Cruising day 5 – St. Thomas, USVI

Today we have a number of things to do on St. Thomas.

First up was breakfast, the highlight of mine was eating congee. I did a sample with chicken, beef and fish. The sauces are very good with a little spice, it was almost dinner for breakfast.

We disembarked and fought our way through the vendors offering us amazing deals on jewelry and other items. Our tour guide loaded us into a van for our trip across the island to the Coral Reef Beach.

The roads on the island are very narrow and loop around the mountain sides. A bonus is that we are in left hand drive cars on the left side of the road. It was a little disconcerting since our driver in an effort to keep us off the side of the road often crossed the middle line.

We were soon at Coral World Ocean Park. It a combination white sand beach and marine park. We went in the marine park side and headed towards the Sea Trek, a helmet dive adventure.

The helmets look like astronaut space helmets with a handle on the top. We had seen them at the History of Diving Museum in the keys. They weigh about 50 lbs out of the water. It’s connected to a air source via a 200′ hose. In the water the hose supplies air. Because there isn’t any way for the air to escape out the top the helmet it stays full of air. Your head and face are dry as you walk around the bottom. It’s great for me since I can wear my glasses inside the helmet. Because the neck is loose you can actually slide your hand up inside and scritch your nose. They are super simple and first came into vogue with amateur treasure hunters.

We climb down the ladder until we are about 20′ below the surface. There is a hand rail that you hold onto that takes you around the coral areas. There is a scuba diver to keep track and there is a diver in a helmet that leads the way. He points out things to make sure that we see. There is a big shelf that you need to squat down to see under. It’s worth it, it’s loaded with smaller, brightly colored fish.

The lead guy has a bottle loaded with smaller bait fish. He was surrounded by grouper, yellow tail and some smaller black fish. (It’s hard to ask questions since no sound escapes the helmet) (Like the phrase, “In space nobody can hear you scream” from Aliens. ) Anyway he would squirt a bait fish out and it would be immediately snatched up. The guide would need to use his knee to move the fish away as they became too aggressive.

The guide also picks up things off the bottom for us to play with. So we got to touch a lobster, a sea urchin an a starfish. Very cool.

It seemed like we had been underwater for just a few minutes, but our 45 minute tour was done. We climbed back up and changed into dry clothing. In the center of the tower we had walked around are two levels. The upper level is a shark tank that goes around the tower. The lower level has view ports that you can see out and see where we had walked. There wasn’t a dive group scheduled for awhile, so we didn’t get a chance to see what people look like with the helmets on. I need to see how Susan’s Go-Pro underwater camera worked out to see how we look.

We went through the rest of the marine park. There was a big building with a number of smaller tanks with different kinds of fish in them. Out front was a tank with stingrays hiding out in the bottom.

For years I’ve used the term “Off like a herd of turtles.” Today I actually saw a herd of turtles. They have a giant pen an at one end was about 25 red eared turtles hanging out. Very cool!

After seeing all the marine exhibits, we got back in our tour bus and headed back the wharf.

Dad and Betty had lived on St. Thomas for a number of years. One of his favorite places to go was “Tickles Bar” at the marina a few miles from his home. It’s a well known cruise ship stop, but after they are gone at 4:30 the local crowd comes in. They no longer have buckets of beer, but we did have the local St John’s beer and the best conch fritters that I’ve had. So the sprit of Tickles lives on.

After lunch at Tickles we split up. Susan went east to ride the tram up the mountain to see the views. I headed onto the boat to do part one of the “behind the scenes” tour, the second part will be tomorrow. It will end up being a long post, so I’ll save it for later.

One thing I did see from the boat was two giant tanks on the dock. They were 150 feet long and about 25 feet in diameter. What made it super interesting was they were on a 40 wheel transport (10 axels per side, double wheels on each axel.) What was neat was each pair of wheels was an independent swerve drive. This let the driver have exact control on where the transport and the tank were going. He was able to make it crab across the dock and then rotate it around the transport axis to position it to be moved off the dock. The swerve drive has been used by FRC Robotics Team 1640 in their robots for the last few years. They have chosen it for the high maneuvering abilities.

Being somewhat cheap, I’ve been frequenting the “Pinnacle Bar”. They have $4 glasses of wine and a free appetizer, which makes it my kind of place. (Regular wine in $6.95 a glass, and the beer selection is lame). Today at the Pinnacle there was a huge rainbow off the starboard side. It ran from waters edge well up into the clouds. Very pretty.

Tonights dinner was at Le Cirque. Once a week they re-brand the Pinnacle Restaurant something else and bring in cuisine from a famous restaurant. Tonight it was “Le Circ” from NYC. I’m pretty good with paying $80 for dinner for two. And I’ve been known to do $80 a person, most of the time it includes drinks. Tonight, dinner was a fixed price at $79 each, plus wine, plus tip. So we both had high expectations.

First up was a amuse bouche of chicken liver mousse over gelled berry juice. Susan loved it, since I’m not a liver mousse guy, it fell a little flat.

The salad course was a fresh lobster tail over a circle of three kinds of greens, some grapefruit sections, cooked baby green-beans a and sections of cold finger potato slices. The two different sets of sauces played off the ingredients, each mouthful had some other combination playing off of each other. The central ingredient, the lobster tail tied all of the flavors to give a cohesive set of flavor profiles.

Next was a small bowl filled with 1/2 dozen green peas, some small, whole (cocktail sized) onions that had bee blanched and a dumping made of rice flour and parmesan cheese. They then pour in a broth made of fresh peas that have been whisked into a perfect cream like consistency. I had to wait for it to drop from 400F to something I could stick in my mouth without screaming. (In a Restaraunt Everyone can hear you scream) It was very good and well worth the cooling time.

The main course was chateaubriand , it was perfectly cooked to medium rare, which makes it pretty rare for most people. Sides were beets with blueberries, carrots an dried currents that had bee soaked. A flan of horseradish was paired with a small pitcher of the beef juice that was almost a perfect gravy. Wow, just wow. The beef was sliced at table-side to give it that extra flair.

The beef also had an amazing crust on it, it went the entire way around the beef. I found out in the kitchen tour that they have a special beef press that is a suspended rack has heating elements all around it. A few minutes in the press gives it the all around flavorful crust.

Dessert was strawberry Pavlova, but in a non traditional presentation. The meringue was in a ring, and in the center was fresh strawberries. There was also a small pitcher with a strawberry sauce that was very flavorful.

The evening show was the “BB King All Star Band” stage show. It’s a glitzier version of their regular shows that we’ve enjoyed. There is more show with the set moving around some and different scenes. It was pretty good, but I think I like the club version a little better.

I only got a chance to write part of this before it started to sprinkle.

Tonights towel creation was a puppy laying out with it’s paws in front of it.