A Semi-Tropical City

On Sunday it hit 84 degrees, and it felt good. I wandered around town, a little off-kilter from the time change, dressed in my Puerto Rican tropical best, with loose slacks and a guayabera topped with a Panama hat. Those guys know how if you can’t wander around half-naked, although it is New Orleans so I suppose that is not really out of the question. I had a good conversation with a new neighbor, Caroline, at Harry’s Corner, and then made some groceries at Roberts. I did enjoy the air conditioning for a brief break, and then went over to Cecile’s, hoping for an update on her family problems, but missed her there. I walked down Royal, and back up Bourbon. It is a strange crowd. The locals are hiding for the most part in this lull between Mardi Gras and St. Patrick’s Day, but there were a couple of cruise ships in town and it is the beginning of Spring Break season so there are gaggles of barely legal kids stretching their limits mixing with sincerely perplexed cruise shippers.

Rosalie and her crew of friends met me for a drink at the Bar Tonique. It was great to see them, mostly familiar from the wedding, and all great people. They had been tearing up Bywater and Uptown, and taking advantage of the weather to get some pool time. Rosalie recommended a restaurant, N-7, in the Bywater. On the list!

Monday continued in the mid-eighties, which I enjoy about as much as the geckos do, but I sweat more. I haven’t seen the little lizards in months, and on the hot days they are everywhere basking on the sidewalks and walls. They are fun to watch, and theoretically eat lots of bugs that aren’t as entertaining or friendly as they are. I took a walk in the afternoon through the Bywater and then along Crescent Park, enjoying the heat and sunshine as well as the cool breeze off the river.

I finally saw Aurora Nealand for a set at the Maison. It is not my favorite venue, a little awkward because they are complying with the city rules that it has to be a restaurant that also plays music instead of a bar that serves food. This means that the bulk of the place is diners at small tables who talk to each other instead of listening to the music or dancing, which makes for a noisy spot. Despite that, I wedged myself in at the bar and listened to her old time music band, singing and playing music from the 1850s through the 1920s. She has a great voice for this style of music, and the band does not have a weak player. It was good to finally get a chance to see her after several dry runs this month.

I ran into Chris Seker at the R Bar on the way home, and he was lined up for a haircut and a shot. It is good to see the neighborhood returning to a normal level of weird after Mardi Gras. Somehow I don’t think the health inspector would approve of that particular combination, but it is kind of fun to see a barber set up her shop in the front room of a bar.

Getting some serious color in my tattoo tomorrow, and then it is on to St. Patrick’s Day weekend. It looks like a big three day event, starting Friday evening at Mollies in the Quarter, Saturday in the Irish Channel, and back to the Marigny on Sunday. Is green dye in beer or Irish whiskey more toxic?

Daylight Savings Time

After a mellow day and reheated red beans, I went to Buffa’s to try to see Tom McDermott and Aurora Nealand, figuring that with the post-Mardi Gras malaise and the utter lack of activity in town that it would be a good time. There was a dead rat on the sidewalk outside the bar, but the back room was SRO. I didn’t really want to fight the crowd, so just had a couple of beers at the empty front bar with Boone.

I reserved an Airbnb for Mom’s visit, right down St. Anthony’s from our house, but a direction I usually don’t go, right on the edge of the Marigny. It will be good to have a bedroom and bathroom for her separate from our place, but close enough to easily hang out. It should be a busy week, and I will start looking at entertainment options. It looks like the Congo Festival at Armstrong Park is the last weekend of the month, with Rebirth and Hot 8 headlining.

It is already the weekend, and I am not sure I am ready, but the Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Day Society is having a practice parade through the French Quarter today in preparation for the real parade through the Irish Channel on St. Patrick’s Day. I may be practiced enough to skip this one.

