St. John Life: At the Beach with Catalina Ponor and Silvia Stoescu

Beauties at Caneel Bay, St. John USVI
Simina, Silvia, Catalina, Habiba & Rajni
Gerald, Catalina and Silvia
Gerald, Catalina and Silvia

Gerald Singer

Life on St. John can be pretty damn good!

Yesterday Habiba, Jacob, Rajni and I had the pleasure of spending the day with Simina’s friends from Romania, the gold medal-winning Romanian Gymnasts, Catalina Ponor and Silvia Stoescu.

Catalina and Silvia were in the Virgin Islands to visit Simina and to do a demonstration of their art at the Antilles School in St. Thomas.

Catalina was a triple gold medalist in both the 2004 European Gymnastics Championships and the 2004 Summer Olympics and Silvia won a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics

Catalina & Silvia at Gibney Beach St. John Virgin Islands
Catalina & Silvia at Gibney Beach

Today Catalina is doing endorsements in Romania and Sylvia is studying for her PHD in physical education.

I picked up Simina, her son Kai and the two Romanian gymnasts at Sapphire Bay Marina and we headed out for Gibney Beach on St. John.

Silvia at Gibney Beach

We came ashore on the west end of Gibney Beach and I was able to take some great photos of the two beautiful gymnasts.

See photo gallery of Catalina Poner and Sylvia Stoescu at Gibney Beach and Caneel Bay on beautiful St. John in the US Virgin Islands.



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The Virgin Islands in the 1970s: Foxy & Jost Van Dyke

When I lived on St. John back in 1970 I was lucky enough to own a 16 ft fiberglass runabout powered by a 40-horsepower Johnson outboard. It wasn’t much of a boat, and the engine would cough and sputter at times, but by and large it took me where I wanted to go and allowed me to explore this Virgin Islands wonderland.

Ethien Chinnery
Ethien Chinnery

The nearby island of Jost Van Dyke became a regular destination, when John Gibney and I, discovered that buying our fish pots (wire mesh fish traps braced with West Indian birch sticks) from Ethien Chinnery on Jost Van Dyke for $25 a trap was a well worth the money and the trip. Not only was the price reasonable enough, and not only did it save the time and money involved in buying the chicken wire on St. Thomas, cutting birch sticks in the bush and cutting , tying and bracing the pots, but also, Ethien’s pots were a whole lot better than the ones we made.

Jost Van Dyke held another yet attraction and that was Foxy’s Tamarind Bar and Restaurant run by a man I’m now proud to call a good, friend Foxy Callwood. Foxy’s at the time was a small simple establishment, which actually had customers every now and then when a sailing yacht from St. Thomas would bring charterers to Jost Van Dyke as part of their sailing itinerary.

Dr. Knight
Dr. Knight and Jean Delmage
Jost Van Dyke Customs 1970
Rodney Varlack

Not long after I got settled on St. John, I began to received visits from my mom and dad, who like me fell in love with St. John.

My dad, who was a dentist, used to bring supplies to Dr. Knight, the resident dentist on the island.

Dad also used to bring car parts for Rodney Varlack, who had St. John’s only car dealership, which specialized in Jeeps and he brought old 16 mm movies, which were shown at the Lutheran Church.

Jost Van Dyke Customs 1970
Jost Van Dyke Customs 1970
Albert Chinnery
Albert Chinnery

On one of these visits, I brought my parents to Jost Van Dyke. I introduced them to my friends there, Albert Chinery, the customs officer, Mr. Ethien, who made our fish pots and, of course, that Virgin Island celebrity, even back then, Feliciano “Foxy” Callwood. That evening we had dinner at Foxy’s restaurant on the beach at Great Harbour.

Foxy, owner, manager, waiter, busboy and chief cook and bottle washer took our order. Foxy asked my mom what she would like for dinner. She chose lobster.

Foxy said, “would you like that lobster fresh, ma’am?”

When my mom answered in the affirmative, Foxy, who was dressed in cutoff pants, tattered T shirt and barefoot, spun around, took off his shirt, ran to the water’s edge, dove into the sea and disappeared beneath the water, where unbeknownst to my parents he had a wire cage where he kept his lobsters.

