"St. John Beach Guide" a guide to St. John's world class National Park beaches
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Archive for December, 2008

Recently, the people of a small village in Dominica mourned the passing of an old man who was renowned in his younger days for being one of the best hunters on that Caribbean island. He was also the only person in his village to ever have been interviewed for a live radio broadcast, the subject of which was his incredible ordeal of survival.

He was one of the strongest men in the village, and by far the best hunter of wild boars. He would often venture into the most isolated and remote areas of the forest, armed with just a machete and some rope and accompanied only by his pack of expertly-trained hunting dogs. He was known to have single-handedly carried pigs weighing over two hundred pounds through miles of jungle slung over his powerful shoulders.

Early one morning as he was preparing to leave on a hunt he came upon another hunter who warned him of the presence of an especially large and dangerous boar that had been seen high up in one of the valleys of Morne aux Diables. It had already killed one dog and had left clear marks on several trees bearing testament to its height and great size. “Don’t go after this one alone,” he was cautioned, “especially without a gun.”

Taking heed of the warning, he decided to stay away from the higher elevations where the pig had been known to frequent. As had always been his custom, however, he went alone, save for his five dogs, and, as always, without a firearm.  Entering the valley at the base of the looming Morne aux Diables, which in English means Devil’s Mountain, he stayed low, following the course of a river that meandered through the forest.

He had been walking over two hours before his dogs caught the scent of a wild boar. He untied the dogs and watched as they bounded up the steep bluff on the side of the river and into the forest of giant tropical trees. Within minutes he heard an ungodly howling and the anguished yelping of his dogs. He climbed up the bluff to learn the cause of the awful commotion. What he saw made his blood freeze.

Scattered about were the bloody, lifeless bodies of four of his prized animals. The fifth dog, still young and not as well trained as the others, was running toward him, being chased by the biggest boar that he had ever seen in his life. Suddenly, the enraged boar, maddened with blood lust, turned his attention away from the fleeing dog, looked directly into the hunter’s eyes, and as if recognizing that this was the real enemy, lowered his mighty neck and charged. Realizing that it was hopeless to flee and impossible to climb any of the massive trees nearby, the man drew his machete from its sheath and watched as the giant bore down upon him. The hunter lashed out with a powerful blow of his machete, but the pig was too fast. Somehow, without seriously harming the boar, the machete was deflected and sent flying off into the bush. Moments later the boar was upon the defenseless man, slicing at him with its razor-sharp tusks.

The hunter defended himself however he could, punching, grabbing, kicking and praying, but as strong as he was, he was no match at all for the great beast. Just when all hope seemed lost the pig, blind with rage, bolted to the edge of the bluff. Using every ounce of his uncommon strength, the hunter shoved the boar over the brink and man and beast tumbled down the precipice and into the river.

The tide had turned. Pigs are not good swimmers and their short front legs, ideal for rooting about in the ground, are a liability when trying to stay afloat in the water. Now the man regained the advantage in this life and death struggle. The hunter pushed the boar under the water, embracing his enemy in a death grip as it desperately struggled to raise its head above the surface.

The battle ended in less than five minutes and the man emerged victorious. He was alive, but barely so. Three of the fingers on his right hand had been cut off and one foot was mangled so severely that two toes eventually had to be amputated. He had been gored in the face, leaving a jagged scar that was to stay with him for the rest of his life and was bleeding from tusk wounds in his chest, leg and back. Using water from the river to cleanse his wounds and his shredded clothing to slow the loss of blood, he bandaged himself as best he could and began the long walk back to civilization.

He was discovered semi-conscious and delirious just outside his village and taken to the hospital in Roseau, on the other end of the island. On the way he told the story of his ordeal to his rescuers, including the exact location of the drowned boar.

On the third day of his recovery, three hunters from his village visited him in his hospital room. They had brought him something delicious to eat – something to revitalize him and to help heal his wounds – fresh pig meat from the giant boar that he had killed.

True story – courtesy of Robert Louis.