I took an early walk through the Quarter, with a quick stop at Harry’s and a couple of cocktails at Manolito. I had their house mojito, excellent as always with a healthy splash of bitters to top it off and add color. I also had the daiquiri mente, the frozen version, for comparison, and a cheese arepa to slow the absorption. Note to self: Happy hour pricing is great. I walked over to dba, trying to catch Aurora Nealand in a bigger venue, but she had canceled the early show. I’m a lousy stalker.

I went over to the R Bar and met Chris, who introduced me to Greg Toussaint, a cousin of Allen Toussaint, the famous music producer. We talked local music politics for a bit, and I impressed myself in being able to keep up. The essential, and probably age-old, problem is that as certain musical neighborhoods, like Frenchmen Street, or venues, like the Spotted Cat, become more popular, they become inaccessible to locals and local musicians who made them popular in the first place. As the venues and business owners try to take advantage of the crowds, the music becomes homogenized, and you get Bourbon Street or Vegas, appealing mostly to the Walmart sensibilities—nothing challenging or original, and entertaining in the way that middle America likes to be entertained, with the music of their youth. The local musicians then get squeezed out to the more marginal neighborhood clubs, where they can play more freely, but perhaps not attract the money they need to keep playing original music. It is hard, even as a serious music fan, to push out to some of these midnight shows in transitioning neighborhoods. I’m not sure I really want to be lakeside of I-10 in the Treme at 3AM, even if the Hot 8 is playing new music to the neighborhood folks.

Cecile and Chris had invited me to join them on a road trip to their new place in Bay St. Louis, on the Gulf Coast beach. I got to Cecile’s to find the house in crisis, a relatively common occurrence, but this was a little more serious that most. Cecile’s son had blown out of his rehab center after 5 months of treatment, and and was at loose ends, a bad place for an addict. Simultaneously, an officer that she had been working with as a patient and co-worker for 15 years was having a psychotic episode that included making direct and graphic threats against her by posting violent slasher movie clips on Facebook and explaining in the comments the he was going get her for ruining his life. The police were involved, and probably going to arrest the guy, but he was out and about this morning. It is nice to be trusted enough to overhear this family and personal saga, but a lot of reality.

In any case, we collectively decided to continue on with our plans and drove the hour or so to the beach. Cecile was on the phone almost the whole trip dealing with the dueling emergencies, but it was fun driving the back road-Highway 90-through New Orleans East, the Vietnamese neighborhood, into the lake and bay country. I had recently read a history of Jean Lafitte, so it was fun to see the Rigolets, Fort Bienville, and other familiar geography. There is a de facto wildlife refuge around the NASA test center just past the Pearl River, which is the site of the Cajun Experience tour outfit. The bird life is stunningly different than Alaska, with lots of egrets, herons and cranes along the shore and a number of varieties of hawks and vultures overhead.

Bay St. Louis is a small town with a beach strip of bars and restaurants along a nice small boat harbor and yacht club. Across the street from the beach is a small business strip of higher end art and antique stores and casual restaurants, and then a town. We drove past a high school baseball game in progress, and Cecile’s new house is about a mile back into town in a older working class neighborhood which looked a lot like the older sections of St. Charles. Her place is a 1940s era cottage with a huge lot that feels awfully comfortable. The house has survived all the hurricanes since it was built, and in contrast to New Orleans, the poorer neighborhoods were built on the high ground because they were far away from the beach. The big mansions were built closer to the beach, and as a result have been destroyed and rebuilt several times in the last century.

We met some of their friends at the Blind Tiger for lunch. This is a seafood beach bar, and they had crawfish boiling outside. We had some Royal Red shrimp that had been boiled with the crawfish, and they were quite tasty with the Cajun spice. Royal Reds are Alaskan prawn sized shrimp from the deeper water of the gulf, easily 3 or 4 times the size of the usual Louisiana shrimp.

