Nine Cats, Many Lives
A zany flotilla marked by shiny multihulls and sailors' boundless enthusiasm helps to make old territory feel new once again. From our "Consider a Catamaran" special in our July 2007 issue
My joy when I was asked to host a CW Sail-a-Cat Adventure Charter was immediately replaced by trepidation when I was assigned to come up with a "Fat Evaluation" of the fleet, an analysis, if you will, in my own words about this type of sailing experience in company.
Needless to say, I was horrified. This sounded as if they expected competency from me, something I'd never indicated that I was interested in or capable of. Frankly, I hate being elevated to my level of idiocy, which, I must admit, doesn't take much elevation at all. But the job of being a starving writer is a difficult one. Hunger is compelling. I decided to soldier on.
The first person I met on Tortola was Peter King of King Yacht Charters. Peter and his wife, Carol, are partners with the magazine and conduct the trips. No words were minced. He came straight to the point.
"Your job," he said, "is to relax. Don't worry about anything. Do you think you can handle that?"
Already I was bending under the pressure to perform!
"I'll try," I said. "I make no promises, but I'll try. Is there anything I should know? Do? Are there any rules?"
"No, no, and no," Carol chimed in with a smile.
Already I was beginning to like them.
Our weeklong flotilla-a respite from our circumnavigation and a return to our old stomping grounds-began with a party. It also ended with a party. And there were a lot of parties in between. But it was the first welcome party at Peg Leg Landing, at Nanny Cay Marina and Hotel, that I approached with butterflies of self-doubt: After all, I wouldn't get a second chance to make a first impression.
"How do we do this?" asked Carolyn, my wife and co-host, as we climbed the stairs to the noisy, reggae-rocked restaurant and bar.
"I'm not sure," I said. "Let's start off with you distracting the men while I flirt shamelessly with their wives."
"So it's business as usual," she muttered to herself as she slid off to mingle.
There was a crowd of rowdy people bellied up to the bar, many of them dressed in their purple Cruising World Adventure Charter T-shirts. I shook a few hands, patted a few backs, and was surprised to be accosted by one drunken fellow who proudly informed me that he didn't read Cruising World and he didn't care who I was. He was merely interested in the chartering.
Of course, I took it as a challenge. I turned on the charm. At first, he seemed immune. Luckily, after following him back to his table, I was able to dazzle a few of his crew.
I soon caught sight of Peter motioning at me from across the room, but I didn't allow it to distract me, not when I finally had the whole table laughing at my sea yarns. I kept it up for almost an hour, until the whole group of them were on the floor, holding their laugh-cramped stomachs and pathetically demanding that I stop telling them jokes.
Peter is a kind man. He's always smiling. "No purple!" he laughed, and motioned to the distant table I'd just worked so hard. "Not one of ours!"
"Making your usual first impression, are you?" Carolyn snickered as she floated by.
Luckily, I was rescued from turning beet red by Tim Miller, who was skippering Dream Weaver, a Fountaine Pajot Belize 43. An experienced sailor who teaches sailing at the Culver Military Academy, in Culver, Indiana, he was soon regaling us with riveting tales of square-riggers, wayward-but-willing cadets, and rough ocean passages in the Caribbean.
"This is my second charter with these folks," he told me. "And I'm already signed up for Thailand and Spain. I'd go on every one if I could!"
I would've liked to have talked boats with Tim some more, but I was distracted by one of his crew, Ray Barsaloux, of Largo, Florida. Ray, a smiley, beaming fellow, brimmed with good vibes. He was also an intelligent and insightful occupational therapist who immediately proved it by saying, "Boy, are you in the wrong job, Fatty!"
His daughter, "Grilled Cheese" Cheryl Barsaloux, was with him. She had so much metal piercing her body I was thankful that I didn't have a magnet. Her smile was amazing. And she quickly had all the island men panting after her. In fact, she got her chartering nickname the very first night when one of her suitors said, "She so hot, mon, she like grilled cheese!"