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Tales of St. John and the Caribbean

Tales of St. John and the Caribbean

From Tales of St. John and the Caribbean
(Note: The Sea Breeze is no longer in existence. The bar has been completely renovated and is now the  Sweet Plantains restaurant.)
Trinidad Charlie and I arrived at Sea Breeze around 8:30 one Sunday morning and were waiting around for breakfast to be served. The place was filling up with all kinds of salty characters, early morning drinkers, sailors, live-a-boarders, Coral Bay locals and the occasional tourist. This one guy, who seemed to know Charlie, sat with us for a while. In the course of conversation he told us this story:

He had sailed out of St. Thomas on his way to the Azores. He was all alone; single handing a wooden sloop which, although quite old, was still, apparently, in excellent condition. He rode the tradewinds north and west to get to the latitudes of the prevailing westerlies which would then carry him east across the Atlantic.

He was about 100 miles north of the Turks and Caicos, and it was clear sailing with calm seas, steady winds and fine weather. He calculated his position and determined that he was far away from any recognized shipping lanes as well as from any land, shallow reefs or  other navigational hazards.

The sails were well set and he lashed the tiller down watching the boat self-steer north, north west with no problems. He decided it would be safe to go below and take a nap.

He awoke in the night to find the boat filled with water. The seas were coming over the main deck, and it was obvious that the vessel was sinking.

What happened? He doesn’t know. Perhaps a main plank came loose, but whatever it was, there was no time to do anything but abandon ship and avoid being trapped below in the cabin.

No time to radio an SOS, he donned an ocean life vest and jumped overboard. He watched by the light of the moon as the boat sailed on ahead of him, gracefully under full sail, for about 100 yards before going under. The batteries were still functioning, and he could see the running lights and cabin lights shining surreally under the water as the boat slowly sunk.

The life jacket, which would hold most of his body out of the water, was equipped with a flashlight, a whistle and an emergency radio beacon, none of which seemed too helpful so far from any land or commercial activity. Realizing his position, alone in the dark of night in the middle of the ocean, fright and panic set in and took over. He thought about sharks and he said he felt like a piece of bait at the end of a fishing line. He soon fainted or passed out or fell asleep.

He regained consciousness in the light of the next morning. He heard a sound; and then he saw God coming down from the sky… on a rope!

God turned out to be a United States Coast Guard lieutenant. A Coast Guard helicopter just happened to be in the area on an unusual mission. It was unusual because flights were rarely scheduled so far from the helicopter’s base of operations. The crew was just at the point of turning back when they heard the faint signal of the emergency beacon. There was scarcely enough fuel to return to base, and there was only a short amount of time for a search and rescue mission, but luckily, the Coast Guard team managed to find and rescue the sailor and make a safe return to the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

He says that he still sails, but only on perfect days, when there is not a cloud in the sky and never very far from the sight of land.

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Cairns, stones that have been stacked up or piled together, are found the world over. They have been used for a multitude of purposes such as to mark burial sites, mountain tops and paths, but more often they are simply expressions of the human spirit, an art form from nature herself.

I first became aware of cairns, when early one Saturday morning I was walking around the shoreline of Greenwich Point in Connecticut with my two children. It was a beautiful summer weekend and the area, Greenwich Point Park, was already filling with beach goers, only a few of which, though, were to be found on the outer reaches of the point a bit far from the sand beach and the developed areas.

There scrambling over the rugged, rocky shoreline we came across a stacked up a pile of stones, balanced on a boulder overlooking the Long Island Sound. There was a quiet majesty about it and shortly thereafter and without a word passing between us, we began making our own cairns, although we had no idea at the time that the process had a name.

Returning the next day, to see if our stone sculptures had withstood the forces of nature, we were surprised to see that this lonely shoreline was no full of dozens of cairns, some quite tall and some simple and some intricate.

Stone Sculpture on Drunk Bay

Stone Sculpture on Drunk Bay

Drunk Bay Stone Sculpture

Drunk Bay Stone Sculpture

Cairns on St. John
On a visit to Drunk Bay with Habiba and our friend Margarita, we came across more cairns. They were all over the rocky beach.

Balanced Rocks by Phillip A Long
A man named Phillip A Long, who has elevated the construction of cairns to a high art form as well as a business, has honored St. John by choosing our little island in the Caribbean as one of the venues for his art. His work can be seen on his website vineyardrocks.com

These examples of his work once proudly stood on Frank Bay. Other examples of his balanced rock sculptures on St. John, now returned to their natural settings, but captured as digital images, were constructed on Denis Bay and Caneel Hawksnest Bays.

Test your skill at identifying St. John beaches; go to Mr. Longs website and see if you can identify the beaches where the cairns were built.