Suzanne, Cecile’s friend is a Canadian snowbird and real estate investor who runs several Airbnbs around New Orleans and apparently other places. Her words of wisdom were not to ever try to live in New Orleans in the summer. She did it for a few years, and it was just miserable, and she returned to making the trek from Ontario every year. She and her friend Tina have the French Canadian accent, which is endearing, but also french manners, which means to me a more direct conversational style which can be off-putting. It could just be that they are beautiful older rich women who are quite used to getting their way, but I am not used to being corrected when I am trying to be politely agreeable. In any case, Suzanne had some perceptive ideas about quick and practical remodels to the cottage to put it into service as a rental or guest house with little effort.

The drive back was also spent with Cecile on the phone dealing with the emergencies of the day, but the late afternoon light was spectacular over the bays and lakes. It was a good day.

Sunday morning brought daylight savings time, which leaves me with the impression that I am running late, for what I don’t know.

Only 365 Days until Mardi Gras 2020

And I don’t have my costume ready yet!

After the city-wide 5 day party, Ash Wednesday is the designated hangover day. The Carnival switch is officially turned to “off”. Nothing moves, including me. I did put my costuming stuff away, careful to leave the St. Patrick’s Day stuff on top. Glitter gets everywhere. I spent the evening cataloging photos. This morning I made it back to the pool for a short week of recovery swimming before more tattooing next week. Making the leap into color this time, and only one more session before I head back north.

This was a great carnival season for me, with lots of new experiences and lots left to explore. I put together a different costume for each day of the weekend, including a lot of work on the home-improved King Tut for Mardi Gras Day. I took advantage of the spirit of Carnival and ate some excellent crawfish, po-boys, red beans, and muffaletta, and had probably too many good cocktails and some bad ones. I saw some great music, on the street from some great marching bands and fun brass bands, and in the clubs from the Wild Magnolias and John Papa Gros with Big Chief Monk Boudreaux.

I love the smaller neighborhood parades, and our little neighborhood is flooded with maskers a couple of times during the weekend. Touro Street is a great place to be for the Queen Anne’s parade-not too crowded or wild, but a short block away from the crazy. It is good to have a refuge when your neighborhood bars turn from quiet corners to party central. I walked Bourbon a couple of times, including a few hours on a balcony for a private party, and early in the evening on Mardi Gras itself.

I never did make it Uptown to the parade route on St. Charles, not getting farther than the Mayor’s reviewing stand at Gallier Hall at Lafayette Square, but did see parts of a few of the big parades. I didn’t re-connect with the Krewe of Kosmic Debris or the Krewe of Yes, both informal krewes with some degree of organization that we marched with last year, but not enough to actually get parade permits or police escorts or have websites or such. There is always next year.

On Friday evening, Chris had wristbands to the official mayor’s reviewing stand for Hermès and Morpheus. I wore a black and gold glittery tux jacket with a bowler hat in honor of the mayor. His daughter, Jen, and a friend were in town, and we went across the Quarter in a cab. We went into the reviewing stand, and were seated right behind the dignitaries. A judge was in the box directly in front of us and he and his crew were dressed in the blue blazer, tan slacks and tie uniform of the off-duty attorney, but were completely shot faced, barely verbal. They were kind about the throws, passing some of the beads and other stuff back into the less advantageous seats. The high school and small college marching bands are a highlight of the big parades as well as the flambeaux marchers.

We stayed about an hour, and then Chris and I walked the Quarter back towards Frenchmen Street. We stopped for oysters at the bar at the Redfish Grill, and then split up. I walked the crowd on Bourbon, a little overwhelmed by the sheer mass of partying people, and we met back at Harry’s Corner to regroup. I went to dba to see the Wild Magnolias, a Mardi Gras Indian group chanting through the Mardi Gras classics. It was a fun show, and they were out in their blue suits.

Saturday was a slow starter after the late night show at dba. I made a quick grocery run and then I took a short walk through the Quarter, with a stop at Harry’s Corner. The bartenders were in superhero costume, probably appropriate on this weekend as they were working heroically everywhere I went. I stopped at the Hole in the Wall, and took some street pictures. A college girl in full beads and feathers asked me to take some photos of her, and Mz. Tina had to get in the act. Working it every day!

