I am in the USA, or at least an island-pseudo version of the USA. US Virgin Islands, to be exact. It has provided me a strange, surreal reintroduction to the life I might be returning to back “home” in a way that is, at the very least, island paced. I’ll get into that a little more later, first though, the last few weeks have been enjoyable.

I hung out in Virgin Gorda for awhile waiting for my friends from Blue Note to arrive. I haven’t seen them since La Gomera in the Canaries, so it was nice to catch up. I spent many nights hanging out at the Bitter End Yacht Club as well as the Saba Rock resort. I particularly liked Saba Rock and their pain-killers at happy hour. It was also a pretty chilled-out place to meet interesting folks and watch tarpon get fed. Virgin Gorda is a gorgeous anchorage and small enough to get around the whole thing by dinghy, especially with Mutley on the back. I even made it over to the other side for a Joombie Party. These are locals dancing on stilts. Kind of cool, and the only piece of culture in all of BVI.

I moved down to Spanish Town in hopes of doing some diving out of there. There is a very famous wreck called the RMS Rhone. It was a mail ship that blew up and sank in a hurricane 150 years or so ago. I had heard many good things and it is the number one dive site in BVI. One would think that it would be very easy to get a trip out there but this was not the case. Since I couldn’t get the tour booked I headed to Cooper Island Resort where I was told they would be going in a few days.

Cooper Island was a nice place. Lots of charter boats coming through so there was regular new people to talk to. I met a lot of interesting folks there and hopefully will have contact with some in the future. The dive though, well, it was a let down. I am not sure if it was a let down as there was not much life underwater to see, or that there was 2-4 knots of current running in places and the visibility was bad. I think on a calm clear day I would have had a much different impression actually. I guess it was a nice wreck. The only eventful thing though was actually quite painful. While waiting for the three minute safety stop the current caused me to brush against the mooring line of the boat. Normally this isn’t a problem but it hit my neck in a place not covered by my wetsuit and I thought at first there was some barnacles that cut me. Then the dive guide held up a sign that read “fire coral” and he pointed to the rope. Thanks for post-exposure warning. It burned, but a little vinegar helped for awhile, but then it burned again. My neck still itches and that was ten days ago.

After the dive I headed for Jost Van Dyke, and the famous Soggy Dollar Bar. Too bad the wind was up from the south east and there was no where to anchor. I tried five different places and ended up heading to Soper’s Hole in Tortolla. I stayed there a few days and it was like most everywhere else in BVI, a rotating party of charter boats. Oddly though, I was sitting at happy hour one evening and I hear some one say “But I’m not the only asshole from Boston!” He looked right at me. I was confused and inquired how he knew I was from Boston. It turned out to be a man with a unicorn fetish from my yacht club in Boston, we raced against each other, his boat is named “Sparkle Pony.” Anyway, after I realized it was Francis, or rather he reminded me, we had a fun evening of dark and stormies and catching up about things back “Home.”

So the next day I left BVI for the USVI. BVI made a great first impression. Overall I liked it anyway, but it was pretty much downhill from Virgin Gorda. I think its a nice place to vacation for a week or so but I could never imagine living there. Especially since it’s English but nothing actually works right there. There is no culture and the locals don’t care much unless they are the bar tender. Also, it is really crowded and not particularly well preserved.

It was a short easy sail over to Cruz Bay on St. Johns. The only problem being a blinding rain storm while I was negotiating some rocks, but otherwise a nice inland sort of passage by some lush islands on one side and dry ones on the other. Cruz Bay was really shallow and there was no where to anchor, but I got lucky when someone offered me their mooring while they went out for a few hours. I rushed into customs and immigration and the American CBP agent behind the counter smiled and took my information. When we finished I asked if that was it, because it was so easy. She looked at me and said, “This is America and you are a citizen, welcome home.” Welcome Home, wow, that was a profound statement. It struck me so odd of a thing to hear, I was a bit confused. But yes, I guess, in a sense, I was home, back on US soil for the first time in three and a half years. I was so stunned by the very thought of “home” that I ran back to Slick and immediately sailed to the isolated Salt Pond Bay to think about the ramifications of being in my own country.

Actually I went to Salt Pond Bay because Blue Note was there for the night and I wanted to see them before we parted ways again. We had a nice time and went for a short hike up to an eco resort for a few pain-killers and then left when the bad open-mike night started. Anyway, the next morning I was off to Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, the capital of USVI.

Charlotte Amalie is like any island big city, I guess. You have the old historical part and some pretentious yachty parts and the cruise ship dock. This was where I was going to get my real first taste of America. But not quite. The first thing I did was head to K Mart to get a sim card. Hey, that’s AT&T, I remember that company. What? I get a US phone number too? Interesting. The internet is actually fast? How weird! So that was sort of nice. Then I headed up to a Home Depot. That was a mistake. I have not been to such a place in three years and it was absolutely overwhelming. There is so much stuff, assaulting you, all the time. Who needs all these things? Me, or past-me, I guess. Maybe future-me too, but I am not sure yet. I bought about five things and still spent $100. I think I was in there for over an hour just walking around like a child at a zoo. It was too much, I headed back to the pretentious yacht center where I was anchored. I washed the mega-box store away with happy hour specials.

