Sunday, April 22, 2012

To Cruise or Not To Cruise - Day 7

            Our last tropical paradise was St. Thomas, the most popular of the Virgin Islands. Our ship docked on the south side of the island at the lovely port of Charlotte Amalie as the sun was rising over the volcanic mountains that bisected the island from east to west.

            Our plan was to walk around the historic city and then catch a cab ride over to the north side of the island for some beach fun with Peter and Esther after lunch.

            As soon as we came to the end of the long pier, it was pretty obvious that we were back in the United States. The Wendy's and Hooters were a dead giveaway.

            Several cruise ships were in port and the place was rocking. Duty free shops lined the dock as far as the eye could see and waves of tourists hit the beach front like an invading army armed with credit cards.

            St. Thomas has been the place to shop in the Caribbean since 1764 when the Danes made it a duty free port of call. And everywhere we looked there were fancy shops filled with diamonds, gold, silver, and booze.

            We took an open-air trolley down to Kings Wharf and headed up Main Street where nattily-attired salespeople invited passersby into their stores for the bargain of a lifetime. It was all a bit overwhelming and only mildly amusing.

            Inna and I are big fans of architecture and churches are always a welcome treat in that regard. The steeples of several lovely churches dotted the skyline of Charlotte Amalie, and we figured we would start on the west end of town with the Synagogue of Beracha Veshalom Vegmiluth Hasidim and then work our way back toward the ship. We found the lovely secluded synagogue nestled into a jungle hillside above the town. The floors of the synagogue were made of sand and a large iguana glowered at us from its home in a flowering bush by the front gate until a carpenter came by and fed him some wild berries.

            Whenever we stopped to ask directions we were treated warmly, but warned not to walk through certain sections of town - not the easiest thing to do in a small and confusing place where streets petered out in dead ends and the stone and brick Colonial structures blocked most views.

            Charlotte Amalie was definitely a bit edgy. Two Rasta boys zeroed in on Inna when we were walking through Emancipation Park until they noticed me coming toward them with my hiking stick at my side and a big smile. And for the first time on the trip, I noticed that a lot of the natives were scowling as they sized us up. I can't say the poverty was any better or worse than on any of the other islands we had visited, but this was definitely not a very happy place.

            We made our way back to the waterfront, stopping at a local market filled with Caribbean trinkets and airy clothes by the city's most popular attraction, the red stone Fort Christian, dating back to 1761. The inviting masterpiece was topped with a clock tower of golden crowns. The doors and windows were curved in the Byzantine style with filigree flair and gold-colored stone accentuated the sturdy lines of the building, heralding the grand importance of this ginger bread fort overlooking St. Thomas Harbor.

            There's a wide concrete promenade that runs the length of the harbor for more than a mile and we enjoyed the sweeping views of the town as we slowly made our way back to the ship that towered over the harbor town stores like a white pleasure palace. The trendiest shops lined the landscaped path - Pierre Cardin, Gouci, Coach - they were all there.
            A sea plane took off in the narrow strait between St. Thomas and nearby Water Island where my mother used to vacation back in the 70s. Local tour boats glided by loaded with scuba gear and excited divers on their way out to the coral-covered pinnacles of Frenchcap.

            After grabbing a quick lunch aboard the ship, we gathered our beach gear and headed back down to shopping world where we met Peter and Esther and grabbed a van over to Magens Bay.

            There are 44 outstanding beaches on St. Thomas but Magen's Bay is considered to be one of the top ten beaches in the world. I don't know about that, but it sure is nice. We paid the $4 entrance fee to get into the park and our driver dropped us off on the north end of the beach where there were less people. 

            Magen's Bay is expansive, about a half-mile wide and over two miles long. Large groves of mature sea grape trees frame the white sand beach, providing welcome shade amidst a myriad of services. This is a very popular place and thousands of people come each day to swim and relax. But at the same time, it doesn't seem crowded. You can walk, swim, or sun and never feel the crunch. And unlike most ocean beaches, Magen's Bay is sheltered from wind and waves, so it's flat water. 