I went to the mask market and purchased a quality leather mask. The mask market is on the uptown side of the French market the weekend before Mardi Gras, and there are a couple of dozen artisans selling homemade masks. Some of the feather creations are costumes in themselves, and I saw several of them out and about later in the weekend. The rain and wind picked up and I ducked into Mollie’s for a couple of beers, massaging my mask like a baseball glove to break it in. I walked next door to Turtle Bay and they were cooking crawfish.

My friend Susie gave me an invitation to a balcony party on Bourbon Street. I had not been on a balcony on Bourbon during Mardi Gras, so I had to do it once. The costume for the evening was all black with a pirate hat including a black and gold feather. A solid base for a more elaborate costume later!

The party was sponsored by Yuengling Brewery, and they provided throws and beer as well as the space, the upstairs of the Maison on Bourbon. There were some fun people on the balcony, and some boorish thirty something ex-frat boys. The religious weirdos had posted up on the corner under the balcony carrying large crosses and haranguing the crowd with their “the end is near” message. I almost converted, they were so convincing. The frat boys started throwing beads at the cross bearers, feeding their sense of righteousness, and then the Christians started throwing things back, hard, at the folks on the balcony and challenging them to fight. Turn the other cheek and all that apparently doesn’t apply if you are preaching the word to the sinners. The state police were out in a group of about a dozen on the corner protecting the zealots, but not correcting the threats. They did break up a slap fight between two girls dressed in skirts and body paint, but I think they were picking and choosing who they wanted to interact with. It is hard to blame them, as the experience was overwhelming. The whole scene was a bit weird, even for Mardi Gras, and a bit of a downer. It was time to go. One of those supposedly fun things to do that you should do at least once.

Sunday started out still in summer temperatures, in the 80s. Cecile had invited me to go Uptown to a party on the parade route and then to stage for the big parades at her parent’s fancy condo on St. Charles. I made my way over to Touro, but the house was dead and there were sleeping people all over the living room. I went for coffee and came back, and folks were up and moving, but not ready for an afternoon out after a four in the morning bedtime the night before. I went with the more subtle Uptown costume, playing Johnny Depp playing Hunter S. Thompson, with tropical slacks, a bright Hawaiian shirt, a panama fedora, and dark glasses.

Around 3 in the afternoon, it just started to pour rain. I waited out the storm at Tujague’s, having a sazerac and an old-fashioned. After the rain passed in the company of groups of wet tourists, I took a break before going out to see John Papa Gros playing with Big Chief Monk Boudreaux at dba. Monk Boudreaux is 77 years old, and one of the first Indians to be recorded as a musician with Dr. John, John Papa Gros’ mentor. The highlight of the show was Monk calling Indian Red with John Papa Gros backing him.

Lundi Gras, Monday of the week, was the day that the Red Beans parade rolled through our neighborhood. The costumes are made from beans glued or sewn into creative costumes. this year’s was a little somber because two members of the krewe had been killed by a drunk driver the day before. It was hard to tell they weren’t partying hard by they got to Buffa’s, my neighborhood bar. After the parade, I ran over to Frank’s to buy a muffaletta for my contribution to the buffet on Tuesday.

In the evening, I met up with Jen and her friend and we went to the reviewing stand to see Orpheus. My costume was a jester hat, a tie dye shirt, mask, and glitter tuxedo jacket. It was a little less formal, but more fun as Mardi Gras approached.

We got to see a few of the big floats, and the rain started again driving a lot of people away from the stands. I experienced being showered with beads, too many to catch. I held my arms up and beads just strung themselves on my arms. It was too cold to stay for long, so we walked back across the quarter, this time doing the pub crawl from the Chart Room to Harry’s Corner to Manolito and back to Touro Street. A nice relatively mellow way to prepare for the big day.