Grilled Cheese always made me laugh. When I questioned her on her sailing experience, she exaggerated: "Zero. Less, actually." A surgery-instrument technician, she finally admitted to being "on a cruise ship once or twice, sort of."
I learned an important lesson that first night: Charterers are a diverse lot with only two common denominators: a lust for adventure and a willingness to try new things. And Peter was correct: My job was to relax.
"Damn it!" I yelled at Carolyn the following morning on the dock when I caught sight of Sea Dream, the Lagoon 500 we'd be spending the week aboard. "We forgot to bring the tennis rackets!"
It was that wide, that big.
Sea Dream, 51 feet long and 28 feet wide, is designed by Van Peteghem & Lauriot Prévost and displaces a whopping 45,000 pounds. It was built out of gleaming-white dried snot, er, fiberglass. It didn't strike me as a boat so much as, say, a plastic pool toy on steroids.
"It has three refrigeration units and a large freezer," Carolyn oohed.
"How many units do you have aboard Wild Card?" asked Ruth LaBlonde. She was a trim, friendly real-estate broker from Arizona who'd twice chartered with the Kings in Africa.
"None," said Carolyn. "And every time I mention the subject of refrigeration, Fatty asks me if I believe in reincarnation, as if that's my only hope! This boat has blenders, huge sinks, a giant oven, and a stern-rail barbecue. I'm in heaven. I'm never leaving this vessel, Fatty!"
I frowned. She liked it. A lot. Maybe doing this charter gig wasn't such a good idea.
"All four major staterooms have a head with a shower," Carolyn continued. "There's air-con, a genset, and twin engines. I want one!"
It felt more like being on a small fiberglass island than on a yacht. It was about as far away from our modest, low-freeboard, 38-foot sloop, Wild Card, as I could imagine.
"Oh, my gosh!" squealed Carolyn. "There's even a small, intimate cockpit forward. How romantic!"
"That's not a cockpit," I said when I first laid eyes on it. "It's a passion pit."
"Yes!" she laughed as she dragged me down into it.
Ever the professional, I borrowed her drink napkin and quickly scribbled a note to myself-"Passion pit: A+"-before tossing it aside for more important matters.
Alas, we were just getting into it when we were interrupted by a hail from Morgoo the Magnificent. "Hey, bro!" he cried, dragging me to my feet and hugging me like an excited bear. "I'd like you to meet my wife, Beatrice."
Now I hate people calling me bro or brother unless they really are. He was. He is. I'd named him Morgan myself, after the pirate. Like me, he, too, had been born aboard the schooner Elizabeth, and, yes, he'd recently informed me that he'd married a German countess, but of course I'd dismissed it as typical sibling rivalry. (See "The Guru and His Gospel," January 2007.)
Beatrice Chominsky turned out to be a good shipmate with a wonderful sense of humor. I blurted, "Do you
really have castles scattered all over Europe?"
"Well-," she said, and I could sense she was attempting to wiggle out of it. "Large houses, some made of stone, would be more accurate."
I sighed, then slowly refocused on Carolyn. "No castles in your family?" I asked her accusingly. "None? What is your problem?"
"What's the shouting all about? " asked Captain Mark Dubois. A South African, his voice is so melodious and rich that it's like listening to Olivier do Shakespeare, even when he's talking trash. Basically, he was there-diplomatically and yet professionally-to restrain me from breaking the boat. He also conducted the daily navigation briefing. I immediately dubbed him our moral compass.
"Ah," said Peter and Carol as they strolled forward to complete our jolly Sea Dream crew. "All together, are we?"
I pointed to Morgan and said, "We're all here, but he's not together!"
"Does he always treat you like this?" asked Beatrice with an arched eyebrow.
"Since I've been born," lamented Morgoo.
Our first stop was at Norman Island. It wasn't easy for Peter and Carol to herd nine cats out of the harbor at approximately the same time. There was a tiny mixup with the food: Some vessels had all the frozen chicken, while others contained the veggies. "No problem," said a grinning Peter. "We'll have great fun sorting it all out in tonight's anchorage!"
