Reef Madness

JUMP AHEAD: newest entry
Reef Madness Calendar
Reef Madness Home Page

"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

Part III: Now what? page3


May 14, 2007


Someone has rented Reef Madness. I can’t believe it. We knew that our rental agency, VIVA Villas, had a calendar of available dates for renting Madness, but inasmuch as this villa is being built in island time (have I mentioned that the continental drift is more sprightly?) it never occurred to us that anyone would actually step up to the plate and jump in (pardon my Yogi Berraism). We have no great pictures of a finished product; we have no completion date set in concrete (Concrete? Don’t get me started…); we don’t know where our furniture is (that’s another story), our road isn’t paved, our kitchen isn’t even started, or our baths, or the tile, and, and, and, AND our stone masons aren’t done yet!!! Talk about a leap of faith. The good news is that we held off making it available until June, ah…then July, then August, then September, and we finally and most cowardly agreed on an October availability startup (our builder originally told us that it would be completed by September… of last year). We really want everything to be perfect when our first tenants arrive. We would rather lose money and delay the bookings than disappoint a Reef Madness renter. We want to be proud parents. The pressure is now on in earnest… and may the gods have mercy on us all…

May 15, 2007

Here is a riddle: What never gets bigger while it gets bigger and bigger? What never gets done though it is always done by the end of the week?

Well, it’s time to get serious about getting a few things done. We received a batch of new pictures from Sunnyrock and some things are moving along nicely. Some other things… well let’s just say they even stretch the limits of island time. We see the stair tower is slooooowly going up, but not completed and the chinking in the stonework has yet to even begin. This is totally mystifying to us. Are we paying for their children’s Oxford education, the family vacation in the South of France...what?

NEWS FLASH! We just talked to Sunnyrock and they have fired our original stonemasons (yes, again, and I haven’t even posted this blog entry yet!) and are using, again, someone else. Apparently these newest masons do a lot of work for our builder and are reliable (whatever that means anymore…). I understand they did the stonework on the Bongo Bongo villa which I have seen and they did an excellent job there. I remain skeptical that our newest masons will be any different than any of the other masons we have hired and fired and hired and fired and rehired and… If they truly are better, then the question begs asking, why didn’t Sunnyrock hire these guys for our project from the get-go? Why did we have to go through all of this delay and cost? Of course the answer might be because on any given day they are all the same. Perhaps they all belong to the same stonemason brotherhood, you know, the “Stonemason Brotherhood of the Mampoo Tree”. Then again, perhaps our builder made these guys an offer they couldn’t refuse.

May 16, 2007

We received an email yesterday from Eric who is also building on St. John and just returned from a status trip to his in-progress island house. Knowing how picture starved we are he very graciously sent along some pictures of Reef Madness that he took this past Saturday. These pictures have revived in us a bit of hope as they differ from the pictures sent by our builder a couple of days prior, and we can see things are changing fast. I must admit I am a bit envious of Eric. He has seen something that we have never seen in all our status trips to St. John, stonemasons working on Reef Madness! How does he rate? I wonder which stonemasons he saw, the first (and third), the second, or the latest cast? Whatever… The pictures he took actually show progress being made and pictures don’t lie, right? Our windows have been installed (except for the ones in the bedrooms they forgot to cut the holes for), the doors are in, the sheet-rock and Durock are up, but mudding and taping has yet to be completed and it doesn’t look like the stucco has been started. Eric, who has actually spoken to a real live Reef Madness stonemason, says the stair tower, to quote one of our many masons, will be “wrapping up in a week or two”. But still, this is the most progress we have seen in this brief amount of time for quite a spell. They have a week to get the bedrooms ready for us to paint. Will they make it? Tick-Toc…

May 17, 2007

Because I love airports so much and because I have an endless supply of time, money, and patience, today I am going to jump aboard an airplane and fly down to St John via Washington DC, Miami, and St Thomas, in order to spend one full day on St John (before I turn around and do the whole thing over again getting back) in order to attend some wildly important meeting of which I haven’t the foggiest notion of its content or intent. I am neither the guest of honor nor a valued speaker at this meeting, but attend I must for the Seagrape property owners are gathering together to make decisions about the Seagrape community at large. From what little I know, no decisions made are binding unless there is a quorum. But what if there is not a quorum? Is this trip for naught? How many other off-islanders are as rich and patient as I am and have endless amounts of time and money to show up and fulfill the quorum clause? Does no quorum mean anarchy will reign? Will there be a secret Seagrape Mampoo society running amok? So many questions, so many questions… Am I having fun yet? Where's the bar?

