Monday, February 21, 2011

Lifestyles of the Incredibly Lucky

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Thursday, February 3
St. Thomas - U.S. Virgin Islands

The island of St. Thomas, USVI.
Joan on the balcony of our room.
Balmy Caribbean breezes wafting through the open doors of our sunny hotel room...a lovely view of the palm-lined white sand beach from the balcony...rum punch waiting on the veranda...dinner with good friends, Jim and Esther, who had arrived shortly before us...
Our room at the Emerald Beach Resort

View from the balcony

Esther on her balcony
Emerald Beach Resort Pool and Restaurant

Joan and Rob on the beach.

Life can't get much better than this, can it? 
Well, hold on to your hat, Dear Reader, 'cause you ain't seen nothing yet!

Friday, February 4
Starting the Trip of a Lifetime -
Boarding the Jamaica Bay

After a very long trip on Thursday, Rob and I slept for ten hours and woke up on Friday morning much refreshed.  We spent some time on our balcony watching the pelicans dive-bombing a big school of fish - a visible dark mass shifting and swirling under the clear pale blue water. 

Our champions at Rutgers
This was the beginning of an incredible and unforgettable week.  Rob, John, Jim, and Tom had won the National Championship Sprint Medley Relay in 1970 and had been the stars of an outstanding track team for Rutgers University. 

Their friendship in college created a bond that has  
lasted through all these years, and this week was a special reunion for the men and their, Susan, Esther, and Helen.

Reunion of Champions!  John, Jim, Tom, and Rob

Joan, Susan, Esther, and Helen

The whole gang together at last!

We would spend the week cruising the waters of the British Virgin Islands on board the gorgeous 195' yacht, Jamaica Bay.

The Crew
At 10 a.m. sharp, John and Captain Bob picked us up at the hotel and drove us through the city of Charlotte Amalie to the awaiting yacht.

We piled onto an open cart and proceeded down the dock to the ship where we were greeted by the entire crew who lined up to introduce themselves. They greeted us by name and made us feel immediately at home. This is a good spot to introduce you to them, as you will see more of them throughout this journal.

Captain Bob pilots us out of the St. Thomas Harbor

Captain Bob leads the team.  He hails from Maine and was absolutely delightful, always smiling and laughing. 

Naturally, Captain Bob always treats the crew with great respect.

Fitz and Ben are the engineers.  Fitz is from Ghana, and Ben is from Maunganui on the North Island of New Zealand (which was one of Rob's and my favorite stops on our trip to New Zealand!)


Gary and Ryan, from South Africa, Jeff from London, Brian (also South Africa?), and Geordie from Newcastle are the ship's mates.  They ferried us about on our shore excursions and watched out for our safety during our many ventures into the ocean.
Gary and Ryan




Andy from the Gold Coast of Australia, Sarah from Melbourne, Australia, and Gwen, from Fiji took care of our cabins and any needs we had while on board our floating paradise.

Andy and Gwen

Sarah and Talitha

Kurt, from Kauai, and Maria, who grew up in Sao Paolo, Brazil, but now also lives on Kauai were our fantastic chefs...and Maria also served as our daily yoga instructor. 

Kurt - our fantastic chef

Maria - chef and yoga instructor!
Adam presents our meal.

Finally, Adam from Cornwall and Talitha from Melbourne acted as maitre 'd and server extraordinaire. 

The Ship
Following introductions, Susan took the four of us on a tour of the gorgeous ship.
Dining Room 

The walls and furnishings are a warm dark mahogany. There is a formal dining room, but with the perfect weather during our trip, we ate every meal on one or the other of the outdoor dining tables - one on the main deck and another up on the sun deck.  The larger table had a revolving platform to aid in passing the food, and Susan immediately informed us this was known as a "Lazy Carol".   (No Lazy Susans on this ship!)  There are three big screen TVs around the ship (which will all be on during the SuperBowl). And the TV on the sun deck actually swivels so that you can watch it from the shaded lounge area OR from the jacuzzi!

Main Deck lounge

We also visited the main deck lounge, a game room/reading lounge (where we would all gather throughout the cruise to write emails, download photos, and read), the gym, and the sun deck on top with big cushions to sunbathe on, a shaded area for visiting, and a jacuzzi.  There were jet skis (although these were forbidden throughout the British Virgin Islands), a fishing boat, and a cabinet filled with snorkel and scuba equipment. Finally, we briefly dropped by the engine room, the bridge, and the galley where Kurt and Maria were already preparing our lunch.

Esther and I drew keys for rooms, and I got the "short key."  Jim and Esther were put in the VIP suite on the middle deck, which has a jacuzzi tub in the bathroom, double sinks, (and his and her toilets, as Jim described the toilet and bidet).   Rob and I got one of the four "regular" guest rooms on the lower deck. But when you see these photos, I just don't think you are going to feel very sorry for us!
Our room
My fully stocked bathroom cabinet

Our room had a king-size bed, a TV (cleverly hidden behind a painting on the wall), a computer console that could call up the music of our choice, or a movie, or a cabin steward, at the touch of a button.  The bathroom cabinets were already stocked with everything we might need...a man's side and a woman's side, with shampoos, deodorant, toothbrush and paste, razors, lotions, etc.

And the most lovely surprise...John and Susan had placed photos of the boys' old track days all over this ship...including special ones of Rob, Tom, and Jim right in each of their bedrooms!
Rob wins the relay!

