A Travellerspoint blog

April 2021

What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been

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Many times, over these boating years, I have opined that when men plan, gods laugh. Putting the nouns plan and boat in the same paragraph, let alone the same sentence, is inherently oxymoronic. I know this to the core of my being; I do not need a refresher course. I get it! And still ....

We started preparing for this cruise in the summer of 2019. Carol and I had agreed that this cruise was to be our last (although it probably will not), returning to the Virgin Islands, to end the adventure where its first seeds were planted so many years ago. This prospect was in itself energizing; I could feel the Irresistible pull of going through the ineluctable boating routines one more time. Standing at the helm, trimming the sails, setting an anchor, worrying about the weather, getting into the rhythm of moving from place to place, by water, each day a new experience to be savored as the end of an era.

This trip was to be different from any other of our previous travels. For all our years of owning a boat, or chartering one, we had never travelled with passengers; just the two of us. This is easy. Married for over 50 years, most boating decisions are reached almost by telepathy; not so many words required. We have our own rhythms and routines, set after years of being on the water. They suit us. Move now, move later, start early, sleep late. We commanded our own fate. And, this was good.

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For this trip the idea was to change it all. We had chartered a 45-ft. boat with three cabins. The biggest boat which we had previously skippered was the 38-ft. Hunter in Nanaimo. On this trip we intended to take our son, Sean, and his girlfriend, Tasha, as well as our "second son," Noman, Sean's best friend of 30 years, and Noman's fiancée, Michelle. Three couples, three cabins, and most importantly, three heads (also known as bathrooms). This sounded like everything could work.

We were set to board on April 13th and leave the dock the next day. We would have the kids for a week and a week to ourselves. This boat had all that we really required, boat-wise: a fully battened mail sail, chain rode with windlass, the usual set of electronics and a bimini to protect Carol from the most direct sunlight. In other words, WE HAD A PLAN!

And, this, of course, must have really pissed off the boating gods. It was strange in March of 2020, reading the newspaper and seeing the world shrink before my eyes as travel to more and more parts of the planet were restricted and, then, finally, forbidden. In late March the Virgin Islands shut down. The gods had their revenge. Our plan was shattered, our trip was cancelled, the future unclear.

But, wait! There's more.

The Moorings, the charter company, took a while to communicate since, I am sure, they had no contingency plan for a pandemic. Like most other companies they must have had cash flow issues: no refunds was pretty much the first word. But we had a credit, the money already paid and sitting there, to use in the future; simply put, we made them an interest free loan. The questions were: when would a sailing future arrive and and how would we recognize it.

December, 2020, seemed like a good time to make a bet; vaccines were in the pipeline; things would change although the direction and pace of the change was still hard to plot. The hook: we had to use the credit prior to September 2021, otherwise there would be financial penalties. Sounds good enough but the official hurricane season is June to November and there have been some strong storms in the months prior to September.

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Like Indiana Jones, in The Last Crusade, sometimes you just have to take the step of faith, so we did, settling on early May, 387 days later than we had anticipated. It had taken us most of a year to get things coordinated between six people, four of whom worked, to all arrive at a place, on a date and time. Given the Covid issues for testing to clear customs, we didn't even try to do it again. Our sailing adventures will end as they began: two people on a boat pointing the bow toward open water. A bit of a disappointment, probably more for Carol than me.

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Gabriel García Márquez won a Nobel Prize for Literature for writing "Love in the Time of Cholera." The unwritten sequel, "Travel in the Time of Covid," will never be so honored. It's just plain ugly. Drug dealers and international arms merchants can move more freely than old, retired folks from the mountains. Forms, tests, certifications, insurance, travel portals, quarantines, etc. Like the farmer said, "You (almost) can't get there from here."

The Moorings, from which we chartered the vessel, gave us until September, 2021 to reschedule without penalties. So, we did. Best guess: we were probably four months too early; later probably might have cut down the Covid crap significantly. However, waiting until September would have put us in the heart of the hurricane season. The month of May became the least bad of some not very good choices, with earlier than May being even worse.

