Holding Back Progress Since Forever – Weird and Wonderful Coral Bay

It has been over four months since the hurricanes have passed. I know, with a fair degree of certainty, that I will not return to the islands to live. I envision myself visiting my old haunts, many years from now, as a tourist. My friends will have aged. Businesses and houses from my past will not be there anymore. It will all be different but very much the same too. I know these things.

fullsizeoutput_c2I spent ten years living on a sailboat moored in Coral Bay and it was the best time of my life. What I was doing – sailing, living off the grid, and writing about it – was like a fairytale to friends and family in the states. Now, it has become a fairytale to me, misty and distant. Professionally, I am still called upon to write about the goings on in the Virgin Islands, but my days are numbered in this capacity. Honestly, I can’t claim to have the pulse of the place anymore.

So, while weak ties remain, I will write my final Coral Bay state of the union blog based on memories, emails, phone calls, and bits and pieces gathered from social media.

Coral Bay is like no place on earth…

Dana Bartlett Carolina Corral

photos by Bill Stelzer

Donkey Dana is still raising funds in the most peculiar of ways. Her newest immersion experience involves tourist paying to shovel horse shit at her trail ride homebase Carolina Corral. She also has an odd scheme in the works having to do with chicken beauty pageants (Gonzo would be proud) – the most attractive chicken or rooster wins a blue ribbon. God bless Dana.

Vanessa Campsey is thriving as usual. Hardship and challenges have been her bread and butter since 1991. Mumbo Jumbo, her eclectic everything shop featuring clothes, jewelry, toys, gifts, shoes and even candy, has reopened and is expanding into the neighboring retail spaces in the Wall Street Complex where the quintessential Buffettesque dive bar/burger joint Skinny Legs is also open for business.

PicklesSpeaking of Jimmy Buffett, Pickles in Paradise is under new management. Kim Edwards, formerly of Baked in the Sun, has taken over the decades-old deli from Beverly Melius. Hopes are high and the hours are extended to seven days a week. Kim has an excellent track record as one of the best bakers in the islands and is a badass business woman.

How does Mr. Buffett tie in? In a vague and indirect way. Pickles in Paradise is a play on Cheeseburger in Paradise. Jimmy was writing/singing about a bar in Tortola in the iconic song, but he gave Le Select on St. Barts the rights to the tagline in trade for free drinks for life. Not so coincidentally, the local artist David Wegman painted the signs for both restaurants.

Le SelectA community hub, Pickles has been the site of the IrMaria memorial garden, the thank you party for the linemen that restored power to St. John, the holiday bazaar, community-wide yard sales, and weekly therapeutic sessions where residents can just sit and talk about their IrMaria experiences with each other.

Another restaurant that has been notably charitable in the face of disaster is Indigo Grill. The team at Indigo stepped up immediately after Irma to provide free hot lunches.

karen kareson

Coral Bay has always been a town of artists and musicians, so it’s not surprising that the open mic nights were high on the priority list of things to get back on the calendar. Pizza Bar in Paradise (another nod to Jimmy B.) hosts one every week. Pickles will resume their cherished open mic soon. And Oasis has the locals belting their hearts out over the bay as well. A bit of a cacophony, in my memory. But hey, I can say that without much repercussion now that I live in Nevada.

Back in business is another famed artist Karen Kareso. Her EZ-Up has returned to the roadside by the firehouse and offers scrumptious and authentic baked goods, sauces, and other Caribbean delights for sale. Her art studio will reopen soon where you can find one-of-a-kind quilts and handmade items.

mermaid swimThe most photogenic of Coral Bay’s businesses reopened last week. Mermaid Cove and Mermaid Swim were thought to be a complete loss. Not so. The mermaid boutique and the home to the swim experience was rebuilt with the rest of the Pickles complex. Crystal D’Abbraccio appeared at Hawknest Beach with 70 mermaid skins and tails for a Funday Sunday mermaid swim that won’t soon be forgotten. Mermaid Cove will be reopened full-time this fall. In the meantime, you can get your mermaid fix on Crystal’s new online store, opening February 1st.

Busy Bee and Flyaway Charters are back on the water too. Busy Bee can take up to six scuba divers on the most customized and intimate diving experience in the Caribbean.

buxomLeah and Colin of Flyaway Charters offer snorkel tours and Jost trips. Ask Leah and Colin for their post-storm story while on-route. This amazing tale involves a wedding; the loss of Buxom, an 80-year-old gaff-rigged Tahiti ketch; the gain of Breath, another historical wooden gaff-rigged ketch; a new business, jet-set travel, and their amazing outpouring of community love and aid. These two are a big part of the heart of Coral Bay.

Calabash CottagesLastly, If you need a place to stay in Coral Bay, the Calabash Cottages are taking reservations. A most charming set of four authentic Caribbean bungalows, these cottages survived the storms splendidly, a testament to traditional Caribbean building techniques. Calabash Cottages are the real deal with brightly colored shutters, stunning views, and breezy covered verandas.

I am connected to these colorful characters and places even as I move to the Nevada desert to homestead and ranch. (Yeah, I know, as different as you can get.) I know Coral Bay will thrive and flourish. How can it not with people tougher than lignum vitae? Keep holding back progress forever, y’all.

Catherine Turner
Catherine TurnerCatherine Turner is a freelance writer and editor formerly based in the Virgin Islands. Her contributions have appeared in many publications including the St. John Tradewinds, Caribbean Travel and Life, Onboard Online Magazine, and the Elephant Journal. In a former incarnation, Catherine was a nightclub owner and a resort showgirl. A lifetime ago, she spent a decade chained to a desk as a computer programmer/data analyst. Catherine recently completed her first novel Carnival Carib. See more of her work at catherineturner.media
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