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1970s Virgin Islands Stories: The Cygnus

by Gerald Singer SeeStJohn.com
As told to me by Tal Carter
The Cygnus was a 50-foot John Alden yawl. She belonged to Steve Boone, who claimed to be descended from Daniel Boone. Steve Boone was born and bred in Boone, North Carolina and is best known for being the bassist for the popular rock and roll group, “Loving Spoonful.”

Boone moved to St. Thomas around 1970 where he continued his musical career performing at a place called the Grass Shack in Charlotte Amalie. He bought the Cygnus shortly after arriving in the islands and docked her at the Yacht Haven Marina in the Charlotte Amalie harbor.

Boone lived aboard the yacht for a while, sailing around the islands, but never going too far from home. After a while, like many boat owners, he began to spend less and less time with his boat, which, like a lot of stuff in the Virgin Islands, gradually (maybe not so gradually) began to fall into a state of disrepair.

Taking advantage of the owner’s many absences and basically good nature, a series of somewhat disreputable hippie friends and hangers-on began to use the boat as a crash pad. As a result, the Cygnus got a bad reputation, which, in fact, was actually quite an accomplishment at the Yacht Haven Marina in 1971, a venue for a sizable compliment of questionable characters.

But the truth was that life aboard the Cygnus was getting pretty sleazy. One night, a young drifter was found dead in his cabin succumbing to an overdose of heroin. This was when the denizens of Yacht Haven’s, Fearless Freddie’s Bar gave the Cygnus a new name, the Sickness.

After this incident, Boone assigned a guy named Brad, who worked for Zora, the sandal-maker, when she had her shop on Main Street to take charge of the Cygnus.

Brad kicked the remaining druggies off the boat and, in return for maintaining the neglected craft, was given the use of the yacht. Brad sent for two of his friends from Michigan to come down to St. Thomas to help. They all stayed aboard the Cygnus at the dock at Yacht Haven Marina for a while, but eventually they decided that St. John would be a nicer place to be, so they sailed over and anchored in Cruz Bay.

Brad and the Michigan boys listened to a lot of music and smoked a lot of dope, but didn’t do a whole lot of maintenance or a whole lot of sailing.

One day there was talk about the Cygnus having a charter in Aruba and Brad, his two friends and a girl that had joined them made some hasty preparations for the voyage. Their plan was to sail to St. Croix, provision and then sail directly to Aruba.

It apparently was a hellacious trip from St. John to St. Croix. Rough seas opened up some serious leaks and the Cygnus just barely reached St. Croix with all pumps pumping in conjunction with some good old-fashioned bailing.

The girl who joined the crew at the last minute was so freaked by the ordeal that she bowed out of the adventure and flew back to St. John on the Antilles Airboat seaplane.

The girl came back to St. John with the story of the voyage. She said that there was no safety equipment aboard, no life preservers and no radio.

She relayed a message to a guy named Skip, telling him that Brad had asked if he would fly down to St. Croix, help them patch the leaking boat and sail with them to Aruba.

Skip was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam. He had crashed twice. Both times he was the only survivor of the craft. On four other flights, his tail gunners were killed. He came to St. John when his tour of duty was over, where he met Jackie, who became his girlfriend. Jackie had come to St. John from Maine with her girlfriend Allison, where they were living at Allison’s father’s campground.

Skip and Jackie hopped the seaplane to St. Croix and this was the last that anyone ever heard from them or any of the crew of the Cygnus. They vanished without a trace. Although there was all sorts of speculation as to what might have become of them, given the poor condition of the yacht, the lack of safety equipment and communication devices and the inexperience of captain and crew, the assumption had to be made that the boat sank and all hands presumed drowned.

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Rain, Water and Water Conservation on St. John

St. John has been having a lot of rain this last few weeks. Some of it has been associated with tropical storms and some just plain rainy days.

The guts are running cisterns are filling up and mosquitoes are hatching. My cistern is actually overflowing. Time for a nice long shower, wash the clothes and do the dishes. Looks like more rain coming.

Notwithstanding these wet rainy days, in general St. John is a dry place. When I first came to the islands in the 1970s the attitude toward water was one of serious conservation.

It wasn’t so easy to get water in those days, so people really conserved. If you ran out of water, you might have to wait a while before you could get a truck to bring you more. On St. John, the situation was especially critical. Although there were some wells that could provide limited amounts of water, most water for delivery came on a barge that arrived every once and a while from Puerto Rico.

It wasn’t fun to run out of water. No flushes meant things could get quite stinky, as was the case with no showers and the kitchen sink could fill up with dishes in no time at all.

To conserve water, you took a shower by turning on the faucet just long enough to get wet and then quickly turned it off. Then you’d soap up completely after which you’d turn on the water just long enough to get the soap off. Same with brushing your teeth, shaving or washing dishes. You didn’t run the water while you were doing something else.

