Saturday, June 06, 2015

Welcome to the USA: Breaking Rules on a Paddle Board

We had just grabbed a mooring ball in the beautiful Peter bay on St. John when we heard the distant rumble of a dinghy motor rounding the bend. This isn’t unusual in a more populated anchorage, but we were (at the time) all alone in our bay with not a single other cruising boat anywhere for miles, so this wayward dinghy was curious. Particularly because he was coming right for our boat.

“Do you know where I can beach this thing to go ashore?” the somewhat frazzled driver asked, “I keep getting yelled at that I’m not allowed to bring this thing near a beach, how the heck do you get to a beach around here?” It appeared our friend had gone from bay to bay in search of sandy toes, but was having no luck. Scott pointed out where he thought would be okay, and with that he put putted away.

That should have been my first clue that something was amiss. Turned away, from a beach? Hmmm….

We’d sailed over to St. John after breakfast to meet up with our friends on s/v Mary Christine (Where the Coconuts Grow) and s/v Necesse (It's A Necessity) to celebrate Jody’s birthday. Any excuse to head over to the beautiful island of St. Johh and meet up with good friends to enjoy a delicious meal (fresh caught lobster!!) is good enough reason for us, so we made the short hop over from Soper’s Hole. Jody and Peter have become experts at the USVI’s and know all the hot spots and great anchorages, and this one didn’t disappoint. The water, the views, and the beach were about as perfect as it gets and the next morning I decided I was going to attempt a re-do of my ill-fated mother’s day snorkel. I put the babies down for their morning nap and armed with my snorkel gear and our underwater camera I hopped on the paddle board to see what I could see.

“If you paddle over to Trunk Bay, there is an ‘underwater hike’ with numbered buoys and everything” Scott told me, “It should be just around the corner and is supposed to be really nice”.

Underwater tour? Perfect. I now had my destination.

I started paddling away, mesmerized by the incredible water around me and having one of those, “pinch me, I’m dreaming moments”. Being alone on water so clear I could see the colorful fish below me, surround by incredible views of island ridge lines in the distance - all against the backdrop of a lush, palm dotted hillside under the glorious tropical sun was enough to bring a tear of joy to my eye. It’s not all perfect living on a boat in paradise, but sometimes it is - and this was one such moment. Gratitude was overflowing. #thankyouuniverse

I basked in the quiet solitude, listening to the waves crash on the reef and the gulls chattering overhead, when I slowly rounded the corner to the next bay.


There before me was a beach so full of people it could have been on the coast of southern California, life guard stands and all. Dozens of snorkels dotted the water off the shore, kids ran around and built castles in the surf, couples played paddle ball under the shady palms, and at least fifty or sixty sunbathers lounged in chairs. And it was only 9:30am! I was shocked by the sight as it was such a deviation from our quiet, sleepy little bay just around the corner but, whatever, no big deal. I've been a bonafide city girl for much of my life so the energy of crowds is something I enjoy from time to time. I paddled forward toward the beach in search of this illusive underwater snorkel tour when suddenly I heard a muffled, but very loud, male voice over a megaphone.


What the..??? Surely he wasn’t talking to me? I stopped paddling immediately and looked around. Sure enough, I was the only paddle boarder in the bay, and apparently I was breaking some sort of rule.


“ATTENTION PADDLE BOARDER” he yelled again, this time with a little more gusto. If they weren't already, I have no doubt that most everyone on the beach stopped what they were doing to look up to see what this delinquent interloper of a paddle boarder was doing.


Um…yeah. If there was a chance I was heading to the beach on this particular excursion, that chance was quickly murdered by the booming voice on the loud speaker.

To add insult to injury, he continued...

It suddenly became very clear to me why our friend in the dinghy looked so frazzled the day before. If I was getting this sort of treatment on a paddle board, I can only imagine what he got driving a motorized dinghy into this designated "swim area".

Horrified and embarrassed, I waved my hand in compliance and turned around to paddle out of view of the militant lifeguard.

I would not, in fact, be taking an underwater snorkel tour on this day.

As soon as I rounded the corner and was back in my own private world, I jumped off the board, tied the line around my waist and suited up for a lovely snorkel. I even got another video of “Dory” for Isla. And I was still technically in the swimming area. Take that lifeguard man!

I am nothing if not a rebel at heart, but - next time - I will do my best to break the rules under the radar.


Unknown said...

That happened to me too!! We were using the mooring balls outside the swim area at Trunk and decided to dinghy in. I followed the dinghy channel to the VERY FAR end of the beach. While pulling the dinghy up on the sand I thought I would move it over a bit to leave room for another dinghy. The lifeguard ran all the way down the beach to tell me to stay within the markers. I told him I did stay within the markers all the way to the beach...he said "well you're not inside them now"!!!! I was about three feet to one side!!! Not a nice welcoming! So we also went around the corner and snorkeled ...I think there is an airplane engine in there somewhere!

Jean Baardsen said...

We were at Trunk Bay in the early 1980's. I can't imagine what you just described. Back then, we were able to drop anchor in the bay. It was too rolly for an overnight, but we wanted to go to that underwater trail. If it's any consolation, I didn't think much of it. A lot of the coral seemed dead. There were a bunch of signs, not marking much of anything. I found better coral off to the side of the trail. I wrote about it in a newsletter, and I remarked that the only species that you had to watch out for was a large white-bellied fish, genus Tourist. They tended not to know where they were going and could bump into you. :o) By the way, I loved the picture of you and the three girls on the paddleboard. Beautiful!

Carolyn Shearlock said...

In many places in the US (those USCG regulated and in many states), you can also be cited if you don't have a PFD on the paddleboard. Some states require registeration, too. Really. I've known people who've been warned on both. :(

Unknown said...

Haha!! Brittany! It is quite possible I was there on that beach that morning! My daughter lives on St John and uses her college degree to tend bar in Cruz Bay. She loves it and finds it really hard to think about coming home. I visit her as much as possible and was there at possibly the same time as you! But...we are (my soon-to-be retired husband and I) going to be live aboard cruisers here very, very soon. We will set sail down the ICW this Oct and will most likely be in the USVI next spring or early summer. We will spend time first in the Bahamas honing our rather neophyte sailing skills. we have a very comfortable Hunter 460 and have been spending time (and lots and lots of money) getting all the gear and bells and whistles that I have been gleaning from the extremely interesting blogs that I have been reading (studying)! Yours is one of my favorites. Altho you are younger (only chronologically)and have a young family with you I am with you as a kindred spirit. We will have two cats and a dog - we adopted them for life so they will be along for the adventure. Right now our boat is getting the solar panels hooked up and a watermaker installed.

Anyway- my question. We were able to score 2 paddleboards for a great price from friends looking to upgrade but now we are worried that these huge 11'6"-32" SUPS may be a real hazard on board. They really can only be stored on some metal hooks attached to the stanchions on the starboard bow. We cant really bring them below. I'm imagining some big wind grabbing what we had hopefully tied down firmly and flinging them into the air! I'm dedicated to yoga and have loved trying it out on my SUP and see it as one way to stay fit on board. But did you even think of the hard boards or do you really think that the inflatables are the way to go? What are your thoughts?

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