Mardi Gras came early. I got dressed in my full King Tut outfit, with the addition of fleece underneath, as it was about 40 degrees. I planned to try to intercept the Krewe of Kosmic Debris on Frenchmen, or to walk with The Society of Queen Anne, both informal walking krewes, in the morning and then head back to Touro Street to hang out with Cecile and Chris and the rest of the neighborhood.

I headed towards Frenchmen a little before 9, fully decked out, and saw a large crowd gathered in front of the R Bar, all in costume and enjoying the day. I went to dba, the rendezvous spot for Kosmic Debris, but they had not arrived and the street was full of costumed people headed towards the R Bar and the Quarter. I went back to the R Bar where they were charging $10 for a Bloody Mary, and decided to change plans. I hung around there for a while, not recognizing my friends in their homemade costumes, and being photographed a lot. I ran home, gathered food and liquor, and made for Touro Street.

The Queen Anne parade rolls on Royal, just a couple of doors up from Cecile’s, and she keeps an open house going all day. Ellen across the street also throws a party, and people migrate back and forth. Parade goers walk up and down the street, and another neighbor is the founder of the Krewe of Confetti, which consists of half a dozen confetti cannons they use to greet the parade by shooting off every half hour or so in a brief ceremony. The street is absolutely packed with people from Royal Sushi to the R Bar, and the parade rolls right through the crowd with bands and dancers and small human powered floats. It seemed to be a long parade, or perhaps just slow.

It was sunny in the front yard of Cecile’s house, and I stood out front talking to the people passing by. I ended up serving as the de facto doorman, with dozens of people asking politely and offering money to use the bathroom. As they say, “Ain’t no place to pee on Mardi Gras Day”. I didn’t take money, and Cecile was graciously allowing folks into her house. I was gifted with a black leather flogger by a woman wearing no shirt who was extremely grateful to use plumbing. I didn’t refuse it or pursue it, and she she ambled off down the street, hopefully for home.

Cecile, Chris and I took a walk down Bourbon late in the afternoon because I had never done it and they had not done it in years. It was a crowded fun mess, with everyone dressed up or undressed and having a good time. The rabid religious folks seemed to be taking a break when we walked, which was a nice change from earlier in the weekend. We ended up dancing briefly in a couple of clubs and heading back to Touro Street. The parading had mellowed out at dark, but people were still walking up and down in costume.

A great Mardi Gras!

The Krewe of Muses

I missed Nyx on Wednesday, mostly due to bad planning and a lack of motivation brought on by a late big lunch at Bamboula’s. I love their fried oyster po-boy, and went home to take a nap before walking uptown to see the parade. As it approached time to go, it started to pour down rain, and I decided to stay home. Maybe next year!

I made up for it with the Muses on Thursday. I was invited to the float prep party at Cecile’s to photograph one of the float Krewes getting ready for their day. They had a catered lunch and bar, and the twenty or so women transformed themselves into Muses with black costumes, red wigs, and makeup. This was the first New Orleans event where I was the “official photographer” and it was a lot of fun.

After a couple of hours of eating, drinking and primping, the women got on a fleet of pedicabs for a ride through the Quarter in full costume to their big pre-party luncheon. They would continue on to the staging area for another party, and then on to the floats. Over 1100 women participate in floats with comedic or satirical themes.

I stayed with Chris and his daughter Jennifer, and we relaxed for a while before heading across town to the Ace Hotel. It was a good place to stage, just two blocks off the parade route but not crowded. The folks in the bar appeared to be mostly locals escaping the parade. We walked right up to the back of the reviewing stand, and found a gap where we could see the floats and the bands. I got to see the St. Augustine Marching 100 for the first time-impressive!-and the flambeaux which are a little scary. It is a bunch of guys in casual costumes carrying propane bottles in backpacks and large propane torches. I’m fairly confident OSHA would not approve. It was not a great place to catch throws and I did not bring a camera, but we saw probably half of the Muses floats before Cecile’s came by. It was a good Carnival day!

a link to more photos:https://adobe.ly/2TIqvxV

The Mystical Krewe of Barkus

The day was perfect for Barkus, sunny and mid-60s. I walked with the Touro Street crew along Royal, feeling seriously under-hatted, so I purchased a pirate hat for the day and a positive addition to the costume closet.

