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The USVI is Back in Business and Letting Everyone Know

The USVI recently detailed a new marketing plan for the islands after the disastrous impact of two category 5 hurricanes in September.  The islands are rolling out a 150-day marketing strategy to help bring tourist dollars back to the islands.

“This new plan has been developed to establish priorities and a road map of activities we will pursue as our destination recovers,” Commissioner of Tourism Beverly Nicholson-Doty stated in a press release.

Nicholson-Doty noted that the new plan will have to remain fluid to handle the ever-changing conditions in the recovery process.

The main challenge for the department is they are funded by the island room tax, which is way down in the post-hurricane islands.

“With a significant number of accommodations unavailable for most of 2018, the marketing plan reflects working with a reduced budget,” she explained.

“Our digital marketing efforts will primarily focus on social media, where we will highlight segments such as cruise, shopping, dining, watersports, beaches, romance, culture, available accommodations and yachting,” she said. She wants the hashtag  #USVIStillNice to promote the islands are open for business and are welcoming guests.

“As we recover from the challenges posed by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, we have no doubt that there is an opportunity for the U.S. Virgin Islands – with a refreshed product and visitor experience – to become the premier tourism destination in the Caribbean,” the Commissioner stated.

She asserted that you will still see the USVI at industry trade and travel shows to help spread the word about everything from voluntourism to vacations in the USVI.

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Packing the Wine Cellar

We are sure that this isn’t a problem for most travelers but it was a problem for us: going on vacation and taking your wine cellar with you.  We’ve mentioned in several posts that my family runs a vineyard and we make some pretty damn good wine.

The idea of taking a bottle or two with us as a gift for our captain and to share with our crewmates was only natural. The problem is that a 750ml glass bottle of wine isn’t exactly TSA approved for your carry on. We had to do a little problem solving on how to get that wine down there and in one piece. We looked at shipping it, but the USPS doesn’t ship alcohol, and the cost for FedEx to ship it was ridiculous.

Yes, we could have given up and bought wine down in the Virgin Islands and it would have tasted just fine. It just wouldn’t have been ours. We realized that we each could check a bag without any cost for our flight. We hate checking bags and can’t remember the last time we did it; it might have been on our trip to Tanzania.

We were both nervous about shipping the glass bottles of wine as luggage. The image of broken bottles and a soggy wine-stained box meeting us at luggage claim was hard to escape. We then devised a plan to pack it extra carefully. We first got a wine box, one with space for 12 bottles. We then chose 6 bottles of wine.

A trip to the office store for bubble wrap to go around the bottles might have been enough for most but we wanted to be sure.  We realized that one of the best packing materials ever created was at our fingertips. A biodegradable and delicious packing material that could be shaped to fit the contours of the box and would soften any impact. What was the miracle packing material? Rice Krispie Treats! I made a tray of the marshmallow and rice snacks and placed them in large gallon bags. Then we packed them in the box around the bottles. The added benefit to this idea was we could eat the packing material as a snack later.

You don’t want to bring cardboard boxes on to a boat. A box takes up too much space and insects often lay their eggs in the glue and then hatch on the boat. So after we collected our box from the luggage conveyor belt we opened her up. We did notice that the TSA had opened the box and retaped it (they didn’t pilfer any of the tempting treats or wine inside). I broke down the box and we placed the bottles in a cloth wine bag. We stuffed the treats in our bag and headed to the taxi stand after disposing of the cardboard. We got some interesting looks in the airport as we unpacked and repacked, and got a few compliments on the creativity of our packing.

We really enjoyed the wine. It was really special to have our wine, that we made with our own hands, while sitting in the moonlight after a long day of sailing.

We opened our best wine, the Sangiovese, on the last night after our final test.

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Convention Center Campers

Ice and high water on the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh

The rain earlier in the week followed by four inches of snow in the Pittsburgh area made the roads a mess. Fortunately, the perfect distraction was just across the swollen, frozen river from our apartment; the convention center was hosting the Pittsburgh RV Show. The event has been around since 1968. You can browse and tour nine acres of campers, RVs and every other product related to hitting open roads and campgrounds.

