In Search of the Mermaid’s Chair

My husband seems to be used to it by now. After 37 years of marriage, I suppose it’s not surprising to him anymore that I seek out adventures for us to go on when we travel. Nothing too crazy. But there’s always an element of risk, for sure.

Recently we had the pleasure of returning to the U. S. Virgin Island of St. Thomas. Due to Covid it had been nearly three years since our last visit. It was a short stay but we were thrilled to be back.

We sought out some of our favorite places like mile-long, heart-shaped Magens Bay with its crystal-clear turquoise water and a dinner at Iggies Beach Bar (the original Iggies—pre-2017 hurricanes Irma and Maria—made an appearance in THE EMPTY CHAIR as Izzies). We also dined at Old Stone Farmhouse and took an historical tour of downtown Charlotte Amalie (pronounced uh-mall-yuh), the capital of St. Thomas and the territory.

After my book signing at Fish Face Boutique, I did some shopping—after all there was plenty of room in our suitcases after emptying out all the copies of THE EMPTY CHAIR and OVER THE EDGE we brought. (Wink!)

Our adventure came on our last day there. We headed out in our rental Jeep to the west side of the island in search of the illusive Mermaid’s Chair that occurs and is only accessible at low tide. The half an hour or so ride out took us along the edge of the mountain, a winding and undulating route with spectacular (and distracting) views to the ocean.

Our fun ride.

Did I mention you drive on the left in the USVI and I always do the driving? It’s better that way. I love the challenge and it allows my husband to be the navigator which he is infinitely better at than me.

Mermaid’s Chair is the kind of place you have to hear about from someone else. You’re not going to find it on an online list of top ten things to do on St. Thomas and you’re certainly not going to stumble upon it. And you’ll need directions on how to reach the Chair from someone who’s been there. (It had the feel of a secret location. Only the fully indoctrinated are allowed entry.) It was old school, but I printed out a blog post from someone who’d included photos and specific instructions on getting there. What could go wrong. Right?

A treasure map, of sorts.

Access to Mermaid’s Chair is via a private gated residential community so the first challenge was finding somewhere to ditch our car along the road. Once all four tires were off the pavement, we made our way to the guardhouse to check in. By law in the USVI, all beaches are accessible to the public so access must be granted.

We had our photos taken and pertinent information gathered from us. Not quite like a booking with fingerprints but it had the feel of a mug shot. If we didn’t make it back, at least they’d know who’d gone missing. 😉

Once we had a map in hand, water bottles in my backpack, we were off to find the Chair.

Starting out from the guardhouse, the walk is uphill for a while. Then it’s mostly downhill and mostly paved. The walk back, as expected, would be all uphill—in the hot Caribbean sun.

Our first mistake was for me to take hold of the map. I have a history of taking a more circuitous path to my destinations. You know, the scenic route?

Lush tropical vegetation.

As per the map, I had us heading down the first left fork. It took us a while to get to the end of the road, but when we reached the bottom of the hill, there was nothing that resembled a path to the water. Just thick vegetation. Earlier in the day a local had warned me the paths were overgrown and had not been cleared since before the 2017 hurricanes, so this seemed to prove him right.

To say I was disappointed was an understatement. I felt like we’d come so far, only to walk headlong into a wall of jungle. I tried several inroads to see if I could forge a trail through the brush—my husband coaxed me out a couple times—but I finally had to agree with him it wasn’t feasible, and we started the trek back up the hill.

By the time we got to the top where we’d made our initial turn, we were already parched from the hot sun and plowing through our water at an alarming rate. Nonetheless we decided to follow the sign for the beaches—after all, we were there. Why not see the beaches?

Finally! A sign!

Soon we spotted a sign pointing to Mermaid’s Chair—the first one since we’d set out. We were elated. “We” might be overreaching. My husband might have thought the adventure was nearly over until we discovered the sign. But in my mind, we were back on track on our way to finding it. We were there! Let’s do this!

The trek down to the water.

