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St. John day trips, travels and excursions

The Ghost of Hempsted House, New London Connecticut

Hempsted House, New London CT

I’ve been off island visiting family in America. One stop was to see my daughter and her kids in New London, Connecticut.

New London is a really scenic town with a lot of historical and nautical flavor, so on the first nice sunny day I grab my camera and walk around taking pictures, one of which is the house on the corner of my daughters block. The structure dates back to the seventeenth century and the man that built the house had left a diary detailing what everyday life was like for him back then.

Anyway, I’m taking a photo of the house when a man and a women pass by that turn out to be neighbors of my daughter.

“Did you know that that house is haunted,” says the man.

“No,” I say, “but I love stories so please go on.”

The story goes like this:

Apparently a women had died under mysterious circumstances on the second floor of the house. After that there have been numerous reports of strange goings on in the house.

For example, the August 22, 1908 edition of The Evening News, San Jose, California reported:
“The first antics noticed by the Hempsted family took place on Wednesday evening of this week when spools of thread began to tumble from the work basket on the second floor, down the stairs and sometimes apparently through the air at the feet of Mrs. Hempsted in the dining room below…” read full story

On May 4th 2009, paranormal investigators were summoned to the Hempsted House to investigate the many tales of strange goings on in the house. Read story.

But last summer, there was a car accident on the block. A women driving late at night swerved off the street crashing into the wooden fence bordering the property. When the police arrived on the scene, they encountered the extremely distraught driver who claimed that she had just run over a woman. According to the driver of the car a woman had appeared out of nowhere in front of the car. The driver said that she swerved to avoid hitting the lady, but thinks she ran her down. The car went off the road striking the fence and knocking it down.

“Right here,” said the storyteller, pointing to a section of fence that was obviously newer than the rest.

Anyway the police searched the area, but found neither body nor blood or any other evidence of anyone being struck by an automobile.

Suspecting that the driver had been drinking, the performed a breath test which came out negative. Neither did the woman appear to be high on drugs or crazy. The police asked her to describe the supposed victim and the lady described a blond woman in seventeenth century garb consistent with all the other sightings of the ghost of Hempsted House…

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The Home of Dr. William Thornton, Little Jost Van Dyke, British Virgin islands

Little Jost Van Dyke British Virgin Islands, home of William Thornton

Home of Dr. William Thornton

Dr. William Thornton, the designer of the US Capitol Building, was born in Great Harbour Jost Van Dyke in 1759. In later years he lived on Little Jost Van Dyke.

The remains of the Thornton residence lie on a ridge on the Western side of the island overlooking Tortola to the south and Lost Van Dyke to the west.

The following photos illustrate the hike I took with Curtney “Ghost” Chinnery to Dr. Thornton’s home.

Ghost and I put in at the old dock that lies on Little Jost Van Dyke across Long Bay from Foxy’s Taboo. It’s a tough approach and you’ll need a shallow draft boat and some creativity to tie up here.

Once we accomplished that we hiked along the coast and picked up a trail of sorts leading to the remains of an old structure once destined to be a bar and restaurant on the western beach south of Dim Don Point. As we approached the old structure, we needed to keep alert for the numerous suckers that seemed to be just about everywhere.

From the old unfinished and crumpling, bar we bushwhacked up the hill to the ridge where we came upon the remains of the old Thornton residence.

Visit to the Home of Dr. William Thornton, Little Jost Van Dyke BVI

old dock

hillside

coconut grove

large rocks

abandoned bar

?

abandoned bar little jost vab dyke

Interior of the bar

ruin of thornton residence, little jvd, bvi

Thornton ruin

view from ruin

view from thornton residence

baby goats

baby goats

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Jost Van Dyke seen from St. John