We wandered over to Johnnie White’s, awaiting the parade. Most spectators had dogs, and it was quite a thing to see so many city-mannered dogs in one spot. I did see one stressed out pup, shaking like a leaf from all the people and the noise of bands, but most dogs seemed to be adjusted to the almost insane level of activity.

The parade theme was The Big Bang Theory goes to Comicon, so we got to see all kinds of science fiction and comic book outfits on the people and the dogs. I loved the reactions of some of the little kids-puppies dressed as comic book superheroes hit a lot of buzzers. And wore some of them clean out.

I got a chance to play paparazzi, with the front man for Arcade Fire on the balcony across the street and then on the street a few feet away. Where the stars come out to play?

We walked back along Bourbon to the R Bar, and joined in the post-parade nonsense for a bit, meeting some very perplexed Illinoisans who had lost their hotel after a long travel day and a bit of unaccustomed day drinking. Six o’clock in the evening on a parade day in New Orleans is like 3 AM everywhere else. I think it was entirely outside of their experience to be asking for directions from masked and tattooed pirates drinking shots in a barber chair. Once they let go of the anxiety, they seemed to have fun.

We ended the night on Ellen’s porch. Another great Carnival day!

Krewe of Cork

Summer, at least Craig style, has hit New Orleans for Mardi Gras. it has been 80 and humid for the last several days, and I am glad that my sailing wardrobe works in this weather. After a big tattooing session on Thursday, I had a mellow evening sewing on my costume.

I walked through the Quarter to connect with Katie Leese, the artist who lived in Ketchikan for a couple of years before moving to New Orleans. She sells whimsical pieces featuring cartoony birds and inspirational text to folks on Jackson Square. We have mutual friends in the art crowd in Ketchikan, and it is good to connect with someone from home.

Friday two parades were rolling in the Quarter at once, Cork and Kanaval. Jill and Eileen from Touro Street were walking in Cork, so I decided to stalk them. I staged on Bourbon Street at Hole in the Wall with my big camera. The Krewe of Ponchatrain had rented out the restaurant upstairs, and beads were raining down. The Chalmette High School band marched up and stopped in front of the bar for half a dozen songs as the walking krewe passed by.

A woman on the street was advertising Nipple Glitter, and dozens of frat boys took advantage, and then a few bold women took off their tops and had pasties painted on. Within a few minutes, they had more beads than they could wear. This known as a mellow parade, and a kickoff of the first big Mardi Gras weekend, so I am anticipating some wild stuff as the week goes on.

The Krewe of Cork is wine themed, and the “good” beads have wine corks in them. I was photographing, and the “Lady of the Vineyard” approached me and said “It’s Mardi Gras, baby. You need some beads” as she draped them over my neck. I think she was probably right. They had a couple of good brass bands, with at least one Frenchmen Street regular-Miles-playing tuba. These are working musicians.

I walked from there to Touro Street to visit with Chris and Cecile, and then on to Buffa’s for a sandwich. Boon, the bartender, insisted that the music show was worth sticking around for, as it was an all-star collection of players, including a visiting player from Chicago. The 9 o’clock show was Joe Krown on the piano, Johnny Sasone on the guitar, and John Pohl on the blues harmonica. John Pohl played Chicago-style blues with great vocals. It was a good way to end the night, even if it ended a little later than I intended.

After a grocery store trip in the morning, I walked the Quarter Saturday, not venturing uptown for the bigger parades. I am still in search of the last few bits of costuming (trousers?) and found a great vintage jester hat for $5. The perfect topper for a glittery tuxedo. I talked with Trisha from Wisconsin at Harry’s Corner, also a snowbirder. She works events for fun, usually as a runner or expediter for the out of town talent. She suggested that it was fairly easy to get some of that gig work. It might be fun.

