Copyright 2005 by Cap’n Fatty Goodlander
For over 30 years now, I’ve been conducting extensive, liver-damaging research into the question of which is the best harbor in the Caribbean. This is entirely subjective, of course, and I realize that reasonable people can differ on such an issue. For instance, I believe an uptight prude, a ‘fun-cop’ or an anti-lifer might not agree with my choices.
So be it.
I’ll admit that deciding was not easy. I love the Simpson Bay Lagoon and the craziness of Sint Maarten. Gustavia and St. Barts was heaven in the late 1970s when I first arrived in the Lesser Antilles. English harbor in Antigua is, truly, about as ‘picture perfect’ as you can get. All the French islands dazzle me, the Le Saintes and Martinique in particular. The Pitons in St. Lucia are never-to-be-forgotten, as are the waterfalls of Dominica.
I almost decided on Admiralty Bay, Bequia. It is always magic. Ditto, Carriacou and the Spice Island of Grenada.
But as the years flew by, my criteria got higher and higher. (Come to think of it, so did I!)
In the end, there was only one choice: Coral Bay, St. John,
Well, first off from a sailor’s point of view, it offers 360-degree protection. Hurricane Hole is only a few minutes away. Round Bay and Salt Pond are only a half-hour brisk-but-flat-sea sail away as well. It is the closest live-aboard harbor to the BVIs, a beam-reach to St. Croix and a dead run along the Southside of St. John to St. Thomas.
Dive and fish sites abound. Pristine beaches are everywhere. Turtles gasp, dolphins frolic and pelicans bomb.
Coral Bay is large. There is still plenty of room for a visitor to anchor for a night, month or year. It is free. There is a large dinghy dock. Supplies (booze, gas, fuel, ice, food: listed in order of importance) are only a short walk or brief dinghy ride away.
There is always a breeze so it is usually cool on even the warmest nights.
Of course, what truly makes Coral Bay special is the people, both ashore and afloat.
Coral Bay residents have always been a little closer to the earth, more independent and more self-reliant than their Cruz Bay counterparts.
The Samuels, one of the most dynamic, hard-working and creative families in the West Indies, own a large and historically important piece of land in Coral Bay. (Check out Karen’s paintings, they are world-class wonderful!)
Since Coral Bay is so far from administrative St. Thomas on so many different social and political levels, the over-zealous, under-trained ‘patrol boys’ of the Homeland Security seldom make it this far East to hassle the local citizenry.
The marine community of Coral Bay is as loving, nurturing, welcoming, friendly and accommodating as any in the world.
At its very core is the Coral Bay KATS program, a wildly successful youth sailing organization entire staffed by volunteering locals. Dozens of people donate hundreds of hours a week to the program, and it has taught over a thousand local youngsters everything from basic seamanship to advanced racing.
Any kid can join. Money isn’t an issue. And that child can advance in the world of sailing as far as they want to: many former KATS students have earned sailing scholarships and regularly participate in prestigious regattas around the world.
The boats in the harbor vary from sleek expensive ocean racers to floating eyesore ‘boat bum’ shacks.
In Coral Bay, the motto is ‘live and let live.’ Everyone adds to the eclectic mix: in fact, the shabbiest-dressed guy might be off a mega yacht and the fellow in ‘yachty-snotty’ attire might be sleeping in his dinghy.
I write this anchored in the middle of the harbor. I can see four vessels which I know recently circumnavigated (Wild Card, Castanets, Afrig’n Queen and Elenoa) but there are probably more.
Characters abound. Eliot, on the 100+ foot, 100+ year old, riveted-iron Silver Cloud, is a trip. Right now Silver Cloud has three masts, and people are praying another boat doesn’t sink in the harbor so Eliot can add a fourth.
I guess he likes to have plenty of fresh water, too. For the last few months he has had a 10,000 gallon water tank lashed on deck. Nobody in the bay has the courage to ask why.
Robin Clair is perhaps the most beautiful woman I have ever met. She lights up the harbor with her smile and her deep blue eyes flash with humor and love, with joy and sadness, with intellect and creativity.
Liberty, the 1926 Alden schooner she has lived on for many decades, is nearly as beautiful as she.
David Wegman is usually lurking in the area if he is not sailing around the world, playing music in Key West or sketching the rum shops of the Caribbean. (The local bars often ask him to break out his fiddle ten minutes after last call).
Peter Muilenburg, author of the delightful ‘Adrift on a Sea of Blue Light,’ is another fiddle player in the harbor. He built his lovely Paul Johnson-designed, gaff-rigged double-ender Breath in Coral Bay, and has gradually become sort of its moral compass.
Of course, every harbor needs a social focus and Skinny Legs Bar and Grill does a ‘pretty-ok’ job of being the spiritual center of the Coral Bay marine community. Doug and Moe are two of the nicest people in the universe, and they’ve somehow managed to create the perfect sailor’s rhum shop: friendly, professional, affordable and oh-so-tasty.
They are both extremely community-conscious and often assist with regattas, charity events, music fests and other ‘Coral Bay happenings.’
“Hey,” says bartender Moe, “Coral Bay has given me and Dougie a lot… we’re just returning the favor!”
At the core of Coral Bay’s appeal is Attitude. When I sail into many of the suddenly-trendy harbors of the Caribbean I feel… well, like I am an arriving ‘profit center’ for the local land sharks.
I don’t get that feeling in Coral Bay. They simply don’t care if you are rich or poor—-money just doesn’t move them. (Mega yachts tend to shun Coral Bay NOT because they are unwelcome but because they aren’t fawned over.)
The sole reason for Coral Bay’s existence isn’t to pick your pocket, and, alas, that’s increasingly rare.
Supplies are available, sort of. They’re scattered, true. You usually can’t buy a newspaper but a number of shops will sell you a tie-dyed T-shirt, peace symbol or pair of handcrafted sandals.
Alan and Sandy of so-low-key-it-almost-doesn’t-exist Coral Bay Marine might sell you some boat stuff if it is cosmically convenient for all concerned. The Wilson brothers can chop you up some wood. Cid at Connections has a surplus of busy signals. There’s plenty of people who will fix your car. Mexican Steve is usually about, and Blind Betty will sell you hot sauce. Papa Davis will marry you. (He’s 70+ years old now and often tells the young ladies that he’s “at that awkward stage in life where I can’t say yes!”)
Yes, there’s some real characters in Coral Bay. Vicky and Thatcher. Jason. Artist Les Anderson. Joe and Cindy. Where-there-is-a-Will-there-is-a-way! Julian Davies. Dave Dostal. Cat Taylor. The steers-his-boat-with-his-mind yoga guy named Andy aboard Gypsy Moon. Augie. Dick Burks. Mean Jean. Desperado Bert.
Best of all, there’s no place to really seek gainful employment in Coral Bay. Both Cruz Bay and Great Cruz Bay have, sadly, evolved into commercial harbors where the Almighty Dollar reigns. Not Coral Bay. Not yet.
Cap’n Fatty Goodlander lives aboard Wild Card with his wife Carolyn and cruises throughout the world. He is the author of “Chasing the Horizon” by American Paradise Publishing, “Seadogs, Clowns and Gypsies” and “The Collected Fat.” For more Fat-flashes, see fattygoodlander.com