            I grabbed my goggles and immediately headed for the clear blue water where brown pelicans dropped out of the sky with their basket mouths filled with fish. Pelicans are my favorite bird, and for the first time in my life, I was able to swim over to a pelican in the water and get within about five feet before he flew away. They were fearless in their quest for fish.

            I drifted with the current, slicing through schools of almost translucent fish that flashed silver when they moved in unison. 
            I noticed a dark shape swimming slowly along a rocky underwater outcrop of limestone to my right and swam over to see what it might be. It was a green turtle. He let me swim right up to him and then he turned and glided right by my head, checking me out the whole time. I was in heaven.

            Our time at Magen's Bay was far too short, but a splendid end to our visit to St. Thomas and fairytale cruise of the southern Caribbean.

            Our final dinner was a melancholy meal, but the lobsters lessened the sadness of the trip's end. We tipped our, by now, good friends who had served us, using the pre-addressed envelopes that had been left on our stateroom beds. There is a daily recommended tipping formula for the head waiter, table waiter, assistant waiter, and stateroom attendant. It came to about $90 for seven days, per person. This is not required and I was amazed to hear some people - mostly Europeans - say they had no intention of tipping. Some people's kids ...

            Our time on the Serenade of the Seas was amazing. Playing miniature golf on the twelfth deck, at the top of the ship on a full moon night, drinking cocktails and getting moon burn. Watching countries glide by each day like wondrous fish on a Caribbean reef. And getting to meet and greet people from all over the globe - and then some. 

All I'm saying is: Don't knock it unless you've tried it. After you've taken the ride then do or say what you please.

As far as the Caribbean goes, it's pretty obvious what’s wrong. The locals financial aid. Maybe funds have been allocated, but for whatever reason, the people still need help. And since the world has made it a winter playground, it is in our own self-interest to ensure that everybody's happy. I'm not talking about payoffs. I gather that's the current system. 

EVERYBODY we talked to wanted to work. And many people of all ages are working their asses off. But they have not benefited in any tangible or collective way as a result of the tourist industry. And they are happy to bottom feed off it. But what I witnessed was simply wrong.

            So, I offer a solution. Put someone like Bill Gates, or Warren Buffett, or whoever you want to, who is honest, and have them administer a  $5  Caribbean Peoples Tax  to every cruise ship passenger. And the cruise lines wouldn’t have jack to do with administering the program. They have enough on their plate already. This federal tax would be administered by a non-profit agency strictly for the Caribbean people, based on need, rather than corruption and politics.

            Inna and I will be booking another cruise for next February. A country a day makes a fine getaway.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Volvo Ocean Race - Leg 5 - Last Boat Standing

Leg 5 of The Volvo Ocean Race breaks hulls, bows and spirits

                             photo by Nick Dana/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing/VO

When the crew aboard Abu Dhabi dis­covered their hull was coming apart at the seams, bowman Justin Slattery dangled over the side to drill 30 bolts through the hull. In the end, the repairs were not enough, and the boat was shipped from Chile to Brazil to await Leg 6. 
When we last checked on The Volvo Ocean Race, 20 monsoon-drenched days from China to New Zealand had ended in a bone-crushing duel. Leg 5 takes a wild ride across the South Pacific from New Zealand around South America to Brazil.

Record crowds lined Auckland Harbor and took to the sea to cheer Camper on to victory in her hometown in-port race. While the fleet battled the stiff currents of Freeman’s Bay, Skipper Chris Nicholson used local knowledge to sail along the shore, edging out Puma at the first mark and never looking back.

Luck turned in open water.

The 7,500-mile leg from New Zealand to Brazil has historically been the wildest ride of the race. Strategy has been to head east across the Bay of Plenty, then bang a hard right south at East Cape to catch the frigid roller coaster winds and seas howling north from Antarctica. This time out, a monster tropical depression blocked the eastern glide path, forcing the fleet to head north.

A Scant 40 miles into the leg, Ian Walker’s Abu Dhabi suffered damage to the J4 bulkhead and returned to port. Abu Dhabi had endured the same bad luck the first night out on Leg 1.

The five-boat fleet turned south toward the Roaring 40s, where keeping the boats in one piece and everyone safely on board became the primary mission. Camper skipper Nicholson described the conditions: On deck “you can’t stand up. If you move anywhere you are crawling around on your hands and knees,” he said. “Going over the waves is like playing Russian roulette.”