I was beginning to realize how Peter had managed to entertain more than 3,500 charter guests over the years and retain almost every one as a friend. Nothing bothered the man, absolutely nothing. He correctly saw the big picture.
The sailing conditions on the first day were perfect: southeast trade winds at 22 knots, with sunny skies and flat seas. Even better, the weather held that way for the entire week. It was a wonderful first sail, a fast broad reach with the wind over our port quarter. The sea immediately worked its magic on me. I saw the sky and its puffy white clouds as only a sailor can. The water was an impossible blue. Gulls wheeled. Flying fish zigged. Porpoises zagged. Even the distant palm trees seemed to be waving welcome.
We managed to pick up a mooring at Norman's well-known Bight well before dark. Some of the crew snorkeled, others shared piña coladas, and Carolyn and I retired to our stateroom for a nap. Later, we dined, all 55 of us, at Pirates Bight, a restaurant on the eastern side of the spacious anchorage.
The next morning, we visited Sea of Love, a Lagoon 440. The sailors were eating breakfast and dealt us in. I was intrigued with the galley/cockpit arrangement: By sliding open the aft main cabin windows, food could easily be passed out to the large cockpit table. I wanted to see if it was really as convenient as it seemed. "More pancakes!" I shouted. Carolyn helped out: "More coffee, too!"
Ah, there's nothing like hands-on testing when it comes to techno-nautical stuff. Needless to say, ever the professional, I jotted it all down on a borrowed syrup-stained paper towel. We were soon passing dishes back and forth like Frisbees through the well-designed opening.
Of course, between long and elaborate charter meals we did manage to slip in an occasional sail. Actually, we stayed aboard Sea of Love for the entire day. Why not? We had no schedule. The food was good, the crew congenial. How much closer to paradise could we get?
Sea of Love was ably skippered by Larry Jaworski- a Hunter 29 owner who'd also previously chartered with the group. His crew were especially warm and friendly, with professional dance instructor Linda Theiss and her sister, Carol Karn, waltzing nimbly around the galley while Larry's daughter, Lisa Miller, focused on napping her tan to perfection on the foredeck.
Today's destination was Cooper Island. The entire sail was dead to weather in brisk trades. Needless to say, we tucked a couple of reefs into the mainsail. The Lagoon 440 performed surprisingly well, once we got the hang of footing off for speed and paying more attention to VMG-velocity made good-than to the apparent-wind angle.
Now, I have to tell you something I thought I'd never say: I see why people like flybridges, even sailing vessels with flybridges. While the offshore sailor in me has always considered them landlubbing affectations, the inshore charterer within me now loves them. We were dry, completely dry, even beating hard to weather. We had perfect visibility. We were, literally, above the crowd.
Another area in which I was pleased was the Lagoon's ability to tack. As long as our sails were properly trimmed and we had good boat speed, the boat came about sure but slow, and there was no need to backwind our jib if our timing was good.
We anchored for a leisurely lunch off Peter Island. The afternoon was as thrilling as the morning: We literally didn't want to stop sailing. First mate Gilbert Karn in particular had a nice touch on the helm. At one point we touched 10 knots in a smooth patch. We tacked back and forth many times across Sir Francis Drake Channel between Tortola and the string of southern islands in the territory.
The wind was gusting to a refreshing 28 knots as crew-members Rick and Mary Divelbiss picked up our mooring off the Cooper Island Beach Club, and Trisha Dougherty gathered us around the cockpit blender for the traditional Caribbean sundowner.
The following day was a 22-mile beam reach to reef-strewn Anegada. This is off-limits to many bareboaters, but because of our guided-group status, the visit was permitted. Carolyn and I sailed aboard another Lagoon 440, Gato Del Sol, with David Martino as captain and Peter Gabbe as second in command.