Balanced Rock on Frank Bay, by Phillip A Long

Balanced Rock Cairn on Frank Bay, by Phillip A Long

Balanced Rock Sculpture by Phillip A Long

Balanced Rock Cairn on Frank Bay by Phillip A Long

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A Hard Day at the Beach, St. John USVI

A Hard Day at the Beach, St. John USVI

A St. John USVI Book Business
As many of you already know, Habiba and I own, operate and manage our own St. John publishing business called Sombrero Publishing Company.

I’m sure that having a publishing business on St. John is quite a bit different than doing the same thing anywhere else, and I’d venture to guess that the St. John experience is quite a bit more enjoyable although quite a bit less profitable. I imagine the same could be said for most other St. John, Virgin Islands, or Caribbean island endeavors.

Categories
I’ve broken down the business into the following categories: (1) research, (2)writing, editing and design, (3) printing and shipping and (4) distribution and sales.

Research
Today, I’d like to talk about the first category, which is research for the book. Each book we write demands a different strategy. For now I’ll use the example of our best seller, “St. John Off The Beaten Track.” Guide books need to be updated from time and this book is no exception.

The first edition of “St. John Off The Beaten Track” hit the St. John scene in 1996. Since then there have been two subsequent editions and four printings. I imagine that in 2010 we’ll be ready to present edition four, the preparations for which will begin shortly.

Here’s how we do it. Let’s say we’re doing beaches. First step is to go to the beach, not bad for a day a at work, wouldn’t you say. We’ll try to bring everything we’ll need, which will probably be little different than what any tourist on St. John brings to the beach, picnic stuff, beach blanket or beach chairs, snorkel gear, picnic stuff, sun block and for recording the experience, a land and an underwater camera, a tape recorder and a pad and pencil.

Next we spend some time on the beach and lying there on the sand think of everything about that beach. To help us think, we stroll along the sand, take a swim, go snorkeling, sit back and contemplate our surrounding – things like that. I know you’re thinking: “wow, that sounds tough, I had no idea that book writing on St. John would entail such arduous work.”

We’ll very likely return another day to try to make sure we didn’t miss anything and we’ll also make other trips by boat or kayak for more photos and another angle on the beach experience.

At home we’ll arrange our notes listing what we experienced, and what we thought about. We’ll do the same for all the beaches that we want to write about, as well as the hiking trails, and cool places to visit on St. John and eventually will sit down to put it all together for the book. That’s it. And believe me it’s the best part.

Next: writing, editing and design

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Blackbeard

Blackbeard

Like other Caribbean Islands, the Virgin Islands, has a considerable pirate history, which has left it’s legacy, at least in terms of the names of some of its islands and cays.

For example, think of the four islands containing the name Thatch, Thatch Cay, Great Thatch and Little Thatch. These islands are thought to be named after the notorious pirate, Edward Teach, or better known as Blackbeard and on St. Thomas we have Blackbeard’s Castle.

Bellamy Cay, he small island in Trellis Bay on the east end of Tortola in The British Virgin Islands is named after the pirate Black Sam Bellamy.

Although Sir Francis Drake was viewed  as a heroic privateer to the English ,he was considered a vicious loathsome pirate by the Spanish. On St. Thomas there is a concrete seat overlooking a beautiful panorama of islands and cays, which is a popular tourist stop called  Drake’s Seat. Here supposedly (but doubtfully) Sir Francis Drake would sit while looking for ships to plunder.

On the south side of the channel between Tortola and several smaller islands, named fter the aforementioned, Sir Francis Drake, lies a small rocky and scrubby  island named Dead Chest. This island was once used by Blackbeard to punish disobedient pirates, who he would leave marooned on this desolate cay with only a bottle of rum in the way of provisions and little chance of survival.

It was Dead Chest Island that Robert Louis Stevenson in his book  “Treasure Island, when he wrote the well known ditty :

“Fifteen Men on the dead man’s Chest,
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!
Drink and the devil had done for the rest
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum.”

Furthermore, the inspiration for “Treasure Island” itself was the Island just to the west of Dead Chest called Norman Island , which was named after the pirate, Norman, whose pirate lair was on the island of Anegada.

Today modern day pirates still inhabit the the Virgin Islands, but in the words of Bob Dylan, instead of a sword, they “rob you with a fountain pen.”