The list of accidents included a dislocated shoulder, wrenched back, broken equipment and assorted leaks.

After the first 1,000 miles, the five Volvos were all within sight of one another as they sailed south and licked their wounds in a temporary calm.

By day four, crafty Volvo skipper Mike Sanderson had miraculously sailed underdog Sanya into the lead, six miles ahead of Camper and Groupama. They were blasting along at over 20 knots when the starboard rudder post sheared off, sending water gushing into the aft compartment. The only option was to secure the ship and head back to Auckland for repairs. Leg 5 ended there for Sanya. The boat was shipped to Savannah for repairs before sailing to Miami for the start of Leg 7.

Nearing the ice exclusion area, a safety zone established at the northern edge of drifting icebergs, the other four boats sailed straight into the mighty jaws of a monstrous Antarctic storm. On the next move they turned in tandem to the northeast and rode the mighty gale.

As the boats sailed in survival mode, skirting along the edge of the ice zone and the physical limits of both boat and crew, the skippers applied the brakes. In 60-knot winds amidst 30-foot-tall, boat-breaking waves, none could risk sinking in the most isolated part of the world where no ship or plane could come to their rescue.

Camper media crew member Hamish Hooper struggled to describe the conditions on board. “It feels and sounds like you are on an out-of-control freight train, traveling through time with a conductor who gets the accelerator and brakes mixed up. Crazy just doesn’t seem to be enough to describe it.”

The next day, while in first place, Camper launched off the top of a building-sized wave, suffering major structural damage to the bow. Out of this leg, the New Zealand boat headed for Puerto Montt, off the western coast of Chile for repairs.

The next day, a double-barrel wave slammed into Telefónica, almost losing the entire deck crew and delaminating the bow. Rather than risk sinking, the crew throttled back and limped to Cape Horn. The shore crew sailed out to help repair the damage. Only 17 hours later, Telefónica was back in the race.

Next, trouble picked on Abu Dhabi. After clawing back into the race, the crew was honking along at night when they realized their hull was coming apart at the seams. The next day, they performed an amazing at-sea repair job, drilling 30 bolts through the hull. Using the canting keel to tip the boat onto its side, the sailing and repair crew lowered bowman Justin Slattery over the side to tighten the clamps fabricated from metal pieces off their bunks and storage lockers. In the end, the repairs were not enough. The boat was shipped from Chile to Brazil.

That left Groupama and Puma in a duel. Once beyond the ice exclusion zone, both boats headed back south into ferocious weather to find the best wind and wave angle to Cape Horn. From there, they match-raced through wind holes, storms and islands, within eyesight of one another and trading leads almost every four hours. With 600 miles to go, and two miles in the lead, Groupama’s mast broke at the first spreader. Forced to suspend racing, the plucky crew headed for the Uruguayan port of Punta del Este and jury-rigged the mast. Groupama sailed to a gritty but disappointing third for the leg.

Telefónica rode a fresher breeze, making up over 400 miles in a matter of a few days and closing to within a mile of victory. But American entry Puma held Telefónica off to take a first leg win by less than 12 minutes.

