Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Making Memories… Touring Hassel Island

Convincing Adventure US 2 to join us for a dinghy excursion to Hassel Island wasn’t all that difficult.  The weather forecast that called for the winds to increase later in the day and to continue to be abnormally strong for several days, made it all the more important for us to get out and get our blood pumping!  

The T-Mobile Internet here is dismal but I was able to get a little bit of information about the trails on Hassel Island.  We set out in the dinghies toward Careening Cove but found it a little bit too intimidating with the wind pushing the waves right into the cove and no obvious place to land the dinghies at the trail head.

Second choice was the trailhead on the other side of the island in the narrow channel, between Hassel Island and St. Thomas, called Haulover Cut.  We found a small beach area and dragged the dinghies ashore and locked them to a tree.  I was appreciative of the additional help with both the manual labor and the decision making process, feeling that there is truly safety in numbers.

After a quick review of the trail we turned back up the coast on the well-cleared trail toward the ruins that have intrigued and enticed us since our first visit to St. Thomas.  Turns out that this was once a haul out facility for ships where they did some heavy repairs.

Giant gears to pull ships up the railway

Fire Chambers

Inside the fire chamber

Big Chain!

There are rusted out machines scattered throughout this quiet meadow.  If you close your eyes and try, you can almost imagine yourself falling back in time and sense the hustle and bustle of workers that once inhabited this island.  How ingenious they were in creating machines to do the hard work… tools that have lasted through the years.

After thorough investigation of this facility, we rejoined the trail and continued on.  Of course, much to Bruce’s dismay, the trail at once turned  steeply upward.  Someone told us that SeaTow is maintaining the trail and they must have recently come through as much of it was newly cleared with only a few places that looked vague.  

Our bodies complained silently as we climbed up and up the gravelly path, slipping sometimes but learning to set our toes on an embedded rock to get traction.

Non-stop Guy Talk...

Beginning to get winded...

Much of the vista was hidden by brushy growth but suddenly we would happen upon an opening that provided a stunning view.

We would orient ourselves and figure out where we were and at what we were looking with every stop.  We felt a growing familiarity with this place that can only come with experiencing it on foot…

As we climbed we talked and got to know one another better.  It was fun talking with other people after so much time spent with just the two of us.  We shared stories and created those little “inside jokes” that people do as friendships grow.  We laughed and learned from one another and it was good.

Just when I thought Bruce was about to revolt… we reached a clearing on the hilltop.  There before us were the remains of what was once a battery, strategically placed to protect Charlotte Amalie Harbour.  Now it is a quiet place where the meadow grasses sigh in the wind and the sun shines bright on the jewel colored waters below.

We sat on a bench and let our eyes roam over the anchorage, picking out our boats and then turning toward Charlotte Amalie’s old historic town.   We could see places visited on foot the day before.  All of this is becoming ours as we explore.  We sat and rested in silent appreciation of the beauty at our feet.

Continuing on we went back down the hill and up another where we found more ruins.  At some point they all begin to look alike… and furthermore, they look like piles of rocks.  But the walking was good and we were shaded by clouds and brushy trees that grew in an arch over the path much of the way.  

The Officer’s quarters atop the next, smaller hill looked very tiny.  I went inside and imagined living here and looking out my front door at the view.  What a harsh life it must have been.  Bruce and I have given up more than those people would ever have known and yet they made it somehow.  
Inside... minimalist living
The front door

We sat on the top of this second hill as the skies darkened… each alone in our thoughts, yet together. The wind picked up and whipped the trees and grasses and we shared another private moment.  “Remember that time we got caught in a squall on top of Hassel Island?”.  

We rested a bit until Bruce, imitating  Michael’s silent signal to get moving… gave the sign.  Only Bruce does it with more flair… He’s sort of the Vanna White of “lets get moving”!  Another inside joke…

Soon after starting back down the path the way we had come, we really did get caught by a few sprinkles…  This is beginning to be a “thing” with us… every time we go for a hike we get rained on…  We sheltered beneath the trees until it let up then continued backtracking to the dinghies.

There was about half again as much trail to explore that we didn’t get to… but we will leave that for another day… Remember we’ve been sitting around for four months and our bodies are complaining about all of the sudden activity  

Stopping at every opening in the tangled brush, we gazed out over the water to watch nearby passing squalls… delighting at the novelty of a new perspective .  My mind’s eye imagined our boat on the water down there…

As we trekked along the hillside trail above the turquoise water, Michael said he felt like we were on “Naked and Afraid”.  It’s been so long since we had cable TV he had to explain this reality show to us, in which couples were dropped on deserted islands with little or no clothes or tools… (but with camera crews)  They had to make a life there for 21 days and won a lot of money if they came out of it alive.  And here we were… Not so naked and definitely not afraid, but on our deserted island making our way.  Random.

The yellow line is our path by dinghy and by land.
There was one more bit of trail we had bypassed on our way here, and it provided another view of the cove between Hassel and Water Islands.  It looks a lot bigger from up here than it does from water level… not a bad place to anchor with its own quiet beach…  

We stopped by one last, small ruin where lepers were once housed.  What a sad life for them but what a view!

Too soon we found our dinghies with no small amount of relief.  Not because our hike was over, but  because they were still there, just as we had left them.  As far as we know we are the only people on this island today. but you never know what havoc a wayward, mischievous ghost might wreck on our boats to break the boredom…  

Shoving off, we took the long way home and toured the coastline of French Town and Charlotte Amalie before returning to our boats just as the winds began to pick up.  

Thoughts of returning to shore for some shopping were soon forgotten as the past two days of non-stop physical activity hit us like a ton of bricks.  The winds were our outward excuse to remain on the boat but it was fatigue that really kept us down.  

Throughout the afternoon we read our books puttered around, watching cruise ships come and go while the winds got more and more gusty.  A beautiful moon rose over what would turn out to be a very long night…

But what an awesome day of adventuring it had been.  Bruce and I are much more likely to venture further when we have someone else to explore with.  Earlier in the day as we sat on top of that hill with our friends, we mused… “Wonder what the poor people are doing today…”.  My kids heard me say that once and were aghast… But I didn’t mean poor as in “having no money”… I meant poor as in “having so few experiences”.  And in that we are rich and growing richer by the day.  

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