Life Aboard LULU

December 26, 1999
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Hello Everyone and a Happy New Year: I’m a little behind on these updates, you’ll note, because our kids – the Keepers of the Website and Transferrers of EMail -- have been down here with us and unable to perform their regular chores. So not only is this long, but it’s not quite up to date. Rest assured, we’ll catch up.


December 18, 1999

Chances are, if you’ve been to the Virgin Islands, you’ve been to Foxy’s. And maybe even around the corner – that is, around the point – to Sidney’s in the next harbor.

Gary and I were there, probably 23 years ago, when we first chartered a sailboat, a 40-footer (even back then, knowing less about sailing than the little we now know, we were daring. But then it was somebody else’s boat.) I remember Ralph Gambaro, our much loved friend and also our best customer, who died maybe 8 years ago of AIDS, joined us for the second weekend and we took him directly there, to Jost Van Dyke. I never think of Jost without remembering that Friday night, when the 3 of us climbed into the dinghy and took it to Little Harbour’s entrance, where we just sat in an almost empty anchorage watching a lavender and peach sunset for the longest time. Eventually, we dinghied to shore, and ate at the virtual lean-to on the beach, where the entire menu was chicken, fish or lobster, and once you chose, they went to find it and kill it. If you picked chicken, chances are you got to eat one of the hens scratching around the beach. Lobsters were of the Anegada, clawless type. Fish was incredibly fresh, plucked as they were from the trap behind. Dinner cost maybe about $10 bucks apiece. That was at Sidney’s Peace & Love. Foxy’s would have been exactly the same, except Foxy himself was likely to be strumming his guitar and singing his own unique songs.

Both still bear the same names, but commerce has come to Jost Van Dyke, despite the fact that its population still numbers only 200: Sidney’s a big time entrepreneur, and is doubling his restaurant size this winter (to separate the Puerto Ricans from the [other] Americans, we were told, and Foxy is even bigger. He now has a beer bearing his name, a two-building establishment, cassettes and CDs of his music, a raft of logoed tee shirts, shorts, dresses and hats. Foxy, we heard is also the number 3 top location (I believe on Time Magazine’s list) to be at for this Millennium New Year. And he is charging $999 a couple for that night’s festivities alone. No one is quite sure what the rest of his "10-day Millennium Bacchanal" costs – the waitress couldn’t find the flyer. We also heard he has sold either a hundred or a thousand of these tickets. By the time December 31 rolls around it will probably be up to 100,000.


The hairdresser who cut my hair in St John told me she’s been at previous Foxy’s New Year’s events in Great Harbour and is planning to kayak over and camp out for 4 or 5 days this year. You can walk from one side of the harbor to the other, she told me, just by stepping across the decks of boats that are crammed in side by side and too close bow to stern -- a insanely unsafe situation. Compounding the danger is the fact, since confirmed by others, that the ferries whose job it is to get to Jost, just plow through this sea of boats, regardless of the damage they inflict. Doesn’t sound like fun to me. We hear this year upwards of 20,000 people are expected in this harbor. Glad we’ll be elsewhere.

These days, Jost is the equivalent of, say, the 72nd Street subway stop on the Upper West Side. Club Med’s Windstar cruise ship parks itself regularly outside these once desolate little anchorages. We saw an even bigger cruise ship parked in front of White Bay. White Bay is another of Jost’s tiny coves, this one perfection itself -- fringed by palm trees and ringed by a horseshoe of absolutely white, powdery sand. Back from the beach there is (well, anyway, there was 22 years ago) a tiny resort, White Bay Sandcastle: 5 cabins, a main open-air lanai on the beach that functioned as library and dining room. There was no electricity in any of the buildings; power to run the kitchen came from a wind generator.

Today it’s probably called White Bay Sandcastle: A Resort, Spa, Golf & Tennis Club.

We originally happened on the Sandcastle when we rushed back to the Virgins a second time, chartering, this time, a 49-footer with our 5 kids, ages 13, 12, 9, 8 and 7. The New York Times Travel Section had still not discovered it, though that was soon to change. We all dinghied to the almost deserted beach for a drink at the small beach bar, where we discovered the owner was a Cordon Bleu chef. I wasted no time launching a plea to stay for dinner. Unfortunately, there was barely enough food for the guests, much less 7 other people, and the owner was away reprovisioning on St. Thomas.

Undeterred, and completely focused on the idea of a gourmet meal, I proposed we return the next evening. Well, they weren’t sure, with Madame Chef not there to okay this unusual request. (Cruisers, at that time, rarely showed up there.) Eventually, I persuaded someone to go out on a limb and give me a yes. That next night was magic. The guests were as quirky and original, as you might imagine people who’d choose to spend their entire vacation in such a remote place, with absolutely no frills.

There were frills, however, decorating the ends of the rack of lamb chops served, along with delicate vegetables and some kind of soufflé at candlelit tables in the lanai, with huge torches lighting the beach in front of us, showing us the equally hungry surf gobbling up the sand.

These days, with White Bay apparently on the regular cruise ship circuit, its once-pristine beach is blanketed in bodies, all sunbathing and slurping Painkillers. It reminded me of Coney Island back in the 1940s (late 1940s).

Viewing this scene from afar, through our super high-magnification, stabilizing binoculars we, chose not to even approach, much less anchor in, White Bay. The disappointment would have been too great and it would have required too many Painkillers to dispel the memories.

The four of us did, however, have a beer at Foxy’s, which was empty at 4PM of anything but fat, hungry mosquitoes. And we did return to Sidney’s Peace & Love for dinner. (Our disappointment there we managed to quell with a reasonable number of Painkillers.)

We dinghied into Sidney’s Peace & Love -- emphasis on the Love -- in the afternoon to make reservations. A whole hallelujah choir stands on the dock to there to greet you: two or three young boys to catch your dinghy line (a maneuver we somehow manage on our own at least 20 times a day), plus a coterie of women to hug you like lost brethren when you get off. These ample women form a chirpy chorus intoning, "Oh, hello, sweetheart. Welcome to Sidney’s Peace & Love, have you been here before? Oh, honey, I hope you are staying for dinner? Oh come right over here, love, and have a look in our boutique. Look at this shirt, sweetheart, what color would you like to try? Oh, honey, don’t you love this skirt? Put it on, it will look wonderful on your pretty self. (Right! At this moment your body is covered in a mixture of salt from the water and sweat from the heat; your hair is frizzed around your head like you recently stuck your finger in an electric socket and you are wearing a ratty pair of shorts with a stained tank top. But, obviously, they can see the real, gorgeous you underneath.) They follow you around, virtually steering you and cooing at you until you give in to something. In our case, we got away without a purchase when we said we’d look again when we returned for dinner. This promise placated them, but only after we obeyed them by ordering our dinners right then and there.

That was a tactical error, because the minute they finished throwing us kisses as we left their dock, we’re positive they raced back into the kitchen to cook what we’d ordered. A 3-pound lobster cooked at 3PM and not served till 8PM could be used to resurface our dinghy. Jackie and I had been lusting after lobster for weeks, but postponed immediate gratification because we’d heard Sidney served the best. Had this even been true, lobster isn’t lobster unless it has claws to be digging around in and feelers to be sucked on. Mel & Gary fared somewhat better, ordering the all-you-can-eat chicken-ribs-&-pig barbecue. You can get all you can eat, sweetheart, but only if you can locate the waitress (so recently your very best friend) who, conveniently for Sidney’s bottom line, disappears into the ether after she delivers the first plateful.

So much for Jost Van Dyke.

