Ship's Log

May 31st, 2010 - St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands:

Happy Memorial Day and happy Hurricane Season, everyone!  Time's flying and the weather's really heating up. Perhaps you're expecting this update to be all about us getting ready to make like a tree and get out of here (to quote Biff Tannen)?

Well, something's come up.  Something kind of major.   It turns out that in the fall, we're going to have a baby.

The rumors are true.

We're happy, excited, and slightly nervous, and of course the news has caused a lot of scrambling and re-arranging in this year's plan.  After weighing all the risks and looking at the pros and cons, we've decided to stay here through the season.

St. Thomas has a number of things that make it an attractive place for expectant parents:  a good, up-to-date hospital, US citizenship for babies born here, childbirth classes and organizations like La Leche League, and big stores that stock suddenly irresistable Sour Patch Kids.  Major airlines fly here, making visits from family and friends easy.  Oh, and here in St. Thomas we have our jobs, so we can keep working our butts off to sock away all the extra money our adorable little freeloader is bound to cost!  

AMC at four months gone, with an angry Water Island tortoise.

And so that’s how we find ourselves planning to spend hurricane season in the Virgin Islands - a considerably risky place for a boat to be, but a good place for a couple of American sailors getting ready to pop one out in November.  

Since we'll be here for a while, we went ahead and made some changes to make ourselves a little more comfortable.


Our old view from the cockpit in the main harbor.  Nice, but busy.

First, we pulled up our anchor in the main harbor and moved over to a mooring located in a little stretch of water known as Elephant Bay.  The main harbor could be very rolly at times, with lots of ferry traffic and there was always a lot of noise from town.  Snuggled up next to Water Island as we are now, the boat merely rocks in a gentle, lulling manner, and instead of car horns and club music at night, we listen to tiny treefrogs singing their little hearts out.  Some lucky nights we even see dolphins swimming by, interrupting the tree frogs with the gasps from their blowholes.  A gorgeous beach, complete with a tiny refreshment shack and a swim platform, is a five minute dinghy ride away. It's a very peaceful place to stay and we love it.

The new cockpit view.  Way more relaxing!  

Also, we went shopping and revolutionized our transportation to shore with a brand-new 8 foot Caribe RIB dinghy, which we've taken to calling THE DONUT.  Our poor old inflatable dinghy, CHA CHA (a.k.a BEYONCE) was simply beat, repaired so many times that she had patches over her patches.  Getting hit by the waterspout last spring was the beginning of the end for her, and since then we'd spent an increasing amount of time and effort to keep her from sinking.  Enough was enough. When we bought the new dinghy, we deflated CHA CHA and cut her up into pieces, which several friends divided amoungst themselves to use as patches for their inflatable dinghies.  So it's nice to know bits of her are still out there serving a purpose.  

To help us get around better on shore, we splurged and bought ourselves a beat-up old Jeep Wrangler - sort of a dream car, really.  It's opened up so much more of the island for us, and we can get to all the best spots with ease.   Not to mention that some of the high, winding roads in the hills open up to sudden spectacular views!

Here's good roadside view on the north side of the island.  On the far right is St. John, the far left Jost Van Dyke,
and in the far background is Tortola.  The latter two are British islands.

In the Jeep, we sniffed out some less tropical, but still precious, finds that make life better:  a dairy bar, a movie theater ($6 tickets!), and a good Mexican restaurant.  Since all the cool kids on the island drive Jeeps, it's a pretty safe bet we'll be able to sell it for at least what we paid for it.  And on the more mundane side, it sure makes grocery shopping a lot easier.

Brian on his way to get banana and chocolate milkshakes.

Alicia pulled a switch up and turned herself from a waitress into a veterinary technician.  She finds the work much more interesting and working days instead of evenings all the time is pure magic!   The pay raise doesn't hurt, either.  She's learning much about iguana resuscitation, a skill which is bound to come in handy throughout her lifetime.  It's nice for her to be teching again; for Alicia, helping sick animals get better is more rewarding than feigning concern over whether some rich guy's steak is "reddish-pink" or "pink-pink" in the center.

Important life skills!  It may look like the final step is to start eating the lizard, but it's actually to
gently blow air into its lungs. This sign hangs in the surgery room.

