Francis Bay, St. John

St. John, U.S. VI

Today is just another day in paradise.  It is January 8th, 2002.  It is the warmest, sunniest, most beautiful January 8th I have ever known.  I’m a world away from the snow and cold of Maine Winters.  My world is now full of warm, gentle breezes, swaying palms, and splashing fish.  Koukla’s fuel system has been completely redone, and we can now explore the Caribbean without the fear of the engine quitting on us at an inopportune time.              For the moment, we’re decided not to venture too far, seeing as one of the world’s most beautiful beaches is just around the corner.  With its sparkling white sandy beaches, translucent turquoise water, and lively coral reefs it is quite obvious why Trunk Bay has been considered one of the nicest beaches in the world.

Under the bright yellow sun, my family and I dingy over to the beach for an afternoon of snorkeling.  A v-shaped trail of ripples across the water follows us ashore, and the outboard motor is turned off moments before the propeller would start churning up sand.  We all jump out into the knee-deep water and pull the dinghy ashore.  Our feet sink into the loose submerged sand.  As we trudge along, we drag the inflatable across the beach and leave it high and dry.  We all grab our flippers, masks, and snorkels and head back towards the water.  Our snorkeling gear transforms us into undersea fish people, with the power to stay under water for long periods of time and cut easily though the waves.

The briny bathwater flows over us like silk as we all get a first-hand lesson in marine biology.  Trunk bay, in addition to its incredible beauty, also boasts a fascinating self guided snorkeling tour, explaining all the marine life you see on underwater plaques built into the reef.  One of the most interesting fish that we came across was the cowfish.  As its name implies, it actually looks a bit like a cow.  It has little horn-like projections on its head, and it is black with white spots.  What is particularly interesting about this fish is its manner of hunting.  It squirts a jet of water into the sand to scare up whatever might be hiding there and gobbles it up.

After our legs ached from propelling ourselves though the water and we are all waterlogged; we must leave palm tree-lined Trunk Bay for a spot with better anchorage.  Francis Bay was our spot of choice for the night.  Vibrantly green, undulating hills enclosed the inviting bay.  Large schools of fish no bigger than my pinky toe would all jump at once to escape predators.  Their fleeing sounded like a handful of sand being thrown into the water.

After only a short time of sailing that day, I guess my parents hadn’t have enough, so we got out our sailing dingy for the first time.  Up until now, this little boat had just sat on deck filled with all the junk we couldn’t fit down below.  So, we first had to take out all this junk and spread it all over the already cluttered deck.  But, it turned out to be worth the hassle.  That little boat was a lot of fun.  There is an enormous difference between sailing a 60 ft. schooner and a 14 ft. lap straight tender.  With the big boat, it takes quite a bit of time and effort just to get the sails up.  Also, Koukla isn’t exactly very fast or maneuverable.  The little boat, on the other hand, just has the one relatively easy to put up sail, it goes fast even in a small breeze, and it’s infinitely more maneuverable.  Unfortunately, you wouldn’t want to sail a small boat like that all the way from Maine to the Caribbean.

The next morning we made a miraculous discovery.  Just around the corner were actual showers that we were free to use.  They were cold water showers with no roof, and you had to pull a chain for the water to come out, but we thought they were wonderful.  To be able to use as much water as you wanted and completely get all the soap out of your hair was an absolute luxury.

On the other side of the bay was an interesting campground built into the side of the mountain.  That night, we went there to explore.  It was a complex maze of wooden walkways built right into the mountain and blended in with the forest.  At one point, I set out on my own in search of a pay phone and got a bit lost on my way back.  It was very dark and my flashlight decided to die on me right when there were no sources of light nearby.  It was a bit eerie with all the nocturnal animals rustling and chattering so close by.  The jungle reminded me of “Jurassic Park”, and I half expected a velociraptor to jump out at me at any moment.  But, I came across no such prehistoric animals and eventually found my way back.

We spent another three days in Francis Bay swimming, sailing, taking advantage of the free showers, or just sitting around soaking up the sun.  Our next destination would be Hurricane Hole, St. John.  As we readied Koukla for the relatively short sail, stowing gear, securing lines, and raising sails, a part of me hated to leave glorious Francis Bay, but, at the same time, I could not wait for the new experiences another place I had never been before would bring

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