December 21, 1999

The last few days have been unfunny, distinctly so. The weather has been fluky, with alternating sun and squall. The seas have been rough out in the Atlantic, which makes many of the local coves and anchorages rocky, wavy, with big swells crashing in. Saturday night we spent a really rolly night at an otherwise lovely St John anchorage—Great Lameshur Bay, where we intended to snorkel the next day. But after waking from a fitful night’s sleep (it’s often hard on these kind of nights to tell who’s tossing around most: Gary, me or the boat), we announced on Chat that we, too, had spent an uncomfortable night.

In jumped Glenn of Endless Summer, who’s like an overzealous St Bernard -- always thrilled to be of service -- advising us that it was glass-calm just around the corner from us in Salt Pond, where he was anchored. And there were 2 moorings left, And the snorkeling was superb. And he’d personally bound out to his dinghy, come out to the tricky harbor entrance and lead us around the shallow reef to safety. With this idyllic harbor description and only 2 moorings left, I had visions of hundreds of boats revving up their engines to get there first. So, within minutes we (even Mel) dropped all thoughts of that extra cup of coffee, gunned our engines, yanked our anchors up and tore out of Lameshur, one behind the other.

It was a mere few minutes that we spotted Glenn, good as his word. We were first, so he led us in and went back for Feisty. Calm it was not. Maybe it was in his spot, immediately off the beach. Or maybe St Bernard’s are more accustomed to adversity. Or maybe the mercurial weather changed again. Anyway, the had wind had piped up considerably; the small harbor was crowded. Our 61-foot boat looked a battleship plowing in. Controlling her in the small mooring field and high winds was really difficult for Gary, who’s really become a pro at this. We homed in on remaining mooring number 1, nearest the shore, leaving the one in the center for the Cohen’s.

My job at this point is to get to the bow, and, by pointing the 8-foot boat hook like it’s a rifle, directly at the target – in this case, the mooring – thus guiding Gary to it, because after a given point it’s hidden from his view by the boat itself. Then, just at the very last second, when we’re on top of it, I can stop pointing, swing the boathook down through or over the railings, stab at the mooring ball’s long, thick hemp line until it’s snared, then lift it up (through the anchor chock preferably), drag it across the deck (preferably without damaging the deck) and drop its loop (if it has one) over a cleat. Then Gary can stop the engine. All during this process the mooring is moving away from us -- ahead of us, to the side, or under the boat, swept off by the currents, waves, and the force of our very own 70,000-pound, 210-horsepower of a boat bearing down on it like an ungainly elephant.

If I miss, Gary has to start all over again, maneuver the boat around the others to find an angle to come in on it again.

I hate this job, but I don’t steer well enough to do his. I always feel all the other boats in the harbor are watching me and guffawing behind their binoculars at my ineptitude. At summer camp, I never was good at archery, I was worse at riflery. (Only klutzery seemed to come easy.) I was a perfect dud at throwing a ball, catching a quoits, dribbling toward a backboard, serving a volleyball. I wasn’t even good at shuffleboard. I just can’t get a grip on hand-eye coordination. And, as my friend Michael put it, I’m not a multi-tasker.

The best I can say is the more I do moorings, the less bad I’m getting. But Sunday was a setback, the beginning of a string of them these past few days. After several passes at the thing, I finally succeed in capturing the noose with the hook end of my boathook. But it was dancing off in front of us faster than Gary could get the boat to move forward. I hung on valiantly. I should mention that the mooring, along with its line, probably weighs 500 to 1,000 pounds, and, dragging it in the water, I felt like I was trying to reel in a Volkswagen. Still, I clung to my boathook, as it slipped inch by inch away from me. I could not get it unhooked from the loop because of the force pulling on it. I was leaning way over the bow rail, getting my arm and upper body crunched nicely as the metal tubing slipped further and further away from my grasp. No I did not get dragged in, which I’m sure you’re predicting. I ended up holding the rubber tip of the boat hook, while the aluminum rod leapt off, still attached to the mooring.

This represented a distinct problem. I can’t – in fact, no one can -- pick up a mooring without a boat hook. In St John, where they are trying mightily to preserve the lovely coral reefs (which we have barely yet to see snorkeling), you also are forbidden to anchor in a mooring area.

Fortunately, when signaled, our Saint Bernard was off to the rescue, having brought Feisty in, nicely handing off the mooring line to Jackie. (I forgot to say, I also never did well in the baton hand-offs during any kind of relay race. So Glenn in a bouncing dinghy trying to throw the line at me didn’t seem up my alley either.) Fortunately the boathook hadn’t sunk, though it did unhinge itself from the mooring and was floating on the surface. Glenn retrieved that first and gave it to me, then went for the mooring line. Gary approached as near as he could, I extended the boathook, and Glenn neatly slipped the loop over it. That should have been it. But, no, because the boat veered off to the left and the mooring and its line to the right. I was left between, trying again to hang on to the boat hook and pull in the line. This time the boat hook was not so fortunate: it simply bent around the railing as I struggled to hold on. Eventually Glenn was able to get close enough to hand the line and loop to me and we did get moored.

But not for long, because this bay was, if anything, it was even rockier than Lameshur. We tried to make a go of it, gamely deciding to snorkel since, smack-dab in the middle of the anchorage was a reef surrounding a small rock formation, and we could swim to it. Gary opted not to go -- the water conditions being very choppy, the weather not very sunny and a bit cool -- since he only does most anything under ideal conditions if at all possible. So that left me swimming alone to meet Jackie and Mel. By the time I got there, I was winded, I was nervous that I was going to get battered by the surf into the rocks and/or the sharp coral reef and I was very aware I had to swim back alone and against the current. I think I saw a fish; I think it was cute. I made it back to the boat, ready for a rum and orange juice, a new little combo we’ve taken to.

After the snorkeling fiasco and the anchorage fiasco, we decided we were fooling ourselves by trying to make our way around the spectacular island of St. John seeing almost nothing and fighting unpleasant weather conditions. What we should be doing was readying ourselves, returning to St. Thomas, provisioning in Red Hook and taking off for Antigua, 170 miles away, an all-ocean run of about 24 hours. This trip will be our first solo overnight ocean sail. It’s possible we’re just stalling, hoping it won’t happen. But we got the final kick in the rear end from David Jones, Mr. Caribbean Weatherman, when he announced on his morning weather briefing that the seas are only going to get lumpier and the winds more fierce later in the week. The sooner we go, the better. Or, less worse. So we dropped our mooring lines and took off for Christmas Cove, St. Thomas, a peaceful anchorage where we’ve spent much of our quality time.

Tough luck. The weather got to Christmas Cove ahead of us. We spent another rocky night, but Gary was too busy to notice, because the main water pump broke. Actually it was the spare main water pump, the main main one having died last week. So we had no water. Oh, well. These things happen. Frequently.

The good news was there was already a replacement part on order and ready to pick up in Red Hook on Monday morning.

While there, we know we’ll get our Duffy’s fix (I’ve decided I like the mahi-mahi sandwich better than the hamburger, though last week’s waitress threw me totally off kilt when she told me the chicken burrito is better than both. Normally, I’d order all three, but the weight thing is getting out of hand. And out of my bathing suit.) We will also continue trying to replace our walkie-talkies at the local Radio Shack. Gary and I have been using these handy little gizmos, a Costco purchase from home, not only to communicate to each other from the bow to the stern when anchoring, but also when we separate to do errands. Plus, the four of us use them to communicate between our two boats at anchor or even across a marina. (This is how we plan our group dinners, talk about all the other yachties in their very midst, and how I find out if Jackie and I are going to show up wearing the same Virgin Gorda tee shirt.)

