St. John Virgin Islands: Catherineberg “Pano”

Cathrineberg Windmill

One of my friends visiting me on St. John last week, Jonah Gouin, is into, among many other cool things, “panos.”

Panos, short for panoramas, are a series of still photos stitched together seamlessly to form a three dimensional interactive image that can be manipulated by the viewer using the mouse and a few easy to use commands. It’s as if one was standing in a spot and can see in any direction, up, down and around as well as being able to zoom in on any particular view.

To show me how it was done, we picked the Catherineberg windmill as a test and Jonah shot the pano. It’s not new technology, but it’s very cool and really lends itself to St. John with it’s dramatic overlooks and fascinating ruins.

Check this one out for yourself – Cathrineberg Panorama

(The red dots will take you between the lower passageway level and the upper windmill level. The last button to the right puts the pano into full screen mode.)

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St. John USVI: Closed Gym Wants More Members

I didn’t even notice the ad in the Tradewinds, until yesterday when Val, a trainer and ex manager at the gym, brought it to my attention while shopping at Dolphin Market.

I didn’t have my reading glasses, so I didn’t appreciate the total absurdity of the ad until I got home and read it more carefully.

It seems that Mark Dallas, the owner of the Gym in Paradise, took out a $240 ad in the St. John Tradewinds advertising for new members, implying that he would reopen the gym if … let me use the words in the ad:

“The Gym in Paradise can reopen if 100 people can ‘commit to health.’
That is: 100 new members need to commit to $65 a month for one year via your credit card or cash with a one-year commitment with $65 deposit. Any existing time owed will be honored upon reopening.”

So let me get this straight. One hundred St. Johnians are supposed to commit to pay $845 each to a guy who just finished using an advertised “special” of $120 for a three-month membership to collect money from trusting individuals and then closed the doors to the gym and kept the money.

Excuse me, but how stupid does he think we are here on St. John.

Personally, I can’t believe that there is one sucker out there gullible enough to fork over $845 to our buddy in the states, let alone 100 of them.

So what’s going on? In short, the Mark Dallas guy took the money and ran. He has published apologies for this, but never has offered to refund anyone’s money. For that matter Bernie Madoff apologized too, but he’s being held responsible.

By the way, what did he do with that money? Did he keep it for himself? Did he pay off debts to the big boys, who might bring him to court using that money he squeezed from the little guys that he assumes are too poor or too unsophisticated to fight back?

Well if you were a victim of the scam, there is a way to get your money back, and that is by utilizing the Small Claims Court located on the third floor of the Boulon Center. You don’t need a lawyer and the clerks are there to help you with the paperwork. (Online information about the Virgin Islands Small Claims Court)

You should have some paperwork such as a contract, canceled check or agreement and you’ll need the owner’s name and address that should be available at the Marketplace offices.

So if you care, there is an avenue to pursue. As they say, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.”

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St. John Virgin Islands: American Kestral

American Kestral

I finally was able to photograph an American Kestral, one of the two predatory hawks found in our islands. The other is the much larger Jamaican red-tailed hawk. The American Kestral is also known as a sparrow hawk or locally, killy killy, a name that comes from their loud shrill cry. The American Kestral is rather small for a hawk, only reaching about 12 -14 inches in length. They eat insects, lizards, rodents and small birds. I once watched while on of these birds as it perched high in a tree. All of a sudden it swooped down, flying about 50 yards and scooped up a lizard. How that bird saw that tiny lizard, camoflauged in tall grass from so far away was quite impressive. I thought to myself, “that bird must have eyes like a hawk.”

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St. John Virgin Islands: Signs of Spring

It really looks like spring has arrived on St. John.

almost equinox st john sunrise
almost equinox st john sunrise

I awoke before sunrise to the loud bang of a transformer blowing out, knocking out the electricity in the neighborhood. Just as well. I took advantage of the change in daily routine and went for a walk outside. I noticed that the nearby mampoo trees, turpentine trees and poor man’s orchids, which had lost their leaves and were looking straggly and sparse of late, were full of bright light-green buds and mango flowers and tiny mangoes hung from the mango tree; all sure signs of spring.

I also noticed that one of our favorite orchids had burst into flower motivating me to get my camera and take a picture. Camera in hand, I was then able to catch the morning’s sunrise. The seas were just about dead calm and the sky was quite hazy, possibly African dust or maybe ash from Montserrat. Hazy skies are not usually so great for photography, but in the case of of sunrises and sunsets they actually can add color and complexity as it was this morning  making for a particularly beautiful sunrise.

mampoo in spring
mampoo in spring
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St. John USVI: A Visit to Jost Van Dyke

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

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.

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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St. John USVI: Gym in Paradise Update

Here’s the latest gym in paradise rumor. Two fairly reliable sources tell me that the gym will reopen in the next week or so. I have been hearing this since the place closed, and have been skeptical up until now. Of course “it isn’t over until the fat lady sings,” but I’m told that the original lease holders will open the gym shortly if no new buyer is found.

Meanwhile I still think that the way it was done really stinks; taking money for a low priced “special” and then closing up shortly after. Where did the money go?

However, if the gym reopens and all previous memberships are honored then what looked like a rip off before, becomes a mere inconvenience.

We’ll see…

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St. John Virgin Islands: What’s the Weather Like?

