There's nothing like a marina in the morning. As the sun rises, the waters come to life. People stir and awaken from moored yachts with names like “Two Tickets” and “Sandy Cheeks,” while those with smaller single-engine boats arrive for fuel and supplies before starting their day.
I found myself observing such a scene last week during a family vacation in the U.S. Virgin Islands. We stayed on St. Thomas, though we took ferries to Water Island and St. John for daytrips.
Early for our 10-minute boat ride from Charlotte Amalie to Water Island, I had time to take in the sights and sounds.
At one point, a shirtless man with skin like leather arrived in his motorized dinghy. He docked near the Water Island ferry, but before he unloaded, he took out a short sleeve button-up shirt and belt, got dressed, fixed his hair in the reflection of his sunglasses, and then made his way to a nearby restaurant for breakfast.
An older woman in a similar boat pulled up alongside the walkway and met a man with a wheelbarrow full of soft drinks and bottled water. She loaded up the liquid, waved goodbye and took off in the opposite direction.
What a commute, I thought. Seagulls cawed. Pelicans dove into the shallow waters nearby for fish. This is the life aquatic.
Given my surroundings, I daydreamed of faking my own death, pirating a boat and sailing the open sea. I’d hop around the spate of Caribbean islands, scavenge for food and drink, and when I felt like walking on solid ground, I’d anchor off the shores of one of the many uninhabited cays and make myself at home.
If authorities found out about my Blackbeard ways, I’d lead them to the sharks and blow a hole through my bow. I don’t know much about boats, but I do know the captain always goes down with the ship.
Unfortunately, the islands aren’t quite that lawless anymore, however, as tourism is one of area’s biggest economies, aside from rum production and exports.
Visitors are welcomed at the Cyril E. King Airport with dancers on stilts and steel-drum music. I landed hours before my family, so I found a spot in the rear of the small bar near baggage claim.
A Black man with a friendly face and a New York Yankees hat greeted me.
“Dealer’s choice,” I told him.
“I got just the thing for you,” he said, before mixing Tampico juice and a splash of rum. “Rum punch … $12.”
It didn’t take long for the humidity to cover my body in a layer of moisture. I felt slimy like a lizard from the moment I got off the plane until I left. This is the life aquatic.
Staying in Megans Bay on the north side of St. Thomas, we spent most of our time at the beach there. On the second day, we drank so much that my sister, Karlee, lost her engagement ring in the ocean. She didn’t care, though, since it was the rubber one she wears most of the time.
Between beverages, we snorkeled the shallows. Baby blacktip sharks hung out near the shore at certain times. They’re about two-feet long and fast as hell. We saw a couple swim around our legs, but they weren’t too close, until one headbutted Karlee’s ass. We were done for the day.
Similarly, while visiting Trunk Bay on St. John later in the week, we snorkeled for hours. We must have covered 10 miles. There were stingrays, barracudas, tarpons and jellyfish, not to mention thousands of tropical fish. The schools engulfed us. At one point, I became lost in one of these aquatic blankets, taking in the colors and movements, but when I pushed through the other side, I discovered a four-to-five-foot blacktip shark. Luckily, it was swimming away from us, but then I thought it must have spotted us before we noticed it.
I love sharks, and have swum with them before in a controlled environment, but seeing one in the wild was one of the most exciting, yet startling, moments of my life.
We surfaced and processed what we had just seen. Snorkelers nearby heard our disbelief and quickly took over the area, but the blacktip had been long gone. We were done for the day.
We finished our visit to St. John at nearby Maho Bay Beach, which is known for its sea turtles. Watching a sea turtle munch on seaweed is much more relaxing than swimming with sharks.
The time there melted away too fast. It always does. While traveling back to the mainland, which required an overnight stay in Denver, reality crept back in.
Do I have enough toilet paper?
Why is my July electric bill so high?
How long should I wait before I take another vacation?
I know the islands, marina and sharks will always be there, but as I sat on my return flight, sunburnt and sullen, a sailor’s grave is all I craved.