Flushing the toilet was only resorted to when absolutely necessary. It was hard to find bathrooms in guest houses, restaurants and other facilities frequented by tourists that didn’t have some sort of message posted begging the user to save water, especially in regards to flushing. Some were pretty cute, I remember, like “On this island in the sun, we seldom flush for number one” or “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.”

These measures could be very effective and people rarely ran out of water, even during prolonged dry spells.

Nowadays the situation has changed radically. St. John has become a place dominated by large luxury homes, most of which are rented out short term to tourists. With prices often more that $1,000/day there’s not much use in telling visitors not to flush or to take short showers. These homes often use more water in a day than native families and residents who still live in modest homes use in a month and probably more water than most of the world’s population uses in a year.

Years ago, the idea of building a swimming pool for your home would have been greeted with laughter. “Why would you build a swimming pool on an island with so many world class beaches?” Today, a swimming pool is just about obligatory (as is air conditioning) for that vacation rental or second home. Given the great surface area of swimming pools, the amount of water lost to evaporation is considerable and is another factor leading to the demand for water.

Today, however, there is a water desalinization plant to provide water, which supplies areas serviced by water lines and which can be delivered to homes in large water trucks. Rainwater is supplementary, but no longer is the source of most water used on the island’s large homes and hotels. Most of the time people can get water delivered when they need it, but not always.

The problem is that as more and more luxury homes come on line the demand for water is ever increasing and WAPA can barely meet demand on St. John today. Rationing at the water plant is already quite common during dry spells or when there is a problem with the water makers at the Caneel Bay Resort or the Westin so it looks like we’d better start thinking about water conservation once again, because it very well may not be there for you, if you run out.

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A St. John Virgin Islands WAPA story

by Gerald Singer, www.SeeStJohn.com
Back in the 1970’s when I first arrived on St. John, power outages were quite common. Everyone kept candles and flashlights handy to use when the lights went out. As time went on the electrical service became more dependable.

Recently, however, perhaps due to today’s far greater demand, there have been a significant amount of blackouts and brownouts on St. Thomas and St. John.

The following story is about a St. John family and an unusual side effect of a WAPA power outage. The family, a husband, wife and little girl, came to live on St. John about three years ago and have adapted well to life in the Virgin Islands.

About a month ago there was a power outage that occurred during a thunderstorm and the lights went out for about an hour.

The following morning, the family noticed something unusual had happened. Although they had subscribed to a basic cable option from Innovative Cable TV, the morning after the power outage they began to receive all the stations available on the cable system.

For about a week, the family was glued to the TV set watching everything from animated specials for kids to movies and the latest cable productions on Showtime, Home Box Office, Cinemax, Disney, you name it – everything! No action was taken by any of the parties involved and the TV situation returned to normal.

Two days ago there was another thunderstorm causing some brownouts, which were followed by a short power outage.

When the lights went back on, one of the first things they did was to check the TV, just in case.

To everyone’s delight, there were all the wonderful programs once again. Gratis for as long as it lasts, thanks to Virgin Islands WAPA and Innovative Cable TV.

“Yes!” said the husband. “Sometimes I just love Caribbean inefficiency!”

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Tropical Storm Hanna brings large surf to St. John

Storm damage Great Cruz BaySeeStJohn.com
A sloop washed up onto the southeastern shore of Great Cruz Bay during the night, the result of large waves generated from Tropical Storm Hanna, which passed by to the north of us.

There was also damage at Chocolate Hole where a catamaran and several small craft washed up on the beach and a vessel at a mooring was submerged. www.SeeStJohn.com

Storm damage Chocolate Hole Storm damage Chocolate Hole

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St. John Tuesday: First day of School

Jacob and Oliva get ready for their first day at the Gifft Hill School
Jacob and Olivia get ready for their first day at the Gifft Hill School
Staring the first day with Miss Val
Starting the first day with Miss Val

It was the first day of school today for Jacob and his “Boo,” Olivia, who began preschool at St. John’s Gifft Hill School.

All went well!

Gifft Hill School, St. John Virgin Islands
Gifft Hill School, St. John Virgin Islands
Gifft Hill School, St. John Virgin Islands
Gifft Hill School, St. John Virgin Islands
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US Virgin Islands Holidays

It’s Labor Day weekend, an official holiday celebrated throughout the United States, its commonwealth’s and its territories. In actual practice, the holiday, which purports to commemorate the struggles and achievements of American workers, is celebrated as an end of summer ritual, characterized more by backyard barbecues than by marches with banners and bands.

On St. John and in the Virgin Islands, Labor Day is celebrated in much the same way. As native Virgin Islanders and long-time residents already know, the Virgin Islands seemingly enjoys more holidays than anywhere else in the world.

We have all the US holidays like Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving and Presidents Day and Virgin Island Holidays like Three King’s Day, Transfer Day, Hurricane Supplication Day, Bull and Bread Day and Boxing Day.

As most official USVI holidays are celebrated on Mondays, it appears as if every Monday is a holiday.

Follow this link for a list of all US Virgin Islands holidays and their explanations.

