SimplySailingOnline.com shows by example how easily you can eliminate stress, become more independent, raise your children in a safer environment (while spending more time with them, instilling values not based on the mighty dollar) and avoid the traps of commercialism. Because we live and sail simply, we have been wandering for 11 years with no intention of stopping. This is not a trip for us; it is our life, and I hope to share our success with stories of laughter and tears, as well as how-to tips and DIY projects for preparing, sailing and making a boat a home, so that others can join us.
August 27, 2010
Though I am embarrassed to admit it, the only US Virgin Island we had heard of before we left the States was St. Thomas. After sixteen hours in Charlotte Amalie Harbor, however, we knew there had to be more to "America's Paradise." Or at least we hoped there was. Charlotte Amalie's population increases by up to 40,000 people when cruise ships are in port, hardly the island living we sailed so far to find. After an equally brief stop in St. John, we set sail for what we were calling our last hope, the only USVI left, St. Croix.
When we had sailed into Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, the self-proclaimed harbormaster (a cruiser whose boat name you would recognize if you've spent any time in the Eastern Caribbean) came over and informed us not to dock the dinghy here or put our trash there. Don't expect to be able to get water, fuel, or even a slip at the marina once they have finished renovating, for our kind--small sailboats--would not be welcomed. While rowing to shore in Christiansted, St. Croix on the contrary, Dave was hailed by Dick on Shaka. He welcomed us to St. Croix, gave us multiple dinghy dock options, explained the trash bins designated for boaters' use, recommended some inexpensive restaurants, and even offered us his car. We soon learned that Dick was not an anomaly; St. Croix is full of welcoming faces. Crucians are known for their "Good marnin" and will slow you down as necessary if you forget where you are and jump right into a conversation. While standing in line at the post office--which may be long, but it's air-conditioned, and what's the hurry--it is not unusual to answer a dozen greetings of "Good afternoon" as each new customer enters.
Before St. Croix, we had never returned to a work stop, preferring the "been there, done that" attitude over familiarity. We have since stopped there to work four times. I never expected to find a home in the Caribbean; we weren't looking for one, but St. Croix has the qualities of a "States-light." You won't find any shopping malls, but I rather enjoy boutiques where the owners know my name. There is still some State-side bureaucracy, but it's a small price we are willing to pay to be on an island with access to United States Postal Service, most toll free numbers for State-side businesses can be used, there is no limit to how long we can stay, SATs are offered every year, English is the official language, and a dollar equals a dollar. Yet St. Croix is undeniably Caribbean, complete with her own dialect (Crucians who speak Crucian) and clean turquoise water inside the third longest barrier reef in the hemisphere which protects Christiansted Harbor.
Buck Island National Park just 7 miles to windward of the Harbor is a local cruising Mecca, where you can swim and snorkel with baby lemon sharks or for the less adventurous, lay on the sloping sand beaches kept pristine despite the number of visitors. The best part of Buck Island for us is that the tourists all sail back to St. Croix before dark, leaving us to enjoy the sunset alone, from the deck of our own floating island home.
Unlike Buck Island and Long Reef, which are the most obvious (and easiest to get to) attractions, some of my favorite locations on St. Croix are more hidden. There are tide pools out west. Seas crash over the rocks and fill these low spots, then after the Caribbean settles, it leaves clear, calm wading pools. Also on the western shore is Sandy Point State Park, a favorite spot for turtles to nest and a beautiful steep beach. You can swing from the vines in the tropical rainforest while on that side of the island and of course sit on a beach and try to catch a green flash as the sun sets into the Caribbean.
Out east St. Croix resembles Colorado with its tumbleweeds blowing across the road and the cactus and scrub brush. This is the dry half of the island, but its beaches are no less magnificent. Jack and Isaac's Beach, on the way to Pt. Udall (the Easternmost point of the United States) is a local favorite, yet rarely have we seen another person when we are on it. But my favorite spot on the entire island is Ha' Penny Beach. As its name suggests, it is a half circle of beach, protected from all but the worst swells by a reef less than a mile offshore. Bonfires, going away parties, Sunday Fundays and countless other island celebrations take place here.
You will notice that I have not given specific directions to any of these sites. That is intentional. Most tourists don't stay on island long enough to find them, and that's perfect for the rest of us. But if you are willing to spend some time here and become friends with some locals, they will share their island's treasures with you.
St. Croix has surf spots, dive sites, trade winds, and a tropical climate. Including, unfortunately, hurricanes. When we first visited St. Croix we often heard, "But St. Croix hasn't been hit in a long time." I decided these people were: tourists, forgetful, or define "long" differently than I. Though there have been hurricane force winds several times since, it is Hugo whom the locals referred to in subdued whispers of awe and respect, tinged with bitterness. This 1989 hurricane devastated St. Croix and is the reason that the first three times we stopped here to work we chose to sail away each summer. The one year we decided to stay was 2008, the year Omar, as a Category 3 hurricane, destroyed so many boats and changed the lives of many of our friends. But that, as they say, is another story.
MONDAY we'll look at the options for solving the most important problem of deciding to cruise with kids: choosing a home schooling program.
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