Prior to Covid, planning an international trip had been pretty easy. A U.S. passport took care of most of the world; for the rest a simple visa did the trick. Today, not so much. Covid tests at both ends of the trip, quarantines, certificates of insurance, prepaid quarantine hotels, BVI travel documents. The list just goes on forever. The concept of getting there is half the fun... fuggetaboutit!!! Getting there is no fun at all even if you succeed in getting there. We will be gone from the house for 28 days to take a 17 day cruise. Covid stuff added at least 8 days to the trip. The good news, such as it is, those days are on an island in the Caribbean; the hotels are fairly cheap. So, maybe, the glass is half full. A cynical person could look at all this and say that the BVI had put together a hotel occupancy program: maybe not so many guests, but each guest will have to stay many more nights.

Our usual division of labor has had me doing all the on-the-water planning and Carol doing the over-land planning. That division of labor broke down badly in planning for this trip. Carol's computer literacy is not the greatest and that was required in depth for this trip. Setting up portals for Covid testing and results; being able to provide a stack of documents on hand and online in a PDF format; navigating the BVI gateway for travel documents. And this got us to a stylistic clash: I want it all done today; Carol is more of a just-in-time person. The penalty of not being able to get onto one plane or off another, with all the money we had prepaid, sort of focused my mind. This just made the whole planning process even more fraught than usual.

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With two people instead of six, a 45-ft. boat was serious overkill. So, we went from the largest mono-hull to the smallest at 38-ft. This is the same size as we had on the second Canadian charter and it was very comfortable for the two of us and handling the slightly larger boat was no problem. Since this was, maybe, our last hurrah, I wanted a fully battened mainsail. These require a lot more mucking about with lines in managing the sail, but battened mainsails are better at capturing the wind. My research says that in May in the BVI the winds are 15 - 25 knots from the SE; these south-easterly's are the trade winds that brought Europeans to this hemisphere.

The cockpit has a Bimini which will provide Carol with some sun protection; that was also a requirement. It has an all-chain road, 200-ft. with an anchor windlass and this is very good. It has a Delta anchor and in my opinion, this is not good at all. Our boat came with an identical anchor. It was quickly replaced by a succession of other anchors until we found our Manson Supreme. But, for 17 days, we can live with it.

The boat is made by Beneteau, the same folks that made our Ziveli. The two cabins are the same as we had. We will use one for sleeping, the choice being made on boarding, and one for stuff, of which there may be less this year. For the Maine and Canadian trips there was a serious need for foul weather gear, always bulky and heavy, as well as enough regular clothing to cover a wide temperature range. This year, after more than 50 years, Carol said she takes too much stuff on trips and would take less for this one. I never thought that these words would pass her lips, Carols definition of necessary not being recognizable to most folks. To lock in this (temporary?) insanity we bought her a much smaller suitcase, smaller still being a relative term which is to say that it is not actually small.

As we have done on the last charters we are also carrying a suitcase just with boat stuff: charts, jack lines and harnesses, anchoring and cruising guides, chain snubbers, etc. The maximum bag weight for air travel, without a penalty, is 50-lbs. This bag will weigh in the high 40's. Of course, we also have the Captain's Log given to us by Stan and Connie in 2007; there are enough pages to handle this trip.

Having planned trip over a couple of years I guess that it was ironic that we did not know if it would happen at all until Wednesday morning, the day we would drive to Charlotte for the Thursday flight. Covid tests had to be in a five day window. Easy enough to get one on Sunday. But, the results had to be uploaded to a BVI website in order to get travel documents which would allow us to board the plane in San Juan. So, Tuesday morning at zero dark thirty, the results arrived in email and by zero dark fifty they were on their way to the BVI. The deal was pretty simple: it was Tuesday, we were leaving on Wednesday and did not have the necessary documents. Not much sleep that night, no plan B's on the horizon. So I was up at zero even-darker thirty when the stuff arrived in email, only a few hours ahead of leaving the house. Not too much fun, too much worry, a wrong step for a good trip.

We flew south from Charlotte to Miami, Miami to San Juan and took a small plane to Tortola/Beef Island. A long day, schlepping two suitcases and a heavy backpack. The only good that can be said about this trip was that it did not include Vancouver and its many hours of standing in line to clear customs. Also, no jet lag. The BVI are in the Atlantic time zone, -4 hours from UTC, vs the eastern US which is -5 hours from UTC except during DST, which we are. So, no time change.

Posted by sailziveli 22:25 Archived in British Virgin Islands Comments (0)

Our Alpha Event for Sailing

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 Comments (0)

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