Reef Madness

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."
Lewis Carroll

Reef Madness Home Page


Part III: Now what? page 2

April 6, 2007

“You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension… You've just crossed over into... the Construction Zone…” As I previously mentioned we began getting an additional mid-monthly invoice from Sunnyrock last month. The change from end-of-the-month statements was explained away as an attempt to stagger the billing of all their clients. Having gone through this transition last month, imagine our surprise when we received another invoice a mere twenty days after the March mid-monthly invoice! These invoices are starting to make us a bit ahhh…grumpy. We were warned by other Sunnyrock clients that the $$$ numbers at the end would go up rather than down, but they didn’t warn us about the ever-changing billing calendar! The constant is the monthly (or semi-monthly) heart stopping sums of money required of us. The truth is, we thought we were prepared for what everyone told us would happen, but we aren’t. Island Time is in flux… Still awaiting answers from our builder on the invoice timing, but work at the villa goes on! A fresh picture from yesterday is evidence of that. The stonework in the main house now goes to the ceiling, and a roof is appearing there as well. Next thing you know… another invoice will arrive…This truely is Madness....


April 9, 2007

There seems to always be workmen at Reef Madness, every day, all the time. I am sure every last one of them is hard at work. After all, we get invoices for their time which of course is evidence that they are hard at work. We pulled this worker aside from his labor for a quick break and a photo-op. He assured us that “island time” was merely an illusion to mainlanders such as ourselves. He’s probably right. And have I mentioned how happy these guys seem to be, laboring under the hot sun? I am sure they are all dedicated workers working feverishly to complete this project... No really, I am a believer!

April 10, 2007

We are still reeling from the invoices, so we thought we would take time out for a somber observation. No one on St John has a sense of humor. The entire island is far too serious and signs of this can be seen everywhere.


April 11, 2007

Thanks to Bob Schlesinger, we have some recent pictures of Reef Madness. Perhaps I was premature in stating “let the rains begin”. The bedroom roof appears to be safe and sealed and ready for the tile. The main house roof looks as if it is unsuccessfully putting on its underwear with a thin robe flung precariously about its shoulders to protect it from the elements. How embarrassing for it!


April 12, 2007

After we met with Josephine of Coral Bay Garden Center, and took her up to inspect Reef Madness, we had some trepidation over how much our landscaping would cost. Landscaping here, as everywhere, does not come cheaply. Anyone working on the steep Reef Madness hillside is required to have mountain climbing experience so they will undoubtedly cost extra! Here are a few things on the Reef Madness proposal: 3 Royal Palms, 5 Christmas Palms, 80 (80?) assorted Bougainvillea, 10 assorted Frangipani, 20 Blue Plumbago, 6 Elephant Ear and 20 Firecrackers. Being very health conscience, I wanted fresh fruit for my rum drinks so she graciously added mango and banana trees to the inventory. How can anyone plant all that stuff on the side of a cliff? One thing we’re sure of: Reef Madness will be the most colorful property on Seagrape Hill. With the lack of rainfall these last few months on St. John, there’s a lot of brown in them thar’ hills. But take a look at this recent picture of Bongo Bongo in Chocolate Hole. You are looking at Josephine’s colorful handiwork after only one year and guess what, they don’t have a gray-water system either! That brilliantly colorful display is one of the main reasons we’re giving our business to Josephine – she’s got a green (some would say “rainbow”) thumb. Plus, she’s just a really nice person and has a great sense of humor…

April 13, 2007

The Virgin Islands Daily News has just declared Sunnyrock Building & Supply the “Best Builder in the Virgin Islands” for 2007. Remember, they said the best, not the cheapest. Our choice of contractors was based on the great looking houses we saw with the Sunnyrock sign posted in front. We’re not thrilled about how much this is costing us, but we keep telling ourselves that in the end, we’ll have one of the best-built and beautiful villas on the island. That’s what’s keeping us going right now. So to Sunnyrock, CONGRATULATIONS! Now get back to work…


April 16, 2007

I thought I would put up a few miscellaneous pictures of Reef Madness to show some of the progress that has been made. Where progress is not being made is with the electric company, WAPA (Water and Power Authority). Sitting at the top of the hill where no one in the history of St. John has ever built before, stands Reef Madness, and there is no power there. In fact, power poles stop mid way up Seagrape Hill and that means no power, no TV cable and no telephone lines exist anywhere close to Reef Madness. So far, everything done in the building process requiring electricity has been run off a couple of leased generators. Our very good friends at WAPA dug holes for the power poles weeks ago, then nothing. They do not return our builder’s calls, they won’t return our foreman’s calls and I think he is related to one of those WAPA guys (maybe that’s the problem). In theory, our poles are laying by the side of Centerline Road, near the top of Bordeaux Mountain. We’ll be there in a month and if they’re still there perhaps we’ll round up a team of donkeys to haul them down to Coral Bay. Interestingly enough, WAPA dug the holes for the power poles before we paid them for any work. Now that they have been paid, the workers seem to be missing. I wonder if they went on vacation.





