The Great Barracudas of Great Thatch

The other day I wrote a blog entry about getting stung by a scorpion on the Island of Great Thatch in the British Virgin islands. That reminded me of another incident that occurred there, similar in nature to the scorpion incident.

Hillside (photo by Don Hebert) from the Book St. Thomas (USVI)

When we first arrived on Great Thatch for our camping expedition, we spent the day snorkeling and exploring, mostly snorkeling, because our land exploration was limited by thick bush and steep mountainsides.

Between the two mountains that make up the island, there is a low-lying area with a large salt pond, which is about the only place on the island apart from the shoreline that invites exploration. On the southern side (facing St. John) there is a large calm and well protected bay, which is the recipient of a great deal of flotsam, washed up along the shore by the prevailing winds and currents.

(Hillside photo by Don Hebert from the Book St. Thomas USVI)

Exploring that shoreline, you’ll see all kinds of interesting drift plastic with some bearing labels or other indications of their world wide origins. Rumor has it that bales of illicit drugs have been found here.

The bay itself is very shallow in places and full of reef with some coral heads even extending above the surface at times of low tide. At the time, reef was extremely colorful and very much alive.

On the seaward side of the very shallow area, we could see what appeared to be the top of a mast, which came up almost to the water’s surface. We anchored, the boat, donned our gear and dove in to investigate.

As we approached the wreck we were joined by not one, but by some very large barracudas, most with open mouths exposing big sharp teeth. They were big! When seen though a dive mask, which magnifies what you see,  these villainous looking denizens of the deep looked even bigger! And when seen are through a dive mask by someone who never saw a barracuda underwater before they looked even BIGGER.  The three or four cudas that had come by, no doubt simply to satisfy their curiosity, became a giant school of potential attackers. Needless to say I, and my equally unsophisticated partners were chased out of the water and back aboard the boat.

I didn’t go back to dive that cove for many years and when I did, I could no longer find the wreck.

Now, of course, I now know that I was never in any real danger from the barracudas, (Read my barracuda blog entry)

Nonetheless, I, to this day, I can’t seem to completely get rid of that feeling of menace brought about by the barracudas of Great Thatch. Moreover, it seems that this unexplainable, in the sunshine of logic, trepidation that I have about Great Thatch barracuda is shared to some extent by two friends of mine who are both experienced spear fishermen and who I respect for their confidence and abilities in the underwater realm. These two guys, Ed Gibney and Paul Schneider, aren’t even afraid of sharks and they will even dispute ownership of a speared fish with a hungry predator – up to a point, that is.

When relating the incident to Ed, he remarked that the barracudas in that particular bay were unusually large and quite plentiful and that at times they made him feel uneasy. My friend, Paul, who often kayaks and dives with Ed, said basically the same thing and admitted that there is something ominous about those big barracudas that almost always meets when diving that particular reef.

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New Cathrineberg Panorama

Cathrineberg Sugar Mill, St. John Virgin Islands
Cathrineberg Sugar Mill, St. John Virgin Islands

My friend, Jonah Gouin, updated the Cathrineberg panorama that he shot while visiting a few months ago and presented at the time on the See St. John blog.

It’s the new and improved version. Check it out. It may take a little while to download depending on your internet speed, but it’s worth the wait. See Cathrineberg Panorama

Although I absolutely love the Cathrineberg panorama that Jonah made, it was done as a quick fun project to show me some of the ind and outs of what he does.

Click here to find more information about the restored Cathrineberg Sugar Mill excerpted from my book, St. John Off the Beaten Track.

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St. John Virgin Islands Memories: Albert 1974

Albert circa 1974 (photo by Hannele Koivumaki)
Albert circa 1974 (photo from Stephanie Johnson collection)

History of St. John Car Rental
by Lonnie Willis for the St. John Car Rental Website
The next morning we returned his car and told him we were going to think seriously about buying the car rental. Months later we wrote him, and made arrangements to move to the island, and become the new owners of his car rental.

Early on a cold morning, January 4, 1975, we packed up our two children Aaron, 10, and Robert, 7, our dog, Pooh-bear, and our cat, Ikie, and flew out of JFK airport in New York for the Harry S. Truman Airport (an old World War II hanger) in St. Thomas. Forest picked us up at the Cruz Bay dock and drove us to our house rental in Chocolate Hole. The children were enrolled in Julius E. Sprauve Elementary School that week, and Albert & I went to work as car rental owners. Forest was kind enough to give us an extensive period of training, which proved invaluable.