Jost Van Dyke Seen From The Trunk Bay Overlook on St. John

Albert Chinnery

Albert Chinnery Cistoms Man on JVD 1972

Jost Van Dyke Customs 1972

Customs House 1972

Prince Chinnery

Prince Chinnery, Government Agent on Jost Van Dyke 1937

Little Girl, Jost Van Dyke 1995

Little Girl: Jost van Dyke 1995

Ethien Chinnery

Ethien Chinnery Culture Bearer

Gerald Chinnery

Gerald Chinnery

Godwin

Godwin

Kendrick Chinnery and Governor Schnieder

Kendrick Chinnery bartending at the Soggy Dollar Bar with former USVI Governor Roy Schneider 1995

Greg Callwood

Greg Callwood

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the following comes from some notes that I dug up last night:

Jost Van Dyke, British Virgin Islands Notes
In 1980 there was only one vehicle on Jost Van Dyke, a Jeep. There were no paved roads, no electricity, save for a few solar panels and generators, no phone except a radio phone at customs. The ferry, The blue Atlantic, was a hand-made wooden craft capable of handling about 10 people, tops.

Electricity came to Jost Van Dyke in 1990.

My First Automobile Ride In Jost Van Dyke
Saturday, April 15, 1995

It was a beautiful evening. The moon was full, the seas were calm and the sky was clear.

We left Chocolate Hole, on St John just after sunset. The moon rose over the mountains in back of Cruz Bay as we rounded Lind Point on our way to Abe’s in Little Harbour, on Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands.

Abe's Restaurant Little harbour Jost Van Dyke British Virgin Islands

Abe's

Abe’s was fairly busy. Bareboaters from Germany, a woman with high heel sneakers and short shorts, a couple from Tortola with a 40 foot Hattaras and some others. Steve, Abe’s son, was tending bar.

We had a big dinner. Lobster, conch, rice and peas, corn and cole slaw.

During dinner I saw a Suzuki Jeep leave from in front of Abe’s house. It got my attention because I never had seen a vehicle on this beach before.

Later, just as we were finishing dinner, the vehicle returned. I saw the driver for the first time. It was Steve. I asked him where he got the jeep, and was it his and where he was going.

It turned out that Kendrick, one of my old friend’s Etien Chinnery’s sons, was now in the business of renting vehicles. Kendrick, who was a former customs officer and bar tender at the Sand Castle in White Harbour had also began Jost Van Dyke’s first ferry business. He had one jeep for rent, this automatic transmission Suzuki Jeep for rent for $35.00 a day. Steve had rented it for three days.

I asked Steve if he’d take us for a ride and being the nice guy that he is, he consented. We went over the mountain to Great Harbour, around the bottom in back of the beach at Great Harbour, passed Rudy’s and then along the waterfront and back to Foxy’s where there was music and dancing.

Foxy had left for the evening and Tessa was closing up the store. Ivan was playing guitar with a local trio. The bar was fairly crowded and everyone was in good spirits. I saw some of the regulars there,  Godwin and Nippy and Melvin were dancing with the tourists. My friends, Etien Chinnery and Junie, Abe’s brother from Little Harbour, were over by the band watching the scene.

We were in for a treat, another first for me. Dean, one of Foxy’s sons, was going to do his famous fire dance. It was a great show. Dean was in costume and made up like an African warrior. The sound of drums from the drum machine. He danced with his fire sticks and blew fire out of his mouth like a fire breathing dragon. Then he broke up some liquor bottles in a cardboard box and placed the broken shards on the floor. He danced on the glass and then  he danced holding up the biggest man in the house, a 250 pound Brit, in his arms. Dean was quite the showman and I was duly impressed.

After the Dean Spectacular we got back in our rent-a-car and drove back to Abe’s for the moonlight trip back home to St. John.

Thanks Steve. Thanks Dean. Thanks to all my very special Virgin Islands friends!