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Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

Margarita, Gerald, Habiba, Jacob and Olivia on behalf of SeeStJohn.com on beautiful St. John in the United States Virgin Islands wish you a very merry Christmas and a happy, healthy and prosperous New Years.

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Habiba

Habiba

My lovely wife, Habiba, is not only beautiful, but is also a great editor, who, luckily, catches most of the errors I make while writing our books, websites and blog.

Some errors, like mistakes in spelling, grammar and punctuation, are just embarrassing. Others like errors in information can be worse.

An example that comes to mind, is an entry on website dealing with the Caneel Bay Resort, in which I gave an 800 number to call for visitor’s information. I transposed some digits and instead of Caneel Bay, the called found themselves calling a pornographic phone line. The error stood uncorrected until one day I received an angry call from someone at Caneel, who seemed to imply that I did this on purpose. I didn’t. I promise.

But with electronic media the fix is rather simple, just download the document, fix the error and upload the corrected version, that’s it – done.

St. John Off the Beaten Track

St. John Off the Beaten Track Edition Two

With books, however, once committed to print, that’s it. You are stuck with it.

Again, some mistakes are worse than others. In an older edition of St. John Off the Beaten Track, right on the cover were the words, “Forward by Guy Benjamin,” erroneously using the word “Forward” instead of the correct word “Foreword.”

Embarrassing as it was, I let it stand, 5,000 copies and never a mention from a reader.

St. John Off the Beaten Track

St. John Off the Beaten Track

Now with the latest edition there, was a more serious error. On page 97, I give the wrong phone number to call for information for the Reef Bay Hike, by far the most popular activity offered by the National Park on St. John. The phone number, it turns out, belongs to a private St. John resident, who, understandably begins to be harassed by callers asking about the Reef Bay Hike.

The resident then call the National Park to complain and they in turn call me. And that was how I learned of the typo -  printed in 10,000 books.

So today, like many other days, we have an additional task in our Ma and Pa publishing business, opening up cartons of books, taking them out, one by one, opening them to page 97, pasting on a little sticker with the corrected information, putting the books back in the carton, sealing up the box once again and marking a little star on the box, to show that its been corrected.

Forward?

Forward?

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A friend visits St. John
A friend of mine, who used to live on St. John, but has since moved was on ialnd and invited me for dinner at Morgan’s Mango. He was in the Virgin Islands to build communications tower on St. Thomas.

“How are things,” I asked.

“It has been a horrible week,” he answered.

It seems he had completed all the permitting processes needed to construct the tower, historical, archeological and environmental studies, approval by the various agencies, DPNR, CZM, etc. and was finally ready to actually begin construction. A job that was supposed to be completed before the end of the year.

The first step was the clearing of the site. He hired an excavator, and because he has had problems in the past and because he didn’t hadn’t worked with the excavator previously, he wanted to make doubly sure that nothing would go wrong.

In that vain, he hired a surveyor to stake out the site and he instructed the excavator, to run lines around the entire site before beginning.

The best laid plans
For some reason, the excavator marked off only three of the four border lines of the site, maybe that last line seemed obvious, no one knows. But it wasn’t obvious as it turned out and the excavator cleared off 80 feet of someone else’s land.

The owner was irate, understandably, and my friend was mortified. He honestly felt terrible. The short term outcome was that there was a fine levied and my friend was instructed to hire a civil engineer to come up with a plan to restore the mistakenly cleared land. This he did, but his goal of finishing the project in a timely fashion was no longer possible.

Not in my backyard
We got into a discussion about the not in my back yard philosophy, which is that people want amenities such as in this case cell phone access, high speed G3 internet access and emergency services, but they don’t want the tower in their back yard.

I said that I could understand the homeowners position. The lowering of property values, the degrading of the view and the perceived health risks. My friend said that it was a case of the greater good, a relatively small sacrifice for the individual, for the greater good of the community at large.

A case in point
My friend told me of an e-mail he received, thanking his for the placement of a tower, in the vicinity of which there previously had been no reception. A man had an accident near the tower and there was no one around. Because the newly built tower was there, he had cell phone reception and was able to call for help. He surely would have perished otherwise. So in this case, a man’s (a father’s, a husband’s, a friend’s) life was saved because of a communication tower.

The conversation continued to go back and forth, but I had to concede that he had a point.

Yesterday’s Virgin Islands daily News reported that, partly in response to the land clearing fiasco, there will now be a six month moritorium on the building of communications towers. Read article.

