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Archive for November, 2008

By John Gibney
In ninth grade, one of my schoolmates, we called Dr. Loveless. His real name was Alvin. He was slick. Slicker than a conger eel slipping through the chickenwire mesh of a fishpot. Conger will send the bait back up to slide through the mesh and escape. If you hook him, he will climb your fishing line and put it in a tangle. If you spear him, he will make your steel spear like a boiled spaghetti noodle.

Dr. Loveless was a charmer alright. Bright-eyed and little escaped his gaze.

One afternoon in February after school, “Gibney, could you help me?”

I asked him, “What Loveless?”

He handed me a hastily typed script. It was well written, asking for a cash donation for the Boy Scouts of America. It was signed and sealed with an official looking seal.

He said Gibney, Susstain Smith and I are going to Caneel Bay to ask for donations for the Boy Scouts. Could you come?”

He said, “Please.” And I had to water my horses anyway.

As we reached the big tamarind tree where Rollie and I had caught “the ghost,” he reached in his schoolbag and took out two Boy Scouts of America uniforms with badges and neckties and hats to match. He handed me to Susstain0 and stripped to his drawers. In no time, the two of them were as preened and straight as arrows. He was- prepared.

We ate some tamarind and then he said, “Gibney, come.”

We walked around the hill where the white employees lived. This was still Caneel Bay Plantation or as the George Harrison song went, “crackerbox palace”.

The native employees lived in the “village” on the other side of the ghut, a part-time riverbed.

Most of the employees were from Tortola and only stayed at Caneel Bay Plantation Monday through Friday.

They had a fleet of beautiful Tortola hand built wooden boats with Johnson forty horsepower “sea horse” motors. Six am Monday morning, they would pull them up on rollers at Caneel Bay’s Hawksnest- “sheep dock” beach to us then. It was only bush and guinea grass.

Past the tennis courts we walked, right to cottage Number 7, Laurance Rockefeller’s own luxury home. A knock at the door, “Gibney, so you white?” I had no fear. This is where Henry Kissenger and all the Nixon clan stayed. I saluted. My sidekicks clicked their heels. The green bills began to bulge in Loveless’ bookbag.

“If you are a Boy Scout, where is your uniform?”

“Oh, I fell in the mud,” I replied, handing the stern man the prepared solicitation papers.

“It’s okay honey,” the old geezer told his bathrobed wife, “it’s just the Boy Scouts.”

What a haul we pulled in that day. The green bills with Benny Franklin, George, Andrew and Thomas Jefferson faces on them were stacked under the tamarind tree.

Loveless kept most of the hundreds, but generously passed out the fifties and twenties to Susstain and I.

They stripped to their drawers and back into the school uniforms. Conger went home fat. Loveless went into politics and has gone far.

My horses got Purina horse chow and *******it was dry season.

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Desmond Holdridge and his fiancee came to St. John 1934. They previously lived in New York City where he was a writer and she worked in a museum of modern paintings. They were married at the Battery in Cruz Bay and rented a small house overlooking Trunk Bay. The following is a record of their expenses for groceries for one month:

From St. Thomas
3 cans mushroom soup —————.42
6 cans tomato soup——————.84
1 can Klim (large)——————-1.50
1/2 Lb.. American cheese————–.15
1 can black pepper——————-.08
2 cans butter (1 lb. each) ————-1.20
Cloves—————————–.05
1 Shredded Wheat ——————–.25
1 Corn Flakes ———————-.16
1 can pure lard (5 lbs.) —————1.00
2 cans cocoa————————30
4 lbs. macaroni ———————-60
1 jar mayonnaise (small) —————.18
2 bottles Ketchup ———————.30
5 lbs. rice —————————.25
5 lbs. granulated sugar —————–.15
10 lbs. wheat flour———————.35
6 cans pork and beans—————–.33
1 can kerosene oil (5 gal.) ————-1.00
1 cake yeast (large)——————— .40
1 bottle stuffed olives—————— .28
2 lbs. black tea ————————.50
1 box salt —————————-.14
1 can coffee (Bokar)——————— .45
1 can Quaker Oats ———————-.25
3 cans sweet corn ———————-.54
5 lbs. corn meal ———————–.20
2 pkgs. Bran————————– .40
12 Octagon soap ———————–.60
12 cans Evap. Milk———————1.20
10 lbs. onions————————–.30
1 box raisins —————————.12
1 jar peanut butter ———————–.25
1 can peach jam ————————-.27
2 cans apricots (large) ——————–.58
2 cans peaches (large)——————– .48
1 pkg. corn starch ———————–.05
12 oranges—————————– .20
2 lbs. split peas————————–.20
2 lbs. white beans————————.14
2 lbs. garbonzos ————————-.26
2 cans corned beef————————.24
6 cans tomatoes————————–.45
1 can oleomargarine (5 lbs.)—————– .75
1 can clam chowder ———————–.12
3 cans lima beans————————- .48
1 can red salmon————————– .25
1 Can tuna fish—————————- .20
4 grapefruit——————————-.12
2 cabbages——————————-.30

