Tom’s Island

Sometimes our boat brings us to a place we never heard of before and know nothing about. We then “discover” the place on our own and our perception of it forms entirely based on our experiences there. Whom we meet or what happens, even the weather, determine our relationship with the place.

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Druif Bay, St Thomas

After a few hours of sailing east from Puerto Rico to the US Virgin Islands and an epic battle with a reef shark who got caught on our line, we arrive in a small harbor near a tiny island south of St Thomas. We drop anchor.

reef shark

reef shark

Aboard our kayak Agent Orange we make our way between many cruising boats in the anchorage and we land on the most beautiful beach. Fine sand, crystal clean water, palm trees, a small shack in one corner selling beer.

Honeymoon Beach

Honeymoon Beach

Honeymoon Beach in Druif Bay was once a 50 feet long stretch of rocks extending only about 10 feet from the water line. The islanders removed the trees and the brush, hauled off 200 truckloads of rock and gravel and broke up the beach stone with a bulldozer. They sifted the sand to remove any remaining debris, dredged an area of the bay to remove the seaweed, deposited sand on the shore, and planted a row of palm trees thus creating a superb man-made beach.

Honeymoon Beach View of the anchorage

Honeymoon Beach
View of the anchorage

“Hey you guys, how nice to see you again,” someone familiar greets us; what a nice surprise. It’s Rob and Kate, a cruising couple we met a few months ago in the Bahamas. They tell us about a fort up on the hills.

The cruising community chilling on Honeymoon Beach in the afternoon

The cruising community chilling on Honeymoon Beach in the afternoon

As we slowly climb the steep road a car with a coconut stuck on its cracked windshield pulls over. We meet Tom, one of the oldest residents of Water Island. He starts explaining how exactly to get to the fort and tells us some incredible stories on the side, and we end up spending the day with him.

Tom

Tom

Tom is a character. You don’t meet people like Tom every day, full of stories and jokes. For many years he was a captain on a private boat owned by a stubborn Chinese man named Wong. Their crazy adventures around the world deserve to be told in a book and Tom has already come up with the title: Sailing Around The World The Wong Way.

“Hop in my truck, I’ll take you to the fort. But first I have to fill this bucket with seaweed.”

Tom, telling stories, explaining facts....in his garden

Tom, telling stories, explaining facts….in his garden

In the next few hours we collect seaweed for a duck who was found injured by a friend of Tom’s; we visit Fort Segarra, a bunker with tunnels and underground rooms built by the US Army during WWII to protect the submarine base on St. Thomas; we learn about the island’s history, flora and fauna; and finally we collect hibiscus flowers for Tom’s tortoises, they love hibiscus flowers.

Fort Segarra, Water Island, St Thomas

Fort Segarra, Water Island, St Thomas

 

Today a residential area with less than 2,000 km2, Water Island was named after its vital freshwater ponds , Tom’s says, where pirates would stop to replenish their ships’ water supplies. It was like an oasis valued and respite by everyone, as most islands in the Lesser Antilles lack potable water, and even enemy ships would not fight here.

View from the fort

View from the fort

This was the first island in the region to erupt out of the sea and for many centuries remained alone, before the other islands around popped up which explains the many endemic plant species found nowhere in the world. Like the little white and pink orchids.

Orchids on Water Island

Orchids on Water Island

On Water Island there are also some interesting animal species but none are cuter than the red-footed tortoises slumbering in shady places all day long who come out to eat grass and flowers in the cool afternoon hours.

Red-footed tortoise on Water Island

Red-footed tortoise on Water Island

Tom has many in his garden. Angel with a cracked shell which Tom patched up with glue, and a bunch of babies which he releases back in the wild as soon as they are big enough.

Tom showing us Angel.

Tom showing us Angel.

But some don’t want to ever leave Tom’s garden, the tortoise version of the Garden of Eden. Bananas and citrus trees, papaya, exotic spices and fragrant tropical flowers provide plenty of shady hideouts.

We wish we could stay in Tom’s garden on Tom’s island forever too.

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Maya meeting a tortoise on Water Island

Maya meeting a tortoise on Water Island

 

Maya with a baby rad-footed tortoise

Maya with a baby rad-footed tortoise

humming bird nest

humming bird nest

 

a cactus plant with a fruit

 edible cactus fruit

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These cactus cherries are really tasty!

These cactus cherries are really tasty!

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Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, U.S.Virgin Islands

From Culebrita, Puerto Rico’s last island to the east, we cross over to St. Thomas, the biggest of the U.S. Virgin islands, less than 20 NM of sailing.

Harbor and town, Charlotte Amalie

Harbor and town, Charlotte Amalie

The Danish West Indian Company established control over the island in the 1660s and begun a massive sugar cane production using slave labor. For a period the largest slave auctions in the world were held here.

Fort Christian, Charlotte Amalie

Fort Christian, Charlotte Amalie

St Thomas fine natural harbor became a popular pit stop for sailors with its many drinking establishments ‘tap hus’ or rum shops.

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We anchor near Water Island for a few days and briefly visit Charlotte Amalie, the capital and largest city in the U.S. Virgin Islands, named after the wife of Denmark’s King Christian V.

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Established in 1691 Charlotte Amalie is St. Thomas primary settlement declared a ‘free port’ where ships from all corners of the world would bring their cargo to be stored in large warehouses and distributed further to other New World colonies. The town became a busy commercial port with a growing share of the West Indian trade passing through.

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Today the old warehouses are housing shops, galleries and restaurants in the hearth of the town, seducing visitors with their massive stone walls, heavy doors and narrow streets.

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The best way to see the island is by taking a long ride on a small local bus which passes every 5 minutes and costs $1 per person from one end to the other.

Evo Maya and Viktor. Paying for the bus ride

Evo Maya and Viktor. Paying for the bus ride

You can hop on and off anywhere, the price is the same. And don’t be surprised, the cars here still drive on the wrong side of the road, even though St Thomas is now a territory of the USA after United States purchased the island for 24 million dollars in 1917.

Maya

Maya

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