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Our Alpha Event for Sailing

sunny 80 °F

Setting aside the metaphysics of Deities, everything has a beginning, an “Alpha Event”. Astrophysicists tell us that the very universe in which Carol and I sail was the result of a BIG BANG, although it’s hard to hear a noise in the vacuum of space, and there was no one around to hear it, anyway.


The “Alpha Event” for our fascination with sailing happened here, on Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands, in June, 1992, although it might have been 1993. No time/date stamps on Kodak film in those analog days. Regardless, it all started here. I have called it the best week of my life; and, up to that point in time, it was.

At that time, I was running Sears’ TV business, a complex enterprise, the 4th largest in the company, $500 million, and growing very fast. Sony, in those ancient days was a very big name in consumer electronics. The Sony audio business at Sears was never very large and Sony had come up with a contest to promote their audio products. The winners would go on a boat trip in the British Virgin Islands. This was before the IRS declared such activities to be taxable income.

Eventually, the contest ended, winners were selected, and travel plans were made; un-involved, I went on selling TV’s. To my surprise, the Sony guy, Tom, came by my office soon after and invited me on the trip. This may have been self-preservation, since more Sony TV dollars went out the door in a month than all of audio dollars did in a year. This sounded like a good deal; what’s not to like about an all-expenses paid trip to the islands? I toddled into my boss’s office to ask his blessing. My numbers were good which meant that his numbers were good, an easy path to yes.

So, Carol and I pack away the dog, pack small bags and get on a plane to Puerto Rico. From there a relatively short hop by a smallish commuter plane to Beef Island, the international airport for the BVI. To have been there is the 90’s is to understand that this is a gently ironic oxymoron. Beef Island is separated from Tortola, also an island, by not too much more than a ditch through which the tides ebb and flow.

We stayed the first night in a hotel to be able to depart early the next morning. There were lots of people there; I knew all of the Sears people, and we all gathered at the bar that evening to swap war stories. The bar’s drink menu was a painted piece of plywood. On the sign there may have been 20 to 25 choices, every conceivable combination of several fruits and rum. In the event, they all looked the same: a stemmed glass with some pureed fruit, pastel in color, topped with a green garnish. Actually, there may have been only one drink but, after the first drink no one was able to tell the difference.

The next morning Carol and I went onto the boat, in this case a 50-ft. sloop with three cabins. The boat’s name was ridiculous for a beautiful vessel: “Dollar Corn,” which went with a story that may have been apocryphal, but also could have been true. The boat was privately owned and put into charter to defray the cost of ownership. The story was that the owners, the guy, had wanted to name it the “Buccaneer,” but his wife objected. So, maybe out of spite, maybe in good humor, “Buccaneer” morphed into “Buck ($) an ear,” which then transmogrified into “Dollar Corn.” A great story which may have ended in a divorce.

I don’t remember how many folks there were there, for the trip, but it was enough to fill six (6) similar sailboats, a flotilla. Each boat had a paid captain, a guy, and a paid cook, a gal. Being happily married, of course, I didn’t notice the cook, even though not doing so in the confined space of any small boat is almost impossible. Had I, in fact, noticed her, I almost certainly would have concluded that she would have been a top contender for Playmate of the year in the Caribbeanwere such an award were to be given. The captain/cook arrangement still mystifies; not married, not apparently romantically connected and sharing the same cabin. Go figure!

The first two stops were Norman Is. and next Peter Is. where I got my first lesson in island geography. These places are, essentially, deserts with cactus abounding and tough, low shrubs. I don’t remember much about the trees except that some had fronds. These two islands were lightly inhabited, by people anyway. Goats …. the survivors of ship wrecks, they were many they were and doing very well being omnivores of plant life and, seemingly, able to survive without much water.

Next was Virgin Gorda, loosely translated as a plump young woman. This island had/has a very high resort where Tom, the Sony guy, had his island “Alpha Moment,” having been there on his honeymoon some years earlier. There we had a very nice dinner at the resort; later I did some salt water water-skiing, my first, last and only attempt at which, surprising to me, I did pretty well.

Next came Anegada, which very loosely translates as a submerged or inundated place, an apt name for a very low island with tidal ponds which support a large flamingo population. We never did see the flamingos as they were inland. On the trip to Anegada I got to pilot the boat. I had done way too much of this in the Navy, so keeping course with a compass was not a new experience for me. Doing it under sail power was totally new and totally captivating. From that moment I was hooked and wanted a sailboat, although I never, ever imagined that Carol and I would actually have one.

Dinner on Anegada was the best ever. The restaurant was four poles and a couple of 2 x 4’s supporting a tin roof; the floor was the finest beach sand; the kitchen was two halves of a metal 50-gal. barrel with a grills on top. There was no menu; they cooked whatever was the catch of the day, that catch having arrived a couple of hours before.

Well-oiled with very cold beer, it was a meal to remember, as a concept anyway; I have no idea what we actually ate, probably langouste, the beer having blown a hole in my memory. Our boat had a song: Iko Iko which we sang loudly and poorly on the dinghy trip back to the mother ship. Fortunately, not remembering most of the words was not a problem; mindlessly repeating the one verse we did know was good enough. You had to be there to understand.

The last stop was Jost Van Dyke, Jost being pronounced: yost, long o sound. The eponym for this island was Joost van Dyk, a Dutch privateer and sometime pirate. There was a sailboard on the boat and with a mild breeze in protected anchorage it seemed the perfect place to try it out, so I did. In an hour of trying I wasn’t able to manage much more than one minute of verticality under sail. This was sufficiently embarrassing in front of the flotilla of co-workers. What I didn’t know until later was that Greg had a video camera and taped my entire 60 minutes of futility. To my chagrin, the tape made the made it around the building when we returned. I am grateful the You Tube did not then exist, or I would still have to see it even decades after the event.


Setting aside the metaphysics of Deities, everything has an ending, an “Omega Event”. Astrophysicists tell us that the very universe in which Carol and I have sailed will one day collapse back into itself. If there is no BIG BANG then, maybe, there will be a giant slurping sound like a straw siphoning the last few drops from the bottom of a glass, although it’s hard to hear noise in the vacuum of space, and there will not be anyone around to hear it, anyway.


This trip was planned to be our last, our "Omega Event," and it may well be. Starting and finishing our life's great adventure in the same place seems an artful symmetry, a closing of the circle. Our future joy will come in the remembrance of things past.


Or, maybe this trip will not be out last. As the great philosopher Yogi Berra said, "It ain't over 'til it's over."

Posted by sailziveli 22:07 Archived in British Virgin Islands

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