3 lbs. fresh tomatoes———————– .18

Total ———————————$21.08

From St. John
6 doz. eggs @ $.03————————-2.16
15 “straps” of fish @ $.10 ——————- 1.50
Miscellaneous vegetables and meat————-5.00

Total ———————————–$8.66

From St. Thomas—————————21.08
From St. John——————————-8.66
Total for month—————————$29.74

“To this add about ten dollars for rum, tobacco, and cigarettes. The rum was two dollars and a half a demijohn and the cigarettes of the standard brands were sixty-five cents a carton. Four or five dollars a month went in payment for small services to the boys and about eight dollars to those unreliable and almost insolent sloop captains, Also, eight dollars a month to Agnes (Sewer) for cooking and laundry, and six dollars a month for the use of two horses and their attendants.”

From Desmond Holdridge, Escape to the Tropics, Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York 1937.

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Shipwreck Landing
One of the places I lived during the St. John, when I first arrived there in the early 1970s was an apartment on the property which is now known as Shipwreck Landing. he owners at the time were Tony and Anesta Sewer.

There used to be a gas station there, St. John’s first, I believe, but it was closed before I got there. Tony still ran a small general store there, but it was hardly ever stocked with anything.

Tony and Anesta were an unlikely couple. Tony was a hard drinking, retired sailor, who had been all over the place during his days at sea. Miss Anesta was a quiet, polite and hard working woman and a devout church goer.

Their nephew, Dennis Whitehead, lived in the main house with the Sewers and helped them a great deal. The venerable old fisherman, Walter Dalmida, also lived on the property in a tiny apartment .

Miss Anesta had a wonderful fenced-in flower garden, and all over the property, she had planted and tended to a variety of fruit trees, coconuts, papayas, sugar apples and soursops. Tony had single a pig and a small herd of fine sheep. By the time I moved on, there were no more animals there.

The pig
I remember the pig very well because he really had a bad smell. I know pigs aren’t supposed to smell like perfume, but I mean this pig really stank. I would get a whiff of his particularly foul oder every time he would pass by an open window. Stinky pig!

In late December of that year, I noticed that the bad smell that was a daily experience just stopped, went away. Shortly after this realization, Dennis invited me for dinner. I put two and two together and declined.

The sheep
That spring, Miss Anesta left island. If memory serves me well, she went to Europe. While she was gone, Mr. Tony took advantage of her absence to increase his alcohol intake, which was normally quite high, the result of which was that he became somewhat careless. And in that carelessness, he neglected to keep the sheep out of Miss Anesta’s flower garden.

Miss Anesta returned to a completely ruined garden. I don’t believe she so much as mentioned a word about it, but, the next day a large flat bed truck arrived to the house. Neither Tony nor Miss Anesta were anywhere to be seen. The driver methodically rounded up every last sheep and loaded them aboard the truck. When his work was done, he got into the truck and drove off. As far as I know the sheep were never replaced.

Don’t smoke in bed
“Don’t smoke in bed, ” is very good advice. Even better is, “don’t smoke at all,” but back then I did both and one night I dozed off with a lit cigarette and the bedding caught fire. It didn’t actually go up in flames, it sort of smoldered, but it didn’t go out easily, even after pouring glasses of water on it.

There was a hose outside, so I decided to haul the bedding outside and squirt it with the hose. Unfortunately on the porch were cans of fiberglass resin and other flammable stuff, I kept for my boat. These did go up in flames. It was fairly dramatic, but we were able to extinguish the fire before too much damage was done.