I went to Manolito’s, and had another excellent daiquiri. Andrea was tending bar, and she is one of the owners of the place. We had a nice discussion about New Orleans history, and Cuba’s place in it. She is interested more in mid-20th century stuff and knows a lot about the mob in New Orleans. A fun conversation and she comped me an expensive drink. The 12 seat bar had about half locals, including one of the bartenders from Tujagues. A good place.

The rain hit hard just as I was putting dinner together, so made a night of sewing on my costume. I finished the sewing, and now the search is on for trousers. The mystical Krewe of Barkus today!

Sailing Log, Part 3

We anchored at Rainbow Beach, in front of the only true beach bar on this side of the island. Sadly, Freedom City Surf had not survived the hurricane. I had spent many hours there recovering from my hand injury three years ago, and the people had been kind and fun to hang around with. Tim was suffering from a sinus bleed, and Bill was able to call a doctor involved in sports medicine bleeding to get good advice. Tim took a day off diving, and luckily the bleed did not recur.

Dave, Bill and I dove Rainbow Reef, a sloping coral field just off the beach. There were huge branching corals that we had not seen alive before on this trip. They were six or eight feet tall with individual branches eight inches in diameter, clustered in groups ten feet wide. We had seen remnants of this type of coral, looking like fallen tree trunks, at other sites. It was exciting to see them full of mature reef fish and other critters. The intent for this dive was to do a nice shallow reef dive, but it was so clear and warm that when we looked at our gauges we had descended to 70 feet, and could clearly see the surface.

We moved the boat over to the pier, joining ten boats at anchor, and watching the dive shop boats move on and off the dock. The pier is long, built for a major cruise ship to tie up alongside, and wide, supported by rows of three pillars that extend from the shore to 100 feet of water. We tied the dinghy off to one of the pillars towards the end of the dock, descended, and swam the length of the pier. Each of the pillars is encrusted with sponges, corals, tube worms of many colors, with a bright red sponge catching the eye. There are piles of debris under the pier that provide shelter and structure for clouds of fish. This is the home of sea horses, and we hunted for them. I’m glad I don’t make a living doing that.

We dropped right into a school of Sergeant Majors which provided a convenient marker for where we had left the skiff. We saw a short-armed octopus, and were able to watch it work through a series of colors and textures as it moved from a purple coral, over white sand, and on to a dead black and white coral rock. It’s skin changed from purple and lumpy, to white and smooth, to black and white with square crosshatching as it tried desperately to hide from us. Nearby were cuttlefish, a close relative, swimming in the open water. There were large barracuda swimming along with us, and we worked right into a cloud of silvery fish about a foot long, swimming in unison and somehow staying just out of reach as we swam with the school. This was a shallow dive, starting at 40 feet and working up to 20 or so as we swam towards shore, and the water and air temps were the same 80 degrees. Nonetheless, it was relaxing and fascinating enough that it became my longest dive ever at 75 minutes, and I came out cold, and glad I had a warm fuzzy back at the boat.

The sun quickly solved the shivering, and we began to plan the next day’s dive, thinking that it was time to dive the Wall at Cane Bay. We called and surfed trying to find a rental car, and there was not one to be found on St. Croix. It was frustrating, as one of the fun things about the island is the shore side activities-visiting old Christiansted, the Cruzan distillery, the jungle bar, and seeing the sugar plantation heritage. This is one of the vestiges of the hurricane—St. Croix wants tourists and independent travelers, but the support systems needed are not quite back yet.

We decided to go into town and see if there wer other ways to do this, and walked past a new resort under construction, the Fred, that was holding a fundraiser for the local animal welfare group. We jumped right in and got to meet a bunch of locals while enjoying the view from the fancy resort.

