Maho Bay’s Pepper Sails Again

Pepper the sailboat

After 14 years of sailing out of Maho Bay Camps, Pepper – the little, yellow wooden boat fashioned after an 1860s Island Sloop – is returning back to its roots.  The boat will now sail from the Coral Bay dock, which is mere feet from where it was originally built.

“Pepper was built behind Skinny’s, so we brought her back over here,” said Lance Davies, who now owns Pepper with his wife Kim Sammartano. “We are originating right from the dingy dock, right behind the fire station, right behind Skinny’s. That’s where all the sails will start.”

Lance and Kim
Kim and Lance, owners of Pepper

Lance and Kim purchased Pepper after chatting with its former owners at Maho Bay Camps’ employee going away party. Kim worked at the campground for one season where she was affectionately known as the “beach cafe girl.”

“Kim knew the owners of Pepper through Maho, and at the going away party, they started having a conversation about us buying it. So, we did,” said Lance, who worked as a divemaster at Caneel Bay’s dive shop.

“It was a bittersweet moment,” Kim added. “I wanted to keep something from Maho. I wanted to keep it going.”

Pepper will remain connected to Maho Bay Camps as it will serve as Concordia’s primary sailing charter. (Concordia was Maho’s sister property prior to its closure last May.)

In addition to providing charters to Concordia’s guests, Lance and Kim will also book their own trips. The couple plans to stay in local waters in and around the Coral Bay area. They also plan to intertwine some of Pepper’s history into each charter.

“Pepper was hand built behind Skinny’s in 1998, and is modeled after an 1860s Island Sloop, so she has a bit of a history,” Kim said. “And many people know all about her, some even more than us. We plan to use that history aspect, along with the history of Coral Bay in our daily routine. We hope it’ll be a lot different from all the other charters.”

Pepper can be reserved for either a full day or a sunset sail. Full day charters leave Coral Bay at 9:30 a.m. and will return at approximately 2:30 p.m. The full-day charter costs $95 per person and includes one snorkel stop and a gourmet lunch. Snorkel locations may include Le Duck, Pelican Rock or Round Bay. Next year, Lance and Kim hope to be able to bring guests into Hurricane Hole as well. (Boaters need to obtain a permit before being able to sail into Hurricane Hole. Permits are currently unavailable.) Pepper also offers sunset sails complete with hors d’oeuvres for $65 a person. The boat can accommodate up to six guests and they do combine groups if necessary.

And in an homage to Maho, Kim made sure to point out that there will be no waste stemming from Pepper’s sails.

“We’re really eco-conscience,” Kim said. “There will be no disposable cups or straws. Everything will be reusable. We want to keep the island as beautiful as possible.”

If you’d like to learn more about Pepper, Lance or Kim, you can check out there website Sail Pepper by clicking here. You can also check them out on Facebook by clicking here.


Just Play Brings Fun to Cruz Bay

Just Play signage

Hundreds of kids descended onto Winston Wells Field Monday morning to take part in the fifth annual Just Play event. The event, organized by Dean Dowling, founder of Using Sport for Social Change, was geared toward children ages five through 17 and featured a variety of activities including basketball, tennis, conga lines and more.

We took a quick video of some of yesterday’s fun. Check it out below:

This year’s festivities kicked off Saturday night with a fundraising event over at The Beach Bar. Inner Visions played the event and a good amount of money was raised to help the kids. While on island, Dean will also provide one backpack filled with school supplies to each child attending Julius E. Sprauve School. He is doing so in conjunction with the Global Backpack Project.


A couple Caneel Updates

Caneels Main Page
Caneel Bay’s new website

It looks like Caneel is inching a little bit closer to becoming independent – and at the same time inching a little bitter further from the Rosewood name – as it debuted a new website last week.

When Caneel Bay reopens for the season November 1, it will do so as an independently managed boutique resort. Caneel made the official announcement last month saying that it had chosen to part ways with the well-known hotel group. (See our story on that here.)

The new website touts the resort as being a place to “escape and unplug,” a place for “fun for the little ones,” as well as a destination spot for a memorable wedding. The site is visually appealing but there are a few minor factual errors that bug us a little. For example, it refers to the National Park as the Virgin Island National Park sans the “s” in Islands. It also states that the majority of the island is National Park when it’s really only two-thirds National Park. (Ok, that is technically true, but it’s a bit misleading.) There are a few other factual errors, and yes, maybe I am being picky, but I really think they should have gotten it right.