While we were cleaning up Mr. Tony came out of the house, shouting, “Dennis, get my gun!” He was angry with me, justifiably so, but the gun was a little extreme.

Luckily Dennis was not blindly obedient and he relied, “No uncle Tony.”

“Get my gun!” Tony demanded again

“No, Uncle Tony,” Dennis pleaded.

Realizing, finally that the situation was not as bad as it may have seemed, Tony relented. He gave up the idea of shooting me and instead returned to bed. By the next morning, everything was cleaned up and all forgiven.

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by Gerald Singer www.SeeStJohn.com
One day back in what some refer to as the “good ol’ days” on St. John back in the 1970s. Our little gang happened to be walking past Caneel Bay. In those days it was called the Caneel Bay Plantation, changed now due to the negative political and social connotations of the word “plantation.”

(Rumor has it that the new designation,”Resort,” may have negative implications in today’s rough economic climate with the word, “Hotel,” having a less expensive connotation.

With us that day was Trinidad Charlie. Charlie had come to St. John around the same time as I did, in the late 1960s, me from America, Charlie from Trinidad. Charlie had a new girlfriend at the time who was shortly thereafter to become his wife, in a memorable ceremony including a traditional native style pig roast on Little Hawksnest Beach. Her name was Cathy Hartford.

Anyway, as we were passing Caneel Bay, we just happened to be bemoaning the state of our finances, which better put, were practically no finances at all, when Cathy spoke up and said, “I can get us some money. Nixon is staying right here at the hotel and he’s a good friend of my father’s. I can ask him for some money.”

Cathy’s father was the multi millionaire, Huntington Hartford.

President Nixon, was in fact on the island at the time and was staying at Caneel Bay, as did, and still do, many other giants of politics, industry and entertainment.

Well you can imagine our skepticism. Like, “yeah sure, Cathy.”

“No it’s true, I can do it,” Cathy maintained.

She then walked over to the guard at the gate and spoke with him. The guard picked up his radio and we all stood there wondering. Next an employee of the Plantation picked up Cathy in a Caneel Bay golf cart and they took off down the driveway.

We still couldn’t believe it, but it was getting interesting. About fifteen minutes passed and Kathy returned on the golf cart. She was smiling and holding a one hundred dollar bill!

Trinidad Charlie Hot SauceTrinidad Charlie still lives on St. John where he makes Trindad Charlie’s Hot Sauce, which if you haven’t tried, you really should.

More of a condiment than a hot sauce, Charlie makes liberal use of the Indian and Caribbean spices and tastes of multi-ethnic Trinidad where he grew up. The mildly “hot” hot sauce is used by the top chefs in several of the finest restaurants on St. John. It goes good with just about everything, meats, fish vegetables, rice – I use it on pancakes.

Trinidad Charlie mentioned in a new Kenny Chesney song:
Nowhere to go and nowhere to be,
“Trinidad Charlie” on a stool next to me,
Readin’ his book ’bout the “haves” and “have-nots,”
In between chapters we take another shot.And one by one we slide from reality,
With nowhere to go, and nowhere to be…Kenny Chesney

Read Kenny Chesney Interview in Caribbean Travel & Life

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Carval Rock
Carval Rock
Carval Rock
Carval Rock Aerial

It has been said that Carval Rock, the small Cay located off the north shore of St. John and just northeast of Lovango Cay, got its name because a one night long ago, a British warship fired cannon balls at the rock all night long, the crew believing it to be a Spanish Carval. Rumors also exist that these cannonballs can either still be found at the base of rock some 80 feet below the sea or that someone somewhere has found cannonballs there.

Thinking about it. It’s a nice story, but almost certainly not true. The rock can be plainly seen even at night. It doesn’t move like a ship and it doesn’t return fire. What must the gunners have been drinking to have waged war on this innocuous foe?

About Carval Rock

Balanced Rock
Balanced Rock
fig tree on rock face
Fig Tree Wedged into Rock Face

The cay is consists of large limestone boulders that are continually exposed to the sun, wins and surf. During periods of heavy ground seas waves hitting the north side of the cay will spray the whole cliff face, sometimes rising higher than the cay itself.

The only lasting vegetation on the cay are two small trees wedged into the eastern cliff face.

Carval Rock is used as a rookery for seabirds who lay their eggs in crevices on the rock face.