The reason our walkie-talkies need replacing is that last week mine jumped into the water – leapt right out of my pocket – as I was polishing metal stanchions on deck. Gary immediately began calling it my Walkie-Swimmie. The second one left itself out in the rain, got corroded and stopped working. Jackie was pleased at this turn of events, since she and Mel, whom we affectionately call The King and Queen of All Manner of Proper Equipment, have the right model: the smaller, rechargeable, faux-stainless ones with the Call button, and she hopes we’ll take this opportunity to upgrade. I keep telling her we’ll be lucky if we can find the Crackerjack model around here.

Monday turned out to be a nightmare of a day, if that’s not a contradiction in terms. It started out peaceful enough. We went over to Crown Bay and fueled up. There was a small gourmet store there where I saw more different and unusual bottled barbeque sauces than I thought possible. I was actually so flummoxed by the selection, I couldn’t make one. Radio Shack’s walkie-talkies (actually they’re now called Family Radios, not exactly any bigger naming improvement than stereo was over Victrola) didn’t hold a candle to our former Motorola’s, much less Jackie’s exalted TalkAbouts. Gary bought a boat hook, though not the nifty telescoping one that’s still lying wounded on our aft deck. We moved on to Red Hook, had our Duffy’s, picked up the water pump and a new spare. Gary bought a better, telescoping boat hook. We searched in vain for Family Radios. I gave up and ordered Jackie’s TalkAbouts via a mail order catalog (how they get here is another snare to work out) and I only paid 4 times as much as the original Costco ones, inferior though they were.

The lunch, the errands, the shopping, the emailing, the phone calls on land took time. It got later and later. A stop at Marina Market for their incredible steaks and some $2.00 rolls of Bounty pushed us to 5PM, soon to be dark. One of the cardinal rules of boating is never to enter a new harbor in the dark and we had yet to make it across the way to Great Cruz Bay, about a 20-minute trip. Mel and Jackie motored off before us. We started to lift our anchor and, truth be told, it was fouled in a (too) nearby mooring line. (Shhh…we’re not telling Jackie and Mel, because they warn us constantly about how careless we are at anchoring. In this instance, even I had asked Gary when we first anchored if we were too close. See, I am learning.)

The anchor came up part way, and then slid back, inched up, then slid back again. Even the mighty hydraulic windlass system couldn’t bring it all the way up. Finally, Gary tied a heavy-duty line (actually one of our former, truncated genoa sheets: he never throws anything away.) through a block and tackle on deck, over to the main winch in the cockpit. He stayed up front, and I worked the winch, which groaned mightily while the line creaked and moaned painfully, until I was sure we were going to break both winch and line, plus pull up a huge piece of teak decking.

It took what seemed like forever, but finally the winch prevailed and the anchor came up. It was now dark.

Red Hook is a really rough mooring/anchoring field, with ferries passing by constantly. We couldn’t stay there. Mel, already moored in Great Cruz, said he’d describe the anchorage to us and guide us in. The night was very light, it being almost a full moon, and 24 hours before the biggest, brightest full moon in 124 years. So we proceeded.

Gary was actually unusually nervous about coming in in the dark and didn’t quite get Mel’s instructions right. Failing to see the catamaran at the entrance, where Mel had suggested we drop an anchor, he moved slowly on among the moored boats. The water was very calm. He spotted a mooring and told me to go for it, obviously forgetting my recent complete fiasco in Salt Bay. This time, though terrified, I really was on top of the situation and ready to grab it, when I saw there was no line at all attached to it. Mel, by that time, was in his dinghy and noticed that too. Just at that point, we heard a clunk and the boat stopped dead. With the engine thus silenced, I heard Gary say into the quiet night, "Oh, God, I forgot to pull in the dinghy."

During these short runs between islands, we don’t put the dinghy up on the davits; like most other sailboats, we trail it from a long tow line behind us. If you forget to pull the line in when anchoring, it can bump into other boats; but, more important, the line can get caught in the rudder or propeller. Which ours did, dragging the dinghy half under the boat behind it. When the dink hit the hull, its center steering station pulled away from the boat bottom and fell back at a crazy angle.

It was scary pandemonium, as, unanchored, unmoored and engineless, we began drifting toward other boats. Our davits, which extend out far from the stern of our boat hooked for a moment into one smaller boat’s metal shrouds, but Mel and I managed to push us off from that boat, so we didn’t hit and did no damage. That push, however, propelled us slowly in the other direction -- directly toward Feisty, which is 53-feet. A collision with them could make for some serious damage. Gary was up at the bow pushing Feisty’s bow away; Mel, on the other side in his dinghy was trying to both fend us off and get a line between us. Jackie and I ran for fenders and got them between the two boats to protect them when they inevitably came together -- how hard or in what area we had no idea. Our two bowsprits, with their sharp anchors began moving towards each other, looking like two dark panthers with bared fangs ready to attack each other. Gary, Jackie and I did our best to prevent this and Mel finally succeeded in securing a line between our two boats.

With the line connecting us and the fenders out, were now more or less rafted along our foredecks.

Miraculously, we did not really hit one another or do a shred of damage to each other. (Of course, the darkness prevented us from discovering that till morning.)

We were stabilized, but not for long, because the mooring ball read clearly, "Maximum 60-Feet" and would surely not hold both boats. Effective lines could not be deployed between our sterns because the crippled dinghy floated back there between us, almost folded in half and half under our boat.

In order to start our the engine and move away, the dinghy line had to be unfouled from the propeller. Gary rushed into his bathing suit, his snorkel mask and, tied to the boat, with a flashlight in one hand, a knife in the other, dove under to free it. Mel shone a big flashlight from his dinghy to help Gary see. It must have taken ten very tense minutes of coming up for air and diving back down for Gary to cut away the dinghy, which floated off free but with no tow line. Mel struggled to secure a new line, getting mucked up with our blue bottom paint, now slathered all over the dinghy, and then towed it off out of the way. It must have taken 15 minutes more of these mini-dives for Gary to untangle the dinghy line from the propeller shaft, where it was wrapped. He came out of the water, his head and back bleeding from repeated contact with the sharp barnacles that glue themselves underneath the hull. Ignoring, indeed probably not yet even feeling, these cuts, he started the engine and it jumped into service. We moved off and anchored at the entrance to the anchorage. All four of us were incredibly shaken up.

Aside from the fortunate fact that we did not harm any boats, we were lucky that it was Feisty, our friends (still!), that we tangled with and not some other vessel, whose owner would probably have been more crazed and less focused on containing the situation and solving the problem than were Mel and Gary, who, in addition to being old friends, frequently work together to fix things on the boats.

After this episode, we discovered that one of the really simple fixes that never happened was replacing our nylon dinghy tow line with a polypropylene one. Mel reminded us that polypropylene floats and would never have allowed itself to wrap around the propeller shaft. (No doubt he had mentioned this several times before and Gary, who, you may remember, hates buying new lines, ignored him.)

None of these events were life threatening but we had a narrow escape from major damage and a(nother) harrowing experience. We got showered and eventually went to visit our dinghy, now tied to Feisty. Gary checked it and started it right up. The steering station had only come unbolted, a simple job to fix. Believe it or not, the Plexiglas windshield (something we know just a bit about repairing) was the only item really broken.

Well, that, and our spirits. And a good bit of our confidence.

The learning curve is looking more and more like a circle. Will we ever get it right?