GS 4/15/95

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View Into Sopers Hole, West End Tortola

View East Towards Sandy Cay

View of Jost Van Dyke

View of turtle pen in bay below

Close up view of pen used in the past to hold turtles

Northern Coast of Great Thatch

Speedboats racing through the Narrows

View of St. John

View to the west

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Summit of Great Thatch BVI

photo taken from the summit of Great Thatch's highest mountaintop

A team consisting of two St. Johnians succeeded in scaling the steep mountaintop on the island of great Thatch in the British Virgin Islands bringing back some absolutely awesome photos taken from their perch atop the summit, a feat not likely to be duplicated anytime soon.

photo of Great Thatch taken from the Narrows

Approach to Great Thatch

Mountain seen from the shore

Hilltop as seen from the ruins

close up view of the south coast from the summit

view of the south coast from the summit

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Ruin on Great Thatch British Virgin Islands

Ruin on Great Thatch, British Virgin Islands

Great Thatch BVI

Great Thatch

Great Thatch Island lies just to the north of St. John.  The approximately half-mile passage between Great Thatch and the St. John coast from the rocky cliffs of Mary Point and the steep tyre palm covered hillsides between there and Leinster Bay form “the Narrows,” characterized by gusty winds and strong tidal currents.

I’ve snorkeled there and once camped out on the beach, but I always thought of the interior of the island to be impenetrable bush on cliff-like hillsides, maybe suitable for goats, but not people. I was wrong.

Guided by a good friend and knowledgeable Virgin Islander, I took the opportunity to explore for the first time, the island’s interior.

Unfinished Building on Great Thatch, British Virgin IslandsWe began our adventure at the site of an unfinished building on the far eastern corner of the long beach on the southern coast. Rumor has it that this was to be a built as a restaurant. Work started about 1997, but was plagued by misfortune. Supposedly a dump truck full of gravel arriving by barge got stuck in the sand and remained stuck for quite some time. It was eventually removed, but I never heard how. The same sand that the truck got stuck in, made the site look like a desirable beach location, but that was an anomaly, the natural state of that section of beach is gravel, to which it returned and is to this day. So much for rumor.

old road on Great Thatch, British Virgin islands

stone retaining wall on lower side of road

We headed straight up the hill in back of the building through a forest of mostly genip trees growing very close together. The vegetation was thick, but passable and we soon came to an old road bed running gradually up along the hillside. We followed the road until my friend inexplicably decided that we should leave the road and continue straight up again towards the ridge, which we did, and which led us to the first of a series of ruins.

Great Thatch, British Virgin Islands

outbuilding above the road

cook house great thatch bvi

cook house

animal corral, great thatch, british virgin islands

animal corral

cistern

cistern

cookhouse doorway

cookhouse doorway

view from great thatch

view from ruin

Smuggling and Great Thatch
I came across this little tidbit of historical information, which gives, among other things, a little picture of life on this island that I always thought to be either uninhabited or at least sparsely so.

“On being informed on November 24 (1856) that a boat belonging to an inhabitant of (Great) Thatch Island was trading without a license, the sub-treasurer of Tortola proceeded to seize it. He soon had to abandon the seizure, however, when he was assaulted and the crew of his boat badly beaten. Two days later, a force consisting of four constables was dispatched by the stipendiary magistrate to arrest the offenders. On landing they were obstructed by 40 or 50 people, and when the persevered and made their arrest were also severely beaten. On the following day, a larger force comprising 30 men, principally rural constables, 12 of whom were armed, was dispatched to quell the spirit of insubordination and to apprehend the offenders. Despite this show of force, it was only the assistance of the Wesleyan missionaries who were influential among the inhabitants, which enabled 16 arrests to be made without active opposition.” From “A History of the British Virgin islands” by Issac Dookhan

Great Thatch’s connection with smuggling may not be confined to the nineteenth century as rumors abound about bales of illicit drugs being found washed up on the shoreline there.

The name of the island itself suggests something nefarious. It is said that Thatch is a corruption of the name Teach and that the islands given the Thatch name, Thatch Cay in the US Virgins, and Great and Little Thatch in the British were named after the pirate Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard.

Bottles
On our walk we encountered many old bottles as well as other artifacts. It seems that this might help to date how recently people were still living on the island. Many of the bottles it turns out were manufactured by the Portobello bottle company in Edinburgh, Scotland after 1907.