Next stop: Miami. Between my reports, follow the race at

© COPYRIGHT 2010 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


The name is STEVE CARR. And my blog is all about storytelling.
Our free time is limited each day and we want to be entertained. And if we can learn something cool in the process, well then, even better.
The world is coming apart at the seams. And we are all so wired up & tuned in that it’s hard to figure out what’s happening most of the time. Perspective is hard to find. More isn’t necessarily better, it just requires more memory. When they power up the super-duper, must have, 9G or 50G smart phone that will do everything but make us happy, we still won’t be any smarter.
I’m pretty much a Luddite. I think the technology tends to cloud the picture. Don’t get me wrong. The IPhone is like magic. But the only things evolving are our fingers which glide across the tiny keyboards like jazz musicians on crank.
Our brains are too big. Imagine that. And yet, we only use about a third of its capacity. There’s tons of memory that goes unused.
How can we tap into that motherboard? What would we do if we did?
Some believe that drugs can set us free. I tried that route. I discovered that hallucinogenics can open windows, but not doors.
Religion is the opiate that fills our Sundays, but leads to wars.
The Ancients amused themselves with stories. Oral history. Imagination ruled. Music and drums did the rest. But they had lots & lots of free time.
We are different. We fill our days beyond our capacity to dream. We watch videos until it starts to really feel like life, but like snack food, it rarely satisfies. And still our cravings for more & more input nearly drives us all insane. It’s hard to tell what’s real.
My blog is your ticket HOME.
Do you like to bike, hike, canoe, kayak, camp and experience nature up close and personal? Then you will find this site of interest and endless amusement.
Do you worry about global warming, climate change, sea level rise, and the weather crisis already threatening the planet? Then we will learn more about the problem and solutions together.
Do you enjoy reading about the American Southwest, the Chesapeake Bay, and other wild lands under seize? Then this is the blog for you.
But most of all, this blog is about story-telling and fun.
The trajectory of my life has been unpredictable and extremely erratic, but I have picked up a lot of wild tales along the way.
Every few days day, we will go exploring and you will get a short story to fuel our imaginations. A story a day will keep the doctor away.

It’s all free for the taking.

Just download your daily story and start dreaming. I will include excerpts from my southwest novels and my newspaper column. There’s no charge. Please feel free to share with your friends. Let’s build a community of storytellers.

And if you want to comment on what you’ve read, that’s great.

Share your own stories.

Let’s use this new technology to start a new tradition.

People often ask me how I became the environmental guru of Annapolis. It’s a story with many twists & turns ...

I grew up in Annapolis, Maryland and spent most of my childhood playing in and along the Severn River. Water is in my bones.

I attended McDonogh School, boarding on the dreamy farm-like estate in the suburbs of Baltimore. I got an Ivy League education and began my writing career under the guidance of a crazy Scottish English professor.

I went to the United States Naval Academy in 1971 and washed out a little before the end of my first year. The Vietnam War was in full swing.

After obtaining my discharge from the Navy, I went to the University of Richmond and then Randolph-Macon College. College was incredibly boring and I was quickly consumed by the hippie counter culture, spending most of my days and nights in The Fan district of Richmond. I turned on and dropped out with reckless abandon, until I was expelled from college with a 0.25 grade point average.

I returned to Annapolis where I took a job with the local moving company and soon was hauling people’s household goods around the country, often staying out on the road for a month at a time. It was an exciting life, traveling around the United States, meeting new people and discovering how diverse, magnificent, and dangerous America can be.

In the summer of 1976, America celebrated it’s bicentennial and I decided to ride my bicycle across country with two close friends. We flew to Seattle in late spring and then hopped the ferry to Juneau, where my friend John’s sister lived. Her husband had just been killed climbing Mt. McKinley and we stayed for a month, helping to run the Foggy Bottom Shop, kayaking around Douglas Island with killer whales, and watching the locals fall to their death into Mendenhall Glacier. Alaska was definitely a good place to learn about limits.

We returned to Seattle in June and began our grinding bike ride back to Maryland. We did the trip in 35 days and for all intents and purposes, we never spoke to one another again. It wasn’t exactly what you might call fun, riding 100 miles a day, and after getting run off the road by drunken farm hands in western Kansas and battling a fierce headwind the whole trip, I was ready to try my hand at gardening. In a ironic twist of fate, I became the head gardener at the Superintendent’s Quarters at the U.S. Naval Academy. From Midshipman to gardener. I always looked at it as a step up. 
In 1978, I drove a cherry red 1972 Malibu to San Diego for an old girlfriend, and then started riding my bicycle solo across the country. But this time, I was in it strictly for fun, starting with the first day of my cross-country jaunt, when I had my friend drive me to the top of the Sand Diego Mountains where I could begin my journey with a 35-mile downhill. The rest of the trip followed this lazy pattern. I stopped where I liked and stayed until I had tasted the wine. I caught rides with people whenever the wind wasn’t at my back or the terrain became tedious.

It took me almost three months to get back to Maryland.

