St. John, Part 1


Horatio scrapping barnacles off of the propeller cage

St. John was our original goal for our landing point in the Caribbean, and now a month later, we finally reached it. St. John is part of the US Virgin islands, but is nothing like St. Thomas. Surrounded by small coves lined with pristine beaches, half the island designated as a US national park, and reachable only by boat (and not cruise ship sized ones), it was an ideal destination for us. We finally arrived after a short, pleasant jump from Great St. James Island. It was nice to finally be out of the open sea and in protected water amongst the scattered Virgin Islands.

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Our wooden rowing tender, with Koukla in the background

Koukla is a wooden boat, and so of course we must also have a wooden dingy. It is a classic lapstrake wooden tender that has space for double-rowing stations, and also can be used as a small spritsail sloop. It had been a glorified on-deck storage compartment so far, but with a long stay planned on St. John, the time had come to empty it out and go rowing. We felt very classy getting to the beach via a wooden rowboat, and the tender soon became a magnet for tourists taking photos on the beach.

The five members of the Cowan family

The five members of the Cowan family

The beach itself was great. Called Solomons Bay, it has no direct road access. Instead, most people get there from a one mile hiking trail from St. John’s main town of Cruz Bay. Or, as in our case, arrive by boat. We had a great time swimming, talking with some other cruisers, exploring tide pools in the rocks, and snorkeling (we saw lots of fish!)

Other than just trying to get to St. John to enjoy ourselves, we had to get here because we had some family coming to meet us, first my [Isaac’s] mother, and then Molly’s parents. Using the knowledge gained on our jeepny / safari bus excursion across St. Thomas, we were familiar with the ferry options and how to get to the airport. So, shortly after reaching St. John, it was back to St. Thomas to meet my mom. The Charlotte Amalie-to-St. John trip that we had done over the course of two days took just 40 minutes in a high speed ferry.

The view from Sage Mountain

The view from Sage Mountain

One thing my mom wanted to do while visiting the US Virgin Islands was visit the British Virgin Islands, so one day, along with me and Danica we took a ferry over to Tortola for the day. In the US we are used to expecting most places other than the post office or banks to be open during all regular daylight hours. In Tortola, they still close pretty much the whole island down on Sundays. Oops! We wandered around town fruitlessly for a bit, unable to get into the botanical gardens, or pretty much any shops or restaurants. So we took a taxi to the top of Sage Mountain, the highest point in the Virgin Islands (US or British), and had some excellent banana smoothies prepared by an eccentric British man who runs a restaurant up there (thank goodness he was open, because his shop was also the only source of trail maps to the peak). Next, an eccentric taxi driver drove us back down while playing for us in his van a DVD film recording of a BVI concert he’d attended. This, along with the driving winding the serpentine roads that snake around the coast just feet above water level was pretty unique. Overall, the Tortola visit wasn’t what we’d expected, but in spite of this (or because of?), it was quite memorable.

Isaac, Danica, and Jennifer in front of the windmill ruins at Annaberg

Isaac, Danica, and Jennifer in front of the windmill ruins at Annaberg

One day we decided to make a circuit of St. John, visiting the Annaberg sugar plantation ruins, then Coral Bay (St. John’s other town, on the southeast end), and then back to Cruz Bay. Taking a taxi on St. John is not the same as in the US. Taxis are all large safari-style trucks, and the drivers like to wait until they have a group all going to the same place (since fares are per person). A crowd of taxi drivers was waiting around the ferry dock in Cruz Bay, but when we asked for someone to take us to Annaberg, no one wanted to do it, and it nearly started some arguments about who would get stuck with us. Finally, someone did start driving us out of town, only to pull over just a few minutes later and pass us off to a different passing taxi coming from the opposite direction. However, when we finally got to the ruins, it was worth it, because the Anaberg sugar mill was great. We saw the ruins of a windmill, a horse mill, and the sugar processing buildings. A park interpreter showed us how coral had been used as a building material by the Danish, and not only explained the history of the sugar economy on St. John, but also what it is like to live there in the present day. We ate some traditional dum bread prepared on site, and got to smell or eat examples of local plantation food from the gardener (sugar cane, lychee, bay rum leaves, and coconut).

Some vampire tombs hidden in the St. John woods

Some vampire crypts hidden in the St. John woods

Our taxi adventures were not over yet. Coral Bay is a bit beyond Annaberg, but the drivers don’t like to go that way, and one driver advised us that we would wait a month before finding someone to do it. One did pick us up, but then it turned out that he was conducting an island tour, and the group (and now us as well) was getting taken to the Cinnamon Bay beach / campgrounds to have lunch. We skipped out at this point and were taken to Coral Bay, where we had our lunch. Getting back to Cruz Bay, we flagged a passing safari bus, but it turned out it wasn’t a taxi at all, it was a family from Maine. The rental place had run out of cars and given them this. People had been hailing them down all week. But, they kindly decided to give us a ride back to Cruz Bay anyway.

It was great to have my mom come to visit, and she was not happy to be returning to frigid Minnesota, but the time was up. But next up was a visit from more family escaping the snowy north: Molly’s parents, joining us for the next week (and the next post) from Old Town, Maine.

Koukla chlling in St. John

Koukla chlling in St. John


4 thoughts on “St. John, Part 1

    1. Isaac Brown Post author

      This was from a different, short hike Danica and I did near Cinnamon Bay (actually in the week after the one covered in this post), where there was an interpretive trail that went by some plantation ruins and also through the woods. A little beyond the ruins were these tombs sitting in the middle of the forest. A sign explained that the above ground tombs were normal for the upper class Danish settlers at the time. It is basically the private cemetery for the plantation owners. The combination of tombs overgrown by the forest, and that there were only two of them, made it look creepy.

  1. janiees

    It is sooo awesome to hear about how you all are doing. It has been simply fascinating for me. My mom has enjoyed the writings tremendously as well. Thank you so much for sharing. I wish I were there (but don’t quite want to take your route getting there!!!)

  2. Rick Sutherland

    Hello cousin Ted, Beverley and crew. I haven’t read the whole story yet Isaac, but what I have read sounds very epic. I’m glad to know that the sea hasn’t eaten you, but gladder to see your smiling faces in the crystal clear warm caribbean water. Enjoy the exploration, it’s been one of my favorite hobbies all my life. Did I tell you about the time….

    Cousin Rick


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