Monday, March 3, 2008

Cruising St. Thomas

This morning we arrived in the port of St. Thomas. I managed to order room service successfully, and we sat on our balcony and nibbled fruit and croissants while we watched the ship pull into port. We had to get up fairly early in order to meet up with our group for a sailing excursion to St. John. We were down on the docks at 8:30, where we all climbed aboard a brightly painted and curtained safari type vehicle for our ride to Sapphire Bay, where our boat was waiting. They drive on the left side of the road on St. Thomas, which I didn’t know, so nearly had a heart attack when we pulled out. The ride across the island took about fifteen minutes and consisted of hairpin turns and steep climbs, followed by breathtaking descents. Sort of like a roller-coaster. Actually, exactly like a roller coaster! We passed a lot of areas where poverty was apparent, and a schoolyard filled with schoolgirls in uniforms. The gas is almost $4.00 per gallon here.

Sapphire Bay is just that – deep, deep sapphire blue and the marina where the sailboat is kept (Sapphire Marina Resort) is tiny, surrounded by clusters of small condos. At first, the boat looked small to me. Once I really got a look at it, however, I realized it was at least 50 feet long. Here's a picture of it here. The skipper’s name was Jeff; a good-looking man in his early 40’s with curly hair and a great tan, but not too friendly. His first mate was a younger man named Toby, who had blonde hair and a great smile. We had go barefoot on the boat, and the top of the long cabin was covered with green seat pads, so we each grabbed a spot under the sail and watched as Toby and Jeff maneuvered the boat out of the slip. It was a tight fit, so Toby actually got into a little rowboat and used it to bump up against the front of the sailboat and push it in the direction of the open ocean. Then he tied the little boat to the back of the sailboat where it bounced along on the waves. We left Sapphire Bay and crossed Pillsbury Sound to St. John. The Sound is big, and it was a very windy day, so the waters were extremely choppy. Once they released the sails, it was fascinating to watch them letting out line, and then pulling it in to control the fabric. Too much line and the sails would flap uncontrollably; too little line and they’d pull so taut that we’d nearly go on our sides! At one point, the boat was almost laying on its side, and we were all scrambling for a secure foothold.

I was looking at the rough water and thinking there was no way I’d snorkel in that, but as we approached St. John, he found a quiet little cove (that's moisture on my camera lens, not clouds)where the water color changed from the dark sapphire of the Sound, to this light, aqua green. He dropped anchor alongside several Katamarans, and I could see there were many snorkelers in the waters. The beach was pure white, and behind that, just jungle. So I made my way to the rear of the boat and put on my mask and snorkel, put on my flippers, and jumped in. The water was incredible – 78 degrees, which was just warm enough without being too warm. I felt a little claustrophobic at first, but the body wants to be face down, floating, so I just went with it. Once I realized I could breath, I relaxed. We snorkeled for an hour, admiring the sealife of these small coral reefs – the reefs themselves were sort of brown and yellowish, but the fish were brilliant – purples and yellows, and iridescent colors. We saw lots of sea urchins, but they didn’t look cute like on Sponge Bob, they looked wicked!

After an hour, we swam back to the ship. I took off my flippers and climbed up, but wasn’t expecting the deck t be so slippery and went right on my hip and knees, and wrenched my shoulder. Embarrassing and painful (not to mention the HUGE bruise I now have on the back of my butt!). They served a buffet style lunch of meatballs, pasta salad, green beans, bread and cold cuts, and little brownies. My first plate ended upside down on the deck, but the second plate was delicious. Jeff kept pouring "Nooners" for us, which were delicious frozen rum drinks. I bought a New Horizons tee shirt (the name of the sailboat) for John, which was identical to the shirts both Jeff and Toby wore. I think he’ll like it. By the time we left St. John and returned to the ship, I felt pleasantly boneless.

We had enough time to take a shower, change our clothes, and return to St. Thomas for shopping. Right outside the docks there were several blocks of shops. Again, they were mostly jewelry and souvenirs, but we had fun poking through them. I bought a little cabana-striped bag for each of the girls, a cute little Caribbean top for me, a magnet for mum, and that was it. By the time we returned to the ship, I was done. Robin wanted to go to a Crown and Anchor cocktail hour, but I went to bed. I managed to sleep for an hour before we had to be at dinner. After dinner, we went to see a magic show (kind of hokey) and then stayed for the Love & Marriage game show, with three couples selected from the audience. Totally hysterical, made all the more funny by Allan Brookes, the cruise director. I laughed until my face ached. I think this has been the best day of the cruise so far!

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