One More T’ing
All during our walk we could hear the bleating of a goat, but we could never see him. Just as I was leaving a spotted him…


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Cane Garden Bay, Tortola, British Virgin Islands

But women and water are in short supply
There’s not enough dope for us all to get high
I hear it gets better, that’s what they say
As soon as we sail on to Cane Garden Bay
From Mañana by Jimmy Buffet

Callwood Rum Distillery, Cane Garden Bay, Tortola, British Virgin islands

Callwood Rum Distillery, Cane Garden Bay, Tortola, British Virgin Islands

Getting there is half the fun
The weekend get-off-the-rock excursion brought our little gang, Max, Michelle, Ezius and I to Cane Garden Bay on the island of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. We left Great Cruz Bay in what’s been dubbed by my brother, Mario, “The Volvo,” a 15-foot Carib hard bottom inflatable powered by that trusty product of Japanese technology, a 60 horsepower Yamaha four stroke. I love this boat!

Being out at sea in the Virgin Islands never gets old for me. I’m getting kind of tired of all those adjectives to describe our islands, so let me just say that its unbelievably beautiful.

Leaving Great Cruz Bay we head north past the barge landing and Frank Bay and Gallows Point and out little town of Cruz Bay. Rounding Lind Point we run along St. John’s north shore passing beach after beach of the best beaches in the whole world, Salomon, Caneel, Hawksnest, Trunk, Cinnamon, Maho while on our left dozens of cays and rocks enhance the amazing seascape backdropped by the big island of St. Thomas in the west. Next we pass through the Fungi Passage separating Whistling Cay and Mary Point, the rocky cliff side on St. John where it is rumored that the last holdout of rebellious slaves from the 1733 St. John Slave Rebellion committed suicide rather than surrender.

National Park Service Ranger, Denise George. once told me that Fungi Passage got it’s name because like traditional Virgin Islands Fungi, (a dish made with cornmeal and okra and often served with fish as in “fish ‘n’ fungi”) It’s smooth! Maybe she made up that story, but it’s a good one and the passage is invariably calm.

Next we run up the Narrows with the dramatic cliffs and steep hillsides with their stands of tall elegant tyre palms on the St. John side and the island of Great Thatch, named after Edward Teach, or better known as Blackbeard, on the other.  And then we cross the channel to Tortola, passing Belmont Bay, also known as Smugglers Cove, then we continue on Tortola’s north coast passing Long Bay and the surfing Meccas of Apple and Carrot Bays and on to out destination fro the day, Cane Garden Bay.

Cane Garden Bay
I remember sailing into Cane Garden Bay some thirty years ago for the first time. The long stretch of white coral sand beach, protected practically it’s whole length by a reef lying about 50 yards offshore was practically deserted. Two commercial establishments offered amenities to locals, tourists and visiting yachtsmen (or to be politically correct should I say yatchtspersons or perhaps yachts men-and-women?) Towards the center of the bay was Stanley’s Welcome Bar with the iconic tire swing hanging from a palm tree and serving fresh Caribbean lobster nightly and on some nights offering music and dancing. Rhymers on the east also had a restaurant, plus there were showers a general store, and rooms available for rent.

Over the years the beach became more and more developed, but notwithstanding it by and large kept its Virgin Islands’ flavor and ambiance. I always thought that the development there was a good thing. A place where you had the opportunity to experience something more than just the normal beach stuff like swimming, sunning and snorkeling. at Cane Garden Bay you could also find real native restaurants, water sports rentals and live music even  big concerts with well known artists every once and a while.

We on St. Thomas and St. John didn’t have anything like it. Development of the beaches on St. Thomas was quite another matter. Big condominium projects and hotels bought up the beach fronts, which became their exclusive property. On St. John, the best beaches had become the property of the Virgin Islands National Park with only carefully controlled park concessions on Trunk and Cinnamon Bays, protected but lacking any semblance of Virgin islands native culture. So the moderately developed beaches on Tortola offered a pleasant change and positive addition to the beach experience.