Brian's still loving his job.  We only get a couple of cruise ships in per week now, which means he spends less time swimming with sea turtles and more time doing projects on the much-abused pirate ships.  They're keeping him very busy, and very filthy!

Less time hanging out with this little guy.  He's one of the juvenile green turtles that hang out over near Buck Island.

More shirts destined for the rag pile.  

OK, so while we're working and driving around and growing a baby all summer, what is the plan to keep SARABANDE safe from storms in prime hurricane territory?  This is a question we've spent many hours pondering and discussing.

For the first couple of months of the season, we’ll be watching the weather daily (using, amoung other sources), and if anything nasty looks like it’ll come close, we’ll run downwind to Puerto Rico.  PR’s got several good holes within a few hours' sail from here, and we’ll weather out the storm snuggled in the cushy mud of a mangrove swamp.


One of the dense mangrove shores in Salinas, of southern Puerto Rico.  Mangroves are an essential ingredient to a good hurricane hole.

Our employers, having been through many a season here on St. Thomas, understand our need to run for safety.  In fact, Brian's company will be securing their pirate boats in the same way!  It sounds like the whole island gets busy battening things down and preparing when there's a hurricane threat.

Here we go again.  This graphic's from a great weather site,

For August, September and October, when storms are bigger, badder and more frequent, Alicia's belly will be big and bad as well.  She’ll be in no shape to make a mad dash to Puerto Rico, and should the baby decide to come early, the prospect of delivering it ourselves in a swamp during a hurricane is too insane, even for us.  And we would never consider leaving the boat anchored or tied up unattended for a storm.  So, we’ve secured a spot for SARABANDE in dry storage at the Independent Boat Yard, down in the east end of St. Thomas for these months.  The yard itself is located in a not-too-bad hurricane hole, and they’ve got a number of ways of storm-proofing boats up on land there.  She’ll have her mast pulled to decrease windage, which apparently does much to reduce your odds of sustaining damage.

This is a good enough plan that boat insurance companies will cover a boat properly secured on land in this area (they will not cover boats in the water).  If, God forbid, the worst case scenario comes to pass and a direct hit knocks poor SARABANDE over in the yard, the likely damage to the toerail, lifelines and hull that would occur are repairs that we feel we could likely make, given enough time and money.  But the damage she’d suffer from getting sunk during a storm would be more than we could ever handle, and would break our hearts besides.  So, out of the water and up on stilts the old girl will go!  In the meantime, we’ll be housesitting for a friend, just a short drive from the boat yard.  

Benner Bay of St. Thomas.  The big cluster of boats is the Independent Boat Yard, SARABANDE's home for August-November.  
As you can see from the photo, the surrounding land masses and shallow water are good natural barriers for dangerous high waves.

Although we’re going to worry ourselves silly those three months every time a storm threatens, we’ll make the most of SARABANDE’s time out of the water for SPA WEEK 2010, and we’ll be able to tackle some major projects that would be impossible to do while living aboard.  SARABANDE’s not been out of the water since the fall of 2008 in Oriental, NC, and she’s due for some much-needed TLC and drying-out.  We owe her big time for taking care of us so well!

In the midst of all this plan-rearranging and scrambling, St. Thomas' annual Carnival celebration rolled around.   We always wondered what exactly Carnival was, and we know that at least around here, it's a solid two weeks of partying, with each day having a different theme or focus.   What with all the pageants, derbies, dancing in the streets, horse races, parades, musical performances, Carnival is a huge deal!  Schools, boutiques and restaurants close their doors, and the AM radio station covers each event so everyone working in town can listen and participate. 

Get out your orange bras- it's carnival time!  Photo from

Carnival has Catholic roots.  Centuries ago in Italy, it became custom to have a costumed evening of drunken debauchery just before Lent, one last whopper of a party before all the fun had to stop for 40 days.  Because Catholics traditionally abstain from eating meat during Lent, the Italians dubbed the party “carnevale” - literally ‘goodbye, meat’.  The party got bigger and crazier every year, and eventually other Catholics in Spain, France and Portugal started having them every year, too.

As those same Catholic countries began raiding the Caribbean, claiming territory, and setting themselves up in the slave trading business, their settlers brought the “Carnevale” tradition over with them.  After slavery was abolished, the party evolved to include some of the African rituals of the freed slaves, as well as being a time for them to celebrate their freedom.


