There are those who believe that Florida’s high per-capita ratio of assorted nut jobs and anti-social lunatics is just an accident of geography. The line of reasoning goes something like this: as most communities are not big fans of eccentrics, over time the solid citizens stay put and the crazy folks move on to a new place. This place is usually south – no one knows why south – and the pattern repeats itself until the traveling misfit finds a suitable home. The true whack-jobs usually wind up in Florida not as a result of any grand plan, but simply because they run out of real estate. Statistics involving bizarre crimes and Darwin Award-worthy antics bear this out. Taken to its logical extreme, Key West, Florida is the ultimate expression of this phenomenon. To make it all the way to the end of Highway 1 without finding finding a suitable environment means you’re really a deviant. Duvall Street is metaphorically and literally the end of the line.
Unless of course, you have a boat.
Welcome to the US Virgin Islands. Absent the possibility that another country is willing to take you, here marks the spot of southernmost progress. On the east end of St. Thomas, temporary home of St. Somewhere, you will find the delightful hamlet of Red Hook. Abandon hope all ye who enter here.
I’m kidding. Sort of.
Best I can tell, the local economy is based entirely on providing sailors with booze, food, illegal drugs, and overpriced boat stuff. Imagine a small town where everybody knows everybody filled with drunken sailors stumbling out of the numerous watering holes. Live music abounds and cheap happy hour food is plentiful. Logistics demand that we take full advantage of this place and the only slightly overpriced supplies before we sail south.
Standing by the corner is a mismatched cast of characters. Tired locals just off of a work shift, giggling kids in school uniforms, and weathered boat bums in desperate need of a haircut mill about with no apparent reason for standing in the sun. An obligatory crazy person shouts loudly about Jesus and the government to nobody in particular. For the third time today, a skinny dude with long dreads asks if I need any herb. Unmarked by any sign but known to all but the tourists, this is where one catches a ride on what is known as “the safari.” For a dollar (or two for very long rides), you can hop aboard the back of a 3/4 ton truck outfitted with bench seats and an awning. It’s about as confortable as it sounds. The truck revs to life and lurches its way up a hill. Oblivious to potholes and the laws of physics, the driver accelerates constantly until he brakes hard for the next rider to jump on or off. It’s a bargain, given that it costs about 1/40th the price of a taxi to take the narrow, winding carnival jostle that is a ride across St. Thomas.
We anchor just outside the narrow inlet, the harbor filled with million-dollar charter catamarans and squatter-worthy floating heaps of maritime hopelessness. The ferries to Tortola and St. John apply full throttle just as they clear the channel, sending every one of us rolling. For these frequent man-caused tidal waves we have secured everything aboard as if we were on passage.
Soon we will be. The larder is stocked and the tanks are full. We wait only for a break in the weather before we once again venture out to sea.