Along the way, I stopped at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. I had never seen anything even remotely like what greeted me there in Northern Arizona, an exotic world of red rocks and fiery canyons. I hiked the Bright Angel Trail down to Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the earth and spent five glorious days exploring along the Colorado River and through wondrous side canyons.

When I returned to the rim, I told myself, "This is where I belong."

During my stay at Grand Canyon, I asked many locals where a guy like me could find a job. The answer was always the same. "You either work for the Park Service, the Forest Service, or the hotel industry."

The Park Service wore bus driver uniforms with big goofy green hats. I’d served in the Navy and the idea of donning another uniform was not appealing. The hospitality industry was equally unattractive because you had to interact with the public and be nice all the time. That left the Forest Service.

I had never heard of the Forest Service. But when I found out they were not required to wear a uniform and you could have a beard and long hair, I was intrigued.

I continued my bicycle odyssey and returned home in the fall. All through the winter, I learned everything I could about the Forest Service and put in an application for seasonal work on the Kaibab National Forest which borders the north and south rim of the Grand Canyon and is headquartered out of the sleepy little railroad town of Williams, Arizona, the "Gateway to the Grand Canyon".

I checked all the job description boxes: firefighter, surveyor, timber marker, recreation specialist, and wildlife management. I was ready to do anything as long as it was outside.

In March of 1979, I received a call from a nice fellow named Ron Tissaw, asking me if I wanted to work on the Kaibab, starting in May, as an engineering surveyor. Without the slightest idea what the hell that meant, I said yes.
I spent the next fifteen years working and playing in the Grand Canyon and throughout every nook and cranny of the Colorado Plateau. I became an infamous Canyon Master.

These were the Reagan Years, when we essentially annihilated our national forests, and I soon found myself openly and surreptitiously challenging the lords of the Kaibab for many years. In 1993, the Forest Service and the logging company lost a lawsuit over cutting too much wood and when I uncovered the fact that timber fraud had also been committed and subsequently notified the Attorney General’s Office, the logging operation shut down and has never resumed operation.

At that point, the death threats started rolling in and it was time for me to make my escape. I packed up my gear and the two Jenny Hatch mystery series novels I had written during my tenure on the Kaibab, and I headed east to Maryland.

I returned home to Annapolis where I was a fish out of water. I had been working in the woods for 15 years and Maryland seemed like an alien world. I had no college degree. None of the skills I had mastered on the Kaibab were of value in the “Baltimore/Washington business corridor”. And I had a very hard time adjusting to the east coast and all the people. Where was the wildlife and red rocks?
I was 40 years old. What the hell was I going to do with my life?

I was a good golfer, so I took a job at a brand new golf course on the Eastern Shore, working as an assistant pro. I spent each day taking tee time reservations, kissing strangers’ asses, and learning the trees and birds of the Mid-Atlantic – one tree and bird a day.
About the time I was getting ready to kill someone – anyone – wearing pink slacks and white pimp shoes, I received an odd offer. A childhood friend had become a rather celebrated architect in Annapolis and had befriended the City Administrator, a fellow named Mike who had gotten an old Annapolis sports writer elected Mayor four years before and who had taken over the daily operation of the colonial city by the Bay. There was an election looming and Mike couldn’t lead the re-election campaign and run the city. So, I was asked to run the campaign. I had never been actively involved in politics, but my parents had been and Mike seemed to think I had the right instincts to get the Mayor re-elected. He was right.
After the Mayor won his second term I decided on a new life strategy. I started what would become a very successful political and environmental consulting business: Carr Consulting.
It worked like this, I would get a Democrat elected, and then they would steer environmental consulting contracts in my direction. I had been the President of the nation’s oldest river group, the Severn River Association, and was considered to be an environmental expert by friend and foe alike. So no one questioned my ability to handle environmental contracts around Annapolis.
I worked for the next two mayors, developing parks and implementing environmental projects around the city.

In 2000, I helped run the campaign for an old friend, Ellen Moyer, who had served on the City Council. We won easily and Ellen became the first woman to lead Annapolis since 1649. I soon became Ellen’s Environmental Chief-of-Staff and spent the next eight years making Annapolis the green model city in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
When Ellen stepped down, it was time to try something new.