Slave trade routes and the corresponding spread of Carnevale.

Today, Carnival celebrations take place on islands all throughout the Caribbean and South America, at different times throughout the year, and they're a fascinating meld of the European and African cultures that transplanted here, voluntarily or by force, so long ago.  And, true to the original purpose in Italy, there’s still plenty of booze-fueled mayhem.

These signs were posted all over the place.  Maybe hundreds of years ago, just before Lent,
there were signs just like these posted in Italian towns?

In downtown Charlotte Amalie, vendors set up booths and tents to sell rum drinks, handmade trinkets, and distinctly Caribbean dishes to the crowds, and every night the party carried on late into the wee hours.  The soca and steel pan music could be heard for miles, and the breeze carried the smell of fried fish, kallaloo soup, and spicy goat stew (known as 'goat water').  A crush of private boats from  from the surrounding islands, mostly Puerto Rico and the British Virgin Islands, flooded the harbor and the streets were packed with people at all hours. 

Look at the incredible coordination of this young boy, able to neatly pour soup into his mouth from arms' length
while outrunning a donkey and an angry lady!  Lots of the food booths had cool artwork like this.

The Love City Pan Dragons, a steel pan youth orchestra from St. John,
performed at the Children's Parade.  They are rad.
(borrowed photo)

This man's booth was devoted to shots of liquors steeped with different bush herbs and spices,
said to have certain medicinal effects.  Brian tried one, but didn't feel much healthier afterwards.  

T'was nasty.

It’s like a state fair, the 4th of July and a college house party attended by tens of thousands.  For 14 days.  The stamina of these partygoers is incredible, and there’s nothing like standing lamely next to an 80 year old woman who’s been dancing for three days straight to make you feel like a wuss.

Sadly, the companies we work for did not shut down for Carnival, so we were really only able to see the big parade and the fireworks display that took place late on the last day.  

The parade was a series of dance groups all outfitted to a certain theme,
and each had their own speaker truck to blast their routine's music

Here's a lady in the proper carnival spirit.

This guy was, too; he was just pacing himself.


Here's the sort of 'mouth' of the parade, where the judges' booths were.  
That's the local TV station's camera crane getting all the action.  

All that dancing can make a person hungry!  These ladies take a break to order up some flying fish.

The end-of-carnival fireworks over the main harbor.  We were lucky enough to be invited to a home with a fantastic view to watch these.

Once Carnival was finished, town quieted way down.  Those two frenetic weeks were the finale of the busy season, and now St. Thomas has settled into summer hibernation.  Resorts emptied out, the cruise ship schedule dwindled to even fewer ships per week, the "winter only" people left for their summer homes, and the famous multi-million dollar megayachts left the marinas.  Traffic has eased significantly, and prices in boutiques took a big dip down.  Many locals claim to relish this as their favorite time of year here, since without the crowds of visitors, they can enjoy the island's best spots all by themselves in peace and quiet.   

As for us, we'll need all the peace and quiet we can get!   It’s going to be a nail-biter of a summer, and we need your help.  Please, regardless of your spiritual bent, whatever it is you do when you’re hoping for something (prayer, wishing on stars, finger-crossing, or sending vibes out into the universe), could you please remember us when you’re doing it?  We’ll be doing all of those things in the hopes of keeping our baby healthy and our home safe over the next months, and we’d love some back up.  

Thomas Aquinas, a patron saint of safety from storms.  Maybe he can help?

And here's good old Poseidon, looking like he's about to get up and go beat the crap out of somebody.  
Maybe we should buy him a reasonably nice bottle of champagne?

Happy belated birthday to Alicia's Pop Pop, who turned 97 on May 10th.  And a whole slew of people we love have birthdays in June, not to mention Brian himself, who turns 32 on 6/2!   There's Stuart Mullen of our buddy boat BEANNACHT on 6/6, Arizona radio host Michael Johnson on 6/13, the lovely and talented Ms. Carly Lukas on 6/16, the incomparable Tommy Collins, and feisty Ms. Alyssa Grinberg on 6/20, and Alicia's wonderful Gran and childhood friend Tiffany on 6/27.  Whew!  Happy birthday, everybody.  

AMC and Pop Pop.

Alicia & Brian


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