When our good friends Joe and Jann Williams showed at up at our door with the latest issue of Sail magazine featuring a special first-time bareboating guide, I though I was in for the vacation of a lifetime. What I didn't anticipate wat that our trip to the Caribbean would be much more than a vacation. It would be much more than a vacation. it would be an adventure that would sink deep inside me and change me forever.
Bareboating isn't as exciting as it sounds. You don't have to go without your clothes. You simply charter a sailboat with a skipper.Joe is an experienced sailor on his 16-foot sailboat in Bear Lake and I have untold hours sailing my 9-foot windsurfer across various lakes in Utah.
The charter application asked how many times we have anchored a boat over 40-feet long. Fortunately, we have both done this several times while houseboating at Lake Powell.
Both of us are Eagle scouts and we know how to read compass. We passed our astronomy merit badges, as well.
This vast amount of experience seemed good enough to me and on paper convinced the charter company that we were qualified to charter a boat on our own. But Joe was worried enough that for three weeks before we stayed awake nights reading sailing manuals.
Within the month, six of us (my wife, Heidi, and me, Rob and Jana mcQuay, and Joe and Jann) sailed out from Tortola on a 41-foot C&C sailboat.
The trip down included stops in San Juan and St. Thomas, ferry rides, taxis and a trip to the grocery store. By the time we started sailing we were wound up tight enough to stretch our smiles from ear to ear.
We opted for a short sail acros Sir Francis Drake Channel to Norman Island. We anchored in Bight Bay where centuries before fast pirate ships had once hidden to attack Spanish galleons slowed by the weight of their cargo of gold.
In Bright Bay we took the dinghy across the bay to an old schooner converted to a restaurant called the William Thornton. We ate with a couple that had just completed a six-week solo voyage across the Atlantic from South Africa. They were eager to visit and shared an amazing story about their adventure.
In the middle of the Atlantic they hit a bad spell of weather and had lost their bearing after a 10-day rainstrom. Suddenly they ran aground and became completely disoriented. It took them about an hour to figure out what happened. They had not run aground. A whale had nested up against their boat and stayed there the entire day. The story seemed incredulous but the wonderment in their eyes conveyed the truth of the tale.
After a superb meal, we returned to the Southwind Maid where we sat on the deck and watched a sunset so spectacular we got the feeling it must have been saved for that particular night. "It can't get any better than this," we thought as we sat in wonder.
The next morning we headed straight for The Caves off Norman Island. This may be one of the best places in the world for snorkeling. The water is turquoise blue with hundreds of thousands of multi-colored fish. If you snorkel, and you go to the British Virgin Islands, a trip to The Caves is a must.
Joe was actually a great sailor. He tutored us daily and soon we were taking turns at the helm, reading depth charts and trimming sails. Not bad t for a bunch of landlocked rookies.
Scuba diving through the remains of a 100-year-old merchant ship called the Wreck of the Rhone was one of our great adventures. The 300-foot wreck gained notoriety in the diving sequences featured in the movie "The Deep." Swimming 60 feet under water through the ghostly remains gave me a strange feeling of timelessness. It seemed so bizarre i felt as though I might be swimming through the submarine ride at Disneyland.
Then I remembered the shark scene in "The Deep" and nervously looked behind me. I signaled to joe that it was time to surface.
Just another adventure in paradise.
We had no particular agenda and spent our days sailing from island to island. For the most part we alternated between ports where we could moor to a buoy and use the pool and showers for about $15, and remote bays where we anchored and cooked seafood on the grill off the stern of the boat.
The diversity between leisure days and high-adventure days, remote spots and small island resorts, added to the enjoyment of the trip. I'll never forget sailing all day in 40-knot winds to Virgin Gorda and being welcomed at Pusser's Inn by a Friendly smile, Jimmy Buffet music filling the air, a cold drink and a bowl of chips. At the end of each sunset we would look at each other and say, "How can it get any better?"
Our final night at sea perhaps answered that questions. We sailed to the island of Jost Van Dyke and set anchor in Great Harbor. At one end of the beach we met Foxy who spent his days singing ballards and talking with visitors. We bantered with him and he adlibbed an amusing song about the Utahns' adventure in paradise. His insights were surprisingly profound and we got the feeling that rather than Foxy traveling the world, pieces of the world came to him.
At the other end of the beach is a place called Ruby's Lobster House. We met a man preparing for the evening crowd and asked if he was Rudy. Smiling he answered, "Well, most of the time." We visited and placed our order. That evening Rudy had the place full of people and tables covered with 18-inch lobsters, steak and chicken. Everyone took a place and served themselves family-style. When dinner was done, Rudy threw all the plates into a shopping cart and announced that he had invited a few friends over to play music. He invited everyone was dancing across the floor trying to best each other in a limbo contest.
The six of us took a break to sit back and appreciate the moment. All around the walls and ceilings were inscriptions from other voyagers who wrote of their "changes in attitude with changes in latitude." Directly above us someone had inscribed, "We be dreamin' Mon." No one could have said it better.
Upon returning to Tortola, it was hard to believe or adventure was coming to an end. We checked the boat in with Cindy, any employee of the charter company.
She thanked us and we smiled and thanked her for believing what we had put on our resume.
A year has passed since that vacation, and I still look back on wha has now been deemed "Captain Joe's Most Excellent Adventure." It was more than a great vacation. We didn't come back simply recharged and ready to face the grind. We were permanently altered.
When life becomes hectic and time is something I just don't have enough of, I look back on sailing for days with no specific schedule. Having been on "island time" i can never really escape it.
I remember Rudy smiling as he says, "No problem, mon."
When I am landlocked and snowbound in Utah, in my mind I can always go back to six friends just rounding the corner into Cane Garden Bay.