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Going to School At Sea

I know we’ve mentioned more than once our love of the water and my particular love of sailing. I am mainly self taught and have never had any proper schooling. You don’t need a license to sail or own a boat in most jurisdictions. But if you want to rent or charter a boat you’ll often need to demonstrate competency or have some certifications before they’ll let you take the helm.

I’ve wanted to get my “bareboat” certificate from the American Sailing Association (ASA) for years. The ASA cert would allow me to charter a boat by myself almost anywhere. The dream of going somewhere and just sailing off into the sunset for a week would be easier to obtain. Yes, we have our own boat, but that boat may not be in the destination we’d like to explore. I’d also like to raise my competency levels, too. And, as a bonus, the ASA certification could help in insurance rates for our boat.

I want the training and Amanda wants a vacation. We began doing research and found several programs out there that take you from ASA 101 to ASA 104 (Bareboat Charter Certification) in a week. We both want the adventure but only one of us wants to take the classes.  The problem with that is most of the concentrated courses that do the training in a week are liveaboard schools. We did find one or two that run day aboard, shore at night, but most of those were very expensive. If we were interested in spending up to $7,000 or more that would be an option, but it would also mean that Amanda and I would spend our days apart. We don’t really like that (but if it was affordable we’d do it).

We have our eyes focused on a school in the USVI out of Saint Thomas. It is a leisurely paced, liveaboard sail that allows spouses to accompany you at a discounted rate. The schedule is balanced so there is plenty of time for instruction and fun in the water and on land. The itinerary takes you to St. Thomas, St. John, Jost Van Dyke, Tortola, Anegada, Virgin Gorda and Norman Island.  The best part is we get to explore the islands, learn to sail (and get a paper to prove), it and spend our vacation together.

We haven’t committed to it (yet), but we will be certain to keep you updated as we move along in this process.

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An Airborne Education

South by Southwest is one of the biggest music, film and technology conferences in the the world. The best and the brightest minds in the world converge on Austin, Texas in order to exchange ideas and get clued into the latest trends.  But, you don’t need to be at the festival to take part in the conference.  The “FlyingLab SXSW” brought to you by Lufthansa is the regularly scheduled LH 440 Frankfurt to Houston Flight. The Airbus A380 turns into a flying conference hall as the passengers soaring high above the Atlantic will be purview to experts giving insights on a multitude of topics.  The 15 minute sessions range from the future of transportation, to smartcities. The onboard entertainment system will give attendees live video feeds of speakers and copies of the speakers materials via wifi.

FlyingLabs have taken place on the topics of virtual reality as well as fashion & technology.  The idea using the in-the-air time to promote critical thinking in a conference setting is something that Lufthansa thinks might catch on.  In future, Lufthansa hopes to open up the platform and offer FlyingLabs from third parties.  The idea that companies will use this to introduce their employees or customers to particular topics on the way to conferences, trade fairs and other events is one of the concepts being tested in these FlyingLabs.

So if you want to attend SXSW but don’t have the time, all you need to do is fly to Germany and back.  The FlyingLab is free of charge and runs between March 9th and the 19th.


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Local’s Getaway: Hull Bay Beach

Hull Bay Beach

Hull Bay Beach

Hull Bay Beach is located on the north shore of the island of St. Thomas and is a wonderful place to get away from the crowds of places of Magens Bay or Coki Beach. If you decide to go to this out-of-the way beach you can’t count on a cheap trip via safari bus. You’ve got to have a car or a cab to reach this piece of isolated beauty.

The beach isn’t very long or wide and has a lot of large worn patches of coral that makes it easy to stub your toes in the water. But if you are looking to find a uncrowded beach, this hangout for locals is one of your best choices. Hull Bay’s isolation doesn’t mean it’s deserted, though.