December 22, 1999

We are living with an attack dinghy. She doesn’t like us, that’s for sure. This likely has something to do with the fact that I have hated her from our first meeting, in Mallorca. I was struck, more than momentarily, by her gaudiness, compared to most other dinghies, most of which are an unobtrusive gray or white. This one seems to be an unfortunate failure of the Italian design community, normally paragons of clean modern maritime (or, for that matter, almost any kind of) styling. She is gray, but most of her surface is covered in navy blue, red and white trim strips. She is further gussied up by a matching motor and her brand name – SELVA -- emblazoned in large white italicized letters over each of her pontoons, her prow and her engine.

My problem with her is not limited to a color palette. Lulu’s previous owner also had 4 or 5 other yachts (at the same time!) and he must have taken this dinghy off one of his others, since her registration indicates she’s a 1992 model. She was obviously heavily used, because many of her navy trim pieces are peeling, exposing a sort of cobalt blue beneath, which helps her polyglot appearance not a whit. But, even more annoying, this exposed under-surface seems to shed its dye color directly onto whatever it comes in contact with: mostly, our clothing. Plus, its completely Clorox-proof. Whatever manages to smear itself on our shorts and shirts becomes a totally permanent blotch of bright blue.

Beyond all these problems, Selvas are not only rare in Europe: they’re completely absent from our Atlantic waters. Which means it’s almost impossible to get replacement parts. We can email the company is possible, but their answers have the gestation period of a human pregnancy. Last week, after 8 months, we finally got prices on an overheat switch and some replacement rubber. But we couldn’t understand either their pricing or what they were trying to tell us about the rubber trim pieces. (For all I know hey could have been hawking a stain-removal kit and I’ll never find out about it.)

In addition to all this, our Screaming Selva has a hard fiberglass bottom (also dark blue) and, dead center on her bow, a sturdy metal ring that holds a tow rope. (Most dinghies have these rings on either side, making towing them a straight pull through the water, rather than the fishtail effect we get, which creates a greater drag and slows us down.) The bigger difficulty is that at anchor, when she sits close to the boat at the stern, if the water around us is choppy, she delights in revving up to crash directly into the swim platform. Her center metal ring has already cracked the stern in several places and taken great chunks out of the hull in that area. Moreover, as her blue bottom follows through with the assault, it leaves large, messy swaths of navy blue on the white hull. Several times when attempting to board, a momentary swell has allowed the dinghy to take her revenge on me by crunching my foot squarely between her and the swim platform. Dinghies, by the way, are also called tenders, which in this case clearly does not apply.

I had actually been getting used to her color scheme, the way you suddenly start appreciating a friend you’d thought unattractive at first meeting. I was taking particular notice that her dark facade makes her easier to keep clean. I was even coming around to a grudging approval of her, until this ugly, aggressive nature surfaced, sending me a signal that she has neither forgotten, nor forgiven, my rejection. This behavior only cemented me further in believing that my initial negativity toward her was entirely fitting.

Of course, from another point of view, it is also possible that the dinghy (which we named "Doozy," as a complement to "Lulu") is so forlorn at my summary dismissal of her that all this bashing and crashing, as well as her sneaky dive under the boat the other night, are simply suicide attempts.

Doozy has another annoying behavior pattern. All too frequently we look back and discover that she has untied herself, moving as swiftly away as the current will take her. In other words, she is trying to escape. Recalling the other night in Great Cruz Bay, it’s possible she successfully got the line cut by the propeller, but, confused by the many boats in the mooring field, moved under us, rather than away from us. The very next morning, turning back as we left the harbor, we saw she had made it almost out to sea. On several other occasions, in Jost Van Dyke, in Maho Bay, neighbors have come knocking on our hull, to return our wayward Doozy.

She must then have taken particular glee yesterday, when we met Feisty in Great Hog’s Bay (which must be my spiritual, if not physical, birthplace.) We had been awaiting them in Gorda Sound, our jumping off point for Antigua, but their intermittent engine problem resurfaced and we decided to double back, so Gary could try to help Mel. Immediately on arrival, we jumped in the dinghy, now proudly sporting a brand new, polypropylene tow line, of that bright emergency yellow color, which seemed quite the appropriate color choice to me.

We dashed over to Feisty, which was pitching frantically back and forth in the roiling harbor waters, this churning caused by its open exposure to all these strong winds we’ve been getting lately (the very ones that are going to make our Antiguan passage no fun.) I handed the line to Jackie as we arrived, who admired it and then tied it to one of Feisty’s cleats. Jackie, you need to know, I have elected the Goddess of Lines and the Mistress of Nautical Knots. She has taught me what little I know of these skills, which result in safely tied vessels and a clean, ship-shape appearance. I practice them frequently, in an attempt to reach her level of mastery. Given her prowess, it has always seemed entirely fitting that she frets over Gary’s rebellious knot-making bent. (He simply refuses to be straitjacketed into a rule that a knot is the knot to tie up to a dock with or affix your dinghy to a cleat with.)

Imagine our surprise, then, when, after our initial greeting hugs (we hadn’t, after all, seen them in 24 hours) and a brief exchange of recent happenings, we looked up, only to discover Doozy doin’ her thing – she was some 50 yards off Feisty’s stern, traveling jauntily through the waves and across the harbor. This time it looked like she might actually make her final escape.

Jackie was, of course, understandably horrified. This couldn’t have happened to her – she tied it up precisely the way she always ties her dinghies. Ahhh, but you see, she’d both ignored Doozy’s propensity for solo road – sorry, I meant sea -- trips, AND she’d forgotten a second property of polypropylene – its slipperiness. Tying up Doozy with her new line required a double knot (this is undoubtedly the wrong terminology, applying only to children’s shoes and not childish dinghies, but Jackie hasn’t taught me this particular bit of knottery and its name)

The predicament caused by this new, and exceptionally swift escape, was aggravated by two circumstances, the first being that their dinghy (an utterly tasteful gray, by the way) was unavailable for any rescue operation, it being lashed to Feisty’s foredeck in preparation for the upcoming passage. By the time we might untie and launch it, Doozy would be well on her way to Mallorca or Sicily, either of which she probably considers home. Our second problem was that there appeared to be no one in sight with a working dinghy to help in the chase, other than a guy nearby who did want to join the recovery mission and jumped into his dink, which promptly failed to start.

Gary took in the situation and then did what he does best: problem solve. He dove into in and started swimming.

Jackie, by now sufficiently recovered from her chagrin to speak, piped in with an optimistic, "Well, great, the current is with him, it’ll help him get there."

"You forget that’s the same current that’s making the dinghy move so fast," Mel noted.

And, indeed Gary, swimming determinedly though he was, could not keep up with the sad combination of whisk-away waves and will to escape. He kept stopping to rest, and eventually that panicked me because I became certain he was having, or about to have, a heart attack from the overexertion (he being equally phobic about aerobic exercise as he is about excellence in knotsmanship.) Mel was obviously worried, too, and swung into his problem-solving mode, which usually involves issuing some order to Jackie.

"Get the air horn!" he barked. Jackie, eager to something to make amends, obeyed immediately, unusually atypical behavior on her part. For scary moments, she couldn’t find it. When Mel finally got it in his hands, he began sounding it energetically. It screeched loudly across the entire harbor. There really were very few people around, but eventually two men emerged from their separate boats, fired up their dinghies and soon arrived at Feisty’s hull, whereupon Mel dispersed them to save Gary and Doozy.

Once safely returned, Gary explained that he hadn’t been winded or defeated at all: he was simply pacing himself, since he assumed the dinghy would eventually propel herself to shore and he’d lasso her in there without too much ado. He pronounced himself entirely invigorated by the adventure.

It should be perfectly clear that Doozy certainly is living up to her name with a vengeance. (Feisty would also have worked quite well, but that’s obviously already taken.)


