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St. John, USVI



St. John holds a special place in Dave's and my hearts as our preferred getaway destination for many years.


What captivates us about this island is that more than half of its land area has been incorporated into the Virgin Islands National Park (since 1956), ensuring its protection from development. It offers ample opportunities for hiking and underwater adventures. The park strictly prohibits most fishing and anchoring, permitting only the use of mooring balls, to protect the reef and aquatic life.


We have Laurance Rockefeller to thank for this pristine island. He donated significant parcels of land to the National Park Service. The contrast in development between St. Thomas and St. John is striking!


Coral Bay



Our first port of call was Coral Bay, a spot just beyond the park boundaries where dropping anchor was fair game. The bay is a mishmash of local boats hanging out on their private mooring balls with the anchorage back and to the left.


Upon our arrival, the anchorage was wide open with just one other boat. We soon struck up a conversation with our only neighbor, discovering they were two salty sailors who had been wintering in the Caribbean for a whopping 16 years! It was bittersweet to learn that their boat was now up for sale, marking the end of their cruiser adventures.


Back in 2020, we stayed here. Our Airbnb offered a view of the harbor below. As we watched from their balcony, we talked about sailing our boat to this very spot. It feels surreal that it's happened!


Our view of the anchorage we are in from 2020 Airbnb.

Coral Bay is the laid-back cousin to Cruz Bay, the only other town on St, John. Tucked away on the island's quieter east side, Coral Bay exudes a bohemian charm that draws in free spirits and nature lovers, which is why we like it so much.


Here, a couple quaint beach bars like Skinny Legs and eclectic eateries dot the shoreline, offering a taste of local flavor and a front-row seat to stunning sunsets. Surrounded by lush hills and sparkling waters, Coral Bay is a haven for adventurers seeking off-the-beaten-path experiences and a deeper connection with nature.




Big Storm!

Just when we were getting used to the quiet tranquility of our anchorage, Mother Nature decided to spice things up a bit! Before we knew it, the skies turned moody, and like a scene from a pirate movie, a flotilla of over fifteen boats suddenly descended upon us, seeking sanctuary from the brewing storm.


Sailing Nahoa (Youtube Famous)

As the boats sailed in, one in particular made me do a double-take – Nahoa! To Dave and me, it was like spotting a celebrity! We've been avid fans of Ben and Ashely's epic circumnavigation on Nahoa for a whopping 7 years!


We've been glued to their adventures week after week, soaking up their wisdom and daring spirit. They have been a big part of our inspiration in taking this journey and seeing their boat in person was like meeting rock stars of the sailing world!


We went back and forth on whether to approach them or not, but in the end, we just had to do it. Armed with a bottle of wine, we hopped in the dinghy and made our way over to congratulate them on their epic circumnavigation. Ashley greeted us with warmth and grace as we arrived, We ended up having a delightful conversation, exchanging stories and sharing in their joyous accomplishment.


Later, as we were untying our dinghy from the dock, we had a serendipitous encounter with Ashley, accompanied by her two kids and her mom, pulling up in their dinghy. Ashley asked for directions to the dump (garbage disposal: a top priority for cruisers when on land) and recommendations for shopping.


We would later encounter Nahoa again in two additional bays on St. John. The most amusing part of the whole experience was spotting Lagerhead in the background of their latest video. That gave us a giggle!



Great Lameshur Bay and NASA

Our next anchorage on the island was in Great Lameshur Bay.


Here's some obscure history! In the late 1960s, a pioneering experiment took place in Great Lameshur Bay. The project, known as Tektite I and II, marked a groundbreaking collaboration between the Navy, NASA, and the Department of the Interior.


It involved the creation of an underwater habitat in Great Lameshur Bay, enabling scientists to reside submerged in the ocean for an extended duration. This innovative endeavor represented a pioneering milestone in underwater research and exploration.