The first meal...with edible flowers!
We unpacked our bags and settled in. (The girls offered to do it for us, but I like to get myself organized.)  Then we returned to the main deck for our lunch...just a casual little affair consisting of slices of marinated beef, a quinoa-broccoli-tomato salad, a shrimp salad, a green salad with edible flowers followed by strawberry cheesecake ice cream made on the ship, a shortbread and a brownie...served beautifully by Adam and Talitha.
Everyone was so welcoming that I didn't feel at all uncomfortable or out of place. Although I already knew Jim, Esther, Tom, and Helen, I had not yet met John and Susan, but they are just as down to earth as can be, and we chatted like old friends. Of course, all the "boys" ARE old friends, and they immediately began recounting all their track stories and reminiscing to their hearts content. We girls have heard a lot of these stories before, but it was very special to get to see all of them sharing the memories together.
Tom and Helen board JB
After lunch, John, Jim, and Rob returned to the airport to pick up Tom and Helen, the last of our group.  Soon the cart made its way down the dock to the ship, and we all ran down for an excited reunion.  As soon as everyone was on board, Captain Bob immediately "set sail" for our first anchorage at St. John Island.
Caribbean colors on the apartments in Charlotte Amalie

I was surprised to see how numerous and close the various islands are. Besides the big ones with the familiar names, there are little hills poking out of the water in all directions. It must have been a dangerous place to sail in the "olden days" but you can certainly see why the Pirates of the Caribbean would like it...lots of places to hide!
Little islands of the Caribbean

Jim, John, Tom, and Esther enjoying the cruise.
Sunset over St. Thomas
We all went up on the sundeck for afternoon drinks (rum punch, iced teas) and to visit as we cruised the hour and a half or so from St. Thomas to St. John.  We arrived at the island under the glow of a gorgeous sunset behind St. Thomas.
Stone crab claws

It was not my intention to write a "food blog" but the food on this trip was so memorable and so beautifully presented that it cannot be ignored.  Susan's napkin rings often hold a clue to the meal's theme, and at our first dinner, cute little crab napkin rings pointed to a meal of huge stone crab claws from Florida (apparently they take one claw from the crab, throw it back...and the claw regenerates!), coq au vin, garlic mashed potatoes, and veggies, followed by a chocolate mousse cake. Adam and Talitha, (who is also called T or Red), continually circled the table making sure we had everything we needed. Adam always gives a little presentation about the upcoming dish and describes each wine, which flows frequently.  We ate quite late, so after the great dinner, we headed off to bed - in one of the most comfortable mattresses we have ever slept upon!

Saturday, February 5 
Cruz Bay and Snorkeling at Trunk Bay, St. John, USVI
Foxy's - Jost Van Dyke, BVI

Pink and white dragonfruit, papaya, and passion fruit cups
Rob and I had intended to get up this morning for yoga with Maria at 8 a.m., but we were still on California time and when we woke up and looked at the clock, it was already 8:20!   So we showered and dressed and just went up for breakfast...a continental buffet of piles of fruit, including some very exotic ones...dragon fruit (which was delicious!), lychee nuts, and passion fruit, in addition to the usual berries, pineapple, papaya, etc. There were homemade pastries, yogurt, and  the first of our daily fruit smoothies...this one a delicious banana, passion fruit, and berry concoction. We were offered a hot breakfast if we wanted it, but everyone agreed that this had been plenty.

Around 10, Ryan and Gary took us over to the little town of Cruz Bay on the tender, and we girls went browsing in the shops while the guys checked out the local beer establishment. Our first stop was a little street fair/craft market,

Craft Market in Cruz Bay

then Susan took us into a very nice jewelry store where she introduced us to larimar, a lovely blue stone - just the color of Caribbean water over the white sand beaches - that is only found in the Caribbean, so it seemed like the perfect momento of the day.
Shop in Cruz Bay

The small town is very cute, with its buildings painted in the bright pastels so common to the Caribbean.  I would have loved to have stayed and wandered more.

But there was more to do! We returned to the JB (bounding quickly over the waves...yeehaw!), changed into our bathing suits, and grabbed our masks and snorkel tubes. This time we headed down to the pontoon boat with Jeff and Brian and Andy, who had our fins waiting for us, and we all headed back to Trunks Bay for some fun snorkeling. Our arrival was a bit interesting...the water was choppy and the bouys seemed to indicate that we could not take the boat in toward the shore, so Andy and Rob jumped in to see if the current was too strong to keep us from swimming over the the sheltered area behind a little island off the beach where the snorkeling was the best. But while they were swimming over to the rocks, a local in a kayak paddled over and told Jeff where he could enter at the far end of the bay. So we abandoned our swimmers and Jeff steered us in quite close to shore.

We walked back along the white sand beach  and dove in for our snorkel. What fun! The clarity was great and we saw some beautiful fish...huge blue parrotfish, lots of saddle wrasses. I saw some cleaner fish nibbling on the scales of some of the bigger fish, and there were lots of pale white fish with bright yellow stripes and tails who came to investigate me - I imagine because I was wearing a bright yellow snorkel shirt.



Yellow Tailed Snapper

Parrot Fish
The underwater scene is somewhat different here than in Hawaii, not because the fish are so different, but because the corals are. There were lots of sea fans and soft corals waving in the current, as well as some huge brain corals - bright orange. Once again, we couldn't stay as long as I would have wished, as Captain Bob had to get us to Tortola in the British Virgin Islands to get us through customs. We all gathered on the beach, then swam back to the waiting boat and once again bounced full speed through the waves to the JB. We got hit with a rain squall just as we arrived back, but as we were already wet, it hardly mattered! There was a (hot) shower right at the top of the stairs on the deck, so we showered the sand off and headed to our rooms to clean up for lunch.

Japanese Lunch

Lunch was an AMAZING Japanese feast! The table was decorated with a big green Buddha, with little black iron napkin rings shaped as pagodas, and napkins embroidered with gorgeous oriental designs.

Esther and Helen admire the Sushi Boat

First, Adam and Talitha brought out the miso soup and steamed and salted edamame.  This was followed by sushi - plain slices of albacore, bright pink tuna, and light pink salmon, served with a teriyaki sauce, wasabi, and fresh ginger - and served from little wooden Japanese fishing boats. 