December 22, 1999

I’ve just thought of another, entirely different explanation for Doozy’s seemingly errant behavior. She is trying to illustrate Dinghy Drifting, a required acquired skill down here and the subject of many a morning Chat. A Dinghy Drift is a frequent sunset event, as well as an alternate cocktail party style. It’s especially useful when a whole bunch of friendly boats are in one harbor, too many to fit comfortably in one cockpit, and too many for a hostess to accommodate alimentarily.

Someone -- it can be anyone -- calls a Dinghy Drift. Everyone grabs some foodstuff to pass around, along with their beverage of choice, hopefully in sufficient quantity to last an entire Drift, which can last anywhere from 1 to 4 hours, depending on the cohesiveness of the company, I suppose. Each couple gets into their dinghy and they all meet, tie up together and drift off convivially.

There are apparently some pitfalls involved with the sport. I can only describe these second-hand, because we -- that is, Gary and I and Jackie and Mel -- have not yet participated in one. This is largely because, due to our various and constant repair schedules, we’ve never been anchored around very many other boats. Alternatively, they’re snubbing us as The Big Boat People.

The primary difficulties inherent in dinghy drifting seem to be Out of Control and Bumping into Other Boats. How to avoid the latter is to invite whatever boat you might bump into, either before or during the Drift. How to avoid the former is to appoint someone in charge of the Drift, but this strategy is particularly problematic when everyone involved is already a Captain and quite comfortable with ultimate-authority status. I’m guess problems like these add spice to a Drift, especially when the crown jewel of the canapé assortment, I’m guessing is Lipton’s Onion Dip with chips. Even I would stop short of coming with my famous hot Clam Mush, so far a big hit along the more traditional cockpit cocktail party circuit.

At our first women’s group meeting after we all arrived in Virgin Gorda, Jackie and I had initiated the concept of a Power Bar Dinghy Drift, an idea enthusiastically embraced by all. In this variation on the theme, everyone would bring all their leftover Power Bars, Granola Bars, Peanut Butter Cheese Crackers and other assorted crap that fell into the category of Midnight Watch Snack Food, which we all provided for our crews Such fare needs to be easily picked up as crewmembers drag themselves up on deck for watch. They also need to be energy replenishers, since everyone is presumably tired, hungry and wishing to be back in bed.

Jackie and I are positive we were the most egregious overbuyers of these items. I know that every time I went to any market or sporting goods store whatsoever to get ready for the trip, I bought at least 6, not one of which I myself would never entertain the thought of eating. For his part, Gary only accepts Snickers, Milky Ways and Cherry Garcia ice cream as snack treats. But boating lore dictates that Power Bars and Granola Bars are necessary items of passage, deprived of which your average crew will mutiny, usually by raiding the ship’s store of regular food goods, each one already allotted for regular meals.

The math works like this: if you have 6 crew members, they will probably each need 2 snacks per night, plus at least one during the day. So that’s 18 per day per crew member and if you may be out as long as 14 days, that’s 252. Since by nature I am a chronic conformist, who hates breaking the rules and risking whatever dire punishment possibility may ensue, and since I am, also by longstanding and stubborn habit, a classic overconsumer, particularly in the food arena, I know I toed the line on Power Bars. But since I was sure we’d make it in 10 days at the most, I only had 180 on hand. This despite the fact that I’d rather die fat and overexhausted than eat a single one of these items.

Only Jane and Chris went near any of this stash, despite the fact that I had them in a bowl on a prominent counter, regardless of how rough the seas were and how many times they overturned onto the galley floor.

Unfortunately, Jackie and I never got to organize our Power Bar Dinghy Drift, so I’m still stuck with almost my entire stock, though I do admit to serving four of them, broken up into attractive, if somewhat ragged-edged, pieces and passed around on our Third Prize Caribbean 1500 Imitation Silver Commemorative Plate to guests at a recent cockpit sunset cocktail party. No takers.


December 24, 1999

We did it! Gary and I have arrived safely in Antigua, having survived our first overnight passage. We did no significant damage to the boat or any of its parts. During trips like these, however, breakdowns do happen and flaws surface. For example, we had some minor leaks around various hatches; one of our big, heavy drawers once again jumped its slides, opening and crashing into the opposite wall; our cabin door handle fell off, preventing me from using our head, because when that door slams shut, as it does in rough seas, I was afraid I’d get locked in for some interminable period before Gary noticed I was gone, he being Gary too otherwise preoccupied to find me or fix it immediately. But more about that later.

I can’t say it was an easy trip, either as a sail or as an emotionally enriching marital event.

The passage seemed to take longer than the entire Virginia to Virgin Gorda Rally, though it was only 26 hours. Probably we were just out of practice. Plus, the seas were really rough, as predicted – probably 9 to 12 foot waves, with constant swells the entire way down. The winds were strong, 20 to 30 knots almost the whole trip. We were almost always heeled over sharply, with our rails frequently in the water. Waves crashed regularly over the bow and deckhouse. The cockpit, its cushions and its passengers – us -- were wet through most of the night. None of this was that terrible however. Once again it was our different personal styles that got in the way.

Gary’s problem with me is that I was terrified: we were going too fast, had too much sail out, would be out of control again, would tear a sail, would lose a line. I am not normally like this, but I think have been spooked by recent events. The net result was that I found it incredibly difficult to let him sleep. We’d never planned on sleeping in our bed, but rather in the cockpit, so we could be available to each other. Eventually he tried curling up on the couch in the salon, to escape my almost constant shrieking of my most favorite call for assistance: "GAAAA!"

My questions were: "Should we reef? Should we let out more sail? Are we going too fast? Why are we going so slow – how can we go faster?" Should we put out (take in) the staysail? The genoa?

Normally patient and even-handed with me, but eventually thoroughly exasperated, Gary finally settled upon this reply: "For God’s sake, just pick something and I’ll do it with you."

As for me, I elected him, "The Person You'd Least Like to Make a Solo Ocean Passage With:"

he's either seasick or sleeping. He didn’t even want to get up to eat -- imagine that!)

This was good news to me because I couldn’t cook anyway. We were on a port tack the entire way; that is, the wind was blowing over our port side, the sails were set, and we were heeling well over, to starboard. This means our port-located refrigerator followed suit, which makes it impossible to open without its entire contents falling out on the floor. The similarly-located stove follows the same rule, so despite the fact that it is gimbaled for this purpose, the gimbaling appears to be over-responsive, pushing the stove too far to port, so even trying to boil water is problematic. I discovered this during the long night, while Gary was unavailable for conversation (or any other diversion, for that matter) and, bored rather than actually hungry, I rummaged through the pantry (which, being on the starboard side, lists in the safe direction for cans not to explode out at me) and found some packaged Hot & Sour Thai Noodles to make. The simple (on land, anyway) directions were to bring 2 cups of water to the boil, add the seasoning packets and the noodles to the pot (also situated for easy removal on this tack) and cook 5 minutes. It took 20 minutes and I probably used 5 gallons of water, most of which poured over the stove top onto the floor, to accomplish this simple meal. Having now experienced and enjoyed these tasty Trader Joe gems, I would nonetheless nix them and all other such spicy foods for any future stomach-churning, semi-seasick passages.

All in all, given the temporary meal-preparation standoff, I guess it was fortunate neither of us felt too too terrific about eating. I had, however, anticipated this fact of nautical life, so I had put sandwich stuff, cheese and a chicken I’d roasted in the small starboard-located drinks refrigerator/icemaker. (This boat does have every amenity even for a landlocked life. Other than these long passages, I’d hardly call our lifestyle "roughing it." I often refer to us as The Spoiled Brats of Boating Life.