You’ll find a small beach bar, Hull Bay Hideaway, just 50 feet from the boat ramp, serving as an outpost for its larger parent bar just about 100 yards farther back. You can easily find a number of rail drinks at a fair price.  If you want some light bar fare just take a seat the the aforementioned parent bar. You’ll also find a small dive shop, St. Thomas Scuba and Snorkel Adventures, for gear rental and even a barber shop, though it’s only open on Saturdays. If you are looking for something out of the way and with a local flare, Hull Bay beach is a great choice.



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Changes in Paradise

The first time we walked down that dirt path eight years ago and found ourselves on that deserted strip of sand known as Lindquist Beach, we fell in love. We fell in love with the white sand and its crescent shape, as if it were gently holding the clear, calm water in the palm of its hand. We could sit on the sand and only hear the water, the birds, and the sound of the breeze gently rustling the fronds on the palm trees. It was a secluded paradise.

The Clear Water of Lindquist Beach

The Clear Water of Lindquist Beach

The years have brought changes. The beach is still there, the water is still clear, the palm trees still sway in the breeze… but the isolation is missing.

The dirt path has been replaced by a proper parking lot and a wide packed gravel road. A manned gate and attendant stand ready to collect your money, $5.00 per person as non-residents. You can walk or drive down the road toward the beach and a second parking lot that is just for dropping off and picking up beach gear and passengers. You can also find facilities, such as newly constructed showers and restrooms, just off the beach. A lifeguard provided by the park service even keeps watch. The beach that was our ideal of tropical seclusion is now far more popular and we have to share it with a combination of tourists and locals. We know civilization eventually catches up to everyone and everyplace. We still enjoyed our visit, soaking in the water and watching the fish swim around our legs or hiding from the sun on the beach. The privacy and the quiet were just gone.

The Friendly Fish in the Crystal Clear Water

Friendly fish in the crystal clear water

We eventually found out the reasons for the upgrades. The beach we loved had become very unsafe because of the very isolation we loved. The appearance of shall we call them “unsavory elements” harassing beach-goers and treating it as their own private kingdom. We were told that the beach had been closed at one point because of the problems. The solution was for the park service to take over the area and actively manage the beach. We were disappointed, but we understood.

We find places, like people, can change over time. Sometimes it’s for the better, sometimes for the worse. It’s up to you to decide how you treat them when they do.

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Olga Resurrected

The moment we stepped off the plane at Cyril E. King Airport on St. Thomas the pressure of our daily lives began to dissolve and the anticipation began to build as we went to visit an old friend. We knew we could have taken the safari bus from the airport but settled for the expediency of a cab, and the cost of $20. The right turn from the left lane into the historic enclave of Frenchtown, at the far northern tip of Charlotte Amalie, simply made us smile. We bumped down a narrow street between ballfields and the shopping center until we rolled down the little road that meandered between the old 100,000-gallon cistern and the shoreline until the road ended. We gleefully hopped out of the taxi and up the stairs to the wooden deck and reception desk of the renovated and rejuvenated Olga’s Fancy.

The "Lobby" of Olga's Fancy

The “Lobby” of Olga’s Fancy

A coat of blue paint and colorful embellishments on the underside of the awnings seemed to breathe new life into the hotel. Olga was still Olga though, with a main house on the ground floor, then up one level for a breakfast nook, then another to the pool deck and a completely renovated pool. The other sections of the hotel were still accessed by wooden stairs that ascend the side of the hill, branching off to three separate blocks of rooms, two with views of the pool and the harbor and a third, our favorite, with a view of the water and Hassel island.

The rooms were still small and efficient, but with some major renovations since our last visit. The sink and vanity had been replaced with a much more modern fixtures; the bed, end tables, lighting fixtures and chairs were replaced and upgraded as well making the small room feel much more chic. Gone were the old bathtubs with mismatched fixtures (not that we minded the hot and cold knobs both saying cold and being from different decades), replaced with large tile showers. The water pressure and the hot water was not exactly what we’re used to with our gas-powered hot water heater, but did the trick to wash the sand off your body and out of your hair after a long day of swimming at the beach. The most important thing about the room hadn’t changed: the view. The view that amazed us on our first trip was still there. We were perched above the water, allowing us to watch the boats go by in the channel and the seaplanes buzz by as they landed. At night we were lulled to sleep by the sound of the water gently crashing against the rocks.