Scallops with Pansies
This was followed by four kinds of California rolls, then they brought out - not necessarily in this order, because there was so much I can't keep track - pieces of sea bass, scallops (sitting on scallop shells and decorated with tiny edible pansies), tempura shrimp in a fabulous chili sauce, spicy tuna, a lettuce salad, some other fish on a bed of seaweed salad. Each of these dishes was brought out individually, so we would just finish one when the next would appear...but they were all small portions so you could really enjoy each one....just lots of little tastes of exotic dishes. And it was all followed by Kurt's homemade ice creams...this time, a coconut with, I think, a little hint of rum.

Rob and John relaxing in the reading room.
During lunch, we all visited and shared more stories about the boys' past, how we had all met, etc....all the while sailing past the beautiful islands until we arrived at Soper's Bay in Tortola. By the time we were finished, it was near 4:00, and everyone finally separated to nap, read, write journals, and recover in time to enjoy the evening's festivities!

Tarpon checking us out
As we rested, the JB made its way to the little island of Jost Van Dyke, where we anchored. No one was hungry after our Japanese feast, so we visited for awhile and spent some time hanging over the rail of the back deck looking down at the HUGE tarpon fish who were swimming around feasting on the little fish that were attracted by the lights of our ship shining down into the clear water. The tarpon had silvery sides that glowed brightly in the lights, and when they rolled onto their sides, I could catch a glimpse of their big eyes, glowing red. 

It was dark by the time we got on the tenders to go to Foxy's Beach Bar for a beach BBQ.  Ryan piloted the boat, while Gary sat up in front and shone a very powerful beam out across the water so that Ryan could see the buoys that guided us in. As we approached the shore, we could hear the live band and singer at Foxy's, which is a well-known "watering hole" for the yachties and sailing crowd that cruise this area.

Susan arrives at Foxy's

The tender has a hinged door at the very front that opens up to let us walk directly onto the beach.  As Rob and I stepped out of the boat, he was immediately approached by a young man who wanted to sell him some ganja (marijuana). We laughed and said no thanks. (Rob ALWAYS seems to get approached about things like this...he must look like an old hippy!) We weaved our way through the lively crowd to our table where the rum punch was already waiting.
Foxy's singer and band were terrific!

Foxy's Firewater! 

Helen and Tom enjoy their dirty rice and chicken.

We were among the older people in the establishment, but after our dinner of dirty rice, BBQ chicken and ribs, fish, and various salads and vegetables, we got up and danced the night away just as enthusiastically as the 20 and 30 year olds.
Rob and Joan enjoy the BBQ

The band and singer were very good, and Susan awarded Tom and Helen the "disco ball award" for their great dancing. They have been taking lessons...including tango and hip hop!...and it showed.  It was a lively group...and we all enjoyed watching some of the other dancers, including the young man (a local, I think) who was "pole dancing" - by grabbing the end of a rope that was wound around one of the pillars and swaying vigorously to the music. He followed this dance by doing a limbo move in which he bent over backwards, lowered his body, and drank a bottle of beer with no hands! There was also an adorable boy of about eight years old who was dancing a very impressive hip hop, all with the most serious expression on his face.
Susan and John feel the rhythm

The JB Dancers

Tom and Helen win the Disco Ball Award

We be jammin' !

La Dolce Vita!
We were all pretty wiped out by around 10, so we headed back to the JB. I had planned to go right to bed, but the hot tub was waiting, so I joined the four "boys" and had fun sitting and listening to more of their reminiscences about their glory days at Rutgers. They were having so much fun together, it was a joy to see. I left after about a half an hour so they could discuss ALL of their stories and met up with Helen and Esther, who were sitting in the lounge visiting. Then it was off to my wonderful bed where I fell sound asleep, lulled by the gentle rocking of the boat.

Sunday, February 6
Happy Super Bowl Sunday!
Peter Island, BVI
I woke this morning in time to join Helen, Tom, and Susan for morning yoga, led by Maria, who, in turns out, went to UC Santa Barbara - a fellow Gaucho! She and I had a chat as we waited for the others to join us at 8 a.m. It was a gentle stretching session, and I really did feel better after doing it.  I am not used to this party lifestyle! But the fact that California is four hours behind helps as I had no trouble staying up was only the waking up that was a bit hard.

Breakfast around the "Lazy Carol"

Following yoga, we all met on the main deck for another wonderful breakfast of pastries, wonderful fresh fruit, and omeletes made to order. I think we sat at breakfast for at least two hours, laughing and visiting - with Adam and Talitha taking care of our every need. The rest of the morning was spent cruising to Peter Island, our next stop.
Helen works on her Rutgers Powerpoint...

...While Tom checks his email
We returned to our rooms after breakfast to find Jamaica Bay t-shirts and caps waiting for us...the first of several little surprises we would find throughout the trip.

For the next hour or so, we had a little quiet time for checking mail, and watching the beautiful scenery glide by.  Helen was hard at work preparing a special retrospective of the boys' years at Rutgers, which we would see later in the trip.

Jim has the right idea - check the email on the deck.

Soon we arrived at our anchorage in a calm, pretty bay on Peter Island and it was time for lunch!

Peter Island

Lunch was a two hour Italian affair...Insalata Caprese, homemade gnocchi with pesto sauce, a rigatoni with red sauce, an absolutely delectable veal scallopini, asparagus with sun-dried tomatoes, followed by the creamiest pistachio and honey ice cream with a pirouette cookie stick. Did you notice how I moved almost directly from breakfast to lunch?  It sometimes felt that half of this voyage was sitting around the dining table enjoying fabulous feasts...but that was also the time we spent visiting and getting to know one another, so the time passed very quickly and pleasantly.  We learned after the first few meals to take small bits of everything, as there was always more coming!