Though come to think of it, much as I love her, I now notice that Lulu is entirely untenable as a voyaging boat. On one tack you can have all the food you want, but no pots to cook them in. On the other, you’ve got crockery up the kazoo, but not a thing to eat and, in any event, nothing workable to cook on or in. A great diet boat, however, at least at sea. On land, she becomes a bagel barge again.

The other thing that broke, which would have made the trip REALLY uncomfortable had it been permanent, was the auto-pilot. It simply stopped auto-piloting, but fortunately only intermittently and for short spurts of time. Which meant we had to hand steer and this is a very big boat in very strong winds -- 26 hours of that would really have been exhausting for the two of us.

I slept a mere two hours (if that), but that’s pretty much SOP with me on a passage, and not much more on a regular basis -- in my former life anyway. These days I’m getting 7 to 8 hours a night – and not because I’m bored. We haven’t got time to be bored – we’re simply too busy, too exhausted from the sun, the heat, the work, and the activity of trying to keep up with the maintenance of a big boat and no crew. Mel says this life is about making the occasional passage, finding out what’s broken, arranging schedules to get them fixed, getting them (hopefully) fixed -- and cleaning the rest of the time. He’s not far off.

In fact, the other day, a fellow rallyer told me her husband had started some important communication to her with, "Um."

"Don’t give me ‘um’s,’" she snapped. "I’m much too busy for ‘um’s!’"

I totally get it.

You tend to have more time to yourself on a passage, but not if you’re a nervous wreck -- constantly watching the wind -speed meter to see if you’re about to capsize and drown, and, at virtually the same time, the speedometer, to figure out how to go faster to your death.

Nevertheless, when all is said and done, I do feel that, all in all, we did quite well with the sailing. Even me. Still, making an overnight passage, and definitely this first, scariest one, was not what I’d have picked as how I most wanted to spend my birthday (which it was). But I was philosophic, as well as grown up enough (and well I should be by now!) to embrace the point of view that this is the lifestyle I chose, and Gary gave to me, which I consider a very big life’s gift. (And, no, I haven’t got my dock lines yet…)

Despite the general discomfort and the fright, I also couldn’t help noticing it was a gorgeous night -- wind, waves and wet notwithstanding. Being yet in the midst of this biggest-brightest-moon-in-124-years planetary event, it was almost like traveling in twilight the entire time. We also passed 3 or 4 monster cruise ships, which, completely lit up, glow like giant circus props across the dark water. And it was thrilling to pass the small, almost uninhabited island of Saba, which, looming nearby in the deep and sleep of night, shed virtually no light, especially compared to the kliegy cruise ships. We also slipped past Nevis, St Eustatia and St Kitts, all during the night, and, in the morning, Monserrat (which fortunately did not glow). Gary revived to do the Land Ho! thing and eventually Antigua became a reality rather than a distant shadow.

But before we could find a safe berth and succumb to the lure of a whole night’s sleep, yet another squall embraced us with its fierce winds and sudden downpour, forcing us to detour to avoid the reef we knew was out there and very nearby. By the time we resumed our course, entered English Harbour, our first choice, only to find it filled with boats, rerouted ourselves to next-door Falmouth and dropped an anchor, it was almost 4PM – when customs and immigration closes.

When you reach any new country, you have to raise the yellow "Q" flag (for quarantine) and then immediately check in (it’s actually called "clearing in") with both these authorities. Usually just the captain goes and everyone else aboard is officially quarantined, that is, refused all shore privileges until the clearing in process is finished. This is more than just a simple courtesy or a nuisance, but rather has to do with entering a country illegally or smuggling in anything undesirable or untoward. It’s all taken very seriously and the fines for disobeying and getting caught run in the thousands, with jail another possibility. Since we landed on Christmas Eve, to be followed by Christmas Day, then Boxing Day -- an English holiday, which this year falls on Sunday and thus will be celebrated on Monday – I thought it likely that Customs would be closed until Tuesday and we’d be marooned in the harbor all that time. So I voted to use the next 20 minutes to get to shore and clear in.

Gary insisted Customs and Immigration are open every day everywhere, but I wasn’t taking any chances. So in the next 5 minutes, we (all right, he) got the dinghy down from her perch on the davits, bailed her out and got her running. I grabbed the ship’s papers, along with our passports and some money, and we rushed to shore. Because we were in Falmouth, we had to hightail it in the next 10 minutes over to English Harbour. You can’t clear in just anywhere. So we ran around the docks till we found a taxi driver who charged us $5 -- a mere pittance by New York standards, we figured – to drive what turned out to be about a 2-minute walk. The two ports are maybe a half-hour apart by boat, but they’re on either side of a peninsula of sorts and therefore, connect on land at a very small, easily navigated neck.

Of course, Gary was right – they’re open 365 days a year. Not only that, Island Time prevails, so they were still open and receiving stragglers, even when we finished. Nonetheless we got the clearing in over with and at the same time got to see a bit of English Harbour, which is a former venerable English fort, presided over in his day by the legendary Admiral Nelson. Many of the old buildings have been beautifully restored. We returned to Falmouth to greet Feisty, who came in much after us and were now at anchor nearby. We had a celebratory drink with them and then tumbled into our dinghy to grab a quick canned dinner and fall, mercifully, to sleep – by 8 PM, we hoped!

It was not to be. Just as we finished dinner, there came a tremendous knocking on our hull, which we thought initially was a bit of pre-Christmas revelry going on in the harbor, maybe we were playing some small part in a nautical reenactment of "There’s No Room at the Inn." So we ignored it, but the knocks became so persistent, and then escalated to yells of, "Are you in there, are you in there?"

So I gave in and went to look. It turned out to be Tim and Maxine Bond, the former captain and captainess of this boat in Mallorca, whom we spent so much time with and liked so much, (and whose jobs we summarily terminated when we bought the boat!) It was very exciting to see them, especially in this faraway setting and particularly since they were with the boat from even before she was launched, they loved her so much and, of all people, could appreciate how much work we did on her. We’d lost track of them since, when we took over the boat, they were totally jobless, not to mention homeless, with no current prospects, and had no idea where they might end up.

And now here they were, working on an 82-foot yacht, circa 1960, named Gael, that belongs to an Italian woman, whom they like very much. Although they say the boat was and is a mess, complete with millions of cockroaches, which greeted them when they arrived from Europe to take her over. They are each paranoically neat (which is why our boat was in such superior condition) so they obviously freaked when they first laid eyes on this new home, billed by her owner as pristine.

"Well, she loves her and that’s the way she actually sees her," Maxine says. For her part, Maxine refused to stay on Gael until she’d been gone over thoroughly, several times, by an exterminator.

Among her other problems is the electrical wiring is so old and worn that they’ve already suffered two onboard fires. The Bonds determined they could not stay unless changes were made. So they initiated a campaign to make their new boss open her eyes and notice that Gael, is indeed in sorry shape. They’ve succeeded brilliantly and will now be supervising a complete refit (it helped that this owner also owns Cinzano). So they’ll be here only a few more days, since they're sailing off on the 29th to Florida where Rybovich, a most prestigious boat builder, will make her over to Tim’s exacting standards. (I was actually glad – and told him so – that he got his first glimpse of this boat at night, so he couldn’t immediately notice our slipshod standards of care!)

And, here’s a last and quite unexpected bonus: Tim and Maxine need to buy a used dinghy and they’re still quite attached to Doozy. They mentioned they may want to buy her! They said this right in front of her, and, I swear, I could hear her panting after them. Not to mention see her straining at her polypropylene tether.