Foxy emerged from the sea shortly afterward, dripping water and holding a wriggling two-pound lobster by its antennas. He turned to my mom and asked in a totally nonchalant tone, “would this be fresh enough for you?”

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Kayaking on St. John

Jacob and Gerald
Jacob and Gerald
It’s one of those rare rainy days on St. John and I mean rainy day. Rain all day rain, big rain, gut washing rain, cistern filling rain, that kind of rain. And this is a good day to write something on the blog, but my thoughts are rain thoughts and then I get this e-mail from Peter Langer:

“I was wondering if you have ever done or will consider doing an article on where the best places might be to kayak on St. John. I will be visiting with my own kayak and would like to explore on my own…”

Thank you Peter. I needed an idea.

First of all St. John is a wonderful place to kayak. The weather is generally good, the water is warm, the scenery is spectacular. You can use a traditional kayak or a sit on top variety. And there is really nothing like the kayak experience. You can glide noiselessly right next to the shoreline even if it’s reefy or shallow. Except for the splash of water dripping from your paddles, there’s no other sounds but those of nature, the surf, the birds and the wind. In short, everywhere on St. John is a wonderful place to kayak.

But the question was: where are the best places to kayak on St. John and this gave me some pause. The north shore has world class beach after world class beach, all easily accessible by kayak. You could put in at one beach, enjoy the paddle along the shoreline between beaches and put in at the next. You could check out some of the offshore cays, stop for a swim or snorkel or a snack.

But, not to take anything away from what would be an absolutely beautiful day of kayaking, you could also enjoy a similar experience in a small boat, or in many cases by car. So I’d prefer to choose a trip uniquely suited to kayaking, but to do this I’ll have to reveal a heretofore closely guarded secret: my favorite kayak itinerary.

At the risk of stating what will probably sound too obvious to actually write down, this trip would be better undertaken on a calm day than on a windy one. I’ll explain why later.

Klein Bay and Ditleff Point
Klein Bay and Ditleff Point

This paddle will begin at Klein Bay and take you to Genti Bay, where you can explore the ruins of the Reef Bay Sugar Mill.

After you put in at Klein Bay on the South Shore, paddle along the rocky shoreline to Ditleff Beach, where you may want to stop and take a swim or snorkel or at least a bit of rest before the major upwind part of the paddle.

From Ditleff, continue around Ditleff Point and you’ll be at the entrance to Fish Bay. This is a nice bay to explore, there are some small beaches on the western side, and mangroves on the east. But in the interest of time it probably would be better to just paddle across the mouth of the bay and round Cocolaba Cay, which would take you to Reef Bay, which is is almost completely protected by a long barrier reef.

Parrot Bay
Parrot Bay

Reef Bay contains three inner bays and this first one you come to will be Parrot Bay. This is a summer surfing beach. Wind generated south swells break over a series of coral heads. Depending on conditions the break may be gentle or not so gentle. I like to surf in, if the surf is relatively small. Turning over is a distinct possibility, however, so be prepared as far as protecting yourself and your cargo.

This is the main reason that I made the initial caveat about choosing a fairly calm day. But if the seas are too rough and you made it this far, you can paddle on the outside of the reef and come ashore where there is an opening in the reef at Little Reef bay.

Once you land on the beach at Parrot Bay, you’ll probably want to take a rest and enjoy this beautiful off the beaten track beach. Take a break and then continue your paddle inside the breaking surf, close to the beach. Rounding the red rocks at the end of the beach can be a bit hairy, but definitely doable.

You will now be in the shallow lagoon between the outer reef and the beach at Little Reef Bay. This is a unique spot to be, inaccessible to all but the most intrepid human beings, such as bonefishermen. The lagoon is very shallow so proceed cautiously so as not to disturb the environment. You will very likely encounter small sharks and barracudas visible in the shallows. and herons and egrets on shore

Reef Bay Sugar Mill
Reef Bay Sugar Mill

Continue on to the end of the beach, where you can either come ashore and utilize a walking path to access the Reef Bay Sugar Mill ruins or continue to the sugar mill by paddling to the next beach at Genti Bay and coming ashore there.

Explore the ruins, or, if you have the energy, take a walk to the petroglyphs. The trip back is downwind and much easier than the paddle there. I would recommend taking the offshore route back to Klein Bay.