Dave, who owns an apparel-design firm in Texas, has been sailing for more than 10 years, first on a Pearson 26 and now on a Gemini 105. There was an easy camaraderie about the boat; Dave and Peter are obviously good friends. Since the wind was slightly lighter than on the previous day yet was expected to build, we elected to go with a single reef in the mainsail. We were slightly undercanvased initially and slightly overcanvased at the end, and darn-near perfect most of the time.
We led the nine-boat pack northward for a long time until Tim Miller sailed Dream Weaver up behind us and tooted for the passing lane.
This sent us into a flurry of sheet tweaking as Peter Gabbe growled, "I'm not overly competitive, Fatty. But on the other hand, I hate to lose!"
We made Tim work for it. You know what they say: Two boats on any ocean makes a race. First Tim tried to pass just to leeward of us, but he failed. Next he worked up to windward of us, but pointing higher slowed him down, and again he was unable to roll us. Finally he dove far below us and managed to punch through our lee without getting slowed by our dirty air.
"Damn!" I said, my head hanging, when he eventually bested us. "Looks like we buy the first round!"
That evening was our Pirates and Mermaids costume party at Neptune's Treasure, on Anegada. I was skeptical, but not to worry: When the Kings throw a party, they throw a party. And some of the costumes were incredibly elaborate. I was honored to be asked to award the Mermaids prize, and I was going to give it to Rosanne Church-her minutely detailed costume (she's into quilting) was mind-boggling and beautiful-but my judgment was momentarily stunned by Valerie Peiser's giggling/jiggling coconuts. Despite the chaos on the dance floor, I gave a brief after-dinner speech. The gist of my talk went: Carolyn and I are just regular folks. OK, a bit weird, but really just regular people. We aren't particularly smart or brave, and yet we've sailed together for tens of thousands of ocean miles for more than three decades, and we've circumnavigated. It ain't rocket science. If we can do it, so can you. Let's party! I brought my guitar ashore that night, and many of us ended up howling at the moon. I have no idea when we returned to the boat.
We visited The Baths on Virgin Gorda on the fourth day. I love its shadowy grottos and how you can float underwater, then emerge in a cave. Plus I love to climb. I've never been anywhere in the world quite like these caves. It was wonderful to be back.
That afternoon, we cruised with the wild and crazy crew of Castellina, yet another Lagoon 440. Dale Flippo of Virginia was our skipper. I'd been forewarned about these guys. Their 2004 charter is somewhat infamous among Adventure Charterers, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that their sailing skills matched their party antics.
It's rather difficult to-how should I say?-keep your focus in the Caribbean. Too many rum squalls and stationary drunk fronts get in the way. So it's easy to get a bit lax, which is where Peter "Eagle-Eye" King comes in. He's always on the job. He immediately spotted one of our flotilla's dinghies drifting away-and quickly tethered it astern of Sea Dream. Then he nonchalantly called each skipper of our flotilla on the VHF and asked, offhandedly, "And where is your dinghy now?" A long, embarrassed pause revealed the culprit.
"All's well which ends well," said a smiling Peter, who was gracious enough not to mention the $1,000 saved by his vigilant eye.
After spending a night tucked into the lee of Marina Cay, the next day we cruised to Jost Van Dyke after a snorkel stop at Monkey Point, off the south tip of Guana Island. We were aboard Wind Dancer, with co-skippers Eric Boutiette and Sari Greene, of Portland, Maine.
Jost is a magic place. While Carolyn headed off to see Tessa, the wife of Calypso great Foxy Callwood, who owns Foxy's restaurant, I went in search of Reuben, one of the most talented guitar players in the Caribbean, but I got hung up at Ivan's place, then at the Soggy Dollar bar.
The following day, we sailed to Tortola aboard the smaller Waypoint, a Lagoon 410 with David Fenwick at the helm. He had a keen sense of humor. On the personal-details sheet used by the Kings to match him up with compatible crewmates, he listed a couple of dozens hobbies, with drinking between every one. Under eating preferences, he put lobster with shrimp or shrimp with lobster.