The road went on forever and was nearly deserted. Even though we were in a gated residential community, there weren’t many homes. The first we noticed was off in the distance on a hill looking out to sea, surrounded by scaffolding, clearly in the process of a major renovation. A couple of other driveways were visible, but it wasn’t the congested community I’d been expecting. Mostly just paved road with vegetation on the sides. It felt eerily deserted—like a planned development that had never got off the ground.

We kept walking and trying to ration our water along the way, quickly realizing we hadn’t brought enough. Needless to say, when I discovered my water bottle was leaking inside my backpack, I was concerned. But it didn’t deter me from forging ahead, trudging down the hill. (There was a little voice in my head asking what would happen if I ran out of water. After all, I would need more for the hike back up the hill in the hot afternoon sun. Did I listen? NO.)

Looking down on waves approaching the right side of Mermaid’s Chair.

The sound of the surf told us we were getting close. And soon the deep blue water came into view, so we picked up our pace and hurried to the bottom of the hill. We couldn’t quite get our first glimpse of Mermaid’s Chair yet but crashing waves and the accompanying roar were a spectacular display of nature—evidence of and support for a high surf advisory in the area.

Beautiful pastel coral.

After snapping a few photos and videos, we scurried down the wooden steps that brought us to the beach on one side of the chair. Colorful pieces of fan coral in pastel yellows and purples, gathered from the beach by previous visitors, adorned the steps as a warm welcome.

Once our weary feet hit the tiny beach, scattered with pieces of brain coral, we froze. The Mermaid’s Chair lay in front of us: waves converging and crashing on either side of it, meeting in the middle and revealing the chair when the waves receded. I walked to the end of the beach to take this photo of the chair below. Essentially it’s a spit of land between two rock formations (one of which was behind me) that appears at low tide. The other side of the chair is across the water in front me.

The waves receding on either side of the chair.

We stood in awe, filled our phones’ photo apps, and tried to take it all in. (As they say, the photos don’t do it justice. The videos either.) We were the only ones there and it felt surreal. Since it wasn’t low tide yet and due to the usually high surf, it was too dangerous to attempt to go out onto the chair. (I honestly considered it, and my husband knew what I was thinking, so he shot me a “don’t even think about it” look—one that has saved me, I hate to admit it, on more than one occasion in the past.)

I was absolutely tickled we had found Mermaid’s Chair.

As the sun slipped closer to the horizon, and we acknowledged we had a dinner reservation in our near future, we took in a last look at Mother Nature’s spectacular display and reluctantly began our trek back up the hill, starting with the wooden steps up from the beach.

The long, steep climb back up.

It was long and arduous. I couldn’t bring myself to look up the hill as I trudged. It seemed so overwhelming. Instead, I kept my eyes on my feet, plopping them one in front of the other, stopping frequently for a breather in the sun, and sipping even less frequently on the last few drops of my precious water, my husband encouraging me along the way.

Not that I doubted we’d make it back, but the relief when we caught sight of the guard house in the distance when we crested the last hill was palpable. My feet willingly picked up the pace. We were almost there!

After checking out with the guard, we returned to our Jeep on the side of the road and headed back to town, looking forward to a special dinner on our last night there. Hot, tired, thirsty, and sweaty from our adventure, we were content to have created a new memory together—and survived. No search party necessary. 😊

5 thoughts on “In Search of the Mermaid’s Chair

  1. Karin Rypl

    Wow!!! Just incredible, Penny. Wish I could make out more of the chair from the photos, but certainly understand one could have a hard time capturing.
    It all. Enjoyed your recount, thx🏝☀️

    1. Karin, it’s not really a chair you’re trying to see. It’s the strip of land that appears at low tide between 2 rock formations across the water from each other. I was standing with my back to one of the formations. The other is across the way. Thanks for letting me know I wasn’t clear. I’ll go in and tweak it!

  2. Deborah Boudreau

    What an incredible adventure! So glad you got to experience it…and survive!
    You are a wonderful descriptive writer. As always, it felt as if we were right there with you!

    1. Deborah, thanks so much for your kind words. So glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for coming along with me on the adventure. Hope you were smart and brought along more water than we did!

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