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1970s Virgin Islands Stories: The Cygnus

by Gerald Singer
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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Pillsbury Sound

Pillsbury Sound
Pillsbury Sound
Yesterday Habiba, Jacob and I were returning from a day on St. Thomas using our usual mode of transportation, our beloved 15-foot Carib hard-bottom inflatable, named SeeStJohn. We left Sapphire Bay marina just before sunset bound for Great Cruz Bay on St. John. The sky was crystal-clear in the southeast while the north was dominated by the gray skies produced by a passing rain squall, where a double rainbow touching down at Thatch Cay rose high into the sky and completed it’s arch in the blue skies of the Caribbean just south St. John. Behind us the sun was beginning to set.

A lot has changed on St. John since I first arrived here in 1970, but what has not changed is the sheer physical beauty of not only St. John, but of all the Virgin Islands, both American and British.

Pillsbury Sound
Pillsbury Sound Sunset

From the majestic panoramas of islands and seas, harbors and towns, to the verdant valleys of lush tropical forests, this beauty is all around us and I’d be hard pressed to compare one with another.

But right up on the top of the list of favorites would be the Pillsbury Sound, the stretch of water separating St. Thomas from St. John and the Caribbean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean. (See article on Virgin Islands Geography)

I would highly recommend that visitors to St. John include in their itinerary a sunset cruise on Pillsbury Sound.

The Islands and Cays Surrounding Pillsbury Sound
Forming the limits of Pillsbury Sound are not only St. Thomas and St. John, but several other smaller islands.

On the north are a line up of long narrow cays, the largest being Thatch Cay, and including Grassy, Mingo, Lovango and Congo Cays, of which only Lovango is inhabited. between Lovango and St. John is Henley Cay

On the south are Great and Little St. James and Dog Island.

There are two small private homes on Great St. James. Last year plans submitted for the construction of a high-end housing community on the island were denied by the Costal Zone Management (CZM) due to environmental and ecological concerns.

Little St. James has recently been in the news in conjunction with a sex scandal involving underage girls ferried to the island to perform massages for the billionaire owner of the private estate.

Pillsbury Sound is both static and dynamic. While the islands, which encircle the sound stay in pretty much the same place, except for the drifting of the Caribbean and Atlantic plates, the sound itself is ever changing. The most obvious changes are the colors. On a clear day the theme is blue, white and green; blue water, white clouds and green islands. On stormy days everything, islands skies and seas are steel gray, and on days when dust from the Sahara Desert of ash from the Montserrat volcano fills the air everything seems white and far away.

Waves and Currents
On some rare days, the seas will be flat calm on others there may be tall steep waves and strong currents. The change in sea conditions within the sound is more pronounced than the usual changing conditions of the seas elsewhere. This is because Pillsbury Sound lies between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.

These two great bodies of water average about two miles deep with depths in some areas as great as 28,000 ft more than five miles down. The waters of the Pillsbury Sound are about 100 ft deep. As the moon revolves around he Earth its gravitational pull exerts its influence over the great seas causing a bulge of water to follow the moon on its path. This is called tides. Twice a day the tide causes this bulge of water to flow from the Caribbean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean and twice a day the reverse occurs bring Atlantic Waters into the Caribbean. To do this in the vicinity of the Virgin Islands the water must squeeze between the Islands. The places where this happens are generally called “passages.” The Pillsbury Sound is one of these passages.

Here’s a cool map that shows the Caribbean and Atlantic basins and the partly underwater mountain ranges, which are the islands of the Greater and Lesser Antilles. You can even move the map around.

This huge volume of water moving from the Ocean to the Sea and back, squeezing between St. Thomas and St. John, a passage just about two miles wide, passing over the equivalent of a 28,000 foot high mountain range can result in steep waves and strong currents. These degree of surface water conditions caused by the tides depend on several factors. During full and new moons, when the gravitational pull of the moon combines with the pull of the sun, the effects are greater than than in mid cycle when the pulls of the two heavenly work against each other. The time of day is another factor. As the moon passes and exerts its gravitational pull on the waters around the Virgin Islands, this pull gets weaker as the moon moves farther away until it is lost and the water recedes in the opposite direction. During this time, called slack tide, tidal effect are minimal. The third major factor are the atmospheric conditions, that is, the winds. Wins also create waves and the interaction of the two forces may work with each other or against each other. If the wind and the tides cause waves in the same direction, the result will be long gentle swells, which are relatively far apart. If they work against each other, the waves will steepen and be closer together.