Photo from website: EXPLORE STJ

Tektite was an underwater laboratory comprising two metal silos linked by a flexible tunnel. Each silo measured 12-and-a-half feet wide by 18 feet high. Equipped with bunks, a galley, a shower, and an experiment area, among other features, the habitat provided essential amenities for its occupants. Constructed by General Electric, the habitat was positioned on the ocean floor at a depth of 49 feet.


Photo from website: EXPLORE STJ

On February 15th, 1969, four scientists – a fishery biologist, a geologist, and two oceanographers – descended to the ocean floor. They returned to the surface on April 15th, 1969. The experiment set a world record for the longest time a person remained underwater.


For those curious about whether any remnants of the structure still exist, the regrettable answer is no. Following the conclusion of the Tektite II experiment, it was entirely removed.


However, there is still a science research building onshore, VIERS - Virgin Islands Environmental Resource Station, left from the experiment. Good for us, VIERS put in a new floating dock that cruisers can use for free as a dinghy dock.


The nice, new dinghy dock

VIERS also had a camp for scientists to live at while using the station. Unfortunately, the camp was destroyed by Cat 5 Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017 and never rebuilt.


The camp after the 2017 hurricanes.

Hike to the Petroglyphs and a Waterfall



Setting off from the trailhead near our anchorage, we made our way up the mountain to the reward of a refreshing dip under a waterfall.


As we wandered up, we spotted exotic plants, heard the chatter of tropical birds, and glimpsed a couple deer off in the trees.


Because of the previous day's heavy rain, we arrived at a breathtaking waterfall tucked away in the heart of the wilderness. The cascading waters beckoned us to cool off and take a refreshing dip. We thoroughly enjoyed this after the humid hike in the rainforest.


Among the rocks encircling the waterfall lie petroglyphs, etched by the indigenous Taino people centuries ago. These symbols serve as a window into the island's rich cultural heritage.

Some of the petroglyphs

We spotted petroglyphs depicting animals, geometric patterns, and human figures, each one offering a tantalizing glimpse into the daily life and beliefs of the people who once called St. John home.


Bordeaux Mountain


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The trail

Dave's one wish for our return to St. John was to climb Bordeaux Mountain, the highest peak on the island. It's only a mile-long hike but it's nature's Stairmaster, with rocks and roots serving as the stepping stones to greatness. It's not about the distance; it's about the elevation gain!



Along the way, we were treated to picture-perfect vistas of the bays below, the British Virgin Islands, and the shimmering Caribbean Sea. We could even make out the faint outline of St. Croix.


There was a lot of heavy breathing as we channeled our inner mountain goat and finally reached the top! Our grand prize? A stroll up the road to the "official" peak. After another ten minutes of climbing, we arrived at the summit, only to be greeted by a wall of trees. No view in sight!


This is the view from the tippy top of Bordeaux Mountain! Isn't it great?!

But you know what? Dave was over the moon with joy. Meanwhile, my poor heels were throwing a pity party. My hiking boots gave me monster blisters, and my feet, used to the freedom of flip-flops, were not having it!


We also took a hike to the Concordia Eco Resort. Nestled within lush tropical surroundings, Concordia Eco Resort offers a variety of accommodation options, including eco-tents, eco-studios, and eco-cottages, all designed to minimize environmental impact while providing comfort and relaxation. We enjoyed patronizing their eco-friendly bar and restaurant. We met some fun visitors to the island and enjoyed live music.




On our way back, Dave decided to hitchhike, and that's when we met Pete. We could hear Pete's arrival from about a mile away due to the booming 80s music blasting from his jeep. We hopped in, expecting a quick 5-minute drive down the dirt road, but it turned into a 45-minute adventure because Pete kept stopping at each giant pothole (more like large mud ponds) to change the music, tell us a story, and grab some beers (it's legal in the US Virgin Islands to drink while driving as long as you're not intoxicated). Let's just say it was a slow and noisy journey home and we belted out a few tunes together (Carpool Karaoke?).