After lunch, it was time for snorkeling in the little bay on Peter Island. Ryan and Gary took us to the shore where we stepped out onto a rocky beach and got into our snorkel gear.
Upon first entering the water, I thought the snorkeling would not be very was a mostly sandy bottom with a few little grey and white fish. The visibility was pretty good, but the skies were so overcast that everything looked a little muted.

But as we followed the shoreline, the coral became more abundant and the fish more numerous. It was an interesting some places, the ground sloped gently away from the shore and there were lots of various corals and sea fans waving on the bottom, but as we went further out, the bottom dropped quite sharply (not deep water depths but probably 30 to 40 feet - as a guess). The sun finally broke through the clouds and the visibility became very good. I saw several fish I hadn't spotted before...some gorgeous blue and green parrot fish, several butterfly fish (in pairs just as they always are), and a big puffer fish...and lots of mermen and mermaids doing underwater yoga!

Ryan snorkeled with us and dove down occasionally to snap photos with his underwater camera. Just before we headed back to the boat, he spotted a tiny gold nudibranch sitting on the side of a sea fan and dove down for a close up look.

We returned to the JB, showered, and enjoyed a quiet afternoon for hot tubbing, napping, reading, checking email.

In no time, it was time for our pre-Super Bowl party up on the sun deck where the crew had set out chips, beer, and all the fixings for tacos - with choices of ground beef, shredded beef, three preparations of chicken, several dips and salsas, Marguerita's, and John's favorite... "guchamole."  (This comes from one of Rob's favorite stories about John.  When John came out to California to visit Rob in the early '70s, they went to a Mexican restaurant where John pointed to the guacamole on the menu and asked, "What is guchamole?")

John and Susan lived for many years in Milwaukee, so John immediately informed us that we will be rooting for only one team - Green Bay - at this party! Happily, that is no problem for me, as that team is a part of my family history.

The girls enjoy the Super Bown on the Upper Deck

Jim headed up our football pool and everyone settled in for the big game - Green Bay vs. Pittsburgh - with the ladies sitting on the upper deck and the guys in the lounge.
And the guys rooted from the lounge.

The Ulans win the first quarter pool.

The Packers took an early lead and maintained it through the entire game...although there were a few tense minutes in the third quarter when the Steelers got within four points. Jim and Esther were the final winners of the pool...but the really happy news was that each of the four couples won one quarter of the game so we all went to bed as very happy campers! Another great day!

Monday, February 7
Bitter End and Saba Rock, Virgin Gorda, BVI
We got a rap on our door at 7:30 a.m. to alert us to morning yoga on the sun deck. I arrived a bit early again and had a nice chat about gifted education with Maria, who also teaches at Hanalei Yoga, a yoga studio in Hanalei that Rob has visited during his trips there! We were soon joined by Susan, Tom and Helen, and Jim and Esther. Rob, who does yoga faithfully three times a week at home, has been skipping the morning yoga - but replacing it with a vigorous three-mile jog on the treadmills in the gym. Maria did a great job leading us through a gentle but thorough stretch and we always walked away feeling just great.
Porridge with Whisky - yuck!

We enjoyed our usual long breakfast on the main deck. The highlight was a special made just for Jim...porridge with whiskey!

The weather was a bit overcast and windy and we cruised through another rain squall as we headed for our next stop at Virgin Gorda, but as we approached the island, it cleared up beautifully, and the bay was filled with dozens of sailboats out enjoying the brisk wind. Jim and Esther, and John and I sat up on the bow of the sun deck enjoying the sight of pretty white sails against a very blue sky and the many various blues of the Caribbean seas over the reefs or white sandy bottoms. You can certainly see why there were so many shipwrecks here over the years...there are numerous reefs around the points of the islands.
Joan and John
Esther and Jim enjoy the sunshine.

We arrived at Bitter End, the very northeastern end of Virgin Gorda, and anchored in the middle of a big bay also occupied by a small cruise ship, another yacht, and several sail boats. Lunch wasn't planned until 1:30, and it had turned into a beautiful warm sunny day.

Tom, Helen, Esther, and Jim

Most of our party headed over to a little beach bar on the nearby shore,
while Rob and I took advantage of the sport deck at the stern of the ship and dove into the clear blue water for a swim.

The selection of sunscreens and lotions on the sport deck.
The open sport deck from the ship's gym.
Rob and Joan
We were far from shore, but the crew stood watch and there was a life line trailing in the water in case we got swept away with the current. The line came in handy, as I did get a bit far from the boat at one point and tried swimming back, but my best efforts kept me in the same place instead of moving forward, so I grabbed the line and just worked my way back hand over hand. I wasn't the least bit frightened, as Rob was nearby and the crew was watching.

The gang returns to the ship.

When the rest of the gang returned, Jim and Esther joined us in the water (once Esther got over her fear of getting into open water far from the shore) and we had a great time splashing around for awhile.
Jim and Esther take a dip.

John takes a break.
We took a little time for rest and relaxation, then it was time for lunch.

The cute lobster napkin rings hinted at a seafood lunch, and soon out came the swordfish with a citrus and caper sauce, swordfish carpaccio, langoustines, a fabulous green papaya salad with a mild chili dressing, green salad, and carrot cake with caramel ice cream. My goodness, it was really probably a good thing this trip was only a week or I would be waddling home!
Oh, that looks good!

Geordie takes a break.

After lunch, we were offered the opportunity to go kayaking off the back of the yacht in the "glass-bottom" kayaks. Actually, the kayaks were glass-everything - completely clear boats! I was the only one who wanted to go, so Geordie, one of the crew members, offered to go with me in the two-person kayak. We loaded the kayak onto the tender and Jeff floated us to the head of the bay where the current could just sweep us along the shore over the coral heads and little fish. Geordie and I chatted away as we paddled.  He was a delightful young man who has worked at a safari camp in Africa - Tanzania, I think.  I asked him to recount some of his best animal adventures, which included being charged by a bull elephant!  With nowhere to run or hide, he stood his ground and just before the elephant reached him, he threw up his arms and roared at it.  It worked!  The elephant backed off and ran away.  We paddled all the way back to the boat, with Jeff and Jim following to make sure we were not swept away.