The view from our room.

The view from our room.

Change can make you nervous. We’ve seen places we love change — and not always for the better — but this time the differences fit well with our memories. The changes made while resurrecting a place we so sorely missed leave us confident that Villa Olga, now Olga’s Fancy, will be there waiting for our return in the years to come.

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Finding Our Way…

We’re on the road and a lack of light couldn’t stop us. The power was out at our apartment complex. I’ve had years of practice getting ready in the dark with my early morning shift work. We got in the car and down to the complex gate and were stopped in our tracks. The lack of power meant the power to move the heavy iron automatic gate was cut too. We couldn’t get out. While Amanda got on the phone with the emergency contact number we drove to the gate at the loading dock, it was manual. I repeatedly tried pulling the chain that turned the fly wheel to raise the gate only to be blocked by a padlock placed on the chain. We go lucky in the distance back at the main gate a set of headlights. The gate was open. The maintenance man was there working with the gate to lock it in the open position. We said thanks and hit the empty roads to the airport. We’ve boarded now and can’t wait to talk you about our trip in next weeks post.

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A New Kind of Club at the Airport

Are you a gym rat? In the No Kids family that title goes to Amanda. She is at the gym for at least an hour (sometimes more) five days a week. Amanda is one of those people who just don’t feel right if they don’t get a workout in. I find this admirable. She has also found herself traveling more for work and that has been getting in the way of her routine.

I found out the other day by watching my all-knowing Twitter feed that a gym opened inside BWI (Baltimore Washington International Airport). A gym at an airport just isn’t something that’s ever been on my radar as a slacker. I immediately realized the world of options that an airport-based gym would lead to. You have a long layover, go for a run, lift some weights, work of some of that stress. For people like me whose legs cramp after flying long distances, seize the opportunity to stretch those muscles before continuing on your next leg.

Airport Gyms Website

Airport Gyms Website

You’ve always had a lot of workout options while traveling, but you may not have realized it. The website Airport Gyms gives you names of hundreds of gyms located near and sometimes in airports across the US and Canada. The biggest downside of a gym located even 10 minutes away is that you have to leave the airport. Depending on traffic, that could lead to a lot of stress about getting back to the gate for your flight. The cost of a taxi and what to do with your carry-on are other issues. But Airport Gyms has an easy-to-use interface and provides information on hours, location, what they offer, and the cost of a one-day pass.

ROAM Fittness

ROAM Fitness

The latest club to enter into the market is ROAM, which opened its first health club in the aforementioned BWI.  ROAM is focused on being your one-stop shop and catering to the needs of travelers. The new fitness company has put their gym behind the security gate so you no longer have to worry about getting back through the line after an attempt at an off-campus workout. ROAM also has included showers, and for me that alone would be worth the cost of a pass: $25 a day, $150 a month, or $500 a year. I mean there’s nothing like the guilt of being the guy on the plane who’s starting to turn ripe after 20+ hours of traveling.

The gym is all-inclusive, too. You have access to private showers and receive complementary clothing and shoe rentals for your visit and they even provide the towels. If you want to wear your own workout clothes but don’t want them stinking up your suitcase, they’ll vacuum pack your sweaty clothes. You also have a concierge who will keep track of your flight and make sure you don’t lose track of time or tell you when your flight is delayed, leaving you have more time to work out. ROAM may only be at BWI for now, but they make no secret about their plans for expansion.

I don’t love working out. I just don’t. I don’t seem to get the mental benefits that Amanda gets from doing it. But the idea of access to a gym — and especially a shower — during a long flight delay seems to be worth the price of admission.