May 18, 2007

We have received some wonderful pictures of Reef Madness from different sources over the last week or so and I want to share them with you. Yes, progress is being made. So here is what we have so far. Fresh pictures and more stories will no doubt blossom when this whirl wind visit is concluded. Soon come.

May 21, 2007

I have just attended the first meeting of the Seagrape Hill Property Owners association and what a gala event it was. There were all of four owners in attendance. However, there were also several local people who had multiple proxy votes from some of the off islanders who could not make this most imperative of meetings. Alas, I not only failed to win the door prize, but got aced out of the prize for the property owner who traveled the farthest to attend. Damn the luck! A quorum was not present so no actual decisions were made regarding the fate of Seagrape Hill. We did however elect a board of directors and I am happy to announce that Reef Madness will be amply represented as we are on the board. My Rasta Donkey mascot is a shoe-in!


May 22, 2007

Well, now for the bad news. The mildew problem is still with us. Some other villa friends we know went through the same issue and they’ve assured us that this is a serious issue. We are absolutely sick about the cypress mildew. Everything else in Reef Madness is looking outstanding right now – but not the ceiling in the Great Room. Sunnyrock has given us their word that they will eradicate it. Their plan is to sand it out, bleach it and refinish it, all this while working ala Michelangelo. We would far rather the mildew would just go away, disappear (like the money in our bank account). Sometimes I think we take two steps forward and then a step and a half back. We make progress, but nothing, and I do mean nothing, is ever easy. But hey, we were warned. Locals and mainlanders alike said “Beware”. Several people told us to read “Don’t Stop the Carnival” by Herman Wouk before we build on island. I read it… after construction started. Would we have done anything differently? Probably not. But I am ever the optimist. Or perhaps I am not very bright…

May 23, 2007

The bad news is bad, but the good news is, well,,, good! They have finally cut a hole for our bedroom window. Well not exactly a whole hole, but the start of something that might one day grow up to be a hole which in turn will turn into a window! How come it never looks that hard when you watch someone on TV building, remodeling or what ever? Everything goes in just like it should and from what I’ve seen, everyone on the project shows up and works until the job is done. Of course that’s on TV. I suppose what we have is the real world. Wait! Am I nuts? St John, real world, same sentence? Have I mentioned that the ice and drinking water we are required to supply our workmen cost us $432.75 last month? It appears we have an entirely new crew of people working for us now and they are a thirsty bunch. I am not sure what happened to the last crew. Perhaps they went on vacation!

May 24, 2007

Rumor has it that the tile roofers from Miami are now on site and are crawling all over our roof prepping the surface for our tile. Now this has got us excited. A real tile roof! They are going to be working straight through the holiday weekend and should still be on-site when we arrive on Sunday so we’re looking forward to taking some “action photos”. Perhaps we can get a shot of real workers, really working. I am not sure if I would recognize such a creature. Another chat with our builder resulted in total confusion as we tried in vain to explain what we would like to do with our not quite free-form pool. Explaining over the phone was futile and let’s face it, an artist I ain’t, so a hand drawing was out of the question. What to do. Ah-ha! Photoshop! What we came up with was not great, but at least Sunnyrock gets the idea now. Here is an amateur Photoshop rendition of what our not quite finished pool will look like…sort of…in a way…maybe…

May 25, 2007

This will be our last entry for awhile (June 4th to be exact). At long last, a true and welcomed trip to St John. Granted, we shall work hard, but we will play hard as well. I am so ready for this. The last trip was a whirlwind, spending more time at airports than on island. This time will be different. I can just taste that rum drink waiting for me at Cyril King. I have a surprise for everyone. Today I have very rare and fascinating photographs to share, taken on my last whirlwind trip. Get ready for something truly astonishing. Here it is…I call these masterpieces, “Stonemasons Working on Stairtower”. Have you ever seen anything so beautiful in your entire life? Me neither!!!

