnest as usual and the same National Park Ranger on his way to work gave us a ride into town – and there lying on the deck, in plain view, was a fishing knife – but not my stainless steel one, an ordinary, but perfectly functional fishing knife.
A week later we were approached by a young man with an interesting story to tell. He confessed that he had taken the knife off the deck of the boat and used it to clean some fish. The stainless steel blade had broken with the first cut. He swore he didn’t do anything unusual, the knife just broke. Then he didn’t know what to do. He felt badly about having broken the knife so he reached into his savings and purchased a new knife and placed it into the boat so that we would have a knife to use when we went out fishing. He offered to buy a new one for us as soon as he had the money.
I explained that it wasn’t his fault at all, that the knife was obviously defective having broken in the same way before, and that it was under a 100% lifetime, no questions asked guarantee, but that I no longer had confidence in it and would prefer the one he had bought. I insisted on paying the replacement knife, one that never broke, was easy to sharpen and lasted me for years to come.
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Waterfront Bistro Wharfside Village, St. John USVI
by Gerald Singer seestjohn.com
Habiba and I have a three-year-old boy so we don’t go out to eat that often.
From time to time, however, we do appreciate a nice lunch in a St. John restaurant.
A friend recommended the Waterfront Bistro, located at Wharfside Village where the Panini Beach restaurant used to be and we decided to give it a try.
The restaurant is right on Cruz Bay Beach a picture-perfect view of the St. John waterfront.
A light breeze of the bay and an overhead fan gave us some respite from the rather warm Virgin Islands noonday summer sun.
Chef Craig Sullivan at the Waterfront Bistro Cruz Bay St. John
We enjoyed an excellent meal prepared by the experienced and talented chef, Craig Sullivan.
Habiba had already tried a white gazpacho made with melon and crab meat on a previous visit. She wanted to have it again, but it wasn’t available that day – no melons – ah, life on St. John. So we had fish tacos – excellent – mahi mahi in steamed corn tacos with shredded cabbage and a mango fruit salsa.
Our son, Jacob had chicken fingers like always and he liked them – finished the plate – a good sign
The important thing is: We’ll be back!
View of Cruz Bay Beach from restaurant
If anyone has their own restaurant reviews, we’d all love to hear from you – post a comment…
by Gerald Singer seestjohn.com
Stories from St. John Virgin Islands in the 1970s
I present here some short anecdotes. Little stories of my life on St. John, which I hope will serve to capture something of the feel for the island life on St. John during the 1970s, at least my take on it.
Mom’s phone call:
I was living at the top of the hill on Centerline Road just outside of Cruz Bay in a small apartment I rented from Captain Jurgins, a colorful St. John old-timer with a heart of gold.
It was late afternoon, we had finished pulling the fish pots,selling the fish and putting the boat away, when I heard, “Inside.” Then a knock on the door. Not the normal, is anyone home knock, but a authoritative knock … bap, bap, bap! kind of loud and insistent.
“Who is it?” I asked
” ‘afternoon, open up, I want to talk to you.”
It was a policeman.
My pulse quickened, “What did I do?” I thought to myself. I couldn’t think of anything, but I was nervous anyway.
I opened the door.
“Look here,” said the officer. “We just got a call down at the station and it was your momma. She’s worried about you. She wants you to call. What’s the matter with you boy? You need to respect you mother. You need to call.”
In fact, I hadn’t called in about a week. But, in my defense, I didn’t have a phone, the pay phones worked sometimes, but often were out of order. My mom had no way of getting in touch with me outside of writing me a letter, so she came up with the idea of calling the Police Station
OK officer, I’ll call today. Thanks for stopping by.
“Don’t make me come up here again,” he said and he flashed a short, friendly smile as he turned to walk up the driveway.
Mario Jr., Mario, Marissa and Tyron
by Gerald Singer www.SeeStJohn.com
Yesterday Habiba, Jacob, my friend, Mario and his family left St. John in the US Virgin Islands and motored over to Jost Van Dyke one of the British Virgin Islands.
Arriving in Great Harbor, We checked into BVI Customs and then walked down the beach to Foxy’s.
I immediately saw my good friend, Foxy Callwood, lying in a hammock under the palm trees.
First thing, Foxy took me to see the Jost Van Dyke Preservation Society’s project, the building of a traditional island sloop. This educational and cultural project has been funded by private interests, including a $50,000 donation from country singer, Kenny Chesney.
Here are some links and photos of the partially completed sloop as well as some photos of the different woods used.
Traditional Tortola Island Sloop: Hull View
Traditional Tortola Island Sloop: Bow View
Traditional Tortola Island Sloop: Sheerclamps
Traditional Tortola Island Sloop: Rudder
Traditional Tortola Island Sloop: Mast
Traditional Tortola Island Sloop
wood used for building
silverbali planking, sheerclamp
mahogany for the transom, keelson stem
douglas fir for the spars
cupiano for the sheerclamps
cedar for the frames
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