Building a Better Boat Day 7 Part 3–I went out last night
30 Sep 2018
After accomplishing my boat shopping, and hiking back to Red Hook, I was ready to put work and other tasks away for the day. I quickly finished my Pina and headed over to the ferry. This trip I ended up on the old 1960’s era diesel smoker that’s plied the water’s between St Thomas and St John for almost 40 years.
Mind you this makes no sense. There are 2 brand new ferries that have been on island less than 2 years. These sleek high speed cats were supposed to usher in an “era of eco friendly and fast mass transportation” between St Thomas and St John. As I watched black smoke belch from the exhaust I shook my head. Neither fast, nor eco-friendly.
This particular ferry has seating in the bow and given the beautiful 87 degree weather and light breeze I decided to take the first bench. A couple of minutes later, 3 young teachers took the row behind me. New to island, Grace, Morgan and Petra (yes that’s really her name) were taking their first trip to St John. They seemed to have adjusted to island life quite well, happily passing a screwdriver in a Yeti mug back and forth during the 15 minute crossing.
Turns out they were newly minted teachers fresh out of college and hired to teach at the Montessori/International Baccalaureate (IB) private school on St Thomas. We struck up a conversation as the ferry plowed into unexpectedly steep and dangerous 12 foot seas. So steep the ferry driver actually slowed down–if you know the island, you know the crazy West Indian ferry boat drivers don’t slow down for anything–especially rough seas. All of a sudden we were on a bucking, wild ride up and over a large set of waves. Of course, the accompanying spray soaked all 4 of us and we were lucky to stay in our seats….
We made it through the rough patch and sun dried for the rest of the short trip to Cruz Bay. When we arrived, the girls asked what they should do for the day.
“Go to the beach, then go to Woody’s for Happy Hour.”
They smiled, thanked me and went about their day. I checked into the hotel and changed into my board shorts. As with all island hotels, there were beach towels in the room and chairs to take to the beach. I grabbed a knock-off Tommy Bahama beach chair and walked over to Woody’s to buy a couple of $1 Coors Lights to put in the cooler pouch. Then, as expected, one of the taxi drivers saw me walking with the chair..
“Yo Man! Ya wanna go ta da beach?”
I piled into a Safari (basically a pickup truck with the bed converted into benches) and took the $7 ride to my favorite place on the planet–Cinnamon Bay.
I had read what to expect from several island blogs but to see it with my own eyes was very disturbing. For years there has been a working campground with semi permanent shelters along with showers and a concession. On the beach itself was a small archaeological project in the old mill building.
Now all that’s gone.
The campground is overgrown and all that’s left of the structures are crumbled concrete blocks. It looks like that scene in Jurassic Park when they come up on the abandoned research building–vines, grass, and shrubs enveloping it all. The small museum has been reduced to one standing wall, fully exposed to the ocean. The rest of the building was washed into the sea. Many of the mangroves have been uprooted exposing the beach to erosion. It looks…wilder. More dangerous than I’ve ever seen it.
Despite the shell shock, I settled in under a manchineel tree and watched the North swell come in for a couple of hours. The water was warm and the sand just as inviting as it ever has been. But it’s like the reset button has been hit. Nature has taken back what it gave–with prejudice.
At 430 I packed up and walked through the destruction to the road. My driver was supposed to be there to pick me up. Of course, there was only a 50/50 chance of that happening and she was, as semi-expected, not there. But it’s St John. As long as you are friendly and sending good energy to the universe, you’ll be fine. I started walking toward town. 2 minutes later another couple who was on the beach offered me a ride.
They were visitors from Indiana who’ve been visiting for 20 years.
“We always rent a 4 door jeep! We like to pick people up and get to know them!”
So my new friends and I had a chat about teachers and politics in Kentucky on the 10 minute drive. They let me off about 3 minutes from my hotel and I went back to drop off the chair and the wet towel.
And then I went to Woodys…..
If there’s one thing that hasn’t changed, it’s the best Happy Hour in the Caribbean. As I fully expected, there was a standing room only crowd spilling out into the street with music and laughter all about. Sitting at a table on the patio were my 3 teacher friends who’d obviously started Happy Hour earlier than I did.
“This place is awesome! We never would have known about it!”
I went inside and sidled up for a $2 dark and diet. As always, the crowd was colorful and friendly. I met a 20 year veteran of the air force working on his math degree, a guy in a Panda mask (I still don’t understand why?) flirting with the bartender, and then chatted with the Ghost from Jost who was looking to “sell” his poetry.
It’s been a couple of years since I’ve seen Ghost.
“Ghost mon, how have you been?”
“Rough year mon. Good to see you though. I got a poem for you!”
Then Ghost whipped out a poem he’d been writing earlier in the day. I tell you his writing has gotten–salty–in the last year or two. So salty in fact, its not fit to print in this blog. But I’ll let you read it when I see you next. I gave him 5 bucks for his hard work and wished him well. He ambled off to find other tourists to “entertain.”
After the Ghost left, Grace, Morgan and Petra sat down at the bar and we chitchatted with the bartender for a while. One thing led to another and all of a sudden a vodka Red Bull shot appeared in front of me. I didn’t order it. I didn’t buy it. But it showed up. We were off to the races…..
Then the Coasties from Coast Guard Base St Thomas showed up. Now these guys have a special place in my heart. They saved my life. In fact, one of the guys there actually runs the Search and Rescue boat team that came to our aid that terrible New Years night. I bought them some beers, recounted our story and had a great conversation. These guys are respectful pros and it was good to be able to pay them some thanks.
The Coasties caught the 8PM boat back to St Thomas and that left the girls, the bartender, the Panda Man and I. Since the bartender was off, we decided to change bars for a cocktail. By the I got to the Dog House Pub, they were a couple in and Panda man had ditched his helmet. Mike, as it turned out, was a nice guy trying to “comfort” the bartender, whose name I’ve completely forgotten, since her boyfriend of 4 years up and left her 3 days ago.
And took the dog….
By this time the teachers were feeling their Milagro shots and one of them hit the wall–literally. She walked into one at the Dog House. They decided to take the 9PM. We bid goodbye and I politely declined to head back to St Thomas with them. “C’mon! We’re just going to Red Hook!”
“No, I think I’m gonna stay here.”
By now I needed a break.
I went back to my hotel, took a shower, drank 2 bottles of water, and decided that the conch fritters I had at 5 weren’t enough to sustain me. Cafe Roma is an Italian restaurant in town that’s been there for decades. It’s under new ownership and the new owner was running the bar while her husband was in the back cooking.
She and I got to chatting after I ordered. It turns out that she too was a teacher (theme?) who couldn’t deal with all the political drama of being an educator any more. She and her husband sold all their stuff and bought the restaurant along with her father. Her dad is a professional protection and police dog breeder/trainer. His dogs have been on CSI and other TV shows. They took the profits of that business and invested in the island dream.
So far, they say it’s going OK. My dinner was cooked well (seared scallops and a pizza) and the they’ve smartly maintained the original menu while focusing on specials. I wish them luck. The restaurant business is hard and it’s very different from the smoke shop and dispensary (seriously!) they ran in Jacksonville….
I finished dinner around and went around the corner to Woody’s for a nightcap. Cassie (the new bartender) poured me a very generous Jameson rocks and she and I chatted until about 1130 or so. Then back to the hotel while I still knew my right from my left but apparently not enough to get under the covers.
I went out last night…..