Best Days of Our Lives on a BVI Charter
A divorced father treasures the time with his young son on a bareboat charter.
Four miles out of Road Town, on Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands, we were engulfed by a squall. It was our first, against which all others were compared and none were to measure up. We were closing on Dead Chest.
“There it is,” I was saying to Gus. “Dead Man’s Chest.” That’s what Gus kept calling it. “Right there. Dead ahead.”
“The real Dead Man’s Chest?” Gus, 8 years old, asked me for the 10th time. But the heavy skepticism had noticeably moderated.
“What did Winston say?” I replied. Winston Nibbs, who’d briefed us on boat and chart at Footloose Sailing Charters only an hour or so earlier, had convincingly colluded with me when I’d pointed out the islet off Peter Island’s eastern shore, clearly marked Dead Chest on the chart. “That’s the real one,” Winston had said, with zero twinkle in his eye—well, I could see it, but I don’t think Gus could—and the gravitas of James Earl Jones. He compelled belief.
On approach, the tiny cay looked forbidding. An unrelievedly rocky shore encircling vertical cliffs rising to a small patch of weeds and grass.
“How did the pirates get ashore, Daddy?”
“Uhh . . .”
But then the squall—which of course I’d seen approaching; it hadn’t looked like much—closed around us with an impenetrable veil of thick horizontal rain and, I swear, near gale-force wind. I wasn’t really worried about hitting Dead whatever-it-was, close by but suddenly invisible in the rain, but I was trying, rather late, to haul in a big chunk of the madly flapping headsail, which wasn’t too difficult on the 35-foot sloop Aurora, a simple Beneteau. And Gus had begun screaming.
“This is normal!” I shouted conversationally, reassuringly. “Absolutely normal for the Virgin Islands, Gus. It’ll pass in a minute.”
Before this, I’d taken Gus sailing a few hours at a time on a 24-footer on Penobscot Bay, in Maine. Apart from those excursions, his only maritime reference, his only notion of what to expect on our week’s charter, had come from the Pirates of the Caribbean films.
I needn’t have worried. Gus was leaping about in the cockpit, bundled in his life jacket, in that pure state of hyper-joy which, after childhood, is enjoyed only by people who are insane or on drugs. He was screaming: “This is real sailing!”
When the wind and rain and the real sailing abated somewhat, Gus turned to me and said, “Daddy, this is the best day of my life.”
A little context. Those brochure photos of kids sailing on charter boats always include two parents. Gus’s mother and I are divorced. She feared something would happen to him if I took him sailing. I have the same fear, all the time, wherever he is, like when his mother takes him skiing. Being a parent, as any parent will know, even a married parent, means that however anxious you are, at some point you’re going to have to let that kid engage in some potentially hazardous, potentially even deadly activity—sailing, rock-climbing, bicycling, going to school. Life.
Most parents come to some agreement and learn to accommodate their fears. When they agree, it’s easy. When they disagree, any activity can come under the closest and most prejudiced scrutiny. No matter that I was once a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton-licensed charter/delivery/commercial captain, had lived aboard boats for many years, had crossed the Atlantic three times. Gus’s mother didn’t want me to take him on a week’s charter vacation in the Virgin Islands.