Soon after coming to the Virgin Islands in 1969, I made two major purchases, a 1954 Mercedes Benz with running boards and a four speed shift on the steering column and a 16-foot fiberglass runabout with a 35-horsepower Johnson engine.
I have loved boats for as long as I can remember, which goes back to being about four years old, with my mom and dad, who had a small boat named after me, which they kept on City Island in the Bronx.
But now, I was in boat heaven, the Virgin Islands, venturing farther and farther from the home port, Charlotte Amalie Harbor on St. Thomas.
One day I met a nice young couple who suggested a camping trip to one of the many “deserted tropical islands,” which beckoned to be savored and explored. Sounded like a great idea to me!
Let me say, that although I had a great deal of experience with small boats, it was all on the American mainland. Tropical-island-wise and camping-wise, I was a complete novice. However, my new friends expressed a proficiency with camping out, needing only bare bones equipment and supplies, and we soon resolved to put together an overnight camp on a deserted tropical Virgin Island.
We headed out one morning not long afterward. For a reason that I can’t remember, probably no real reason at all, we chose the island of Great Thatch as our camping venue, ignorant of the fact that it was in the British and not the American Virgins, but in those days it hardly mattered.
We made it in to the beach through the shallow reef that extends the full length of the beach on the island’s south coast without incident (to this day I don’t know how) and set up a rudimentary camp, which consisted of a lean-to covered by a piece of canvas. We spent the day snorkeling, fishing, picnicking and walking around the beach, the interior of the island being for the most part inaccessible to us either because of the thick bush or the steep hillsides. At night we made a fire, cooked up a fish and some potatoes and retired for a night that I remember as being somewhat uncomfortable, due to lack of a soft mattress, the occasional rats that boldly approached wherever there was any food and the not so occasional mosquitoes and sand flies against which chemical warfare was declared.
On the positive side, the night sky on that moonless night, which in those days was almost completely unchallenged by the loom of electric lights from Tortola, St. John, or the east end of St. Thomas, provided us with a sky that contained more stars than I had ever seen before or have ever seen since.
I awoke early in the morning to a powerful stinging sensation on my leg. Looking down I saw that I had been stung by a rather large and evil-looking scorpion. I had never even seen a scorpion before and I was, shall we say, “concerned.”
I didn’t know what to do, if anything, and I woke up my new friends hoping that they would know something.
The guy was like me, clueless, but his girlfriend seemed to know something about scorpions.
“They’re poisonous,” she explained, “very poisonous!
“Are you sure?” I asked the girl.
“Absolutely,” she answered.
“Oh great,” I thought to myself. “This is one hell of a place to get stung by a poisonous scorpion.
“What should I do?” I asked.
“You need to get to a hospital right away or you’ll die,” she answered.
On the one hand, I don’t feel like I’m dying, but on the other, I’m staring to feel panicky.
“OK, lets go!” I say.
We loaded the boat and hastily head back to St. Thomas where supposedly, doctors would give me some rare anti venom and save my life. But by the time we reach Caneel Bay on the north shore of St. John, I’m feeling fine. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure that I’m not poisoned and “every little thing is gonna be all right.”
“Let’s stop on St. John,” I announce, “I really feel fine. I want to talk with someone there, someone who knows what to do.”
Well on St. John, I found out a bit about scorpions, which is that unlike some other varieties found in the desserts, Virgin Islands scorpions, do sting, (haa’d me son) but, unless you are allergic to them, don’t cause much harm, let alone kill you.
That was that. I was out of the woods. Nonetheless, even though it was still morning, I knocked down a shot of rum, to cool out.
We hung around Cruz Bay for the rest of the morning, had lunch at Eric’s Hilltop (now the Virgin Islands legislature offices) and returned to St. Thomas in the afternoon, my supposedly fatal scorpion sting reduced to a small red bump on my leg that maybe itched a little.
And so ended my first experience with camping out. All in all, good memories.