Dave was convinced we'd cross paths with Pete again, and sure enough, we did! We bumped into Pete later by Hawksnest Beach and again at a beach bar on Maho Bay, where we returned the favor and bought him a drink.


Hawksnest Bay

Our next anchorage offered the best snorkeling on St. John. The coral formations at Hawksnest Beach are a sight to behold, teeming with life and offering a fascinating glimpse into the underwater ecosystem. From delicate sea fans swaying in the current to intricate coral structures providing shelter to various marine creatures.


We trailed behind schools of tropical fish darting among the coral reefs. We also observed a slightly agitated stingray flapping about in shallower waters, just five feet below. Its tail pointing straight up was a reminder of Steve Irwin, prompting us to keep a safe distance.


As beautiful as the coral was here, visibility wasn't as good as on St. Croix.


Cruz Bay



Since Hawksnest is less than a 2-mile hike to Cruz Bay, we opted to trek into town.


Cruz Bay, nestled on the western coast of St. John is a vibrant and picturesque harbor town that serves as the main hub of the island.


We strolled along the waterfront, greeted by colorful buildings adorned with charming shutters and balconies overlooking the light blue waters of the bay. Fishing boats and sailboats bob gently in the harbor, adding to the town's nautical charm.


The streets of Cruz Bay are lined with a delightful array of shops, boutiques, and art galleries offering everything from locally made crafts to designer apparel. We browsed for souvenirs, sampled island delicacies at the local eateries, and just soaked in the lively atmosphere as locals and tourists alike went about their day.


Man Overboard (and woman too)!

At most beaches on St. John, there isn't a dinghy dock available. Instead, you simply beach your dinghy to get ashore.


During one of our trips into Cruz Bay, I made the mistake of suggesting we land our dinghy on Gibney Beach (next to Hawksnest) after noticing two other dinghies parked there.


This beach is also the location of Oppenheimer's (yes, that same guy) vacation cottage. The family donated it to the citizens of St. John and it is now a community center, that looked abandoned to Dave and me. Much to our dismay, the row of showers didn't work.


Oppenheimer's Cottage

We had fun in Cruz Bay, indulging in dinner and drinks before heading back at nightfall via taxi. However, upon our return, we were met with large waves breaking on the beach, making it considerably more challenging to launch the dinghy. Adding to the difficulty, we had brought Dave's wooden dinghy, which he rows (no motor) and is notoriously wobbly and hard to climb into.


Our initial departure attempt turned into a disaster! As we both struggled to get into the dinghy and Dave battled with the oars, a massive wave hit us broadside. The force of it knocked the boat on its side, sending us, along with our belongings – bags, phones, wallets – into the water. One of the oars floated away (luckily just down the beach).


Completely soaked and covered in sand, we eventually resorted to what we should have done initially – swimming the boat out past the breakers and climbing in from there. This tactic proved successful, and we eventually made it safely to the boat. However, in my attempt to climb out of the rocking dinghy and onto the boat ladder, I ended up taking an unplanned dip in the water once again.


Now if you think we were laughing and taking it all in stride, we were not. In fact, there was a lot of yelling and blaming throughout the entire ordeal. It definitely wasn't one of our finest moments.


In the end, we destroyed two phones and ended up covered in bruises and feeling bad about the way we talked to each other. We also spent the next week washing sand out of our hair. It was just one of the many one hundred times I've wondered why are we doing this whole "adventure" thing and is this worth it? (The answer is still YES)!


It also served as an important reminder to always use waterproof bags for our valuables, a precaution we had become lax in following through.


Francis Bay

After a few very rolly niights in Hawksnest, we made our way around the corner to the far more sheltered anchorage of Francis Bay. Here, we enjoyed peaceful sleep in the calm waters We tried out the snorkeling here but visibility wasn't very good. We remember seeing lots of turtles and rays here in years past but we only saw a few fish and conchs this time. We also hiked around the Francis Bay Trail and out to the Annaberg Schoolhouse.