April 17, 2007

The ever-increasing budget is beginning to cramp our style. Instead of jumbo margaritas on Friday nights we’ve cut it back to a shot of tequila. Some times after getting the Sunnyrock invoice, we need ten shots. Unless we get a paper route or cut people’s lawns on the weekends, it will be difficult to improve our cash-flow situation until Reef Madness is finished and rented. On to Plan B: Cut back on building expenses. How? Perhaps by doing some of the work ourselves, work normally completed by the subcontractors. We passed on the stonework (too hard, and it could be that experience and talent might come into play), forget electrical and plumbing (I think a license might be involved here) and we’ll need to pass on tile work and cabinetry as well for reasons too numerous to detail. Hey, we could paint! Anyone can paint, right??? (We might be angering the gods with this remark!). Besides, most of the walls are stone - no painting there! We can do this! So off we go on Saturday to pick out color samples and paint chips. We are full of ourselves as we march off to the paint store. Our next vacation to the islands will be a working vacation. I wonder what it will truly be like working at the top of Seagrape Hill? No running water, no air conditioning, no pool to jump into if it gets too hot. Hey, how bad can it be? Just think about all the money we will save. Hummm… I wonder how much money we will really save. Enough to buy a couple of jumbo margaritas?


April 18, 2007

NEWS FLASH!!!! WAPA has shown signs of life! Rumor from an unidentified source has it that WAPA has been seen setting power poles in the Seagrape Hill vicinity! Another news flash: The stone masons will be done by the end of the week! Wait a minute…end of week? Hmmmm… I am not betting the family farm on that one. Still, all in all, it looks as if progress is being made and at a faster pace than ever before! The roller coaster ride is on an upswing…at least for today. Disclaimer: No St John Donkeys were hurt or mistreated in the delivery of Seagrape power poles!

April 19, 2007

We’re checking in with our builder almost daily now, thinking that if we bug them enough, things will move a little faster. It’s hard to tell whether this is working or not as we haven’t received any fresh pictures in a couple of weeks. Of course the last time we received pictures, they were quickly followed by an invoice so I’m not sure we should be asking for pictures too often. So now we’re trying to imagine what’s been happening, reading in between the lines of our telephone conversations. This much we know today: They ran out of cypress before they could complete the roof on the main house. They now have more cypress and are in the process of pickling and sealing it. Our trusty stonemasons have completed their work on the main house but ran out of stones before they could finish the stair tower. More stone was delivered a few days ago and they expect to be done next week. Uh-huh… Soon come, pictures to prove all of this. I guess I’d better get my checkbook ready… In the meantime, since I‘m having a very hard time imagining the scene at Reef Madness, here’s a picture of our dogs. I think I’ll let them speak to our builder…


April 20, 2007

Well, it seems that yesterday’s desperate attempt at using my dogs for humor has paid off as we received a new batch of pictures from Sunnyrock of Reef Madness almost immediately. Good dogs!!! The new pictures confirm much of what we were told yesterday: A lot of things are almost done. Witness the two shots below. One is from inside the main house, and it’s pretty easy to see where they ran out of cypress. But doesn’t that stonework look great! The second is from the porch outside the upstairs bedroom. The stone wall in the middle of the photo is the stair tower rising up from below. We think that’s the level where the opening starts that will allow us to look out on Coral Bay as we get to the top. But there should be another wall just to the right of this one. The good news is that there appears to be a pile of rocks sitting there just waiting for our stonemasons to have a go at. Hello – stonemasons? Don’t make me sic my dogs on you…

April 23, 2007

On our upcoming trip to St John, we will need to pick up some paint supplies on St Thomas and ferry them across the channel, so we will rent a car on St Thomas and take a ride on the car barge. As a rule, even though the price is somewhat higher, we like to rent from local St John agencies for two reasons: one, we like giving the business and revenue to St John local residents and two, most of the St John car rental agencies provide free parking in Cruz Bay. If you have ever tried to park in Cruz Bay during high season you know what a bonus that is. When renting a vehicle on St John, your choices tend to be: small 4 WD (4 wheel drive), medium 4WD, or large 4WD. On St Thomas, you must request 4WD. The last car I rented was a Suzuki Aerio. The gas mileage is good and it zips around the hills of St. John with no problem, but the Aerio has these teeny-tiny tires. These teeny-tiny tires give the car a very low ground clearance. The ferry, depending on the tide can have a very steep ramp that the car needs to disembark from. BAM! This car that only had 95 miles on the odometer got its first island war wound, a bumper scrape worthy of 3 or 4 band-aids, and there wasn’t a darned thing I could do to prevent it. The rental company would be well advised to add a line to the ubiquitous “Keep Left” sticker: “Car Barge Travelers – Keep Left and at Low Tide Only”.