This piece of potential good luck, rather than throwing me into a fit of ecstasy, instead enabled me to discover how attached I’ve become to the little witch. Though selling her could potentially save us thousands over the years in future Clorox purchases, it will cost far more to replace her. And at this point, having watched Jackie and Mel’s daily struggle keeping their light gray dinghy spiffy, I’d probably only want to replace her with an unspoiled, non-peeling and non-staining new Selva!


December 25, Christmas Day

Before I allowed ourselves the luxury of the purported monster Christmas party at 11AM in English Harbor, (they say 2,000 bottles of champagne for 4,000 people) we had to rearrange the freezer and defrost it for the kids’ visit, what with Wendy a vegetarian and all our veggie and chicken candidates buried at the bottom. I was horrified to discover that had I done some of this creative shifting, BEFORE we left Red Hook (too lazy) I could have had bought at least six more Porterhouses, not to mention hefty quantities of lamb and veal chops, maybe even a standing rib roast, from the Marina Market. Only the mirage of my any-day-now diet appreciates this turn of events.

Oh, well…I am now working up a plan of exactly how to carry back some US meat (to stack up it’ll have to be Lobel’s on Madison Avenue) when we go home at the end of January, but I'm not risking – not even for a perfect Porterhouse or a divine pork chop -- a smuggling arrest, with the next 4 cruising years spent, instead, in a Caribbean brig – or even one of those Ivan Boesky-type, minimal security, country club Federal prisons.

Defrosting complete, we dressed in our best finery (white shorts and an actual silk tee shirt for me, a fresh Lulu shirt and an unworn (and therefore unstained by either Doozy or the man himself) for Gary. We dinghied in to town with the Cohen’s and, while they did the clearing in thing, we took to the free champagne, which, naturally, turned out to cost $10 a bottle (and worth every penny, I would add) plus $10 for a half-gallon of Tropicana, needed to stave off late-morning drunkenness.

It was incredibly hot, we knew nobody, couldn’t find Tim and Maxine, and were starved for a lunch, when the only possibility was a Schrafft-style Christmas Dinner (for those who don’t remember Schrafft’s then Patricia Murphy, for those for whom Patricia Murphy never existed I have no comparison, given the McDonald’s hegemony.) McDonald’s and its mimics have accomplished an utter transformation of the American eating landscape, which means all the inexpensive, outsized, bland, (and dare I say, goyish) restaurants, monuments to mediocrity in all (but especially holiday) meals, have gone the way of their cousins, the dinosaurs. At least in America. Here in Antigua, the Antigua Inn in English Harbour, the only open eating establishment we could find, was serving up cardboard turkey, cold sweet potatoes, and a congealed brown mush that was likely gravy. Hark! the Schrafft’s tradition still thrives. Except at an un-Schrafftlike tariff. This holiday meal cost $70 per person. And that’s American dollars -- $175 in E.C. dollars.

So we retreated to our individual boats, where I made leftover chicken sandwiches on stale bread, average cost, around 65 cents. Also worth every penny. (Good bread is another procurement problem in this life. We anxiously await a French island.)

We did some work on the boats, though it was supposed to be a day of rest and revelry (and Jackie’s birthday, I might add, whereupon she once again -- after two long days of being 2 years younger than I --resumes our normal and proper age-ratio.) At about 7PM we put on our same best duds and went sniffing out a better restaurant. And there in Falmouth Harbor was Southern Cross, now open for the evening -- an upstairs restaurant of Italian pretension, in a lovely setting over the water. Pretension is the word, in all senses. It was a 3-glass, multi-fork, charger-plate presentation, with prices to match. Serving pretend Italian food. If only the dishes had been as divine as their description.

Still, we did enjoy our first courses – Gary and I shared Vitello Tonnato, which tasted good and since I’m not yet an expert in this recipe, it passed my otherwise more exacting scrutiny. Jackie and Mel had very passable mixed salads, but only after they didn’t pass them on first delivery, requesting, and eventually getting, some parmesan cheese and walnuts to flavor them up.

Main courses were excruciatingly dull. Jackie’s tuna was unsauced, unmarinated and overdone; Mel and Gary had some quasi-Caribbean spaghetti, which was really a bogus Frutti di Mare concoction, with the fish morsels tasting more like old fruit than fresh conch and calamari. I elected to have this dish without the fish, just a spicy marinara sauce. The operative word was "spicy" rather than tasty.

Anyway, the wine was good, the company excellent, and the setting gorgeous. After which we toured the mega-yachts in the immediate vicinity, which numbered around 20 gorgeous specimens.

It was a strange Christmas, not only because of the weather, but because I couldn’t reach any of the children, given time differences and their varied party locations.

So, we just went on to bed, just a regular Saturday night. With the prospect of today, Sunday, to look forward to – not, once again, a day of rest, but Bed-Linen-Changing Day, which also means Laundry Day, plus our running list of new and old boat chores to consummate. Though we did take time out to do the same for our so-recently-strained marriage.

Wishing a Happy New Year to all. I’m planning on being silent a while, in honor of the millennium-worth of words I’ve recently put on your plates, along with the children’s visit, starting tomorrow. Not to mention the laundry that now awaits folding, the salt that needs cleaning from the decks and the metal that still wants polishing.

Lots of love, and from Gary too.



December 26, 1999

We had quite the cleaning experience today. No, it’s not that I’ve turned into Mrs. Craig (for those of you who don’t remember Mrs Craig, then a female Felix Unger) though there is some danger of that, I’m thinking, given how much polishing and scrub-a-dubbing we do on a daily basis. Although it’s inevitable that whatever you do in the way of cleaning needs to be redone eventually – and sooner rather than later. The sea air and the sun’s harsh rays are as unfriendly an environment to the boat’s skin as they are to our own.

One of the cleaning problems we all encounter is that the only place we get fresh water to wash down the boat (especially after a crossing, when it’s covered in salt.) is when we’re at the dock in a marina. But most yachties – us included – hate being in a marina, except to buy provisions and then only when you’re down to your last slice of bologna. Marinas are hot, usually airless, and expensive. The only other reason yachties like them is they’re plugged into electricity and can run the air conditioners. (The only other way to run air conditioning when you’re on the hook is by running the generators, something, if they have them at all, yachties abhor. It’s expensive and puts wear and tear on the generator.) We’ve dealt with our need for air conditioning at night by running our generator at night – but that, it needs to be noted, is only because we’re the Spoiled Brats of Boating. We’ve decided we’ll just have to replace the generator sooner rather than later and it’ll simply be one of the costs of the boating life. Sounds devil-may-care, but as Gary is predicting, I’m the one who’ll be absolutely nuts when I see the bill for replacing that most major item. (He likes to blame me for insisting on air conditioning, but the one night I said I could live without it, he couldn’t get to the generator switch fast enough.)

So, since we do get our requisite daily shot of AC, we find we have little need of a marina, except for major repairs Gary can’t handle – which so far, numbers one. Except, that is, for the boat-washing thing. Gary solved that, too, on Saturday (he thought) by coupling our garden hose to the wash down hose for the anchor, a fresh-water source, that we have up at the bow. The boat was drenched in salt from our recent crossing, so yesterday, with my new hose apparatus in perfect working order, I washed the boat till I knew I’d gotten every last grain of salt. (If I’m nothing else, I’m maniacally thorough.)

Imagine my surprise, then, when I came out a few hours later and found the boat even more caked in salt than when we arrived here! I jumped to the VHF microphone and hailed the Cohen’s to ask what on earth (or, rather, on water) was going on.(I need to be vigilant about realigning my lifelong land-based cliches to fit our new life.) Mel pointed out that we were now living in a salt-air environment and this was only to be expected. I had to accept that explanation, he being the resident expert in such matters. I just figured Antigua was worse than other salt-water environments because I had yet to see that much salt on the boat: the winches, the decks, the canvas, the cushions, the windshields were absolutely caked with it – as if some Oriental chef were preparing salt-baked boat.