Tom shows us how it's done.
I climbed back on board to find Rob and Tom hard at work on the treadmills in the gym behind the sport deck.

I took the rest of the afternoon to sit and relax for awhile. I'm reading Rolling Stone Keith Richard's autobiography, Life, which has turned out to be very interesting. Tom and Helen and some of the others went back into the water for another swim.

Sunset from the tender on the way to Saba Rock.

Then around 5:30, we all boarded the tender and motored over to Saba Rock, a tiny island which houses another well-known beach bar, for drinks and a little shopping.
Saba Rock at Bitter End

Susan, John, Jim, Esther, and Joan
Tom greets an old friend.

We returned to the JB in the dark and cleaned up for and elegant dinner (with Tuxedo napkins): huge bone-in beef fillets in a "veal demi-glace with truffles", twice-baked potatoes with a crust of parmesan and other spices, cauliflower, and a flourless chocolate cake with artsy medallions of white chocolate. 

Every meal is accompanied by a fine wine that Adam has selected to complement the meal. He used to work on the QE2, and he always gives us a little speech about the wine and the meal. "Ladies and Gentlemen, for your pleasure tonight we have a lovely merlot with a little peppery character that will be a fine accompaniment to the beef." (Or something like get the idea.) I am not a big wine aficionado, but I have to say, every one of these has been absolutely delicious. I think I've just been buying the wrong wines!

Following dinner, we gathered in the lounge to watch "Tropic Thunder" on the big screen tv...selected from the approximately 700 movies that are pre-loaded into the data base on the ship!

Tuesday, February 8
Snorkeling at Bitter End, Virgin Gorda
Morocco Night!

JB Yoga Warriors
As always, we started the day with yoga...which was getting a bit more strenuous. Maria had us do toe stretches that I felt all day!

Rob, Jim, John, and Tom - still crazy after all these years!

We managed to stick to a light continental breakfast, then took the tender toward Richard Branson's Nekker Island. drift snorkeling over the reef. It wasn't the best snorkeling of the trip...there were a few nice fish and a big fat cushiony sand dollar...but it is always fun to be in the water.

In the water at Bitter End
Saba Rock in the daylight
Jeff and Brian and Maria stayed with us, taking photos and making sure we were all safe. 
The water was getting pretty choppy, so we finally gave up and headed to the beach bar on a gorgeous white sand beach surrounded by small mangrove trees.  Rob and I made friends with a very sociable tiny black and white kitten that seemed to enjoy the attention.
Joan and the Caribbean kitty
Naturally, Rob wants to take it home.

The relay team at practice
The Gang

Jeff, Tom, and Maria

Another feast - with hibiscus flowers!
We returned to the ship for lunch at 1:30. Another feast...lobster, smoked salmon with capers and a fabulous mild horseradish sauce, Caesar salad, dainty duck and chicken pastries, passion fruit ice cream, and a delightful drink with hibiscus flowers adding a rosy glow.

Joan and her Laddie
Beach Bar
Ryan came to tell us that they were having some mechanical problems and had to close the sun deck for the day to make repairs so Jim, Helen, and I took the tender over to the white beach again and enjoyed a quiet relaxing afternoon reading and visiting.
Helen enjoys some quiet time on the beach.

The open sport deck on the JB
The crew gave Jim a walkie talkie and after an hour or so, we heard it call out, "Jamaica Bay to Shore Party". We asked them to pick us up in half an hour, and they arrived right on time.  What service!

Drinks at Saba Rock
We enjoyed some quiet time on the ship, then all met at 6:00 to go back to Saba Rock for pre-dinner cocktails. When we returned to the ship around 7:00, we were greeted by Adam, who told us to go to our rooms, follow the instructions, and return at 7:30.

Saba Rock
We all went to our rooms to find beautiful Middle Eastern clothing spread out on our beds and an invitation to get dressed and come up to the sun deck for a Middle Eastern feast.
This is what waited for us when we returned.

A Moroccan courtyard on the sundeck.

What a fabulous night! We went upstairs to find that the crew had spend the day transforming the sun deck into a Moroccan marketplace.  (They lied to us that morning!)

We have mobile phone for you!
The crew was all decked out in full dress (all authentic clothing from Jordan) and in character (trying - in appropriate accents - to sell us trinkets, mobile phones, etc.) The scene was lit with candles and lanterns, there were gorgeous embroidered pillows strewn over the deck, some of the crew were gathered around smoking a hookah (with molasses powder smoke).  
Susan tries the hookah.
Jim, Helen, and Tom - getting stoned?
Brian shows Esther the proper technique.
How did Ryan get Gwen to agree to this?
What a gorgeous group!
Andy leads the paparrazi
The ship's "paparrazi" were capturing it all, and our own cameras were working overtime, as well.

Sarah and Susan look beautiful.
The height of luxury - flowered water for washing.
Joan, Helen, Esther, and Susan
We washed our hands in the bowl of flowered water, then we entered the tent and sat on cushions on the floor (except Jim, who graduated to an ottoman after awhile).
John, Jim, Tom, and Rob

Then the food began to arrive...plates and plates of Mediterranean food ...dolmades, almond paste, spiced lamb, lamb ribs, chicken on couscous, game hens, eggplant and tomato casserole, couscous wrapped in lettuce leaves...and it was all served and eaten with our fingers (with the help of soft pita bread.)
Oh, that looks good!

Dining Morocco-style
We ate and ate and ate and ate, then the dinner was whisked away and the baklava arrived.


