1970s Virgin Islands Stories: The Cygnus

by Gerald Singer SeeStJohn.com
As told to me by Tal Carter
The Cygnus was a 50-foot John Alden yawl. She belonged to Steve Boone, who claimed to be descended from Daniel Boone. Steve Boone was born and bred in Boone, North Carolina and is best known for being the bassist for the popular rock and roll group, “Loving Spoonful.”

Boone moved to St. Thomas around 1970 where he continued his musical career performing at a place called the Grass Shack in Charlotte Amalie. He bought the Cygnus shortly after arriving in the islands and docked her at the Yacht Haven Marina in the Charlotte Amalie harbor.

Boone lived aboard the yacht for a while, sailing around the islands, but never going too far from home. After a while, like many boat owners, he began to spend less and less time with his boat, which, like a lot of stuff in the Virgin Islands, gradually (maybe not so gradually) began to fall into a state of disrepair.

Taking advantage of the owner’s many absences and basically good nature, a series of somewhat disreputable hippie friends and hangers-on began to use the boat as a crash pad. As a result, the Cygnus got a bad reputation, which, in fact, was actually quite an accomplishment at the Yacht Haven Marina in 1971, a venue for a sizable compliment of questionable characters.

But the truth was that life aboard the Cygnus was getting pretty sleazy. One night, a young drifter was found dead in his cabin succumbing to an overdose of heroin. This was when the denizens of Yacht Haven’s, Fearless Freddie’s Bar gave the Cygnus a new name, the Sickness.

After this incident, Boone assigned a guy named Brad, who worked for Zora, the sandal-maker, when she had her shop on Main Street to take charge of the Cygnus.

Brad kicked the remaining druggies off the boat and, in return for maintaining the neglected craft, was given the use of the yacht. Brad sent for two of his friends from Michigan to come down to St. Thomas to help. They all stayed aboard the Cygnus at the dock at Yacht Haven Marina for a while, but eventually they decided that St. John would be a nicer place to be, so they sailed over and anchored in Cruz Bay.

Brad and the Michigan boys listened to a lot of music and smoked a lot of dope, but didn’t do a whole lot of maintenance or a whole lot of sailing.

One day there was talk about the Cygnus having a charter in Aruba and Brad, his two friends and a girl that had joined them made some hasty preparations for the voyage. Their plan was to sail to St. Croix, provision and then sail directly to Aruba.

It apparently was a hellacious trip from St. John to St. Croix. Rough seas opened up some serious leaks and the Cygnus just barely reached St. Croix with all pumps pumping in conjunction with some good old-fashioned bailing.

The girl who joined the crew at the last minute was so freaked by the ordeal that she bowed out of the adventure and flew back to St. John on the Antilles Airboat seaplane.

The girl came back to St. John with the story of the voyage. She said that there was no safety equipment aboard, no life preservers and no radio.

She relayed a message to a guy named Skip, telling him that Brad had asked if he would fly down to St. Croix, help them patch the leaking boat and sail with them to Aruba.

Skip was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam. He had crashed twice. Both times he was the only survivor of the craft. On four other flights, his tail gunners were killed. He came to St. John when his tour of duty was over, where he met Jackie, who became his girlfriend. Jackie had come to St. John from Maine with her girlfriend Allison, where they were living at Allison’s father’s campground.

Skip and Jackie hopped the seaplane to St. Croix and this was the last that anyone ever heard from them or any of the crew of the Cygnus. They vanished without a trace. Although there was all sorts of speculation as to what might have become of them, given the poor condition of the yacht, the lack of safety equipment and communication devices and the inexperience of captain and crew, the assumption had to be made that the boat sank and all hands presumed drowned.

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Rain, Water and Water Conservation on St. John

St. John has been having a lot of rain this last few weeks. Some of it has been associated with tropical storms and some just plain rainy days.

The guts are running cisterns are filling up and mosquitoes are hatching. My cistern is actually overflowing. Time for a nice long shower, wash the clothes and do the dishes. Looks like more rain coming.

Notwithstanding these wet rainy days, in general St. John is a dry place. When I first came to the islands in the 1970s the attitude toward water was one of serious conservation.

It wasn’t so easy to get water in those days, so people really conserved. If you ran out of water, you might have to wait a while before you could get a truck to bring you more. On St. John, the situation was especially critical. Although there were some wells that could provide limited amounts of water, most water for delivery came on a barge that arrived every once and a while from Puerto Rico.

It wasn’t fun to run out of water. No flushes meant things could get quite stinky, as was the case with no showers and the kitchen sink could fill up with dishes in no time at all.