April 24, 2007

It’s raining on St. John. In fact it rained all weekend and some amateur weather observers claim that there’s been nearly a foot of rain all told. That means our stonemasons are taking another “vacation” and the stairtower is still a figment of our imagination. However, because there is now a roof on our bedrooms, there is still some work that can go on. Our builder’s men are finishing up the bathroom framing and working on the durock and plastering so that we’ll indeed have something to paint when we arrive in a month.


April 25, 2007

For four days and four nights the sun worshipping tourists have been cursing the Caribe gods. The gods apparently have listened and the sun finally has been spotted on St. John. The heavy rains have come to an end...for now. The picture below is from "Dear Miss Mermaid" on Tortola and shows just how volatile the weather has been in the islands. The water-truck drivers can now go on vacation as those people who actually have roofs and gutters are collecting a bounty of cistern water. That which is good for some, sucks for the rest of us. Will the stonework ever come to an end? Apparently not when it rains, and man, has it rained! We left a message on our builder’s cell phone yesterday and have yet to hear from him, so we can’t be sure how bad it got up on Seagrape Hill. Our new roof over the bedrooms received a substantial leak test. How has it fared and has work actually been done during the down pour? Stay tuned.

April 26, 2007

Well here is our update from Sunnyrock:
• The sun is out but clouds still threaten. The Caribe gods are still toying with the tourists!
• The stonemasons will be back on Saturday. Say, doesn’t that mean “by the end of the week”? Here we go again.
• They’ve been installing Durock in the bedrooms over the bathroom framing. Durock’s good! We like Durock!
• Additional windows in the bedrooms have not been cut but they haven’t forgotten them. If they haven’t been forgotten why haven’t they been cut yet?
• All power poles have been installed except the one closest to Reef Madness. Of course, the one we most need!
• It’s Carnival Week on St Thomas so Stephen doesn’t expect the WAPA guys back anytime soon. Is that kinda like going on vacation?
• The storm shutters have not been ordered but Steve will ask Lewis to get right on it. Who is going to remind Stephen to remind Lewis?
• The shutters will probably not arrive in time for us to paint them next visit. I guess that means we’ll just have to make another trip down…oh shucky darn!

April 27, 2007

We received a package in the mail yesterday. It was from Lewis at Sunnyrock. He cut off a small piece of our yet to be installed metal railing and sent it to us so we could see what it is going to look like. I suppose the railing requirement is so people don’t fly off the porch and find themselves inexplicably at Skinny Legs. It is quite possible that Reef Madness is the only place on St John that will have a merlot colored metal railing. WAY COOL!!!! Since we do not have a colorful traditional Caribbean colored villa (whatever that is), we thought we would spice it up with hints of color splashed around. It seems appropriate that our color of choice is something we drink a great deal of (no it’s not beer or rum colored, but hey, I suppose that would be appropriate as well!) Since we could find no picture of a railing in our color, here is an appealing substitute!


April 30, 2007

Shop ‘til you drop. Some people actually believe shopping is fun. These are very sick people. Perhaps buying stuff is fun when you have disposable income, but we have this madness in the form of a former gash in the side of a St John hill that is sucking us dry. Never the less, shop we must, and finding stuff on sale has become an obsession. We found pillows on sale at Macy’s and we need pillows. I mean, what’s a bed without pillows, right? These things take up a lot of space and we are running out of places to store these incidentals. This load got deposited in what used to be our formal dinning room. That’s ok, ‘cause we can’t afford to invite anyone over anyway. Perhaps if I close my eyes just for a second, I will see that flying pig that will inform us that this madness is at an end...Dream on…