Kurt and Maria take a bow

More eating, then the men gathered around for more reminiscing about their days at Rutgers and haggling over camel prices while we all sipped our refreshing peppermint tea.

Thoroughly sated, we spent some time lying on the sundeck cushions looking at Orion and the gorgeous blanket of stars...and Rob and I saw a shooting star!  But I couldn't think of a wish that would be any more wonderful than what I was experiencing this week!
This is how we all felt at the end of that spectacular meal!

Wednesday, February 9
The Baths, Virgin Gorda
and Back to Peter Island

I woke up exactly at 7:30 without a wake up call. Maria worked us a little harder yet...we are now the "double warriors" as we have graduated from Warrior 2 to Warrior 1.  We have become better at eating a very light breakfast - fruit, yogurt, but also today blueberry-prune muffins and chocolate chips scones made specially for Jim - as we have learned that the day will hold lots more food.  But today, Adam had specially ordered "bubble and squeak' made with leftovers from yesterday's bacon, sausage and potatoes, so we had to try it...delicious!

Just after breakfast, a local man motored up in his little boat with a shelf full of pink conch shells. John got one for each of us as a momento of the trip. 

Some were complete shells and some were chopped off at the tip to use as a horn.

Tom immediately gave a very impressive honk on his, and Esther, after a few preliminary squeaks, also came up with a powerful trumpet call.

After breakfast, we cruised from Bitter End to the Baths, the famous boulder beach at the other end of Virgin Gorda. It was a gorgeous blue day, and the boys spent the time calling up their memories of Coach Wallack, while Helen worked on her special presentation. 

The Baths were impressive...huge house-sized boulders lining a beach of crystal clear water of ten different shades of blue, from pale turquoise to the deepest sapphire. 

Brian went ashore with us to take photos, including some of the JB Warriors showing their stuff. 
We stopped for drinks at the Poor Man's Bar, and did a little t-shirt and hat shopping, then we explored the caves and pools of the Baths. 
The trail through the boulders goes on for quite a ways, but there was not enough time to take it to the end.  Several of us agreed that this was a place we would like to return to and explore some more! 

We returned to the JB to clean up for aother fabulous lunch...dragonfly napkin holders, Asian lettuce wraps with marinated beef, mahi mahi, eggplant (aubergine) melange, sweet potatoes and greenbeans, glass noodles, a Thai chicken soup...and vanilla and chocolate ice cream...followed by tropical green tea and lots of good visiting.

After lunch, we cruised back toward Peter Island and I finally made an effort to try to get a little tan.  (I was daring and went without sunscreen for an hour - I'm tired of returning from tropical vacations just as pale as when I left!)  Tom and Helen, Jim and Esther, and I all lounged on the cushions on the sundeck and laughed with the sheer pleasure of this entire experience.

It was a beautiful passage...perfect weather, little islands everywhere you looked, and blue blue water dotted with pretty little sailboats. We arrived back at Peter Island in the same bay where we had snorkeled a couple of days ago. In the bay was a beautiful old yacht that is apparently is used by the Queen (Elizabeth II) from time to time now that the royal family has sold the Britannica. 

John, Jim, Tom and I went over to the Oceans 7 beach bar on the island while the other ladies cleaned up for dinner. Jim noted how surreal it was that we were sitting at a bar watching "Beverly Hills Cop" on a flat screen 55 inch, high def TV in the "middle of nowhere."
When we returned to the ship, we all gathered and watched the powerpoint I had prepared of the best of the photos from our trip to Kauai several years ago, which included our "special mystery guest," John, whom Helen had photoshopped into several of the pictures.

Dinner was quite a elegant German theme tonight...beautiful place settings (as always), with candlelight. The first course was soft boiled duck egg on a toasted bagel slice on a bed of asparagus. This was followed by a delicious pork roast, spaetzle, and sauteed baby carrots, and followed by a chocolate pot au creme. You can really tell that you've been eating well when you walk right by the plate of freshly baked chocolate cookies in the afternoon and don't even consider having one!

Dinner was accompanied by a gorgeous sunset and the sound of the tarpons splashing,
then was followed by a soak in the hot tub (in a light rain shower), then off to bed.

Thursday, February 10
Snorkeling at "The Indians" and "The Caves"
Norman Island, BVI

Today was one of the best days of the trip! We started with 8 a.m. yoga. Maria worked us a bit harder each day, and today had some pretty tough moves, but I always felt so good at the end of the stretch.
Tom followed our morning session with some private work with Rob.

We had a very light breakfast....just rolls and fruit...along with the fruit smoothie (different each day) that accompanies each breakfast. Then we cruised the short distance from Peter Island to Norman Island, which served as the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island.

It was only about a half an hour or so to get to the bay where we anchored, and then we immediately set out for snorkeling at "The Indians"...a couple of small peaks that rise out of the water quite a distance from the island. 
Ryan and some of the crew took us over in the tender and we hitched up to a buoy and jumped into the crystal clear water. It was a bit choppy, but I wore my snorkel vest for the first time this trip and felt very comfortable.

I love snorkeling.  It is like getting a glimpse into a truly alien world, with creatures that seem almost unworldy in their shapes and colors.  But the quality of the experience can vary due to water clarity, the number of fish, the topography of the area, etc.  This was one of the great snorkeling days of my life! The water was quite deep, but so clear that we could easily see the bottom. As we swam toward the two peaks, there were shelves of coral extending around them that created shallow areas where we saw lots of fish and many different kinds of corals...soft corals and sea fans that waved in the current, brain corals, staghorn corals, big tubes of yellow, clusters of bright oranges and purples. I saw several fish I had never seen before (and I learned from the boys that the big white fish with bright yellow strips that we had seen on every snorkel were yellow tailed snapper). Ryan pointed out a gold nudibranch and there were some of the very long-spined black sea urchins. We swam between the two peaks and drifted around on the calmer side of the area, then finally returned to the tender.