Now, however, a new dynamic has come to play on Cane Garden Bay, as well as some other popular beaches, namely White Bay on Jost Van Dyke and the Baths on Virgin Gorda. We’re talking cruise ships!

On this visit to Cane Garden Bay, when I saw the line of beach lounges three rows deep from one end of the beach to the other, I guess, for me, the development I had once appreciated had become a bit too much.

Talking to some locals, I was given to understand that there is a certain appreciation for the cruise industry as far as the boost it gives to the BVI economy.

On the other hand, many locals worry about the stress cruise ships have on the infrastructure, the environment, the culture and the people of the British Virgin Islands.

Meanwhile for those of us who care, there is no shortage of undeveloped beaches, forests and mountainsides to enjoy not only on Tortola, but also throughout both the British and American Virgin Islands.

What a cool place to call home!!!

G

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The William Thornton

The Willy-T, the Bight, Norman Island, British Virgin Islands

The William Thornton, more affectionately known as the “Willy T” was originally a wooden 1935 Baltic Schooner. In 1985 the vessel was hauled out to the Bight at Norman Island and operated as a restaurant and bar, frequented by the many bareboaters who would anchor at the bay.

The old Willy T sunk in 1995. It was raised and hauled out to sea to be used a s a BVI dive site, but unfortunately the Willy T broke apart and was scattered about the sea bottom. The new Willy T is a steel replica of the original and is more popular than ever. Lits of drinking and girls jumping off the poop deck topless and body shots and music and dirty dancing and fun for all, not to mention the food that is really good.

The name William Thornton comes from a guy who was born on Jost Van Dyke and designed the United States Capitol Building.

SS William Thornton

Al "Boopy" Smith on X-Rated

Al "Boopy" Smith on "X-Rated"

M/V X-Rated

X-Rated

Mario and Boopy

Mario "Chin" Jackson & Boopy at the Willy-T

Norman Island BVI

Boats rafted up at the Willy T

The Bight, Norman Island British Virgin islands

Boopy, Mario and unidentified Jumper

Willy T "William Thornton

Dancers at the Willy T

BVI

outboard engines

Mario "Willy Chin" Jackson

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It’s been a great week spent with good friends visiting from America. On Monday we left St. John in the rain – because my friend Allan “didn’t want to waste a day” – and jumped in my trusty Carib inflatable and off we went into the squally seas headed for Jost Van Dyke.

Michael and Foxy and his famous photo op pose

Michael and Foxy and his famous photo op pose

Foxy
We arrived fairly dry and making good time, cleared customs and walked up the stand to Foxy’s, who came down to the bar shortly after we got there.

There’s always something new and exciting with Foxy and this time was no different. Besides being a culture hero of the sailing world, Foxy has devoted much time, money and energy to Jost Van Dyke Preservation Society, dedicated to keeping alive the island’s unique culture.

The latest project has been the building of a traditional island sloop, an educational and cultural project funded by private interests, including a $50,000 donation from country singer, Kenny Chesney.

Over the years Foxy has received numerous awards and honors. A BVI postage stamp features “Foxy’s Wooden Boat Race.” He has been made an honorary “Kentucky Colonel” and now Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has appointed Foxy to be a “Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in appreciation of his contributions to the culture and economy of the British Virgin Islands.

Sometime soon, Foxy and Tessa will fly to London and will personally receive the commendation which will be presented at Buckingham Palace by the Queen herself.

Before

sometime in the less crowded past

Last Monday

Last Monday

Bubbly Pool
After seeing Foxy, it was off to Abe’s in Little Harbour for a lunch of stewed conch, snorkeling at Little Green Cay and at about 4:00 we tied up to the dock at Foxy’s Taboo and walked over to the Bubbly Pool.

The Bubbly Pool that day was a bit of a dissapointment. Not only did the wave action leave a lot to be desired, but the sad truth is that the Bubbly Pool is no longer a little known secret. As we walked towards the pool, we passed by dozens of people coming from there. Upon arrival, there were still quite a few more and it wasn’t even a good day. Oh well, as the philosopher, Foxy Callwood, so often says, “such is life.”

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