May 1, 2007

No news is good news, so the old saying goes. This morning our builder called us with some news. YIKES! Despite a few reports to the contrary, it’s still raining on St John. Curse the gods! Or at least it’s still raining on a regular enough basis that they have been unable to complete the roof on the main house. Remember that cypress that we had such a hard time getting because of some world wide cypress shortage conspiracy? Now that we have it in our possession, the dampness is creating mildew which is insidiously oozing its way upon it! Only in a couple of spots we’re told and they’re treating it with insidious oozy substance remover, but like the rain (and occasionally our stone masons), it keeps coming back. I blocked out the part of the conversation that started with “I may have to trash the cypress...” and instead I’m concentrating on the rays of sunshine (obvious metaphor here) that were offered instead. “The inside work continues in the bedrooms where the Durock is nearly complete and the plastering is about to commence.” We will be able to paint at the end of the month (at least he didn’t say by the end of the week or all hope is lost!). The stonemasons have managed to get in some work between downpours and the stair tower continues to slooooowly rise. WAPA (you remember WAPA?) showed up this morning to put in the last power pole! No wires on the pole yet, but it’s a start. Our electrician will soon be on site to connect the house wiring to the vacant pole. So… Is the glass half-full or half-empty today? I think I’ll have to fill a glass this evening and experiment…maybe two…or six…

May 2, 2007

After yesterday’s flurry of information from our builder, today we’re back to thinking “I wonder what the weather’s like on St. John”? The 8:50AM shot from the Cruz Bay webcam revealed a bright and beautiful morning. But as I clicked on the link for about the 3rd or 4th time this morning (yes – we’re obsessed), I notice the same 2 guys are still on the dock holding their position from 8:50AM. Hmmmm… Island Time or a Broken Camera??? A quick check of the NEXRAD weather radar out of Puerto Rico (yes, we use ALL of the tools) reveals a series of showers blowing over the islands although as they pass over St. John they seem to be concentrated on the South Shore and not Coral Bay. We don’t dare call our builder to learn the truth. Besides, we hope he’s either directing an energetic work crew in hoisting a load of dry, non-mildewed cypress to our roof, or leading them all in some ritualistic Caribbean sun-dance. We’re just looking for something positive here… Now where’s my satellite images…


May 3, 2007

I’ll resist the temptation to write yet another St. John weather report, even though that’s the primary thing on our minds right now. Suffice it to say “repeat yesterday’s report with a splash of hopeful sunshine”. ‘Nuff said for now… I believe I mentioned awhile back that we are buying household goods for the villa here stateside and intend to ship them down to St John. A few things about this method of stocking a house or villa: the sticker shock is less as smaller increments of money are spent over a longer period of time and one can look for sale prices on things. On the other hand we have every inch of our house loaded up with boxes ready to ship. Space is getting cramped around here. We live on a flood plain just south of Annapolis, Maryland on the Chesapeake Bay. People who live on the Chesapeake don’t get to have basements. We used to have a garage. Our car used to live there. Now it’s a holding tank for sheets, blankets, silverware and waste baskets. We have stuff there that I haven’t a clue what it is; it’s just marked “RM kitchen” or “RM bath”. I will probably open a box in St John and find my old ski clothes!

Another thing about buying and shipping from stateside, it all goes as a unit. I suppose that means if one gets there they all get there. Conversely, if one item goes missing…geeez….


May 4, 2007

Two weeks from today I’ll be on St. John, for 2 nights and 1 day. I’ll be attending the organizational meeting of the Seagrape Hill Landowner’s Association. Wow, this makes me feel like an official St John resident! The developer, a Virginia bred gentleman living in California – southern California, no doubt will be hosting the meeting, to be held in the courtyard at Estate Lindholm. Refreshments will be served. Sounds good so far! We haven’t seen an agenda, but we’re hoping that a few rum drinks will help everyone focus properly and we can quickly agree on election of officers, the establishment of dues, and whatever else our good neighbors see fit to discuss (feeding stations for the donkeys, an agricultural research center for the Rastafarians, the official Sea Grape mascot etc.) I vote for a Rasta donkey mascot!

May 7, 2007

So we couldn’t stand the waiting and we called our builder: “Stephen – give us some good news!” “Hey, we’re doing great down here… After the doom and gloom of last Tuesday, it stopped raining, the cypress was scrubbed and dried, and all of the rest of it went up. The plywood covering is on and we’re putting on the black cover.” So – everything got better after he scared the bejesus out of us last Tuesday??? And he kept it to himself? Doesn’t he read our blog? Doesn't he realize we were freaking out up here? (Maybe he does read it and was just enjoying watching us squirm). Hmmmmm… Anyway, according to Stephen, the thing that saved us was the sealant on the cypress. Because of that, the mildew that formed just beaded on top of the wood and never penetrated. Sealant – our chemical savior… So – the guys from Florida who are coming over to install our tile roof have been pushed back about 10 days (par for the course) and are now due to begin their work on May 22nd. We arrive for our painting trip on the 27th and we’re told they’ll be completely done by them. Wow – wouldn’t that be a sight to behold for a couple of construction weary travelers… We won’t hold our breath of course, but we can always dream a little…