(By the way, our dinner at Morgan’s Mango was really delicious)

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My friend, Danny, has been a musician here on St. John since the early 1970s. He was probably the first white guy to play in a West Indian Calypso Band, when he played piano with Eddie and the Movements, the precursors to Jam Band.

Several years ago Danny got priced out of St. John and now lives on St. Thomas and is involved in the music scene there. Danny told me that the other day he was visiting a fellow musician from St. John, and the two of them were thinking of going out that night to hear some live music. The St. John musician pulled out a copy of the St. John Sun Times and started looking at the things to do section and Danny was surprised at the number of choices there were for live music entertainment on little St. John.

It beats St. Thomas hands down, where live music venues are few and far between. So much for St. Thomas people complaining that there isn’t stuff to do on St. John and that it’s boring. We have great night life options here!

And as an aside, the St. John Times, as good as they are, doesn’t list all the music happenings, neither does my site, seestjohn.com, which has a few more listing than the Sun Times, only because it’s easier to update a website than a written publication. There’s really even more music happening, but neither of us have been able to list them all.

The problem, I’ve found, in getting a comprehensive live music schedule is that the managers and owners of the St. John restaurants and bars are often not helpful in giving out this information, usually because they are two busy with the million and one other things that those in that business are faced with every day.

Of course this doesn’t make too much sense. The idea is to draw people to your establishment by offering live music, and that the increased sale,s and consequent increased profits, will more than cover the cost of hiring the musicians.

So St. John bar and restaurant owners and managers, please take note. Work with us. Its good for everybody, for you, who will make more money, for the musicians, who will also make more money and be able to play their music, something that they love, probably more than the money, for the goal of promoting St. John arts and culture with its numerous benefits, and for the visitors to St. John who will be more likely to get out and enjoy an evening in Cruz bay or Coral Bay if they knew that these entertainment options were available.  And, what’s more it’s not costing you anything.

Here’s some contact information to those who would like free advertising for their bars and restaurants as well as for St. John musicians and bands, who would like to take the initiative to advertise themselves. Let all of St. John know your schedules.

The best sources of St. John entertainment schedules would be, I believe, our website, SeeStJohn.com, (click here to send us an e-mail) and the St. John Sun Times,(click here to send an e-mail or call them at 340-779-4565).

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Life on the St. John is definitely different than life on the mainland and so is running a business in the Virgin Islands different from running one in the US. Both of which have their own special Caribbean rhythm and flow.

So yesterday I’m going about my business, which is the book business, and one part of that business involves the delivery of books to customers. Well I get this order for our “St. Thomas USVI” book and I find out that the customer has a boyfriend who works at American Yacht Harbor in Red Hook on St. Thomas and I can deliver the books to him.

This is easier for me because I can just run my dinghy over from St. John and motor over to the marina dock and pass the books to the boyfriend. No automobiles involved and no Virgin Islands Christmas traffic to deal with on St. Thomas, sometimes referred to by some people on St. John, who end up passing a whole day on St. Thomas dealing with those things that can’t be done or are too expensive to be done on St. John, as “St. Trauma.”

Beloved Carib and beloved boat ramp

Beloved Carib and beloved boat ramp

I load up my trusty and beloved Carib 15 with a 40 pound carton of  “St. Thomas, USVI” books and leave Great Cruz Bay across Pillsbury Sound to Red Hook on the other side. The Christmas winds have eased up and its a pleasant crossing, Pillsbury Sound being even more beautiful than usual because of the clear skies and crisp air then totally devoid of Sahara dust or volcanic ash from our Caribbean neighbor, Montserrat, lying across the Anegada Passage to our east.

I pull into the marina at Red hook and find my man. He’s on a boat tied to the dock.

“I have a package for your girlfriend,” I say.

“Pass it up to me,” he replies.

I pass him the fairly heavy cardboard box full of books, and as I’m reaching for the invoice in my briefcase, someone on the dock says, “Hey, what’s going on here?”

The customers boyfriend, with quick humor, answers, “A drug deal.”

And I realize that it does, kind of, look like that, if it wasn’t in broad daylight in front of dozens of people, that is.

Smiling at the joke, I pass the invoice to the boyfriend saying, “Here’s the invoice.”

The other guy on the dock, also displaying a rapid fire wit, interjects, “Well I’ll be. First time I ever heard of a drug deal with an invoice.”

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