The car rental was originally located at the foot of the Cruz Bay dock, and our 14 cars, mostly VW “Things” and Mini-mokes were parked in the space in front of where the Dockside Pub and stores are today. The office was the old water barrel from Trunk Bay with an opening on the side, and coconut thatch on top. We had a telephone, no credit card machines (we didn’t take credit cards!), no fax (they hadn’t been invented yet), and no copy machine. All paper work was done by hand. In addition, all customers had to buy a Virgin Island temporary driver’s license, and leave a cash deposit. The one gas station on the island, Texaco, was often closed on Holidays, open only a half a day on Sunday, and was often just out-of-gas!

Hours of operation in those days were flexible. If someone needed help in the community, everyone would close his or her business, and go to the person’s rescue. Spotting whales in Sir Francis Drake passage, the downing of a seaplane in the harbor, or just a very rainy day could be the excuse for a total closing of the car rental and half the other businesses in town. Gradually, we got into the rhythm of the Island. (We got used to taking two hour lunches on the beach next to the car rental!) … read more

Forest Fisher
Forest Fisher (photo by Hannele Koivumaki)
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St John Virgin Islands Memories: Great Thatch Scorpion

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.

Virgin Islands Scorpion
Virgin Islands Scorpion

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.

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St. John Virgin Islands Memories: 1976 Photo – Susan & Miles’s Wedding

Susan and Miles 1976 Wedding on St. John, Virgin Islands L to R: Cherie Cleland, Stephanie Johnson, Susan (Perkins) Stair. Photo by Craig Barrett from the Stephanie Johnson collection
Susan and Miles’ 1976 Wedding on St. John, Virgin Islands L to R: Cherie Cleland, Stephanie Johnson, Susan (Perkins) Stair. Photo by Craig Barrett from the Stephanie Johnson collection

This photo of three beautiful ladies was taken at the wedding of Susan Perkins & Miles Stair in 1976 by Craig Barrett. Susan and Miles are still on St. John and still look young and beautiful. Miles heads up Holiday Homes and Susan is the owner of the popular retail shops Bougainvillea and Island Fancy.

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St. John USVI: Forest Service Conducts Forest Inventory of USVI

ST JOHN, USVI — Starting in late July, the USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS) will initiate a second inventory of the forests of US Virgin Islands. The survey begins on the island of St John and continues an effort to measure and monitor the public and private forest lands of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. Tom Brandeis, forest researcher with the SRS Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) program, will lead an expert team of biological scientists conducting the work…read more

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St. John Film Society: Free Movie Tonight at the St. John Marketplace

!!! Free Movie Tonight !!!
Marketplace Third Floor
Cruz Bay, St John

St John Film Society Presents:

The remarkable Fez Festival of World Sacred Music in Morocco

SOUND OF THE SOUL by Stephen Olsson (70 min) 2005

“Imagine the feeling of arriving in North Africa without ever stepping on a plane.”

This striking documentary is set in Fez, the ancient Moroccan city known for its tolerance of all inhabitants, whether Muslim, Christian or Jew. The film highlights the historic city itself, as well as the annual music festival staged there. Musicians travel from around the world to perform in Fez. A chorus of African Berber women, players and vocalists from Afghanistan, England, France, Portugal, Russia, Ireland, Mauritania, Turkey and a gospel band from Harlem intermingle with a group of amazing Sufi whirling dervishes.

“In a world increasingly polarized by religious conflicts and fundamentalist forces, Sound of the Soul reverberates with unity, understanding, and most of all, hope.”

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Cruz Bay, St. John Virgin Islands 1973/2009

Looking at these two photos separated in time by some 36 years, gives you a bird’s-eye view of some of the obvious development that has taken place over time. To me it’s mixed bag, some good some not so good, but all and all, and I think almost everyone would agree with me here, all and all, it’s a really beautiful place to be.

Cruz Bay
Cruz Bay St John Virgin Islands 1973
Cruz Bay St. John USVI 2009
Cruz Bay St. John USVI 2009
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St. John USVI: Dolphin Discounts Expanded

In these tough economic times a good discount is greatly appreciated and the discounts at St. John’s Dolphin Market keep getting better. In his effort to entice new shoppers to his establishment, despite the parking and traffic problems presented by the construction of the roundabout, the owner of Dolphin has upped the discount ante – the 25% discount on purchases over $50, excluding alcoholic beverages and already discounted items, previously a weekend special, will now be in effect every day for the remainder of the month of July.

Pretty good, I’d say!

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