You can check it out for yourself here: www.CaneelBay.com

Old Sugar Mill Restaurant
ZoZo’s will reopen here on November 1 – the former location of the Sugar Mill Restaurant at Caneel.

The site also includes a brief writeup on Zozo’s, which is also set to open over at the old Sugar Mill Restaurant space on November 1. Here is what they had to say about their new restaurant:

“Perched atop the resort’s 18th-century sugar mill ruins, overlooking the stunning scenery surrounding Caneel Bay, ZoZo’s Ristorante offers a menu of northern Italian fare presented by famed local restauraeur John Ferrigno and his team. Bask in the breeze in this open-air environment while you gaze at the shimmering lights of St. Thomas, scattered along the horizon.”

(I had to add the period in at the end because they forgot that too.)

ZoZo’s menu has also been released. You’ll noticed a few old favorites in addition to a few new dishes. Here is it in its entirety:

Calamari – Fried crispy with pesto aioli and marinara – $14

Bruschette di Giorno – Changes nightly – $14

Speck Wrapped Cambazola – Blackberries, smokes paprika almonds and port wine drizzle – $15

Grilled Octopus – Cherry tomoatoes, capers and lemon rosemary stew – $15

ZoZo’s Anipasto – An assortment of Italian meats, cheeses and vegetables – $15

Oyster and Clam Bake – Blue points with pancetta, arugula and anisette mascarpone; Little necks with spicy tomatoes and crispy spaghettini – $16

Fresh Pappardelle – Wild mushrooms, shaved pecorino and white truffle cream – $15

Beet and Goat Cheese Ravioli – Micro green pickled beet salad with fresh sage brown butter – $15

Fettucini Bolognese – Braised wild boar, hot Italian sausage and spicy pomodoro – $15

Lobster Manicotti – Herbed ricotta, Caribbean lobster relish and yellow pepper brood – $16

Orange Salad – Baby greens, toasted walnuts, gorgonzola cheese and raspberry vinaigrette – $15

Lump Crab and Mango Salad – Toasted coconut, cucumber, local arugula and fresh mint lemon vinaigrette – $16

Pesce e Carne

Pan Seared Jumbo Shrimp – Sweet corn aged parmesan risotto and truffled herbed garlic butter – $38

20oz Porterhouse – 28 day wet aged, roasted bone marrow, crispy potatoes; haricot vert salad and chianti demi glade – $46

Caribbean Lobster Tail – Roasted eggplant, yukon potatoes, jumbo asparagus – $42

Grilled Porchetta – Mustard Green, Blood orange and fresh fennel roulade with a hot Italian sausage and white bean ragout – $38

Oven Roasted Mahi Mahi – Pistacio crust, local arugula goat cheese salad; crispy polenta and sweet bell pepper chutney – $38

Osso Buco – Slow simmered veal shank, saffron risotto and broccoli rabe – $40

Grilled Swordfish – Citrus marinade, sun-dried tomato glaze, toasted orzo salad and mango pineapple brodo – $38

Bone-in Veal Scalloppine – Creamy lemon polenta and wild mushroom marsala – $40

What do you think of the new site and ZoZo’s new menu? Let us know in the comments section or over on our Facebook page.


Casa de Sonadores: Beautiful Villa with Spectacular Sunsets

Casa De Sonadores Sunset

Looking for a pristine property with killer sunset views? How about a villa that would allow you to watch the sun dip down below the horizon while soaking in a pool that overlooks the Caribbean Sea. If this sounds like your cup of tea, you should check out Casa de Sonadores.

Casa de Sonadores is a luxurious 4.5 bedroom villa located in Virgin Grand Estates. It’s great for a large family who prefers to spare no expense while vacationing or for a few small groups who enjoy fine accommodations.

Please click here to learn more about Casa de Sonadores.

Beware of New Scam Rental Site

Smart Rentals Site
This is a screenshot of a fraudulent online rental site – Smart Rentals Online.

Maari Casey recently began planning her sixth trip to St. John. Like may people, she viewed numerous properties online in an effort to find the best deal. Maari sent out a few inquiries through different booking websites and soon received a response from a business she couldn’t recall contacting – Smart Rentals Online.

The email stated that Smart Rentals Online received Maari’s request and offered her a significantly discounted rate. They also said they would waive all taxes if she booked within 10 days. (Red flag: No one can agree to waive taxes.) The email left Maari uneasy, so she reached out to travelers on the Virgin Islands On Line forum and asked their opinion. She also contacted us, and we immediately started to do a little digging.