Fishing off Carval Rock
Fishing off Carval Rock

The cay is also a popular dive spot, fishing destination and venue for burials at sea.

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It has been said as well as written that the stone structure on Whistling Cay served as a customs house. As far I know this is supported by the supposition that the cay got is name from the Dutch word “wissel” meaning change. Actually I find it difficult to believe that this tiny cay ever served the function of Customs House.

Whistling Cay
Whistling Cay Aerial View – St. John USVI

Whistling Cay is a small island located just off Mary Point on St. John. If you’ve ever approached Whistling Cay on a small boat you would know how difficult of an entry it is. The shoreline is rocky and scattered with reef. The small gravel beach on the southeastern part of the island is the only possible landing point and there is no evidence that there was ever a dock there.

Guardhouse on Whistling Cay
Stone Structure on Whistling Cay

If this were a customs house, than it would have to be manned by officials, who would need to be supplied with there food, water, and office supplies. There would have to have been communication with St. John or St. Thomas only accessible by boat. Arriving vessels would have to find a convenient place to anchor and then arrive in dinghies, fill out the forms and have their vessels inspected by the officials on the cay.

It seems very unlikely that this little stone structure on this hardly approachable island would serve such a purpose. Why not head over to Cruz Bay, Red Hook or Charlotte Amalie and clear customs there?

My guess is that the structure was constructed during that period between 1834 and 1848 when slavery was abolished in the British Virgin Islands, but continued on in the Danish West Indies, creating a temptation for slaves on St. John’s north coast to run away to Tortola lying just a few miles away. The building would supply some shelter for soldiers guarding the passage into the Narrows and the Sir Francis Drake Channel, discouraging escape attempts.

A similar guard house, equipped with cannons, can be found on the Johnny Horn Trail overlooking the Sir Francis Drake Channel.

So in my opinion, it makes a lot more sense for the building to have been constructed and served as a guardhouse and not a customs house. What do you think?

More information about Whistling Cay

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By Gerald Singer www.SeeStJohn.com
Well it’s great to be back online after ten frustrating days of no internet connection and daily phone calls to the provider, who out of respect for our many years of acquaintanceship will remain nameless, and who every day said something like, “We’re working on the problem. It should be fixed later on today, but worse case by tomorrow.”

It was really amazing to realize how dependent I’ve become on the internet. Like somehow I forgot how to use the mail and the phone and how did I ever survive without it. But we’re back and it feels good.

Mr. B
Mr. B bound for St John USVI

A few days ago Habiba, Jacob and I headed out to sea on our little beloved Carib 15 in the late afternoon, mostly just for fun, but specifically to wave at our good friend, the beautiful princess, Rajni who we knew to be aboard the Mr. B on its way from Red Hook on St. Thomas to St. John.

The seas were flat calm, the moon was almost full and the skies were crystal clear, and it was such a joy to be out on the water on such a spectacular Caribbean evening that we invited Rajni, utilizing the vehicle of cell phone technology, to join us.

Rajni and Habiba
Habiba and Rajni

Rajni exited the barge and drove to our little floating dock on Great Cruz Bay where she joined Habiba, Jacob and I. The sun had set by then and we began our moonlight cruise.

Cruz Bay St John Virgin Islands at night
Cruz Bay,St John USVI at night

St. John takes on a different feeling at night and this is especially so when the island is viewed from the sea. We pulled into the harbor at Cruz Bay approached the dinghy dock and turned off the engine.

From there we cruised over to Honeymoon Bay where there was only one sailboat on a mooring. We could smell the aroma of a barbecue being prepared on the fantail of the sailboat. We came in fairly close to the beach and cut the engine. With so little breeze it was almost like being at anchor. The water was so clear and the moon so bright that you could easily see the sand and scattered coral on the sea bottom. We played with a flashlight in the water for a while to amuse ourselves and the fish below.

The plan was to pick up Rajni’s husband, Sean at Caneel Bay, when he got off work and then head on to Red Hook in St. Thomas for dinner at Molly Molone’s.

But Jacob fell asleep and we nixed that idea and just continued our moonlight cruise back to Great Cruz Bay and home.

Nothing much. Just another day in Paradise.

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Brought to you by Gerald Singer, St. John US Virgin Islands (USVI)