The schoolhouse dates back to the 19th century and was once part of a sugar plantation operated by Danish colonists. It served as a school for the children of enslaved workers on the plantation.


Annaberg Schoolhouse
Dave walking down an old Danish road.

Maho Bay

We dinghied over to the very touristy bay next door, Maho Bay to hang out on the beach.


Maho Beach

With its iconic coconut palm-fringed white sand shoreline, gentle surf, and shallow entry, Maho offers everything beachgoers could desire. The narrow strip of sandy beach provides ample sun and shade, while the sandy bottom extends about 20 yards offshore, perfect for wading, swimming, floating, relaxing and snorkeling. We spotted lots of sea turtles and eagle rays here.


The beach has bathrooms, water toy rentals (floats, paddleboards, kayaks, snorkeling equipment) and two beachy restaurants. Its popularity does come with a drawback – the beach is probably the most crowded on the island but fun to visit!


Detour to Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas

Following several enjoyable days in Francis Bay, we set sail for the neighboring island of St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. This marked our visit to all four of the United States territories in the Caribbean. Our original plan didn't include a stop in St. Thomas, but due to the unexpected incident of my paddleboard exploding, we were compelled to make the detour.


St. Thomas has the only UPS store on the islands and I needed to send the paddleboard back to the manufacturer via a prepaid UPS sticker which I did with the help of a very kind taxi driver.


Charlotte Amalie from our boat on anchor.

We anchored in the heart of downtown Charlotte Amalie, the capital and largest city in the USVIs.


Originally settled by the Danish in the 17th century, Charlotte Amalie was named after Queen Charlotte Amalie of Denmark. Its deep natural harbor made it a strategic location for trade and commerce, attracting merchants, pirates, and colonial powers over the centuries.


Portait of Queen Charlotte Amalie from the Royal Collection Trust.

Today, Charlotte Amalie is a bustling port city and a popular destination for tourists visiting the Caribbean. Lots of cruise ships stop here. We had fun meeting and playing bingo in a Brewhouse with a bunch of Iowan cruisershippers.


Charlotte Amalie's historic downtown area features charming cobblestone streets lined with colorful colonial buildings, many of which have been converted into shops, restaurants, and boutique hotels.


Visitors can explore historical landmarks such as Fort Christian, built by the Danish in the 17th century and now housing a museum chronicling the island's history. The city is also known for its duty-free shopping, offering a wide range of luxury goods, jewelry, and local handicrafts.

Fort Christian

The Bezos Show

To get to and from the dinghy dock to our boat, we had to motor past Jeff Bezos' two mega yachts, Koru (the sailing yacht) and Abeona (the "support" vessel) with the helicopter pad.

Koru

Koru is a colossal 417-foot vessel with three towering masts (taller than the cruise ships parked next to it!) is the 2nd largest sailboat in the world.


As many as 18 guests (I think 200 people could easily fit) can enjoy the yacht’s three outdoor decks, including one with two pools. The vessel, which has a crew of up to 36, also boasts a cinema, meeting spaces, bars and lounges.


The front of the boat has a figurehead modeled after Bezos' girlfriend, Lauren Sanchez. Dave and I joked that it probably has a removable face so he can replace her with his next girlfriend.


I like these diagrams from the NY Post.




Time on Anchor

While our blog highlights us as avid hikers, snorkelers, and adventurers, the truth is we also value our time spent at home too. Personally, I enjoy cooking and have been experimenting with recipes, including making homemade tofu, tempeh, and lots of hummus. I also spend time designing and updating various websites.


Meanwhile, Dave has been occupied with computer programming, developing ideas for his future consulting projects, and tending to maintenance tasks on the boat.


The cruising lifestyle encompasses a balance of both stay-at-home days and exploring days. We aren't on vacation, we are just living life. The next stop in this life is the British Virgin Islands!





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Sam Mills
Sam Mills
Feb 28

Awesome read! I love ❤️ following your travels. This is me feeding the pelicans the left over bait fish, after a day of offshore fishing here in Sebastian FL..



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