You inevitably have to deal with a lot of salespeople when you visit a show. The interactions aren’t that bad, they tend to understand that most of the people are just looking. I, on the other hand, enjoyed saying “I’m a sailor, I’m just here to see how the other half lives.”

RVs, campers and boats have a lot in common in that they are all designed around space efficiency. You find very similar bathroom and shower designs in that there is seldom a seperate space for the shower and the toilet flushes into a holding tank. The advantage in the land yacht is the bump out, a section or sections that can push out from the side when parked that increase the interior space; boats can’t really change their configurations. The trip over the the show was fun and a change of pace. We don’t expect to find ourselves trading the high seas for rivers of asphalt, but it was educational.

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Baby, it’s #*@&ing Cold Outside

Image courtesy of The Weather Channel

The last several weeks in the Pittsburgh area and across the entire United States have been downright fridged. Even the places you’d imagine as warm are cold. I mean, even Disney World closed its water rides due to the freezing temperatures in Orlando Florida. Yes, FLORIDA!

We can’t seem to escape the cold almost anywhere in the continental United States. We’ve seen numerous reminders on Twitter that the iguanas falling out of the trees in the Florida Keys weren’t dead, they were just cold, and that if you let them be or moved them to the sun they’d eventually warm up and start moving.

And yes, someone apparently had to learn this lesson the hard way.

The winter storm that went up the east coast earlier in the week closed the airport in Charleston, South Carolina with 6 inches of snow. If you’re from Boston you’re probably thinking 6 inches shouldn’t cause a ground stop, but remember — they don’t have snow plows at the airport in the Palmetto State.

The windchill in Maine is -20. The warmest spot on the map is San Diego at a nice and toasty 69. We’ve talked about it before, Amanda and I are sunseekers. The two of us just thrive on warm weather. We don’t have the opportunity to flee south at the moment, no matter how much we want to. So we’ll cope by only leaving our front door when we have to and spending a lot of time cuddled up under the duvet. We hope you all stay warm and snug until this passes.




Hatsumōde: A Different Kind of New Year Tradition

If you watch Japanese programing, whether it’s anime or dramas, you’ve probably noticed a New Year’s tradition that’s as much a staple to their culture as singing Auld Lang Syne and getting a kiss is in western cultureThe hatsumōde is the first Shinto shrine visit of the Japanese New Year. You can visit one right as the clock strikes midnight or in many cases visit on the first, second, or third day of the year as most people are off work on those days. The prayers offered are often wishes for success, health, good grades and love. You can also purchase new omamori (charms), and the old ones are returned to the shrine so they can be burned. The lines for these New Year’s visits are often very long and the current average temperature in Japan for December dips into the low 40s… though that’s nothing like the single digits we’re seeing here in Pittsburgh.

Photo by: おむこさん志望
Meiji Shrine Sando and Torii New Year Worship on January 1

The most popular shrines can have more than a million visitors over the New Year’s holiday. The Meiji Shrine, for example, had 3.45 million visitors in 1998, and in the first three days of January 2010, 3.2 million people visited Meiji Jingū, 2.98 million visited Narita-san, 2.96 million stopped at Kawasaki Daishi, 2.7 million offered prayers at Fushimi Inari-taisha, and 2.6 million visited Sumiyoshi Taisha. Other popular destinations include Atsuta JingūTsurugaoka HachimangūDazaifu Tenman-gū and Hikawa Shrine.

A common custom during hatsumōde is to buy a written omikuji or fortune. If you receive a bad fortune the tradition is to tie the fortune to a tree on the shrine grounds and wish for a reprieve. The omikuji goes into detail and tells you how you will do in various areas in your life, such as business and love, for that year. A good-luck charm often comes with the omikuji when you buy it; it’s believed to summon good luck and bring money your way.

If you happen to visit a Shinto shrine on New Year’s or any other time this is how you pray.

