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I am back on the mainland and blogging from Seattle with South Austin in the rearview mirror. Don't worry Virgin Island fans, I will most certainly be back in the Caribbean for visits if not full-time. And I'm sure St. Thomas will creep it's way into many future posts. For now, it's all about living in the Pacific Northwest!

April 18, 2010

Sublime Sailing!

After racing across the islands of Tortola and St. Thomas, I am finally on my next new boat! I am aboard the sailing yacht Sublime the night before charter to meet Stephanie and Brian Johnson for the first time, though I swear I know them from my previous life here on St. Thomas. One of the first things that Captain Brian says to me is that he would like to hire a little mate. Almost like a monkey. He would prefer a real monkey but fears that it wouldn’t take direction well. So he will settle for a really small person. I AM NOT a small person but I don’t take offense, as I too would like to work with a monkey. You might think this a cause for concern but to me it actually was the perfect start to the week. Funny goes a long way with me and something about them makes me immediately feel relaxed. I truly didn't realize how much I have missed being on a sailboat until now and I can't wait to get under way tomorrow. Our guests have been coming here for years and aren't interested in doing the usual cruiseshipper excursions. The Skipper knows many quiet anchorages and swears me to secrecy several times during the charter. I make the customary hand motions of sealing my lips, locking them shut, and throwing the key overboard. This is not an easy thing because I have a big smile on my face. I am excited. As a day charter mate, I have been to most every island but have a limited experience of each of them. We made our way into the BVIs on the South side of Tortola. The BVI Spring Regatta is this week so there are a lot of boats in the Sir Francis Drake channel with us.

We sail up and down the channel all morning watching the action. The wind is very light. One of the guests is at the helm and we tack into what amounts to a full 180 degree turn and abruptly tack back. From afar, it must have look like we are executing a 360 penalty for some sort of foul or illegal maneuver. Since jellyfish are making way on us, we decide to head to Cooper for some lunch and a quick snorkel of the Rhone. Our guests are three older couples from Joysie. I describe them as older because they are, but also very young at heart and awesomely hilarious. Captain Brian is an accomplished free diver and while completing his customer rub of the "lucky porthole" on the Rhone, found an Easter Egg filled with treasure (some nickels, dimes, and even a quarter)! I wonder where else that Easter bunny has hidden eggs.

After a night spent hidden in a cove off Norman Island, the next day’s sailing is a bit rough. The North swell is in, the winds are squirrelly, and our plan to lunch off the Dogs is scratched. Along with several other boats, we seek shelter in the lee of Great Camino.

The resort at Scrub is finally open and I hear they are welcoming locals to test out their facilities (spa, hot tubs, etc) in the hopes that we will spread the word. This is not our destination. We anchor nearby instead. Here, in front of Marina Cay, the current is still strong but the wind is calm and it is as quaint and welcoming as always.

While the guests are escorted ashore by the captain to enjoy the pirate song stylings of Michael Beans, Stephanie and I begin our nightly water cooler talk without Brian and a little early. In the galley, a bottle of wine as our water cooler, we talk about the day, the guests, and island gossip. In just a few short days, I have gotten very comfortable with this crew and this boat. We do imitations of the guests, (Brian’s is the best for this group). “Bry-eye-un, what is that aye-lund ovah there-ah?” We share past “best of “ and “stupid question” stories. We make fun of each other. It’s perfect. One night, Stephanie tells me about the strangest request she has ever received on a preference sheet. A woman who has eaten nothing but peanut butter and ham sandwiches her whole life. I agree that that is indeed very strange. I’ve taken to making monkey references as often as possible to Brian. After he swings in and out of the galley, I liken him to a monkey. I joke about him having a monkey wrench in his hand as he fixes the aft stairs. One night he looks me square in the eye and says “I want to have a monkey, I don’t want to be a monkey!” But there is laughter in his eyes as he stalks out with a final “I really don’t like either of you” aimed at both Stephanie and I.