So, I just started a new business called Annapolis By Bike. Check out our website at

But writing is my passion.

I have written a novel called “Damned If You Do and Dammed If You Don’t” about a VIP river trip down the Colorado by federal dignitaries and Senator Barry Goldwater, scouting a future dam site that would fill the Grand Canyon like Glen Canyon. A lady boatman freaks out when she hears what their plan is and begins murdering them one at a time, always making it look like an accident.

I have also written a novel called “Anasazi Strip”. It’s a Tony Hillerman-like tale of Hopi magic, drugs, and murdering pothunters. It’s part of the Jenny Hatch mystery series and features a lady archaeologist who encounters the supernatural as she unravels murder and mayhem in the canyons of the Southwest.

The second novel in the series is called “The Lord of Death” about the revenge of the Hopi god Masau upon murdering uranium miners near the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. The story features Hopis, drug-crazed Earth Firsters, militant members of the American Indian Movement, and John Wesley Powell’s lost map.

I just finished writing a memoir entitled “The Canyon Chronicles”.

Ed Abbey is dead. I know this because he was a dear friend and I gave a ranting eulogy at one of his many funeral celebrations around the canyonlands. I miss Ed.

Hunter Thompson is also dead. We used to party together at the Telluride Bluegrass and Jazz festivals, until he ate his magnum in a fit of depression.

Tony Hillerman is dead and his Navajo mysteries will no longer light up our lives.

We have lost so many of our Southwest voices.

I offer a new and much needed voice – a combination of Abbey, Thompson, and Hillerman. It is a unique voice; the voice of a storyteller who intimately knows the Southwest, both its terrain and its deepest mysteries, and whose many adventures were fueled by sex, drugs, and rock and roll.
After working seasonally for fifteen years, from 1978 - 1993,on the Kaibab National Forest as an engineering, timber, and archaeological surveyor I have a unique perspective. There isn’t a person alive who knows the Colorado Plateau better than I.

The stories in the book are all  fantasy-true, but most of the names were changed to protect the innocent, and especially the guilty. The book was written in a little less than two months and I had help from many of the characters who appear in the stories. They kept me honest, or filled in the gaps where my memory was a bit sketchy. After reading the book, the canyon folk all said pretty much the same thing, “I’ve been waiting for this voice for the past 25 years; to hear someone capture what it was really like to work and play in the crazy canyons during the 80's.”

The book encompasses a wide range of topics and places. It is essentially a magical mystery tour of stand alone snapshots featuring the wondrous lands of the Southwest – life & death hikes into the Grand Canyon; a Colorado River trip; cultural and religious dances at Shipaulovi village out at Hopi; a monstrous wildfire in Idaho; the strange Mormon polyg towns of Southern Utah; and psychedelic and sexual romps through Brcye, Zion, the Paria, Capital Reef, Navajo National Monument, Black Mesa, Grand Staircase Escalante, the Waterpocket Fold, Lake Powell, the Black Hole of White Canyon, Lee’s Ferry, Marble Canyon, and Navajo Land.

When you consider how many people have visited these spectacular national parks and monuments, people from all over the globe, it seems obvious there is a wide market for such a book. Most people love the mysterious Southwest, mystical Indians, lost history, and tales of reckless abandon in magical places. “The Canyon Chronicles” has it all.
The Reagan land use strategy, specifically the horrific logging practices on the North Kaibab Forest, is the picture frame for the book. The story of what happened to the forests and parks of the Southwest between 1980 - 1988 is a tale that needs to be told. People really need to know how much we lost, and how it happened. I was right in the middle of it and played an intriguing role in ultimately shutting down the logging on the Kaibab.

The Grand Canyon, where I worked and lived is, of course, the main character.

This is the kind of book you can open up to a chapter and just start reading. Each story is a great read and would undoubtedly also make a wild movie.

I have many more canyon stories.

Closer to my current home, I write a bi-weekly column called “We Live Here” for a newspaper called “Bay Weekly”.
I also had a booked published a few years back called “Water Views” featuring my essays on the Chesapeake Bay and the photos of world renown photographer Marion Warren and award-winning cartoonist Eric Smith.
I regularly give lectures and tell stories to schools and interested groups.