A couple of early tacks aboard Waypoint, however, puzzled me. First it would seem that we didn't have enough boat speed and that we'd stall out or be caught in irons. Then, magically, we'd be fine and tack on over. I just couldn't figure it out-until I remembered that Waypoint was electrically powered: I couldn't hear the engine being bumped into forward for an instant to help us through the wind. ("Electric engines are A+ for cheating," my notes read).
That evening was the megaparty aboard Sea Dream in Cane Garden Bay, on the northern side of Tortola. To say this party was a success is to make a vast understatement. It was an absolute ball. Despite our numbers, there was room aboard for all 55 of us. Things got a little carried away. At one point, people were dropping through hatches like flies. Why, I've seen piranhas with better party manners than some of these ravenous, rum-fueled sailors. And getting rid of 'em was definitely not easy, either. I thought for sure Peter King's "Time to go home now, folks!" would be subtle enough, but, alas, I still had to go around later (with an oar for a club) to chase Walter Ried and his entourage back into their dinghy.
Next morning, we beam-reached down Tortola's north side to Soper's Hole, then, after rounding the island, beat across Sir Francis Drake for the return to Norman. We practiced our morning jibes aboard Dream Weaver with Stanley Hornell at the helm, and I was amazed and delighted to see the progress that Raymond Barsaloux had made as a sailor.
The first time I noticed Raymond in a cockpit under sail, he looked like he was scared the sheet winches might bite. However, only six days later, he was nonchalantly trimming with the best of them, an amazing transformation in such a short time.
That afternoon, I studied my notes in the forward cockpit of Sea Dream, attempting to arrange them in some logical, journalistic order, using soda cans as paperweights. One of the scribbled napkin notes actually mentioned how comfortable the cushions I was lounging on were, and I must have dozed off while considering if this fact was important enough to mention in my article. (I'd decided not). In midnap I awoke for a moment as a wind squall came through, but I immediately dozed off again. Finally, I was awakened by a speedboat wake, which made the soda cans noisily roll around on the cockpit floor.
With a start, I peeled open a concerned eye. Damn it! I pivoted aft, hoping to see small, fluttering sheets of paper opportunely stuck to the cabin top. Nothing. None astern in the water, either.
Just then Peter strolled by. "What's my job?" I asked weakly.
"To relax, Fatty," he boomed good naturedly. "Just relax!"
Moments later, Carolyn came to visit.
"Wassup?" she asked.
"Just doing my job," I replied.
The final close reach back to Nanny Cay was aboard Annie's Toy, a Lagoon 380. This was the only vessel in our fleet with a solitary woman and four men aboard, but the arrangement worked out fine-sort of. Or as Beverly Simmons put it, with a laugh: "The guys attempted to not be too gross and to act civilized for about the first five minutes."
This crew was perhaps the most technically oriented. They constantly badgered me with well-considered, intelligent questions and didn't give up until they completely understood the answers. We even hove to in midchannel so they could see how easy it was.
Walter Ried, in particular, seemed intent on learning as much as possible. "Why do you say that?" he'd ask. "Back up!" he'd command in midstory. "Explain!" he'd inject.
I liked him. He had lots of enthusiasm. He wasn't scared of learning, of asking questions. And he'd come on this charter to learn everything he could about catamarans, and that's exactly what he did.
Then we were back at Nanny Cay. It was a shock. Suddenly, the moment that no one wanted to think of all week was finally here. It was as if the air had gone out of a balloon. I felt sad. I wanted more. Reality was beginning to rear its ugly head, and I wasn't ready. I knew paradise was right outside the harbor. Why not continue on forever?
"Get a grip!" hissed Carolyn when she saw that look on my face.
So that was it. We hugged, we cried, we shouted our e-mail addresses from departing taxi cabs. No longer sailing mates, we now were mere dirt-dwelling civilians once again.
Cap'n Fatty Goodlander is a CW editor at large. To read Fatty's take on chartering options for vacationing sailors, log on to the magazine's website (www.cruising world.com/0707fgcharter).