It’s a few days into the charter and we make our way over to what I will remember as my favorite anchorage during this trip. We are at the very Southeastern tip of Guana Island. There are pelicans and Yellow-footed Boobies roosted everywhere in the craggy shoreline. We are alone in this cove and it is quiet except for the sound of the birds dive and dining on the schools (universities really – I mean there are a LOT) of baitfish.

I can’t wait to get in! Only a couple of the guests enjoy snorkeling so we take our small party of three and head towards the shoreline. This is a great spot. There are piles and piles of what look like river stones smoothed over by either fresh water streams of times past or perhaps only by the pounding sea as it is has little protection from the open ocean. Oh, and did I mention the ton of fish. I am staring at a particularly feisty damselfish when I hear a scream. Actually, it is more of an excited shout. Even through the snorkel, I understand every word clearly. “Lin-daaaaah! Did you see the soize of that Fi--ish? Whaaaat is thaaat?, a tahr-pon? Look at the soize of its oye!” I was already swimming over at hearing my name and my arm was yanked and held onto (tightly) as a parade of about twenty 4-5ft tarpon swam around us, their eyes like cups of black coffee. I waited for her to get used to (and then almost bored with) the big fish before moving on. It’s always like this. Back on the boat, she excitedly tells the group about the fish. There are jokes about how each time you tell the story, the fish gets bigger… usual stuff. But this is a fun group and you can tell by the way the tease each other that they go back a long way. I can’t wait until we see a “bear-ah-coodah!” I can almost hear it now.

Due to the crazy winds and seas, we are a little further along in our circumnavigation of Tortola than planned. This provides an opportunity to spend a night in Brewer’s Bay. The captain has been great about letting me tag along (when my chores are done of course) to see some of the places I haven’t been. There is a campground here and it is popular with the locals as a great spot to spend a weekend. I’ve never made it here before so jump at the chance to go ashore and check it out.

Getting the guests in and out of the dinghy has been a source of amusement all week and today is no exception. Captain Brian clearly tells the guests “hop off the front of the dinghy and you will be in a bout ankle deep water.” The first guy jumps off the side and is immediately under water. The other guests chime in unison...“oh moy Gawwwwd”. Chaos ensues for a few minutes. This happens in some shape or form each time the dinghy is involved. Hilarious! Now that we are all safely ashore, we head down the beach. There is a palm tree lined road that leads to a beach bar at the end of the beach.

We survey the long beach while sipping on Vodka Tings from Nicole’s and listening to the roosters crowing. I spy the local fishermen headed out for their daily catch. They pile into an unbelievably small boat. Two paddling and a third bailing constantly with a cut up milk jug.

They stay out for hours and though I don’t see them catch anything, I am sure they are successful. They have done this before. What I am not sure of is where they would stow any fish they might catch. There is little room for anything other than the men. This is how today passes. This is how days are meant to pass.

The next night at Little Jost, we sit chatting in the cockpit with the guests and Stephanie relays the story about the ham and peanut butter sandwiches. The entire group agrees that is a bit strange. They make various comments like “how strange” and “her WHOLE life?” One of the women, Trudy, holds up both hands and says “Wait, wait, wait… what kynda ham?” This is my favorite moment. Later, after we drop the guest off, this is what we immediately repeat to each other.

Now back in US waters, we spend a last night at Buck Island.
Tomorrow we are headed toward Sublime’s home mooring in Elephant Bay and the end of this charter. Things have gone really well. The guests are happy. They have asked Stephanie to open a restaurant in New Jersey. They say they have never eaten such great food. They want to adopt Brian (like a little monkey)! They have repeatedly mentioned that this is now their #1 trip and #1 boat, which is a nice compliment as they have been cruising here for over thirty years. We discuss these things around the “water cooler” and I am asked along or another charter. I don’t hesitate to answer “yes”!

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