And in my spare time, I competitively sail and like to hash with the Baltimore/Annapolis Hash House Harriers.


Thursday, April 12, 2012

To Cruise or Not To Cruise - Day 6

             St. Croix is the largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands. It was "discovered" by Christopher Columbus during his second exploration in 1493. When he and his crew came ashore to get fresh water they were immediately attacked by the local native inhabitants. They named the island St. Croix, Holy Cross, and headed north in search of friendlier watering holes. The Danes bought the island from the French in 1733 and turned their capital city of Christiansted into the hub for their Caribbean operations, mostly centered around sugar cane and slaves. The British booted them out a few times, the sugar beet industry made them superfluous, slavery became illegal, and a earthquake and a few hurricanes laid waste to the island. By 1916, the Danes had finally had enough and they sold all of the islands comprising the Danish West Indies to the United States for the tidy sum of $25 million. At that point, the only money-making enterprise left was the rum industry. Prohibition in 1922 pretty much destroyed that trade and it wasn't until the 60s that tourism began to transform the island into a vacation paradise.

            Our ship landed just after sunrise on the island's west coast, at the second largest city of Frederiksted. 

            We met Peter and Esther at a tidy palm tree park at the end of the dock where yet another bored steel drum played under a white tent and tour guides dressed in matching tropical shirts greeted the hordes of boat people, offering a wide assortment of island tours, from dive trips to golf outings. Unlike the other countries we had visited, these vendors were strictly middlemen. They were not taking you anywhere. Their job was to find out what you wanted to do and then match you up with the actual guide who was waiting quietly under the manicured palms along the walkways. There was a relaxed atmosphere. And the goal was not to fill each van. So the drivers were essentially part of a lottery. If eight people wanted to tour the island, then the driver had a full load and made good money. But if there were only four, as in our case, then the driver had to leave with empty seats. 

            Our driver was Angry Felix and he didn't like the fact that there were only four of us. He immediately started bitching under his breath. I was entirely captivated by the sights and sounds and it wasn't until we started walking toward Angry Felix's red van parked near a handsome red stone fort along the harbor that I picked up the hostile vibe. Peter and Esther told him that if he was going to cop an attitude then we would be happy to go with someone else. But he had already punched his daily ticket and he couldn't go back and recruit a different group. So, he had no choice but to take us where the dock boss told him to go.

            We spread out in the roomy van and proceeded east on the Mahogany Road, having no idea where we were going other than our final destination of Christiansted. As we drove through small enclaves of activity, it was obvious we were out of the real Caribbean and the influence of the U.S. reared its majestic head in the form of Home Depots and more upscale housing. It was like a really rundown old Florida.

            Angry Felix was an able guide, pointing out the places of historic significance, but everything he said was laced with unbridled contempt for the island's sad state of affairs. He went off incessantly about the political "rats", cutthroat Palestinian businessmen who controlled the economy, and a U.S. government that turned a blind eye to the horrific state of affairs.

From our perspective, things looked pretty good on St. Croix. The standard of living was obviously much higher than the other islands to the south, who were not embraced by the American eagle's mighty wings. 
We passed small roadside shopping malls and industrial parks with few cars, and as we began climbing into the mountains we passed gated subdivision mansions nestled around a lush golf course in the hills.

We stopped to hug a trio of giant Baobab trees about 200 inches in diameter.

And at the Cane Bay beach we watched teams of divers start their swim right off the beach, so there had to be an inviting reef nearby.

Expansive houses with inviting porches clung to the high desert terrain which reminded me of the foothills around Tucson, with sparse brown hillsides of exposed dark rock dotted with prickly pear cactus. Clearly, there was money in them thar hills.
             But Angry Felix said the whole economy was in shambles because "Obama has the padlock and won't get rid of the rats."
            The island seemed a tad disjointed and unsure of itself.
            We passed a very diverse mix of protestors with handmade signs, standing on the side of the main drag into Christiansted. They were angry at the government for not allowing a resort to take over the grounds where some government study facility had once been housed. The long arm of the Environmental Protection Agency had squashed the project because of environmental concerns and the protestors were bemoaning the lost jobs.
             Angry Felix dropped us in the city center, right across from the ornate Government House that looked like one of the fancy embassies in Washington, D.C., and said he would return for us in two hours.

