While St Thomas is cruise ships and duty free shops (and beautiful beaches, let’s be honest), St John is its more laid back, hippy cousin. So guess which one appeals to this Boulder, Colorado chick?
When we learned that SV Wilfull and SV Tanda Tula were spending one last night in St John before heading to the British Virgins, Capt. Mike and I raised anchor and hurried over to St John to see them one more time. Heading east means upwind, but we’re in no hurry, so we kept the motor off and enjoyed the sail tacking as close to the wind as our staysail would allow.
Once we’d settled in on a mooring ball in Maho Bay we could start to appreciate all that St John has to offer. About 2/3 of the island is National Park with protected rainforest and coastal waters. And it’s kind of hard to get there – no airport, a ferry ride away from Red Hook, only one big international resort. Which means the beaches are lovely, but not covered with lounge chairs. The waters are perfect for swimming, and the giant sea turtles aren’t the slightest bit afraid of us inconsequential humans. Independent travelers rent a van and pack a cooler and circle the island, exploring the differing delights of each bay just around the next corner or hiking the steep trails from the island’s mountainous spine down to its beaches.
Maho Bay is sea turtle paradise – small agile turtles, big turtles with remora fish clinging to their shells, and huge ancient turtles that stare back at you placidly when you dive down to their level. Mike and I never got tired of calling out, “Look! Turtle! Look! Turtle!” from the cockpit. And when we got tired of snorkeling, usually coincidentally right around happy hour, we’d head ashore to the new Maho Collective. This combination tiki bar, food truck park, paddle board rental, and boutique has an inviting island vibe and feels like a backyard barbecue at your cool friend’s house. The owner, Dave lived in Vail for a while so we sat on a wicker sofa after closing time and told island stories and mountain stories. Fabulous guy that he is, he even bought all six of us a round of drinks!
Once our friends moved on, Capt. Mike and I set out to explore all the new and happening spots on St John – well, at least all the spots that the weather conditions allowed. After hiking St Francis bay, we dropped our national park mooring ball and sailed east to Hansen’s Bay just outside the park boundaries. Being outside the park, we were able to anchor for free, rather than spending $26 per night for a mooring ball. Hmmm… what to do with that extra money? Spend the afternoon at a floating taco and cocktail bar, of course!
Lime Out is a lime green barge, only accessible by boat, kayak, or paddle board. Tie up, jump in the water, and drift over to one of the huge floats or to the swim up bar. Look over the short menu of gourmet tacos (think seared tuna, shrimp with pesto, or surf and turf) and craft cocktails. Place your order with one of the cheerful, efficient young waitresses who can answer any questions about ingredients and allergies. Even when the place is jammed with people, your order will come out super fast – drinks served in insulated stainless steel mugs, so no trash or single-use plastics. Tacos come in these cute little divided take-out containers made of compostable material. If you’re sitting on a yellow float, they’ll place your order on a pool float and give it a push to drift across the water to you. Finished, and have empty taco containers? The waitress reaches out with one of those long handled swimming pool skimmers to collect your trash. They’ve got this whole thing figured out. And speaking of trash, if you eat your scrumptious tacos at the swim up bar, a few scraps of guacamole or lettuce are bound to fall in the water. Never fear! A school of fish hang out under the barge just waiting to swoop in and snatch up your scraps. I have to admit, it’s a bit unnerving the first time it happens! When you get hot, slip into the water and borrow one of Lime Out’s swim noodles or floating chairs. When you get chilly, clamber up onto one of the sectional-couch-sized floats and chat with your neighbor. All in all, spending an afternoon at Lime Out is tons of fun.
After the Lime Out restaurant raised anchor and motored away on Sunday evening, Sanitas was left alone for a quiet evening. The next morning, we ducked around the corner to Salt Pond Bay, back inside the park. The beach here is a bit off the beaten path, and it’s quieter than on the north shore. From the beach, there’s a lovely easy hike to Ram’s Head with wonderful views. The trail meanders through clusters of barrel cactus with bright red blossoms. If you look closely, you’ll find a few with bright pink fruits shaped like chili peppers that grow right out the top of the cactus. Very cool! If you’re visiting St John, the hike to Ram’s Head is a must!
After all this traveling around, somehow the holidays snuck up on us. Southerly winds drove us away from St John’s south coast anchorages, so we turned the corner to the west coast and ducked into Cruz Bay on Christmas Eve. Cruz Bay is the “big city” on St John, with all the services we were missing after our stay in the park – grocery stores, hair salon, restaurants, and strong free wifi at the ferry dock. We certainly took advantage of all these things, and soaked up the tropical holiday atmosphere. As an added bonus, we caught up with Carina on Northern Star who we met back in St Petersburg, FL in 2017. At the time, she and her husband and two adorable dogs were in the process of moving from Texas to the Virgin Islands on their sailboat. Lots of fun to check in two years later to find out how it went, and how much they are enjoying their new island home!
I hope all of you had happy and healthy holidays! Here’s to the best for you in 2020!