The consensus: If it seems to good to be true, it probably is.

So how exactly did Smart Rentals Online get Maari’s information? Well it seems that they were able to intercept an email she sent through a rental booking site. A few examples of rental booking sites include HomeAway.com, VRBO.com and FlipKey.com. It is important to note that this scam did not originate from an on-island villa management company.

Once Smart Rentals Online intercepted that email, they had all of her contact information including her desired villa and travel dates. They took that information and offered her a deal.

The thing about these sites is that they look somewhat legitimate at first glance. They usually lift the pictures and information from the villa’s real listing and place it on their websites. Fortunately Maari was adept at spotting the signs of a scam; however not all travelers have been that lucky.

We reached out to all of the villas and villa management companies who advertise on our site to make them aware of this scam. The stories we heard from some were pretty troubling.

One villa management company told us a story of a family who came to the island to celebrate a holiday only to find out that they didn’t have a place to stay when they arrived. They too were the victims of an online scam. Fortunately the villa management company was able to find them a place to stay during one of the island’s busiest weeks of the year, but the family ended up paying double for their accommodations.

Another villa owner told us how her villa was listed on one of these types of scammer sites in March of last year. She learned of this after being contacted by a potential guest who had spoken with the scam company over the telephone.

“This man almost did it until he noticed on my site that the villa wasn’t available during his dates. The company that contacted him said it was,” said the villa owner who asked to remain anonymous. “The big key is the wire transfer. They always ask for a wire transfer.”

“Never wire transfer,” she continued. “And try to pay attention when you’re sending out emails and pay attention to where the responses are coming from. And look out for things that look fishy like when the availability is wide open.”

A few big things jumped out to us when we dug a little deeper into Smart Rentals Online’s website. First, the company said it launched in 1982, however their website was created last month. (A quick way to check out who owns a website and when it was created is to visit www.whois.com and enter the site’s domain name.) Another thing we noticed was that the villas were listed in the wrong neighborhoods. A popular Chocolate Hole villa, for example, was listed as being in Hawksnest Bay, yet the map indicated it was located in St. Thomas.

So what else should potential renters look out for? Here are additional tips from provided to us from a few on-island villa management companies:

  • Always look to make sure the booking company has an on-island presence.
  • Beware of a company that asks for full payment up front.
  • Beware of companies that originate in the United Kingdom and offer to book St. John properties. Several scam companies have originated there in the past few years.
  • Google and/or search for reviews about the villa booking company and/or the actual owner of the company.
  • Be aware of potentially bogus reviews and see how recent the reviews are.
  • Call the booking company and speak to a real person. (Disclaimer: Smart Rentals Online has live people who answer the phones and sound very knowledgeable, so this may not always raise a red flag.)
  • Request the business license of the company and check it for legitimacy.
  • Call the Chamber of Commerce to verify the legitimacy of the company.

And a tip from us: Do what Maari did and ask other travelers for their opinions. You can do so over on our Facebook page or on the forum at Virgin Island On Line. If you find that you’ve encountered a fraudulent rental site, you can report it online. (We intended to provide you a link but since the government is still shutdown, we were unable to confirm the correct link. We’ll add it as soon as we can confirm it.)

Lastly, you can check out our list of reputable villas and villa management companies by clicking here. (Please note: There are many other reputable villa management companies and rental villas on island. Our list consists of businesses/villas that we have personally done business with.)

Embroiled Denis Bay Property Owner Pays Fines; Mitigation Efforts Underway

The embroiled Denis Bay property - File photo
The embroiled Denis Bay property – File photo

The Denis Bay property owner accused of building on and altering National Park Service land has paid the fine imposed on him by the Department of Planning and Natural Resources. Mitigation efforts are also continuing on his property and on the adjoining land.

Tony Ingrao paid the $9,500 fine last week, according Bevan R. Smith, Jr., DPNR’s Director of Building Permits. The fine was due October 3.

As we reported last month, DPNR reduced Ingrao’s fine with regard to an earth change permit. At the time of our initial report, Jamal Nielsen, DPNR Media Relations Coordinator, indicated that “fines to Ingrao were reduced because he was charged for not having an Earth Change permit which he did obtain.” However, Smith clarified the reason for the fine reduction earlier this week.