May 8, 2007

The roof is DONE – that’s the word from our builder. Cypress, plywood, and black coating stuff is in place for the main house. YES… Great news… And several dozen checks of the Cruz Bay dock webcam reveal a series of showers and sunshine all over St. John, typical Caribbean weather. So now that our roof is up do we care? Oh yes – there are many reasons to still care. Foremost is the arrival of our tile roofers from Florida on the 22nd. Our roof tile has been stacked on pallets at the bottom of our access road since late March. It’s about 100 yards from the roof itself, a steady uphill climb. And although the access road is, ahh, accessible, Reef Madness itself is another 40 feet or so from there. Grading is required in order to form a driveway and an easy and level path from the access road. It’s hard, if not impossible to grade mud. And while the Florida roofers are talented, their job description does not include “carry thousands of pounds of tile roof on your back through hip-deep mud to actual roof and install”. We need a clear path for a heavy truck. So – again, we gaze at the skies and implore the gods to bestow sunshine and a drying breeze to our land, so as to ease the path of the reefers; err… roofers! You know what I mean… Back to the radar…

May 9, 2007

Like a guest that shows up early for a party and expects to be entertained, Subtropical Storm Andrea has formed off the southeast coast a full 23 days before the official start of hurricane season. Never mind that I can’t possibly explain the difference between a tropical and a subtropical storm, the end result is the same: lots of wind and rain. Andrea’s early arrival prompted us to call our builder and ask again “when are those hurricane shutters going to be installed”? We thought we had settled on the type of shutters that we were getting for Reef Madness, but then last week a question arose about how the shutters would be affixed to our stone house. Our builder has some concerns about drilling into the stone and/or the mortar and chinking between the stones. We may have to look in a different direction for the shutters that make the most sense, and those are the kind that slide in on tracks on either side of the windows and doors. Not as aesthetically pleasing perhaps, but if the wind gets up to 150mph on Seagrape Hill, aesthetics won’t save the windows from being blown out. We’ve asked Sunnyrock to give us their recommendation on this and we were looking at the first month of hurricane season as a deadline to have them installed. With Barry, Chantal, Dean and all the rest of this year’s storms waiting in the wings behind Andrea, we think our timetable may need to be accelerated. So come on guys, Gimme Shelter!!!

May 10, 2007

Tuesday was a big day for us back here on the Chesapeake. The heating and air-conditioning guys primed our system for the hot summer ahead, the landscaping crew cleaned up the winter mess in our flower and shrub beds, and the pool folks showed up to open our pool for the season! St. John pools have only one opening and hopefully no closings. The first couple of villas we rented on St. John had no pools. We didn’t think that was a big deal since there are so many wonderful beaches and so much warm Caribbean water to spend our days in. But after one stay in a villa with a pool we were hooked. The appeal of an early morning or late-night dip au naturale became of prime importance in selecting a rental villa. So when planning Reef Madness with our architect, the pool was front and center in the drawings. It faces due south, and with the sun on it all day long, we’re hoping that within a day or two of it’s opening, the water temperature will be somewhere in the 80’s. On Tuesday when we opened our pool in Maryland the water was a crisp 57 degrees. And no, there were no au naturale dips on Tuesday evening…

May 11, 2007

Well it’s the end of the week and we’re still patiently waiting on some fresh pictures from our builder of the progress being made at Reef Madness. But while they haven’t arrived yet, we have been discussing our driveway and we just received a drawing of the proposed shape and location. It’s been a moving target of sorts as we have a very small footprint on which to place it, and there’s something called a Mampoo Tree that’s right in the way, but too nice to cut down. A gentleman by the name of Thomas Wright wrote a book called “The Mampoo Tree” and according to Amazon it’s all about organized crime in the Caribbean (as if anything can be organized in the Caribbean). We’ve been assured there are no skeletons hanging in our Mampoo Tree, just a termite nest that needs to be eradicated. We've put a call out to a friend of a neighbor to a cousin of the Soprano consigliere... Anyway, the proposed driveway will have room for two vehicles to park and turn around in, though maybe not simultaneously. We would have preferred a circular driveway around the villa with a decorative railing, but were assured by our builder that there wasn’t enough concrete in the islands to fulfill this fantasy… Drawing below – pictures soon come…

Time to start another page! Click here for page 3!