To conserve water, you took a shower by turning on the faucet just long enough to get wet and then quickly turned it off. Then you’d soap up completely after which you’d turn on the water just long enough to get the soap off. Same with brushing your teeth, shaving or washing dishes. You didn’t run the water while you were doing something else.

Flushing the toilet was only resorted to when absolutely necessary. It was hard to find bathrooms in guest houses, restaurants and other facilities frequented by tourists that didn’t have some sort of message posted begging the user to save water, especially in regards to flushing. Some were pretty cute, I remember, like “On this island in the sun, we seldom flush for number one” or “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.”

These measures could be very effective and people rarely ran out of water, even during prolonged dry spells.

Nowadays the situation has changed radically. St. John has become a place dominated by large luxury homes, most of which are rented out short term to tourists. With prices often more that $1,000/day there’s not much use in telling visitors not to flush or to take short showers. These homes often use more water in a day than native families and residents who still live in modest homes use in a month and probably more water than most of the world’s population uses in a year.

Years ago, the idea of building a swimming pool for your home would have been greeted with laughter. “Why would you build a swimming pool on an island with so many world class beaches?” Today, a swimming pool is just about obligatory (as is air conditioning) for that vacation rental or second home. Given the great surface area of swimming pools, the amount of water lost to evaporation is considerable and is another factor leading to the demand for water.

Today, however, there is a water desalinization plant to provide water, which supplies areas serviced by water lines and which can be delivered to homes in large water trucks. Rainwater is supplementary, but no longer is the source of most water used on the island’s large homes and hotels. Most of the time people can get water delivered when they need it, but not always.

The problem is that as more and more luxury homes come on line the demand for water is ever increasing and WAPA can barely meet demand on St. John today. Rationing at the water plant is already quite common during dry spells or when there is a problem with the water makers at the Caneel Bay Resort or the Westin so it looks like we’d better start thinking about water conservation once again, because it very well may not be there for you, if you run out.

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A St. John Virgin Islands WAPA story

by Gerald Singer, www.SeeStJohn.com
Back in the 1970’s when I first arrived on St. John, power outages were quite common. Everyone kept candles and flashlights handy to use when the lights went out. As time went on the electrical service became more dependable.

Recently, however, perhaps due to today’s far greater demand, there have been a significant amount of blackouts and brownouts on St. Thomas and St. John.

The following story is about a St. John family and an unusual side effect of a WAPA power outage. The family, a husband, wife and little girl, came to live on St. John about three years ago and have adapted well to life in the Virgin Islands.

About a month ago there was a power outage that occurred during a thunderstorm and the lights went out for about an hour.

The following morning, the family noticed something unusual had happened. Although they had subscribed to a basic cable option from Innovative Cable TV, the morning after the power outage they began to receive all the stations available on the cable system.

For about a week, the family was glued to the TV set watching everything from animated specials for kids to movies and the latest cable productions on Showtime, Home Box Office, Cinemax, Disney, you name it – everything! No action was taken by any of the parties involved and the TV situation returned to normal.

Two days ago there was another thunderstorm causing some brownouts, which were followed by a short power outage.

When the lights went back on, one of the first things they did was to check the TV, just in case.

To everyone’s delight, there were all the wonderful programs once again. Gratis for as long as it lasts, thanks to Virgin Islands WAPA and Innovative Cable TV.

“Yes!” said the husband. “Sometimes I just love Caribbean inefficiency!”

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Tropical Storm Hanna brings large surf to St. John

Storm damage Great Cruz BaySeeStJohn.com
A sloop washed up onto the southeastern shore of Great Cruz Bay during the night, the result of large waves generated from Tropical Storm Hanna, which passed by to the north of us.

There was also damage at Chocolate Hole where a catamaran and several small craft washed up on the beach and a vessel at a mooring was submerged. www.SeeStJohn.com

Storm damage Chocolate Hole Storm damage Chocolate Hole

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St. John Tuesday: First day of School

Jacob and Oliva get ready for their first day at the Gifft Hill School
Jacob and Olivia get ready for their first day at the Gifft Hill School
Staring the first day with Miss Val
Starting the first day with Miss Val

It was the first day of school today for Jacob and his “Boo,” Olivia, who began preschool at St. John’s Gifft Hill School.

All went well!

Gifft Hill School, St. John Virgin Islands
Gifft Hill School, St. John Virgin Islands
Gifft Hill School, St. John Virgin Islands
Gifft Hill School, St. John Virgin Islands
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