“This adjustment was necessary because Mr. Ingrao was erroneously charged $1,500 for not obtaining an earth change permit,” Smith said. “It turned out the referenced earth change was done on NPS property, hence, he could not have legally obtained an earth change permit.”

DPNR officials met with Ingrao’s representative on September 20 in an effort to settle the notice of violation. In attendance was Bevan Smith, Phillip J. Smith, DPNR Unit Chief of Building Permits, and Nicole N. Turner, P.E. Chief Engineer of the Department of Public Works. Ingrao was not in attendance; his attorney Hank Feuerzeig attended in his absence.

Bevan R. Smith, Jr. said it was determined during that meeting that a certified boundary survey may was required by Denis Bay Properties LLC. He also said that the Department of Public Works was asked to issue a temporary relief to allow Ingrao to continue mitigation work on a portion of the roadway, which they did.

Mitigation efforts are underway, although they are not completed. The Division of Permits approved work on the upper turn, which will include the installation of sand bags, hay bales and silt screen in an effort to prevent runoff from spilling over to downstream properties. The Department of Public Works also granted a conditional permit to remove the gabion rock baskets that collapsed onto NPS property.

Collapsed gabion basket on NPS land - File photo
Collapsed gabion basket on NPS land – File photo

“Now that DPW issued a temporary relief of their stop work order, the property owner can continue to address the remediation and reconstruction of a portion of the roadway,” Bevin R. Smith, Jr. said. “This includes the construction of the retaining wall, as well as the drainage improvements and the paving of the roadway.  As such, the (Department of Building Permits) will review plans as the certifying agency and continue to conduct site inspection for the retaining wall construction.”

Tony Ingrao is a well-known interior designer based in New York City. News of St. John has contacted his office on numerous occasions, however our phone messages and emails have not been returned. We reached out to his attorney, Hank Feuerzeig, on Tuesday but did not receive a response.

Please click here to read our previous coverage on this topic.

Popular Coral Bay Restaurant For Sale

Photos of Sweet Plantains Restaurant & Rhum Bar, Coral Bay
Image courtesy of Sweet Plantains

After nearly a decade of creating delectable Caribbean cuisine, Prince and Rose Adams have decided to list their popular Coral Bay restaurant for sale.

Sweet Plantains Restaurant and Rum Bar just hit the market for $275,000. That price includes full branding rights; however a potential buyer can also opt to take over just the space for a discounted rate of $150,000.

Sweet Plantains is a charming restaurant located in the heart of Coral Bay with beautiful views of the harbor and beyond. It has a loyal following of locals and tourists alike, and is known for using only the freshest natural and organic ingredients. It has also garnered quite a following due to its one-of-a-kind rum tasting flights. But despite its tremendous success, the Adams decided it was time to move on.

“Rose and I have been running the restaurant for close to a decade, and we love catering to our customers, both locals and visitors, and we will no doubt miss doing that,” Prince said. “We made some great friends and had lots of fun operating the restaurant and living on beautiful, yet challenging, St. John. But island living has its ups and downs, like anywhere. We feel it’s about time to move on to our next chapter.”

The Adams announces their newest venture – MyVIDeals – this past summer. MyViDeals is a social buying website that is very much like Groupon and LivingSocial. The main difference, however, is that it will feature local deals within both the US and British Virgin Islands, as well as Puerto Rico.

The Adams plan to stay locally and said that even though Sweet Plantains is currently closed for the season, they do plan to reopen the restaurant later this year in the event it does not sell first. However he did have a few words of advice for any potential restauranteurs who may be interested.

“If you are planning to open a restaurant here, now is the time to start the process,” Prince said. “St. John is at the end of its off season.  You will have the opportunity to open right before the tourist season. A new business will need to capture as much sales as possible before the slow season. This is very important to succeeding here.”

Sweet Plantains has focused solely on dinner service during its tenure, but Prince said that could easily be changed to include lunch, brunch or catering. With a location like theirs, the possibilities are really endless.

Sweet Plantains has received several accolades over the years including several from the Virgin Islands Daily News Readers’ Poll. They received awards for Best Chef in the Virgin Islands, Best Gourmet Dining, as well as Best Sweets & Desserts. They have also been awarded TripAdvisor’s Award of Excellence.

Want to learn more about this potential business opportunity? Click here to read the full listing.

Click here to learn more about MyVIDeals.

Can’t Shut Down St. John

Image october 7
Phew, aren’t you glad that’s over? After six days of being closed, the St. John’s National Park finally reopened Sunday.