When we got back to the JB, Kurt was grilling hamburgers, bratwurst, and hot dogs on an outdoor BBQ up on the main deck, and we had a "traditional" picnic lunch with the burgers and hot dogs, coleslaw, french fries...but which also included the not-so-traditional duck a l"orange, and homemade pumpkin ice cream.

We rested for a bit after lunch, then Rob and Jim and I returned for a second wonderful snorkel at "The Caves," where old Ben Gunn could have hidden out. This time the water was much calmer and I didn't use my vest.

Ben and Ryan brought along hard boiled eggs to feed the fish, and the minute we were in the water, we crushed them in our hands and a huge group of the large snapper and the smaller black and white striped convict tangs surrounded us, snapping up the bits of egg. The crew had warned us to let go of the egg quickly and watch out for our fingers, but the fish were expert at avoiding us. I tried numerous times to reach out and touch them, but they always turned away too quickly.

After feeding the fish in the deeper water, I swam over to the shallow cave to explore the wall of the rocks and saw some absolutely gorgeous fish...a bright vivid blue group of fish feeding on the coral,

a school of long needle-nose fish, bright blue and purple ones, brown and white specked ones...and a whole wall of sea anemones. The water was just as clear here as it had been at The Indians. Two great snorkels in one day!

We returned to the JB and I took my second shower of the day. This would be a good time to say that having nice neat hair on this trip was a losing battle from the first day! It is mildly humid all the time. We are out on deck in the wind, and we spend much of our time going in and out of the water. I gave up immediately and wear a hat almost constantly to cover up the straight limp locks of hair!  (And while I am reflecting on the overall experience, I will add here that Susan greeted us on our first day by saying that the rule on JB is "no shoes and no watch." We were barefoot constantly, except for the rare occasions when we went into an enclosed bar, which was almost never. I never wore my watch after the first day, which took a little getting used to...but there was something wonderful about just going with the flow and doing whatever came along. The only time I actually knew what time it was was in the morning when I went to yoga.)

The apres-snorkel part of the afternoon was also fun. Helen and Susan and I spent some time up on the sun deck reading and enjoying some quiet time, then all of us girls joined Kurt in his galley for a cooking lesson on how to make the delicious Thai soup we had eaten a couple of days before.

During our cooking lessons, Rob and Tom took advantage of the ship's gym...Rob on the treadmill and Tom doing his daily "Hip Hop Abs." 

The cooking lesson was followed by a tour of the engine room with Fitz and Ben, the two engineers, and Captain Bob.

It was quite impressive...a huge area of several rooms, including the water desalination plant, waste treatment equipment, refrigerators, the galley's big cold room and pantry, in addition to the ship's engines and generators, etc.

We exited through the crew's private quarters and got to see their lounge where they visit and eat when they are not busy taking good care of us. (We also noticed the "cheat sheet" they had used to get to know us quickly...our unflattering passport photos posted up on the bulletin board.) 

Rob, who had just had a hard workout in the gym, wanted to shower and rest,  but the rest of us took the tender over to another famous Caribbean bar...the Willy T...which is actually a bar and restaurant on a boat permanently anchored off of the island.
It is known for being a pretty rowdy place. Apparently they give free T-shirts to girls who expose their breasts and people drink belly-button shots, but things were just beginning to get going when we got there, and our own rowdiness was confined to drinking margaritas, and dancing up a storm.  Rob spent the time that we were gone fishing for the huge tarpons that cluster around the stern of our yacht every evening when we turn on the ship's underwater lights.
We returned to the ship for another memorable Indian-themed dinner with appetizers of naan bread, another type of flatbread, four kinds of chutney, and other little appetizers, followed by a meal of basmati rice, a lentil stew, spiced cauliflower, a tofu-spinach casserole, lamb cutlets, curried chicken. Dessert was an incredibly rich chocolate mound, with a side square of halvah, and a caramel-sesame seed cookie.
The conversation at dinner was very lively with lots more college years reminiscences from our boys. The tarpon were busier that usual tonight, and all through dinner we could hear them splashing vigorously as they rose to the surface to feast on the fish that were also attracted to our lights.

After dinner, Rob and Jim returned to the Willy T so that Rob could have the experience...and I expect by this late, he probably got more of an eyeful that we got earlier in the evening - but he was sworn to secrecy and I have never gotten the story out of him!

Only two more days. Sigh.

Friday, February 11
Soggy Dollar Bar and Beach Time
Jost Van Dyke, BVI

Today was another fun day...but quite different than the others, as we spent a great deal of time on dry land.

My internal clock was finally on Caribbean time and I woke in plenty of time for yoga. Captain Bob pulled up anchor early to begin our cruise to Jost Van Dyke, a small island just north of Tortola, so Maria kept all of our moves in either sitting or lying down positions so we wouldn't lose our balance on the moving ship. It was quite wonderful to be doing the stretches as we floated past green islands on both sides of us.

We had our usual breakfast on the main deck...scones, muffins, lots of fruit, yogurt, and our wonderful smoothie of the day. No more waffles, eggs, pancakes, omelettes, bacon, etc. for the last three days...I'm too aware of what lies ahead for lunch and dinner!

After breakfast, we all gathered in the lounge to see Helen's slide presentation of the boys' track days at Rutgers. What a great job she did! There were photos of all of them racing, a history of some of the major events, and a tribute to Coach Les Wallack from each of them. It was so fun to see the photos and read the quotes...but the most fun was seeing the four of them sharing more stories about their great times together. It is so obvious that the four of them share a very special bond. Friendships like this are so precious and rare!
After the slide show, we got ready for our beach day at the beautiful white sand beach on the shore of Jost Van Dyke. It is another of those places with ten shades of water, from the palest azure blue to deep cobalt as the water deepens. When people ask me what is my favorite color, I always say I love all of them and can't possibly decide...but that's a lie...the colors of the Caribbean Sea are my favorites.