            Christiansted is all yellow and red Danish colonial buildings that line the upscale waterfront like bright flowers. Attractive homes with red roofs clung to the steep green hillsides like candy.

              We walked along a boardwalk lined with funky bars and restaurants. Small sailing craft were moored in the blue green harbor and a breakfront of sparkling white waves danced along the beaches at the mouth of the sheltered bay. 

We stopped at a cabana bar where they served their own home-brewed beer and the happy Anglo bartender blew a pink conch shell to attract customers.

Drinking in public was okay, so we continued our waterfront walk, passing old cannons and other relics from the past that were now serving as lawn ornaments.

            The National Park Service runs a historic site that juts out from a bulkheaded point where a large yellow fort once guarded the city inhabitants. Green wooden hurricane doors and windows with white trim gave the place an almost carnival-like appearance. A red, guard booth stood somewhat almost comically by the front gate. This was definitely a happy fort.

            On a side street we stumbled upon the Annapolis Sailing School, which is headquartered in our hometown. It is a small world indeed.

             We met Angry Felix after lunch and continued on our tour of the island.

The Southside Road led us along the southern coast that sported several secluded resorts with inviting white sand beaches.

             As we came over the top of a hill we were suddenly looking down on Hovensa, one of the ten largest oil refineries in the world, operated by Hess Oil and Venezuela. They supply heating oil and gas to the Gulf states and the eastern seaboard of the U.S.
            Angry Felix began ranting about the impending disaster awaiting the island come October.
            Once again, one of the main villains was the U.S. The Environmental Protection Agency had recently hit Hovensa with a $5.3 fine for Clean Air violations. Hess paid the fine and then announced they were closing the refinery, the largest employer on the island, and moving the whole operation down to Venezuela where crazy Hugo Chavez was welcoming them with open arms and a promise that they could pollute to their heart's content.
            "That's the end of cheap gas and good jobs," spit Angry Felix.
            The refinery looked ancient and dangerous. It was a rusty pile of tangled metal pipes at the edge of the ocean. No good could come from that.
            We drove past a renovated section of the sprawling facility and Angry Felix said it was the new Captain Morgan spiced rum distillery.
            We came to a tidy complex of cinder block houses without windows dotting the surrounding grassy hills. This was the largest public housing community in St. Croix. The structures reminded me of bus shelters and they looked like they would be a hot and buggy place to live, especially given that they were literally right outside the barbed wire fence that encircled the oil refinery.
            "Do they have any health problems living so close to the oil facility?" I asked.
            Angry Felix went off like a gun. "The air smells like crap and they have cancer and asthma problems like you wouldn't believe."
            "So, the government was justified in ordering the plant managers to clean up their act," I remarked.
            "Of course they were," barked Angry Felix. "The bastards are killing us all."
            "I don't get it," I said.
            Angry Felix scowled at me before returning his attention to the road, which was now a fairly deserted dual lane highway. "John Hess and his fellow thieves can move to Venezuela, or hell for all I care. But the government has a contract with these blood suckers, and they should not be allowed to move their operations. The refinery is for the people of St. Croix. To hell with John Hess. But leave the refinery for someone else to run. That's only fair. Otherwise, what are we going to do?"
            We felt sorry for Angry Felix. He was an educated man who was caught between powerful worlds that had eventually turned him into a bitter man who watched CNN and bristled at the crazy news from the mainland each day. 
            Tourism masks the boiling under currents of Caribbean island life. Those currents run strong on every island, but I think the people of St. Croix would have probably gotten a better deal if the Danes still managed the place, rather than their absentee American landlords.

            When Angry Felix dropped us back in Frederiksted, dark rain clouds were rolling in from the south and we were tired of sight seeing around St. Croix.

There was a nice public beach right next to the boat dock. Sea horses were rumored to be found in the green waters.

But we were hungry, so we headed for the comfort of the ship where boat drinks awaited us at the pool and the troubles of the world were reduced to thunder storm rainbows.