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When I first arrived on St. John back in 1970, there was a community sense of morality that was very strong. Most people were regular church goers, children were respectful to their elders and crime was almost unknown.

It was also considered disrespectful to walk about town shirtless or in a bathing suit. I believe it was actually against the law, but notwithstanding, a man without a shirt or anyone man or woman walking about in a bathing suit would be told in no uncertain terms to cover up.

There was a place, however, where nudity was tolerated, and that was Salomon Beach. If you wanted to sunbathe or swim sans bathing suit on Salomon, you could.

Salomon Bay Nudity After a while, however, the National Park Service began to enforce territorial anti-nudity laws at Salomon Beach. This led to court cases because there was some ambiguity about the laws. Public nudity is forbidden under Virgin Island law, but not under federal statutes and there was some question as to the ability of the National Park Service, a federal government organization, to enforce territorial laws on property that they claimed to be subject to federal laws. In the end the National Park won out, and little by little, nudity was discouraged by Park Rangers emerging from the bush and giving citations to naked sunbathers. Now, only longtime residents remember Salomon’s reputation as a clothing optional beach.

Meanwhile community moral standards have relaxed. You can see tourist ladies walking about town in bikinis and men going about shirtless without incurring the wrath of indignant locals or zealous policeman. And while there are no longer any clothing optional beaches on St. John, we now have nudity right in Cruz Bay where a strip club has opened at the old Mixology Warehouse location at the Lumberyard Shopping Complex.

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Running on St. John
Most runners I know are addicted to their running and will run under the most extreme conditions. They go out in the freezing cold and sweltering heat. If they absolutely can’t go outside they’ll run around small tracks hundreds of times or run run place on treadmills.

Because of warm weather and hilly conditions, St. John is not the ideal venue for runners. On this post, I will reveal running secrets to maximize your St. John runners experience.

First, if you like warm weather and hills, you’ll be just fine. It’s a great workout, but be sure to keep hydrated; I can’t stress this enough. For the majority of runners, however, I would suggest running early in the morning or late in the afternoon while the sun is low in the sky.

Recommended Running Routes
Leinster Bay Road
My favorite is the Leinster Bay Road between Francis Bay and the Annanberg Sugar Mill. There is only one gentle rise, little traffic and the scenery from the road, which runs along the St. John shoreline is nothing short of spectacular. A suggestion would be to take advantage of Francis Bay Beach for a cool refreshing swim after your run. There’s a pit toilet at the parking area for your convenience.

Area of Detail
St. John Runners Map
Leinster Bay Road Run
St. John Runners Map

One variation on this run could be some cross country type work by combining the Francis Bay Trail or by adding the Leinster Bay Trail to the run continuing along the coast after Annaberg. The Francis Bay Trail is in relatively good condition for a run; the Leinster Bay Trail is less so.

Another variation could be beginning the run at Maho Bay, which would add some hills, some distance and a different inland scenery that also happens to be very beautiful.

Great Cruz Bay Road

Great Cruz Bay Run
St. John Runners Map

If you’re looking for a run closer to town or, especially if you are staying at the Westin Resort, Great Cruz Bay offers some relatively flat terrain, usually low automobile traffic volume and some hill options for the more intrepid.

Westin Running Map
St. John Runners Map

The flat section runs from the intersection of Great Cruz Bay Road to the intersection of Great Sunset. From there you could turn around and run the flat again of proceed up the hill to make a loop back to the main road (Route 104)

National Park Ball Field in Cruz Bay
If you want an absolutely flat run with no automobile traffic at all and a hard packed dirt trail instead of concrete, you could run around the ball field next to the VI National Park Visitors Center (across from Mongoose Junction).

Running Events
The next popular 8 Tuff Miles Road Race, from Cruz Bay to Coral Bay will be February 28 2009. Check the 8 Tuff Miles Website for more information about the race. There is also a link there to the St. John Landsharks, who host a triathlon and aquathon once a year as well as several fun run events.

My friend, Luigi, has a cool St. John Running Blog – Check it out!

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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,
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
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.

Storm damage Chocolate Hole Storm damage Chocolate Hole

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