This is another famous beach bar in this area, known as the Soggy Dollar Bar, so called because, for many boating people, the only way to arrive is to swim to shore from the sailboat. Hence, the "soggy dollars" in your pockets are the only thing available to buy their famous rum drink, the Painkiller.

We, on the other hand, arrived in style, with our tender guided gently onto the beach and the front panel lowered right onto the soft sand. Jeff had come earlier to save beach chairs for us, as the beach was a bit crowded with the passengers from the 20 or so sailing vessels anchored near the shore, but naturally, our party headed right for the bar before settling into our beach chairs. I tried the Painkiller, which was yummy, and we all sat in the shade and visited.

The beams of the building were lined with uniform patches from police departments and fire stations all over the United States, including a wide representation from New Jersey and other places our boys had lived. The bar also had a shop, and I was pleased to find a pink baseball hat to go with my pink bathing suit.

As we waited for lunch, the boys tried their skill at a "Toss the Ring Over the Hook" game,
then we sat at our lunch table (also reserved ahead of time) and enjoyed a good outdoor beach lunch...mahi sandwiches, fish and chips, and various salads. (On the way to the table, I stubbed my left "ring" toe on the big stone bucket that was placed in front of the bar for people to use to rinse the sand off their feet. Ouch! I didn't think too much about it at the time, although it throbbed a bit all through the rest of the beach visit...but later in the day, it took on the most lovely and vivid colors of red and purple and blue.)                                      Once lunch had digested for a bit, we all headed into the turquoise water. The water was so clear that I could see little fish swirling around my feet right through the waves. It was not super calm - there was a swell that kept us paddling a bit to stay all together, but the water was such a comfortable temperature that we all stayed in talking and laughing for quite a while.  All around us, several pelicans and Greater Cormorants were diving into the water enjoying the little fish.  
Finally, we all went to the waiting beach chairs to rest and get some sun, then Rob and I walked down along the beach to some of the little tourist shops where we found a couple of souvenirs that we really liked...a brightly colored papier mache cat, and a hand woven basket that (so she said) was made by members of the shop keeper's family. While we were in the shop, a dark cloud moved over the beach and it started to rain heavily. When the rain slowed a bit, we headed back and found all our group huddled under the protective awnings of the Soggy Dollar. The rain blew over us quickly and we returned to our chairs, but soon along came our tender to pick us up and return us to the JB.

Waiting for us on our bed was an invitation to a Poolside BBQ up on the sundeck at 4:00.
Rob and I went up early to use the hot tub and there were several of the crew setting up for the party.  
It was a GREAT afternoon! All of the crew arrived in their "regular" beach party clothes (out of their usual uniforms). And Captain Bob showed up in bright green pants covered with little martini glasses and shakers...what a hoot!
Kurt used the big deck BBQ to grill chicken, a fabulous beef filet, and BBQ ribs, and more food came up from the galley...macaroni and cheese filled with big chunks of lobster, caesar salad, BBQ beans, and more. The best part of the whole lunch was having the chance to really visit with these darling young people who had been taking such good care of us. I had a chance to sit and visit with almost all of them throughout the afternoon and every one of them was delightful. 

We ate and talked and laughed for several hours, enjoying the sunshine and the sound of the waves on the sides of the boat, the view of the beautiful beach with its row of coconut palms, pink and white houses on the hills above, and the line of pretty little sailboats.

The sun sank in a quiet fireworks....just a gentle orange glow, and the party began to quiet down, too. The rest of the evening was a lovely quiet time of visiting, reading, and writing our journals and emails.

Saturday, February 12
The Last Full Day
Return to St. Thomas

I woke quite early this morning and we all met at 8:00  for our last yoga session with Maria...and surprise! My Robby showed up just before we started for the first time all week! He had been sleeping in and getting a good workout on the gym treadmills every day, but today he joined the "Jamaica Bay Warriors" for one last stretch. Maria has been a delight and presented each of us with a "Jamaica Bay Warrior certificate ...suitable for framing!!!

After our usual yummy breakfast, John, Jim, Tom, Helen and I headed back to the Soggy Dollar Beach. Helen and I had a nice visit on the beach chairs while the guys enjoyed one or two more Painkillers, then we all went down for one last soak in the pale blue water. The sand on this beach was incredibly fine and soft, and we just bobbed in the waves watching the pelicans and cormorants feasting on the little fish. The fish weren't too happy about that and some of them jumped right out of the water and across our shoulders! Helen almost got a mouthful of very fresh sushi!

Our last lunch together was, naturally, terrific...a variety of gourmet pizzas! 

As we ate lunch, the ship pulled anchor and we cruised back past the numerous islands to St. Thomas.

Once we went through customs, we went ashore to browse the shops along the harbor where I found a few gifts to bring home.  The rest of the afternoon was spent packing our bags for our return home (and trying not to cry),

then we gathered for our traditional travel kiss - (that is, if one previous time in Kauai is enough to start a tradition). 

That evening, T and Adam fixed us some really yummy chocolate martinis...

then we all went ashore for our last meal together at the Grand Cru Restaurant on the wharf.

Sunday, February 13
A Fond Farewell and Home Again

We enjoyed our last wonderful breakfast on the JB and said good-bye to new friends and old. 

There is no doubt that this was one of the most incredible weeks of my life.  There were so many highlights...but honestly, the very best experience of all was getting to spend time with such lovely, compatible and fun-loving friends.  I am a lucky woman!

1 comment:

Helen said...

HI Joan - this was an incredible effort - all the details and moment by moment experiences are memorably noted. Thank you for providing a refresh of our combined memories! When can we go there again?