We moved on to a bar closer to the boat, for excellent flatbread style pizza—English Stilton cheese and Granny Smith apples, goat cheese and prosciutto—and pool. One of the women beating Dave and Tim at pool had a car key dangling from her belt, so i asked her how to get a ride to Cane Bay. She pointed to her boyfriend at the end of the bar and said talk to that guy. I went over and met Paul, who is a construction guy doing hurricane reconstruction. He has a pickup truck, and was planning to go to that side of the island anyway. He offered to give us a ride over in the morning, leaving it up to us to find our way back.

Bar talk being what it is, we were all pleasantly surprised when he met us at the dock as scheduled in the morning. We threw our gear in the back of the truck, and rode in the back across the island. We got the full jungle tour from the open bed, and got to Cane Bay. Paul refused money even for gas, and it looks like we all owe the universe one. The dive shop was extraordinarily friendly, bending over backwards to make our dive a good one even though we were only renting air from them. The dive is a walk across the road, a surf entry(low waves on this day), a swim of 200 yards or so, and a drop into 40 feet. The reef is coral canyons that run perpendicular to the beach, and end abruptly looking over 3000 feet of deep blue water. We swam down to 100 feet or so, and then worked our way along the wall. A shark joined us from the depths, paralleling us for longer than is comfortable. We had a nice easy swim out, and a great brunch at the Cane Bar to celebrate Dave’s last St. Croix dive. We broke down and had the dive shop folks call us a taxi to get back to Fredricksted.

We got Dave to the airport the next day, and did some chores-fuel and laundry-as we prepped for a night dive on the pier, hoping for that seahorse.

We didn’t find seahorses, but did swim with a school of five foot tarpon as they cruised the edge of the pier. We were glad once again to be the biggest swimmers under the dock. The colors of the encrusted pillars were enhanced by the dive lights, but it was a little disconcerting to meet two groups of other divers in the dark. A little confusing to keep track of our guys, and disconcerting to have a crowd under water.

We moved the boat in the morning back to Rainbow, and dove Rainbow Reef, this time with Tim. We enjoyed the corals and excellent visibility, and saw a large green moray eel and our first spotted eagle ray of the trip. We had seen a number of shovel nose rays and other stingrays wiring the bottom, but the eagle rays are the big free swimmers that look like they are flying through the water.

After an apparently clothing optional night at the beach bar, we went out to the deep wreck in Butler Bay, the Rosario. The wreck is well preserved, and there are corals that we had not seen at shallower sites, including a feathery white coral inside the pilothouse of the boat.

A big cruise ship came in, and the beaches filled up. The jet ski operator was running hard, and he had the flying jet out, using the power of the ski to lift a swimmer ten or fifteen feet out of the water and let him fly or dive back into the water. Tim and I took a cab across to Christiansted and walked the boardwalk for a little bit, but the transportation system cut our visit short.

The next day we dove a deep debris field called Armageddon, where the debris of the old cruise ship dock had been dumped over sand. The apocalyptic jumble created unusual angles and hide holes for all kinds of reef fish, and the depth, around 100 feet, dropping off to 600 let the big guys come up and check us out. Three reef sharks were interested in us, following us around throughout the dive. I imagined that they were hoping for one of us to spear a fish they could steal from us.

The next morning we woke to a pair of dolphins, one adult and one juvenile, cruising around the edge of the coral and sand hunting. It was Tim’s day to leave, so we packed up and took a tour of the Cruzan Distillery before dropping him at the airport. The boiling evaporation vats taking cane syrup into molasses smelled great, and the aging barrels in the warehouse were fun to see. I didn’t buy rum because the distribution network is so good that I have seen everything I saw at the distillery in local liquor stores.

My last dive of the trip was the Fredricksted pier with Bill. We were on the hunt for seahorses, and found every little bit of debris-bottle caps, buttons off shirts-but no seahorses. A beautiful dive in the afternoon sun, regardless.

While not “the most shameless debaucherie and disgusting immorality” that one would expect of true pirates, we had a great time pillaging and plundering St. Croix. Big adventure next time!