I have some friends who will be visiting me on St. John, and in the course of a conversation about what to bring and what to expect I was asked the question, “What’s the weather like?

Without thinking, I blurted out, “Cold!”

“What are you crazy,” came the reply, “I’m here in Rhode Island. It’s 33 degrees, and you’re telling me it’s cold?”

I restated my assessment of the weather and told my friend that true, relatively speaking it’s not really cold here, but it certainly is colder than normal.

I called another friend who lives on St. Thomas who lives to snorkel and fish. I wanted to invite him to go snorkeling with us one day while my friends were here. Without a prompt, he said, “I’d love to, but damn, it sure has been cold!”

“So you think it’s cold too,” I asked him.

“Are you kidding, it’s the coldest I remember it being ever,” he said. “As a matter of fact I was just speaking to Ed Gibney (who has lived on St. John his whole life) and he said that it’s the coldest winter he’s ever experienced.

I decided to do a little checking up of my own on this. I’ve been living here on and off for 40 years and I thought it’s been cold, but I wanted to ask some native St. Johnians what they remember.

In my informal, anecdotal and unscientific study of information garnered from a statistically insignificant sampling of St. John natives 5o years old or more, I ascertained that this is the coldest winter in recent memory.

Checking further, I looked at the weather forecast for next week and I find that the low lows, that is, the temperature at night on higher elevations is predicted to be a bone chilling 66 degrees. Of course the high highs, that is, the high temperature during the day at the beach is predicted to be a comfortable 85 degrees. I guess what they say about your blood thinning if you live here too long may be true. Eighty five sounds cold to me.

Should I tell my friends to bring sweaters?

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St. John Virgin Islands: Sounds of the Night

Each night as the sun sets an unseen orchestra begins its concert. The music can be heard all over the island, but it is particularly evident in less developed areas. The concert begins little by little until all the performers are belting out their parts at full blast. The diminutive musicians live in the trees and although they’re heard loud and clear, they are rarely seen no matter how hard you look for them.

Let us introduce some of the musicians:

Antillean tree frog – Continuous “churee – churee”

Whistling frog – High-pitched prolonged whistle often followed by a clicking sound

Coqui – “Ko – KEY” followed by a long pause “Ko – KEY”

I’ve heard some newcomers to the island say that at first the tree frogs kept them awake at night. But after some time on the island,  they couldn’t fall sleep in the absence of what had become the soporific melodies of the Virgin Islands Tree Frog Orchestra.

Click here to hear the “St. John Sounds of the Night” presented by the St. John Virgin Islands Tree Frog Orchestra

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Sad News: Jimmy Herrin Passes

Jimmy Heron

I had already heard so many Jimmy Herrin stories from John Gibney that I felt like I already knew the man before we had even met.

John’s little plywood cottage, which we more often refferd to as “the beach” had become a gathering place of old friends reunited after being separated by time and circumstances, as well as new people, new friends and new loves. (I met Habiba on one of those days when she had come to the beach with King.)

Ray Samuels and Sid Carter were regulars at the beach. Ray loved to play with Tommy (and Tommy loved to play with Ray. Hyacinth and Michelle, the poet Ghost, the culture bearer, Ital, the artist David Wegman, a contingent of Argentine expats even upscale Peter Bay people, were among those attracted to the energy of the beach.

Jimmy Herrin, a close friend of John’s, joined the group after being released from prison where he served time on a conspiracy charge involving drugs sold a long time ago and his refusal to cooperate with authorities.

David Wegman on Violin

There would almost always be music, an informal jam session, John on guitar, Ray and Jimmy on harmonica, and anyone else who wanted to join in.

King and danny playing West indian Checkers on Los Alamos table

We would often sit around an old wooden table that J. Robert Oppenheimer brought to St. John from Los Alamos, New Mexico, a relic of the Manhattan Project. We would sit, drink wine, and as they say in Hawaii, “talk story” far into the night. Sometimes Teri would prepare a delicious South Beach style dinner, or Mexican Ralph would cook up some of the foods of his country or Ronnie the mechanic would make a barbecue.

We’d enjoy good conversations and great back-and-forths, sometimes politically incorrect but always lively and witty. For example, in one of those exchanges between Jimmy Herrin and Ray Samuels, Jimmy asks Ray to explain, “how is it that you guys get all the Yellowtail, and we can’t get any Hardnose?

Ray hesitates for a few seconds and comes back with, “Jimmy, we can’t get any Hardnose either.

(For those of you who don’t get it – it’s probably just as well)

Jimmy had a sharp wit and fancied himself a righter of wrongs. He thoroughly enjoyed exposing hypocrisy, a practice that at times would often totally piss off the targeted “hypocrite.” You could say that Jimmy was edgy – like really edgy, but most times he was spot on. But underneath it all, in his twinkling blue eyes that peered out from behind that big beard there was a genuinely stellar human being, who would literally give you the shirt off his back

Jimmy was one of those guys who was accepted and well liked by just about everyone he came in contact with be they white, black, old or young (as long as they weren’t hypocrites).

A woman I know once told me how Jimmy saved her from a vicious assault, when he stood up to the attacker, a man much larger than himself. She felt that if Jimmy hadn’t intervened the man might have killed her.

Jimmy Heron

Jimmy, we’re going to miss you.

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