So now that the beaches are back open, we’re curious… which one is your favorite? Let us know in the poll below:

Here are a few of our favorites – oldies, but goodies.

Daily STJ August 15 2013 -imp

Daily STJ June 14 2013

Optimized-Daily STJ September 4 2013 -imp

Daily STJ July 8 2013

Daily STJ July 19 2013-imp

Think you have a great photograph of your favorite beach? Well we’d love to see it! Please send us your favorite image and we may use it as one of our Daily STJ images. Don’t forget to include your name, so we can properly credit you as the photographer extraordinaire! Please send your favorite images to: [email protected]

Back in Business!

Daily STJ June 20 2013-imp
Good morning everyone and happy Sunday!

We received word from Mike Anderson of the National Park Service that the National Park on St. John is now open! So go out and enjoy all of the beauty St. John has to offer!

This only pertains to the park on St. John. The remainder of National Parks remain closed, according to Mike.

Here is some more info as to why the decision was made courtesy of the St. Thomas Source:

“Our management asked for clarification on beach access as related to how the park was created,” (Deputy Superintendent Mike Anderson of NPS) said.

He said that based on advice from the U.S. Interior Department’s solicitor’s office, the park decided to open the beaches, hiking trails and park roads that lead to beaches. The North Shore Road that leads past most of the beaches was open throughout the week because it is a public road.

He said he was not clear on the specifics of what transpired since that discussion happened at the park’s southeast regional headquarters in Atlanta but had to do with the enabling legislation for the park.

“The legal interpretation was that we should provide public access to the beach,” he said.

Anderson pointed out that the opening of the beaches has nothing to do with the territory’s open shoreline law because federal law supersedes local law.

He said that lifeguards will return to duty Monday morning at Trunk Bay, the only beach that has lifeguards. Anderson said the Trunk Bay restrooms will also reopen.

The Visitor Center in Cruz Bay and Annaberg Plantation both will remain closed.

Click here to read the full story.

Buy a House for only $129k … Seriously.

for sale signThere are currently 144 homes for sale on St. John. Of those, 95 are listed for more than $1 million while 15 come in at less than half of a million dollars. So what exactly can your money buy on the island? Let’s take a peek.

The least expensive home came on the market about two weeks ago. I have to say, when the listing hit my inbox, I was immediately intrigued. “Wooded lot with large trees and a nifty large gazebo type structure,” the listing stated. Ok, sounds interesting. Location: Near Gifft Hill. Ok, nice area. Price: $129,000. What?! I immediately contacted an agent to get more details. The response I received almost immediately was, “Do you like camping?” Darn, I knew it was too good to be true.

For those of you who fancy the whole camping thing, this property is a steal … well, that is if you really do like camping. There isn’t a bathroom, nor is there a kitchen. It doesn’t even have electricity, although WAPA service is in place. But it does look like a fun little house … for the right person of course. Check out a few pics below and click this link to see the full listing.

Glucksberg 1
Glucksberg 2
Glucksberg 3

Now that we’ve seen the least expensive, let’s check out the most expensive. You may have heard of it – it’s called Jungle Stone and it’s truly stunning.

Jungle Stone is described as being the “ultimate luxury villa hidden deep within the VI National Park overlooking the pristine North Shore of St. John and the BVIs. The generous 1 acre parcel gives an estate feel with protected boundaries & magnificent views.” Curious what the ultimate luxury may cost you? How about a cool $8.34 million. Check out a few pics below and click this link to see the listing over at Holiday Homes of St. John’s website.

Jungle Stone 2
Jungle Stone 3
Jungle Stone 1

How about something in the middle of these two properties? Coming in at $4,199,000 is a five-acre beachfront estate – Estate Zootenvaal. Here’s the description:

A five acre beachfront estate amongst thousands of acres of federally protected hillsides and coral reef. Less than a five minute drive from the sleepy hamlet of Coral Bay, Estate Zootenvaal represents the ultimate in everything St John has to offer. The compound is currently operated as a short term rental business, but with three recently refurbished guest cottages and a larger two bedroom, two bathroom villa directly on the beach, the property would also make an exceptional family estate.

A family estate, huh? Wouldn’t that be nice. Here are a few pics and again, click this link to see the listing over on Sotheby’s website.

Zootenvaal 1

Zootenvaal 2

Zootenvaal 3

Want to check out the other 141 houses for sale? Here is a list of several real estate agencies on the island: