Luxury, on a Mission
Turquoise waters, favorable breezes, 24/7 pampering—and charitable acts, to boot—all have a place in this crewed- charter adventure. A feature from our December 2010 issue
Via island contacts developed while arranging charters, she saw firsthand that reading levels of Caribbean children lag behind those of children in developed countries. So she cajoled former clients and friends and fellow brokers to donate used books. At boat shows, she’d get crews of yachts she brokered to stow a few boxes aboard when they headed south. When they’d make landfall, they’d pass on the books to teachers, taxi drivers, and friends who would then distribute them.
“The involvement of the local community is my priority,” she tells me. “I like to see local children have the opportunity. Otherwise, the disparity between what we have and what we do and what we bring here to the Caribbean is too great. The trickle down isn’t trickling down enough for me. When you see how desperate people are for a book and how easy it is for you to get one, it makes perfect sense to think about the impact that a book can have, then just stuff it in your luggage.”
The result is an ever-growing spider web of involvements and connections, which is how Ann herself describes it. Her efforts, and those of fellow Matau charter guest Karen Kelly Shea, of Nicholson Yachts of Newport, Rhode Island, are part of a loose, informal network that today includes not just crews from yachts like Matau but also cruising sailors, an organization called Books for International Goodwill, and a host of other nonprofit groups. (See “Ways to Help” below)
And this doesn’t account for all the taxi drivers, school principals, members of the clergy of various faiths, police, ship’s agents, owners of bareboat-charter companies, newspaper and magazine editors, photographers, and just about anyone and everyone else who gets “Anned” along the way. Once she explains the mission, they get involved willingly, enthusiastically, and urgently.
The reach of her book-donation projects is hardly restricted to the Windwards. From the Virgin Islands to the Leeward Islands and south to Grenada, Ann and others are relentless in efforts to donate books, help local children learn to sail, supply teachers with paper, pencils, and other sorely needed materials, and build libraries. She’s emboldened by the success stories, by the kids who sidestep the poverty, ennui, and drugs, who hungrily learn to read, and in so doing, create a better life for themselves.
I’m not the only one on this trip for whom the itinerary is an unpredictable, changeable work in progress. Captain Virginia and first mate Jamie, individually and together, possess enough miles and nautical credentials to preside over scores of naval fleets. The couple and Ann are longtime friends, and they’ve helped her move books aboard other boats they’ve crewed.
Specifically, Virginia holds a U.S. Coast Guard 1,600-ton ocean master’s license, and in more than 35 years and 400,000 miles, she’s commanded commercial vessels up to 158 feet devoted to navigational training, ocean sailing, and oceanographic research.
Jamie, born in the U.S. Virgin Islands, is a lifelong cruiser, a U.S. Coast Guard-licensed engineer, and holds master’s licenses in the mechanical trades. There isn’t a piece of plumbing, refrigeration, or air-conditioning on land or sea that daunts him. He protests, “I’m just a cabin boy!” Don’t believe it for a second.
As if none of this is enough, besides keeping the massive rigging and mechanical, electrical, and electronics systems of Matau in flawless, spotless working order, it turns out that Virginia and Jamie have a fun, silly, and creative side that they shower upon their guests.
From pirate treasure hunts and hat parties to rounds of Guitar Hero after dinner and Virginia’s talks about the celestial night sky, the onboard digital-photo album is bursting with fond memories of good times.
It all starts with Virginia’s one-woman photography and publishing empire, operated out of view of guests, from the saloon, where she keeps sheaves of thick paper, a printer, a laptop computer, and other materials necessary to produce individual scrapbooks, photo albums, party hats, you name it.
“My job is to show people cool stuff they’ve never seen before,” Virginia says to describe her non-boaty side. “I do things for people because I want to. I really like to combine photography and crafts and the things I do for guests with the other part of what I do to make a living, being a captain and driving the boat.”
What pros! The swab reflects. It’s a far cry from what I remember about the routine.
At every school we visit in these remote, isolated Grenadian villages, the children want and need more than we have to give them. They’re so wildly jubilant and enthusiastic when we come calling with boxes of books and pencils and crayons that they practically knock us over.
In Paget Farm, they want Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, and pencils; at Clifton, tomes on ancient history and archaeology. In Colonarie, their plea is for a basketball and net—after someone can find them something to eat, because there’s no food at home.