by Larry Caillouet
Our friend Doug had told me about a large ship wreck named Miss Opportunity near the St. Thomas airport. It was over 300 feet long and was in 60-90 feet of water. Doug brought air tanks to Escapade and we sailed out to the dive site along with our wives and another diver named Courtney. The main attraction of this dive besides the ship itself is a resident Goliath Grouper that weighs about 500-600 pounds. It was waiting at the bottom of the dive line when we descended to the boat. It looked to be about the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. It would have been scary if we hadn’t expected to see him, but this gentle giant was no threat at all. Swimming through the interior of the boat was fun and not nearly as creepy as Pirates of the Caribbean might lead you to expect.
Our next guests were two friends from Toronto, Roger and Chiara. (The Toronto-Escapade sailing connection is strong.) They had lived in the Dominican Republic and Chiara is fluent in Spanish, so instead of heading east for the normal tourist tour of the British Virgin Islands we sailed west instead to the Spanish Virgin Islands. Culebra has long been one of our favorite islands. It has several wonderful beaches and anchorages and the snorkeling there is great. Flamenco Beach is usually listed at the top of the Top Ten beaches of the Caribbean and I would rank it #2 in all the beaches I have ever seen, surpassed only by Whitehaven beach in Australia’s Whitsunday Islands. For a small island with little population, Culebra has a great grocery store with the coldest air conditioning in the Caribbean and two excellent restaurants. Mamacita’s has authentic Hispanic food and seafood. It is on the narrow channel between the north and south halves of the island so it’s easy to dinghy up to it. Even better for dinghy dining is the Dinghy Dock Restaurant which serves excellent American fare. It has a long dinghy dock which is usually full of dinghies and an occasional small Hobie cat. Many years ago when we were there we added two of our old license plates, LUV DOC and AMFIBY to its license plate wall. We were surprised to see that the wall had survived Hurricanes Irma and Maria and our license plates were still there.
Barely east of Culebra is Culebrita, a turtle sanctuary and a gem of an island without any development at all. The only construction on the island is a lighthouse at the top. A trail that goes up to the lighthouse affords a panoramic view of Culebra, Culebrita, and several other nearby cays. St Thomas is clearly visible in the distance. Culebrita’s beach is a perfect half-mile crescent of pure white sand with palm trees that survived Irma and Maria. The island’s turtles don’t mind people walking on their beach or swimming in their bay with them. And paddling around the bay with your dog can be a lot of fun too!
When we left Culebrita we decided to complete our circumnavigation of St. Thomas by sailing around the north shore with a stop in Magens Bay. We were adopted along the way by a brown sea bird who used Escapade’s bow pulpit for a perch between fishing sorties. He rode with us for a few miles but left us before we made landfall at Magens Bay. Magens is better known for its fine beach and its fine homes on Peterborg peninsula than for fish.
No trip to the Virgin Islands is complete without visiting the iconic tourist destinations in the British Virgin Islands. First we snorkeled at the Treasure Caves on Norman Island. Then we walked the nature trail on Sandy Cay. Irma had torn up its “grandfather tree” and its profusion of birds, lizards, and hermit crabs seem to have deserted the place, but tourists had been busy redecorating the beach with rocks that had been deposited on the shore. My favorite was a large rock octopus. We finished with a visit to Foxy’s Tamarind Bar on Jost Van Dyke. Foxy wasn’t there holding court and entertaining visitors with his stories, but the wifi was strong, and the fix felt good. We missed seeing the most iconic place in BVI, the Baths on Virgin Gorda, but some people have to work and our friends had work waiting for them in Canada.
One of my colleagues at the University used to say “Life is not always peaches and gravy.” I think he might have been talking about when the time comes to change the oil in the engine or generator. There is no Jiffy Lube drive-in for boats. Every 200 hours of engine use or generator use the oil and oil filter have to be changed. Changing the oil in my engine wouldn’t be very hard or messy if the geniuses at Perkins hadn’t mounted the oil filter horizontally so that dirty oil pours out while you are spinning the filter off. Putting a pan under the filter to catch the oil wouldn’t be very hard if there weren’t hoses and wires in the way. So I used a heavy disposable aluminum foil loaf pan so I could squeeze it between the obstructions. That part is easy. Squeezing it back out while it is full of used oil and not spilling it all over the engine is the hard part. If that were to happen, the time it takes to change the oil would triple. Don’t ask me how I know. Can anyone tell me where I can properly dispose of 2 gallons of used diesel oil?
After changing the oil and then spending a couple of days crawling through the engine room with a St. Thomas mechanic/electrician, we set sail for Cane Garden Bay in Tortola. This is where we and three of our friends had worked with a local church 16 months ago putting a roof back on the building after Hurricane Irma. We counted 20 boats in the bay, 19 more than the last time we were here.
On Sunday morning we dinghied ashore and walked through the town to the church. As we arrived before the worship service began, Pastor Turnbull was hurrying across the yard in front of the church. “Good morning, Melvin,” we said, and he returned the greeting–then did a quick double-take. His face lit up in a smile and he hurried back to shake our hands and hug us. When we stepped inside the church Sister Michelle recognized us immediately and started hugging and kissing both of us. I can’t describe how good it felt to be welcomed so warmly by both of these people with whom we had worked.
The church building itself looked wonderful. The grounds were clean and orderly, the roof was fully repaired, the smelly salt-water soaked pews had been replaced by rows of individual chairs, and shutters were opened to let light through the windows. The interior was simple and clean and radiated the sense of recovery and confidence that the congregation was experiencing. There were about four times as many people in the service as we saw a year ago. The praise and worship was led by six women that I call the Cane Garden Bay Supremes and the energy level was high. If you have never worshipped with a black church, you should try it sometime!