Now I had immediately complained to Gary about this plague of salt (visited in this instance on an Israelite, there being no available Pharoah’s in the vicinity) -- grumbling, I recall, something about turning into Lot’s, as well as Strutin’s wife and for no great transgression that I could remember – unless you count the inexpensive, but nonetheless fetching ,Anne Klein II watch he found under a tree during the English Harbour Christmas festivities for 4,000, which I kept instead of returning, to whom I had no idea. But Gary hadn’t yet seen the extent of Lulu’s new crust, he being too busy inside working on some new mechanical wrinkle to dash upstairs for a look. Yet another explanation for this lackluster response is that it’s quite possible he’s finally compensated for my habit of (occasional) overexaggeration.

So, when he eventually came out to the cockpit, most likely to start some other chore, he, too was horrified at the extent of the encrustation I was already – if not exactly content -- then quickly resigned to this new dilemma of daily boat life. He, being him and not me, swung immediately into a scientific analysis of the situation. (But first he observed that it looked as if some dress designer – perhaps Oscar de la Yenta, was trying to dress Lulu up in sequins for the Millenium.) After this bit of drollery, it took scant seconds for him to figure it out – the fresh water washdown hose at the anchor is not fresh water at all – it’s salt water!

Now this is actually something he had told me when we first moved onto the boat, while he was showing me all the nifty tools of my new maintenance trade. And yesterday when we were both exulting over how he’d solved our boat-washdown stalemate, this fact did came to mind, but I immediately I reminded myself I’m the mechanical and systems nincompoop of our foursome, and so decided I’d misheard him or misremembered what he’d said at my original briefing.

The source of the problem now identified, he put on his well-worn problem-solving hat and hooked up the hose, at least as an interim fix, to the former washing machine connection in our shower, running it outside via a nearby porthole, so I could wash off all the salt.

So went yesterday’s maintenance adventure. Naturally, it set us back at least one item, maybe even two, on the daily punch list of cleaning and repair projects. This frequently happens: something else breaks or gets rusty while you’re doing a punch-list chore and you have to stop to put out the new fire. Even were it humanly possible to keep up with whatever we think needs to be scrubbed, polished and fixed we couldn’t. It’s another one of those "you-don’t-know-what-you-don’t-know" conundrums.

Thus, we worked all through Boxing Day, which we’d intended to adopt momentarily as one of our own holidays, compensating for the cleaning, rather than resting and sopping up our new environment we’d planned but didn’t quite adhere to on Christmas Day. But, at least today on Boxing Day, we made ourselves stop in order not to miss all the Sunday festivities up at Shirley Heights. These start around 3PM and we managed to get up there at 5:30 – fortunately in time for the sunset, if not all the activities.

Shirley Heights is a major weekly event on Antigua. I figured it would be another of those ho-hum island repeats, like the Talbott Brothers weekly "do" on Bermuda or the tired daily Last Resort songfests on Tortola (for those unfamiliar with the Talbott Brothers or the Last Resort, then a Gilligan’s Island rerun) So I was utterly unprepared for how much fun it is. It’s a powerful scenic experience, a drinkathon, a great barbecue, and a rock concert (well, more precisely, a reggae concer/ steel-band extravaganza, all rolled into one big happening. I even detected a good bit of weed permeating the atmosphere.

Named after an 18th century Antiguan Governor General, Shirley Heights is the highest point on the island and presents a breathtaking view of much of the coastline, but especially the intertwined harbors of Falmouth and English Harbour. From the Heights, the land separating the two harbors sprawls forth between them like an exhausted iguana, complete with tiny arms splaying out to either side. Or, as Jackie voted, it looks like the kind of bearskin rug (only in green) we that were once the rage to have in front of a fireplace. I enjoyed the obvious resemblance and congratulated her on her apt observation, but, given our location and the hot, windless evening, prefered the tropical to the ski-lodge metaphor.

We drank Caribs with double wedges of lime, inhaling the spectacular view -- amazing not only at sunset, but well into the evening, lit, as it was, by the myriad, moored boats, which (to link and expand on both metaphors, as well as the long fortress history of the island) looked like a battalion of fire ants ready to pounce on the unsuspecting lizard.

Then we lined up for barbecue (where I have to admit, the portions looked so Eithiopian that I bought two orders of ribs and one of chicken for Gary and I to share – and it was none too much, either. In fact, we had to argue for more reasonable servings than we were initially doled out by the pit-man.) Then, laden with plates, we had to find four available spaces among the crowded wood picnic tables (and here the ski-lodge metaphor was appropriate. We had to drag out the standing-at-Lundy’s-and breathing-down-diners’-necks technique, part of my old Brooklyn bag of tricks. (For those of you who unfamiliar with Lundy Brothers in its former heyday, not its recent incarnation, there is, and never will be, an age-adjusted association that fits.)

Eventually we succeeded and vacuumed up our very delicious dinners in record time. We sat a while at the table, perched along the rim of the hill, unable to tear ourselves away from the view, but eventually joined the melee – a scene thick with people, bumping, grinding, dancing, flailing their arms, even clapping -- which interfered annoyingly with the output of a sweat-drenched steel band of maybe 15 called Halcyon, beating with unbelievable endurance on their rudimentary array of instruments and eliciting from them a most amazing variety of music, up to an including souped-up variations on Beetoven and his contemporaries.

Now, since "halcyon" means hushed, placid, quiet, still, I’d say they are egregiously misnamed, but since they have a big investment in tee-shirts that they wear and sell, and it would have been entirely inappropriate and ill-conceived to inform them of this, I kept my mouth uncharacteristically and mercifully shut, even to my companions. When they finished their lenghthy set of riffs, to great approval and applause, the sinous black dancer whom I’d nicknamed Rubber Hips also stopped his mesmerizing gyrations

He reminded me, but was far superior, to many of the homosexual Tea Dance revelers we used to ogle and enjoy every summer from the Granfalloon’s flybridge, tied up to the best spot available at the marina in Fire Island Pines harbor -- immediately adjacent to, and like a box seat above, the outdoor disco.

We thought, at that point, that we’d run the gamut of the Shirley Heights experience, but it was barely 7:30, a ridiculous time to end. Within moments, a live reggae band started up at a second bandstand, just behind us and the loud beat set our hearts to racing at untenable paces for such middle-aged, cholesterol-clogged instruments, so we moved away. This music was somehow not as appealing as the steel band’s, plus we wanted to save something to enjoy with the kids, who will go ape over this event next Sunday, so we decided to leave. Also fueling this decision was the unfortunate epilepsy attack that transpired immediately behind us, to almost no one else’s notice, I might add, as if this were totally expected, indeed a habitual weekly occurrence. I, of course, was visualizing my son, Bobby, the doctor, as a potential savior and projecting he’d be welcomed heartily next Sunday. However, it seems, the laid- back, cool-it-Mon Caribbean consciousness permeates even medical emergencies.

Which will work out quite well for of Bobby, whom I often think of as Mr. Dr. Rock Concert – he misses virtually no Los Angeles performance of significance or even for that matter, insignificance, and has been known to fly in to Philadelphia for a Springsteen concert. (Doctors, of course, can still afford these extravagances.) Fortunately, then, he’ll not be on call and thus free to totally grok and groove on whatever Shirley Heights serves up next week. Fortunately he’ll be here just long enough to take it in and, clearly, it won’t be the Talbott Brothers.


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