June 4, 2007

So we are back from our week-long expedition to St. John and what an interesting trip it was. Without question the most exciting thing that happened at Reef Madness during our visit was the installation of a roof, a real, professionally installed, beautiful, expensive (there’s that word again) roof. I have to say, after witnessing the local talent working - perhaps working is too strong a verb - more like appearing at our work site on occation, watching Ray and his guys from Miami putting up our tile roof renewed our faith in a work ethic. These guys busted their humps getting stuff done quickly, efficiently, and with a craftsman’s pride. They just blew us away. At first, the sight of them dancing across our roof and tossing the fragile tile to each other 450 feet above Coral Bay made our hearts skip a beat. Then we realized that these guys were the Flying Karamazov Brothers of the Caribbean and they were flying without a net! Anyone looking to have a tile roof installed let us know. As jaded as we may have become, we give these guys a solid gold recommendation, for both style and substance.


June 5, 2007

Did we mention that this was an interesting trip? Lots of good stuff… Lots of not so good stuff... The mildew is still happily growing on our cypress despite efforts to beat it into submission. Having not seen it at its worst, it is difficult for me to be encouraged about any progress being made, though I am told it is much improved. The cypress ceilings against the dark beams were so beautiful. Now the cypress looks like pale fruit that has been bruised and poorly treated. This all has to do with that double edged sword which pretty much sums up life in the Caribbean. The slow pace that we mainlanders long for becomes frustrating when we want to see progress. The friendly island demeanor becomes suspect when hard, yet necessary truths should be but are not told. The life sustaining and island enriching rain and humidity becomes a breeding ground for other life not endearing to those of us with unprotected cypress ceilings. It’s the Yin and the Yang of Caribbean life. If we can not accept it, we belong elsewhere.

June 6, 2007

The word for today is stairtower, or should it be two words, stair tower? Hyphenated stair-tower? What might you ask is a stairtower? Beats me, but we have one - well almost. Originally it was designed to have a hip roof, a mini version of the roofs atop the great room and the bedrooms. Then we were stricken with some social consciousness and decided we needed to use solar energy wherever possible. Problem was, you can’t put a solar panel on a tile roof. So much for social consciousness... Then, as our bank account started to dwindle, we started thinking of cost saving measures (greed is a great motivator) and decided: who needs yet another garish tiled hip roof? Lets forego the stairtower hip roof for a recessed roof that can accommodate a solar panel (aren’t we the environmentalists!). And so it was... or is. Great news! Pirates of the Caribbean is a huge success and our stairtower will look so very "pirate chic". How trendy of us! Even better news, they have poured the concrete for the steps going up the stairtower. Instead of crawling up ladders (the rickety home made variety) or scaling the cliff wall, for the first time we can now climb the stairs to the second floor as a civilized person would. I do think it would be cool to have some of those ropes and pulleys like the tall ship’s masts to hoist us to the upper deck! ARRRRRRGG!

June 7, 2007

Throughout all the trials and tribulations of building Reef Madness, we’ve tried to keep one thing in perspective: St. John is one of the most unique and beautiful places in this world. Those of us who feel that way have something very dear to us in common. Some of those folks (including us) are members of an online forum known as Virgin-Islands-On-Line. People here discuss things like favorite snorkeling spots, the best ferry to take from St. Thomas, the burgers at Skinny Legs, and often contribute “trip reports” which detail their stay with words and sometimes pictures. They are always great fun to read. On the day we arrived on St. John this last trip we attended a forum gathering at the Beach Bar. I dutifully wore my “Haven’t I Seen You on the Forum?” t-shirt and soon was greeted by formerly total strangers as a member of the family. It was great fun and we soon knew the voices and faces of folks like St. John Ruth, obsessedmuch, Liamsaunt, robncindi and VickiH. We hung out with our new friends for a couple of hours that evening and the next day, a few of them ventured up to Reef Madness to say hi and check us out! Obsessedmuch became the first forumite to climb our new stairtower (I’ve promised her a plaque), and Rob (of robncindi) handed me the first Caribe I’ve had on the RM front porch! Wow! It was so cool that we invited them to a little Memorial Day cookout at our Coral Bay rental villa that evening and we spent hours talking and drinking and laughing about our common infatuation and love of all things St. John. By the time we said our goodnights, we felt as though we had some great new friends, something that usually doesn’t come so naturally for us, something that could only happen on one of the most unique and beautiful places in this world.

