Over breakfast in the cockpit, we admire our surroundings in Waterlemon Bay, the easternmost section of Leinster Bay. A short distance away is the dinghy landing for a trail leading to the ruins of the Annaberg Sugar Mill. This hike will be postponed for another time. Today, we are bound for Cruz Bay to clear USVI Customs, then on to Red Hook Harbor on the eastern coast of St. Thomas, where we will take a slip at American Yacht Harbor marina for a few days.
Whereas Charlotte Amalie is the harbor for cruise boats and mega yachts, Red Hook is the second-largest town on St. Thomas and a gateway for ferry service to St. John and the BVIs. As such, it is a busy town with a busy harbor. Almost any kind of marine-related service can be found here. Several gated coastal resorts are located nearby. Guests from these resorts travel into Red Hook for entertainment.
American Yacht Harbor is part of a multi-story commercial complex that includes bars and restaurants, coffee shops, yacht charter agencies, a dive shop, a marine supply store, clothing and gift shops, a laundry service and a variety of offices. Our first visit within the marina is to Island Yachts, an Island Packet dealer that maintains a fleet of 19 Island Packets for charter. One of the purposes of our visit to Red Hook is to address a few boat-related issues. We are seeking advice in diagnosing and solving a battery charging issue. Late on a Friday afternoon, Skip and Lori from Island Yachts contact the local marine electrical guru on our behalf. We schedule an appointment with Neil at Tropicom for Tuesday. In the meantime, we will enjoy the comforts of a slip and become familiar with our surroundings.
Within a 10 minute walk from our slip at American Yacht Harbor are more than a dozen restaurants, a grocery store, a hardware store, a pharmacy and the USPS Post Office. Ironically, we can receive the St. Thomas NPR FM station and the local public television while at anchor on the north coast of St. John. But we cannot receive these stations here at our slip in Red Hook.
The dock hands here at the marina provide us with the telephone number of Sammy, the local laundry entrepreneur. Sammy stops by at Cutter Loose with his assistant to pick up our dirty laundry in the colorful pink bag. He promises to return with clean laundry within 24 hours.
Early on Sunday morning, we dodge the raindrops to secure a seat on the dollar bus to Charlotte Amalie. The dollar bus is a jitney service that provides public transportation on a fixed route. The vehicles are not buses, but rather pickup trucks fitted with bench seats in the rear under a protective canvas awning and open-air sides. The dollar bus picks up and discharges passengers at public transit stops, some of which are difficult to identify as such. The term “dollar bus” is a misnomer. The fare is actually two dollars per person one-way from Red Hook to Charlotte Amalie. In this morning’s rain shower, we emerge from the dollar bus with wet butts, the signature trademark of cruising sailors everywhere.
Our destination is the 9 AM worship service at the historic Frederick Evangelical Lutheran Church in downtown Charlotte Amalie. This church was established in 1666 but was rebuilt in 1793 after the original building was destroyed by fire. The altar and vaulted ceiling is constructed of gleaming mahogany. Conch shells decorate the sills at the base of the stained-glass windows. We are led to our pew by an usher who unlocks our very own gated seating area. The parishioners welcome guests openly and warmly.
On this first Sunday of Advent, the worship service begins with a prayer thanking God for protection afforded during the hurricane season that has just ended. A double amen to that, brother! The Pastor is an interesting and effective speaker. He holds our attention throughout his dramatic 45 minute sermon, pausing from time to time with a teaser of where his message is headed. This morning’s service includes a total of ten hymns, several of which are spirituals. During communion, the usher unlocks the gate to our pew and leads us to the altar. When the service ends around 10:45 AM, our highest priority is breakfast.
A word about Virgin Island history is appropriate at this point. The United States purchased the Virgin Islands (St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix) from Denmark in 1917. In 1927, residents were granted U.S. citizenship. USVI residents elect their own governor and local legislature. But they have no vote in national elections. Since 1972, USVI has one delegate to the U.S Congress. The USVI representative does not have voting privileges on the floor of the house.
Since there are no cruise ships in the harbor today, most of the downtown shops and restaurants are closed. We take this opportunity to climb the so-called 99 steps for a splendid view of the harbor and the Governor’s house. Closer to the cruise ship docks, several of the clothing and accessory shops at the Havensight Mall are open, including Gourmet Gallery, an outstanding grocery store that was highly recommended to us by Caribbean 1500 friends. By the time we return to Red Hook via the dollar bus, it is mid-afternoon. Sammy has lived us to his promise. The pink bag of clean laundry is waiting for us in the cockpit when we arrive at the marina. Inside, our clothes are neatly folded and wrapped in a waterproof plastic bag.
Pat is off to the salon for a cut and color on Monday while I tend to boat details. Our friend Tom stops by with Bob, his college roommate who is visiting St. Thomas. Tom and his wife Cindy are former residents of Western Pennsylvania. For the past ten years, they have been full-time residents of St. Thomas. Their lovely home offers outstanding views of Pillsbury Sound with Jost Van Dyke in the distance. We are appreciative of their hospitality during our stay in Red Hook.
On Tuesday, we connect with Neil from Tropicomm. As it turns out, the solar controller on Cutter Loose was not distributing power to the battery bank…literally a waste of energy. Neal reprograms the dip switches in accordance with the manual and the controller springs back to life. He also removes our faulty wind speed instrument, which is now on its way to the manufacturer in New Hampshire for repair. In the meantime, Neil kindly provides us with a spare wind instrument from his shop that we can borrow for a few weeks until our rebuilt unit is returned to Red Hook.
On our final evening in Red Hook, we dine with Tom and Cindy and their friends Bob and Marilyn from Pittsburgh. It is a grand finale event of sorts, as Bob and Marilyn return to Pittsburgh tomorrow and Cutter Loose leaves Red Hook to resume cruising. It has been a productive and interesting stay in St. Thomas, made more enjoyable by time spent with friends from Pittsburgh.