The next day I picked up a visitor, Sara, a former lab mate from MIT. It was good to see her and she actually arrived with her luggage. She was certainly happy to be out of snowy Boston and we headed back to Slick to drop off her things. Then we me another friend, Jeremy, one of the dive guides from Palau. Two old friends from separate places in one day. Jeremy and his brothers treated us to a couple of drinks and it was nice to catch up. Then a few days later we met up at Water Island for some beach bar lounging. It was a great time. They paddle boarded over from the main island and the wind picked up, so I offered a ride back in the dinghy. Five of us piled in and Mutley was at full throttle towing three paddle boards to make it to shore. When we got there, Adrien (one of Jeremy’s brothers) car was towed. After all that effort. Anyway, once that problem was solved, we headed out for dinner and some fun. It was nice to hang out with normal people, even a bit comfortable. The ride back at 1am in the dinghy was a tough one though. Especially since it was Sara’s first exposure to long dinghy rides at high speed in the dark. I told her to just pretend she was a navy seal going to assault naughty Korea. This seemed to calm her down. Anyway, we made it back to Slick only a little wet.

In the morning we headed to Cinnamon Bay on the north side of St. Johns. The beach there is really beautiful. I hate beaches, so much sand everywhere. This one was nice enough though I could let it go and make a landing to check it out. The hills rise fast above it and being the wet side of the island, are lush and tropical.

In the morning we headed around to Salt Pond Bay. This time I had more time to enjoy the area. First we snorkled around the reefs by Booby Island and in the middle of the bay. It was surprisingly good, and alive. I guess that is the advantage of the US National Parks. Anyway, Sara saw her first baracuda, it was tiny, maybe 18 inches but it was enough to give her a scare. When we got back to Slick she wanted to see the underside of the boat so we swam toward the front. I turned around to make sure she was OK and there was an enormous barracuda following her. The fish was so fat I had to look more closely to see if it was actually a barracuda and not something else. Poor thing wasn’t proportioned correctly, probably because it gets fed lots of bacon. Anyway, when I pointed it out to her she may have gotten frightened. I think that is probably the right word for it. After shoeing the cuda away, we got back on board and the thing just hung around. This is normal I guess, there are always things living in the shade under the boat. This one though was a little more noticable as it would watch you shower on the back or just come over to say hi when you were doing the dishes. I think it was sad when we left.

We went on a hike out of Salt Pond as well. It was quite a nice, long hike over to a few of the other bays then up to the ridgeline. Along the way were ruins of sugar plantations and even some pre-columbian petroglyphs. The hike was challenging, mostly thanks to the heat and humidity but we made it. We got picked up hitching by a truck to take us to Coral Bay where we had lunch at a place called Skinny Legs. Turns out they are all New Englanders and where more than happy to toss up the sticker of a boat from Boston. Their cheese burgers where OK too. We hitched home and the barracuda was waiting for us.

We then went to Cruz Bay for Sara’s last night visiting and Adrien came over on the ferry to hang out too. It was a fun time just lounging and drinking and chatting. That night was another mission to get home though as there was some swell running from where Slick was moored. Never the less, it was easy and the next day we anchored off the airport and Sara flew back to the frozen north. One more figment come and gone. It was nice to have a visitor though, I get a new one next week.

So back to my pseudo-reintroduciton to the USA. The last few years have been full of things that most people wouldn’t even recognize or perhaps would never do. For example, most of the world still uses carbon paper on their quadruplicate forms. Sometimes you don’t swipe the credit card, but still make an imprint with a machine that wouldn’t be recognizable to anyone under 25. I usually shower on the back of the boat in my bathing suit (the Germans don’t use the bathing suit) instead of paying four dollars for a shower, I go to bed at 7:30 PM as if I turn the lights on I get pestered by mosquitoes and I have no friends. So all these things were not present here, I had friends, I stayed out late, stuff worked, and it all felt familiar instead of perma-camping.

But it wasn’t quite familiar. It isn’t quite America, and I wasn’t sure why. First, I think is the strange mix of people. That shouldn’t be too much of a surprise since America is a melting pot and these islands are islands. They use US Dollars, but everything is sort of expensive. There was something else bothering me though and I couldn’t quite figure it out. Then when we rode in a car it became obvious. The steering wheel of the vehicle is on the American side but they drive on the British side of the road. How odd. That was one of those details that makes life seem not quite right. I go to Puerto Rico next, but I still have to check in with Customs when I get there. Wait, is this the US or isn’t it? Seems to me that going from here to there is a lot like going from say, Florida to South Carolina, only a lot closer. So why do I need to recheckin with customs?

Anyway, I really have enjoyed these islands. I didn’t think I would but St. Johns is so beautiful and like many things in life, the people make a big part of the experience and seeing Sara and Jeremy and meeting Adrien greatly magnified my time here. Tomorrow I move to Puerto Rico and I pick up crew next week. The next figment, Alex, used to work with me at a pocket-nuclear reactor. Actually it is the same Alex who left Boston with Nate and I all those years ago. It should be great to see him and he stays until the middle of the Bahamas. So, getting closer, almost done.

Oh, one last thing, I finally posted the videos of the Atlantic Crossing and also here are a bunch of pictures from:
British Virgin Islands
St. Martin and Saba
Nevis and St. Kitts
All caught up for a change. Enjoy!