June 8, 2007

So for all of you who wonder how our beautiful paint job turned out, well… humm… let's just say that the fates, or the Caribe gods, or whoever, conspired against us. No really! There were some nay-sayers out there telling us the place would not be ready to paint and they were right, mostly right at any rate. On Monday we showed up with work clothes on and paint brushes in hand. We were ready to get down and dirty and slap that paint on the walls, put us in coach, we’re rarin’ to go! We’ll show these locals how real work gets done! But alas, the plasterers were still scraping down the walls and floors, dust flying every which way and there were fifteen bags of concrete stacked up against one of the walls we were supposed to paint. What’s a wayfaring painter to do? Pack it in and go to the beach, that’s what! Tuesday rain causes everything to get moved in doors. People were working inside on installing windows and doors, more scraping and dust, and the bags of concrete were still in the way, sooooo…we…ahhh…well, we went to the beach again. We didn’t want to be in the way you know. We knew that if we worked hard on Wednesday we could still finish up the painting. Wednesday, we get a phone call, “How would you guys like to run over to Tortola with us to pick up a 47’ catamaran and sail around for the day.” Now the whole point of us coming down to St John was to paint right? We just had to turn these guys down. We aren’t slackers, you know. So we just told them what needed to be said, “What time are we leaving?” By the time Thursday rolled around we were in full "villa gravity" mode and besides I had a really bad cold, no really, I did! So we sat around the pool drinking rum (for medicinal purposes). By Friday… well what’s the point? Man, we turned into locals after less than a week. So much for our WASP work ethic theory! How does anything get done around here!

June 11, 2007

We talked to our builder today and it looks as if the installation of our kitchen and bathrooms is being pushed out by nearly a month. June 26 is now the date proposed. They say the plastering around doors and windows took longer than previously thought. We still have considerable wiggle room in our big "back against the wall" time line, so I am not in panic mode just yet. I just hope our contractor doesn’t read this. Give 'em an inch... Since I am still suffering the effects of a cold and St John withdrawal, I thought I would show some pictures of real progress being made at Reef Madness rather than come up with something more creative. These pictures give me hope and I need hope (and alcohol and nasal decongestant) right now.

June 12, 2007

How important is electricity really? I mean is it all that it’s cracked up to be? Think of all the millennia that mankind has survived without it. If my forefathers existed without it, so can I. What? Are you crazy? Of course we have to have electricity (to power the blender!) and we need it NOW. We have these lonely little poles standing at attention at the side of the road waiting patiently for the WAPA guys to give purpose to their meaningless existence. And in the mean time, we are paying for a generator to run the power tools for an army of workers and have been since day one. Our generator died while we were on island last time and work came to a screeching halt. Reef Madness emptied out like a bottle of rum on a Saturday night at the Beach Bar. We got another one and everyone is back at their posts, but we still need electricity. Our builder told us yesterday that WAPA is slated to run the power lines this week (oh no, not by the end of the week again!!!).

June 13, 2007

Way back in October we took a trip to furniture country in North Carolina to meet with a “furniture consultant” that could help us pick out the chairs, tables & beds that would inhabit Reef Madness. Though it was slow going at first (imagine trying to decide on every piece of furniture for your new house in a single day), after a while we got on a roll and by the end of the day we had decided on everything that will go in the great room and bedrooms. The final tally came in just under budget (Eureka!) and we were told that all pieces would be held in the warehouse until everything was in before anything would be shipped to St. John. The estimate then was four months, which took us into February. At the time, our builder told us that Reef Madness would be ready for appliances in January and furniture in February. Right… Of course if the furniture all arrived at the warehouse and we weren’t ready, they would store it for us – at $500/month. It’s now June and thanks to a lonely little coffee table which didn’t arrive at the warehouse until last week, the remainder of our pieces have been resting comfortably in North Carolina at no cost to us. On Monday of this week our furniture hit the road, bound for a container and a freighter in Florida. We can hold it there for a couple of weeks, and then hold it a couple more weeks on St. Thomas, but by sometime in the second half of July everything in that container including our wayward and beautiful little coffee table will be heading up Seagrape Hill. Will everything there be ready for it? Do pigs have wings? Perhaps. Stay tuned…