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Virgin Islands Duty Free Liquor Gets More Expensive

by Gerald Singer www.SeeStJohn.com

Many tourists take advantage of the significant savings on alcoholic beverages purchased in the Virgin Islands. But now this perk to St. Thomas travel is being undermined by the airlines and here’s how:

If you are flying back to the United States from the US Virgin Islands, you are allowed to bring 5 bottles (one liter) of liquor duty free or six bottles, if one of them is produced locally in The Virgin islands. It’s quite a saving as tax amounts for a great portion of the price of liquor bought in the United States.

But, consider this: Wines and liquors are liquids and, under new homeland security guidelines, cannot by carried onboard – they must be checked in.

Checked in items, however, now incur a fee, which means that if you had no checked in luggage at all, your package of liquor would be charged $15.

If you do have a bag already checked in, that box of duty free beverages will be charged $25 as your second bag.

If you already have two bags to be checked in, you might want to consider flushing the booze down the toilet or passing it out free to whoever wants it, because as your third bag, it will be charged $100.

And if by some chance you already have five bags checked, there will be $200 charge for you reduced-priced liquor.

High Prices and Cut Backs

In case you haven’t noticed, the price of airline tickets is on the rise. Cheap tickets and special deals are almost a thing of the past. And travel isn’t as much fun as it used to be, to say the least. You need to get to the airport two hours before the flight, be humiliated at security checkpoints, squeeze into smaller seats and pay extra for everything from sandwiches to water.

The high-priced airline seats will also be getting harder to find at all. For example, American Airlines is cutting back Virgin Islands flights.

The twice daily direct flights between Miami and St. Thomas has been cutback to once a day.

The daily direct flight between St. Thomas and JFK in New York is now once a week

American Eagle flights between St. Thomas and San Juan have been cut back from eight a day to three a day and between St. Croix and San Juan the 576 available seats will decrease to only 216.

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Lunch at the Waterfront Bistro – Cruz Bay, St. John Virgin Islands

Waterfront Bistro Wharfside Village, St. John Virgin Islands
Waterfront Bistro Wharfside Village, St. John USVI

by Gerald Singer seestjohn.com
Habiba and I have a three-year-old boy so we don’t go out to eat that often.

From time to time, however, we do appreciate a nice lunch in a St. John restaurant.

A friend recommended the Waterfront Bistro, located at Wharfside Village where the Panini Beach restaurant used to be and we decided to give it a try.

The restaurant is right on Cruz Bay Beach a picture-perfect view of the St. John waterfront.

A light breeze of the bay and an overhead fan gave us some respite from the rather warm Virgin Islands noonday summer sun.

Chef Craig Sullivan at the Waterfront Bistro Cruz Bay St. John
Chef Craig Sullivan at the Waterfront Bistro Cruz Bay St. John

We enjoyed an excellent meal prepared by the experienced and talented chef, Craig Sullivan.

Habiba had already tried a white gazpacho made with melon and crab meat on a previous visit. She wanted to have it again, but it wasn’t available that day – no melons – ah, life on St. John. So we had fish tacos – excellent – mahi mahi in steamed corn tacos with shredded cabbage and a mango fruit salsa.

Our son, Jacob had chicken fingers like always and he liked them – finished the plate – a good sign

The important thing is: We’ll be back!

View of Cruz Bay Beach from restaurant
View of Cruz Bay Beach from restaurant

If anyone has their own restaurant reviews, we’d all love to hear from you – post a comment…

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St. John Stories – Mom’s phone call

by Gerald Singer seestjohn.com

Stories from St. John Virgin Islands in the 1970s
I present here some short anecdotes. Little stories of my life on St. John, which I hope will serve to capture something of the feel for the island life on St. John during the 1970s, at least my take on it.

Mom’s phone call:
I was living at the top of the hill on Centerline Road just outside of Cruz Bay in a small apartment I rented from Captain Jurgins, a colorful St. John old-timer with a heart of gold.

It was late afternoon, we had finished pulling the fish pots,selling the fish and putting the boat away, when I heard, “Inside.” Then a knock on the door. Not the normal, is anyone home knock, but a authoritative knock … bap, bap, bap! kind of loud and insistent.

“Who is it?” I asked

” ‘afternoon, open up, I want to talk to you.”

It was a policeman.

My pulse quickened, “What did I do?” I thought to myself. I couldn’t think of anything, but I was nervous anyway.

I opened the door.

“Look here,” said the officer. “We just got a call down at the station and it was your momma. She’s worried about you. She wants you to call. What’s the matter with you boy? You need to respect you mother. You need to call.”

In fact, I hadn’t called in about a week. But, in my defense, I didn’t have a phone, the pay phones worked sometimes, but often were out of order. My mom had no way of getting in touch with me outside of writing me a letter, so she came up with the idea of calling the Police Station

OK officer, I’ll call today. Thanks for stopping by.

“Don’t make me come up here again,” he said and he flashed a short, friendly smile as he turned to walk up the driveway.

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