  1. Pass through the torii gate. All shrines have a torii gate, even if they do not have a main sanctuary housing the spirit of a deity.
  2. Purify your hands and mouth at the “temizuya” water pavilion.
  3. At the altar, bow twice, clap your hands twice, and then bow once to pray.

If you’re worried about being a Christian or Muslim (or follower of any other religion) and not being welcomed, don’t. A shrine visit is a bit like dropping by to say hi to your neighborhood caretaker. You’ll find that almost every locality has a god or goddess. The god or goddess doesn’t need you to worship them (but they sure don’t mind if you do). You just need to be respectful of the tradition and not bother people or violate the sanctity of the site. He/she does not need your worship but will appreciate your gesture. The Shinto gods don’t mind if you follow another religion; your religion might, but the the Shinto faith doesn’t preclude other beliefs.

Happy New Year!

Amanda and Zeke

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I’m Certifiable…

Charts, camera and test results

We’ve talked about sailing a lot the past year and we’ve mentioned our love of the water even more frequently. I was finally able to fulfill a life-long dream and go to sailing school. I prepared for those lessons for months; I studied a lot and took my test preparation more seriously than my years in college. I photocopied the review sheets in the back of the book and filled them out again and again.

The eight-day sailing trip kept me busy. I brought books to read and my computer to do some writing and didn’t get the chance to do any of that. I usually take a thousand pictures on an eight-day vacation. I only had the chance to pick up the camera a handful of times. I hauled up the sails, tacked and jibed, plotted courses and even made more than a few meals.

We took four 100-question tests for our ASA classes. I managed to get the high score on two of the four tests and demonstrated my practical skills were more than competent. I completed the training and was awarded a stamp in my book for Bareboat Certification.

That means I am “able to skipper a sloop-rigged, auxiliary powered keelboat of approximately 30 to 45 feet in length during a multi-day cruise upon inland or coastal waters in moderate to heavy winds (up to 30 knots) and sea conditions. Knowledge of provisioning, galley operations, boat systems, auxiliary engine operation, routine maintenance procedures, advanced sail trim, coastal navigation including basic chart plotting and GPS operation, multiple-anchor mooring, docking, health and safety, emergency operations, weather interpretation and dinghy/tender operation.”

I know that there is still a lot for me to learn.  I’m already looking at more classes (and Amanda is looking forward to more time on and in the water). The trip was a lot of work and at times stressful but it was a very different kind of stress than regular work or life. I enjoyed it immensely and can’t wait to get back on the water again.

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The Soggy Dollar

The Soggy Dollar is a somewhat legendary stop on any sailor’s itinerary. A beachfront bar in White Bay on Jost Van Dyke, the Soggy Dollar has been attracting sailors like a siren for decades. The clear blue waters of White Bay are normally crowded with sailboats at anchor just yards off its sugary sands.

The sugary sand of White Bay

The beach bar gets its name from the condition of the currency seawater-soaked swimmers hand the bartenders. You see, the custom is to jump off your boat and swim to shore for your drink. We followed tradition and jumped in the crystal clear water and swam to shore almost as if it was a right of passage for Caribbean sailors. We walked down the beach ready to order the bar’s signature drink, the Painkiller, a concoction of premium dark rum, cream of coconut, pineapple and orange juice.

The unfortunate thing for us and every other boater was they were still in the process of rebuilding. Jost Van Dyke was hit especially hard by the recent hurricanes and most of the structures on the island were destroyed, including the walls of the Soggy Dollar. Here’s the good news: the legendary bar reopened the week after we visited.

Repair work on the beachfront

If you go to their website they are advertizing for the Virgin Islands Community Foundation as they help raise money for the restoration efforts of White Bay. The bar is currently trying to raise money to restore the palm trees along the beach that were all ripped out by hurricanes Maria and Irma. The Soggy Dollar is also offering perks depending on your donation from your name placed on a plaque in the bar to your name placed on the tree you helped them buy.

The buildings along the shoreline, even the ones made of cinderblock, were leveled. It’s a testament to the strength of the storms. But even with the devastation you can see how beautiful the bay is, why people visit, and why we will definitely sail back one day soon to swim up to the Soggy Dollar.