June 14, 2007

We love going to St. John (which should be plainly obvious by now). What we hate is coming home. The only thing that makes us get back on that northbound flight is our dogs – and of course our paychecks. There are still a few more bags of concrete to go and we really need those paychecks. Our last trip home was particularly traumatic. We rented our car on St. Thomas as we had to pick up a few items for Reef Madness there and shoving a lamp and a few ceiling fans into a taxi full of tourists seemed like a bad idea. If you’ve ever driven on St. Thomas you know it can be a bit “challenging” at times. This time we were on our way back to the airport when we encountered some major traffic (surprise!) downtown. A quick detour to the backstreets left us coming down a hill on a very narrow passageway with very little room for 2 vehicles to pass each other. At one point we stopped as a very beat-up old pickup truck headed in our direction. We soon found out why that truck was so beat-up as the driver, without slowing down, began passing us and we heard the awful sound of his right front bumper crashing through our right rear fender. And then he kept on going. Stunned, but still needing to proceed in order to make our flight, we returned our crippled little vehicle to the rental agency where we filled out the accident report and cursed our misfortune. We were just 5 minutes away from a safe return when it happened. So yesterday we got the repair estimate. Ouch! We’ll soon find out whether our credit card company really insures us for rental vehicle accidents. Maybe next time instead of leaving we’ll just send for our dogs. As for the paychecks… I wonder if we can telecommute???

After this, we need a long weekend to recover. Our "Madness" will return on Monday.

June 18, 2007

Today we picked out brick to go under the windows. I had no idea there were so many choices to be made in every little aspect of this villa. Do we want brick under the windows? What size? What color? What color mortar? Flush or tuck point? I don’t know tuck point from needle point or Friar Tuck and we have to come up with a response quickly (can’t hold up progress you know). So anyway, this is what we chose and an indication of how it will look. We like to pretend we know what we are doing and are very decisive in our preferences but the truth is, we are shooting from the hip on so many of the decisions that are being made. Our standard question to our builder is, “Well, how much more will it cost” and “What do you think?” Their standard answer is “Not much more” and “I don’t care, you’re the customer”. Don’t get me wrong. I am delighted they ask. I would be happier if they would remember what we said the last time they asked. You see sometimes we forget how we answered the first (or second) time and answer differently the second (or third time) the question gets asked. Then they have to ask a fourth time and sometimes a fifth for the tie breaker! Yes, we’re 19 months out from breaking ground and still making design decisions. Why does this make me so nervous…?

June 19, 2007

So we went to St John to paint and we took a boat ride. But someone had to pick up a brush and I guess it won’t be us, at least this time. We chickened out of our original color selection for the bedrooms for fear of making them too dark. Now personally, I like dark bedrooms. They seem very den like and comforting. But according to our property manager, I am in the minority here. Most people like bedrooms bright, light, and cheery. I guess I am not a bright, light cheery kind of a person. Of course lighter colors make rooms look larger and that is always a plus. So my tradeoff here is to give the bedrooms a more mundane (in my humble opinion) appearance with a safe beige, mauve kind of look to appeal to the masses rather than a darker quirkier theme which more suits my darker quirkier personality. The great room is all mine! Sorry Karin (our property manager)... I haven’t quite figured out the colors there, but I have a pretty good idea. So they started to paint the bedrooms last week and here is what we have so far. Hopefully we can make the bedrooms interesting and beautiful and keep it light…but I don’t have to like it no matter how great it looks! Methinks these walls are begging for some something more… Something dark and quirky…or… perhaps some graffiti. Hey how about a painting of a Rasta donkey?

June 20, 2007

My website keeps blowing up on me. Occasionally it is the server, but if the truth be known, usually the damage is self inflicted. You see, I like to believe that I am a techno-mastermind and that I can figure just about anything out by myself with no help from anyone. Documentation is for sissies. I have to admit that this HTML stuff can be quite challenging for someone brought up in the key punch data days. If you don’t remember key punch just watch the old Tracy/Hepburn movie "Desk Set" with EMERAC, the “computer” . Ahhhhh, life was so much simpler then. Anyway, I managed to get the BLOG right, well somewhat right, at about 1AM, but I had to snooze for a few hours to fix the the rest of the site. What does all this have to do with Reef Madness? Not a damn thing except that it is all about learning new stuff, the good stuff and the bad and trying to figure out how it all fits in. Sometimes I think that much that goes on with Reef Madness is my bad karma coming back to teach me… what? Patience? Humility? Mostly I think it has nothing to do with karma, rather it is the Caribe gods having a grand cosmic laugh.

Time for a new page. Click here for page 4.

Do you have comments about our Reef Madness?