Teacher Knows Best

For this learning crew, mentors come in all shapes and sizes.

January 15, 2011


Jeremy Waters (right) teaches Kaeo Clarke how to make a conch horn on Salt Cay, in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Wendy Mitman Clarke

I was thinking to myself, “I’m going to kill him!” I had both hands tight on the wheel as I drove Osprey down rolling, 10-foot swells stacking up on the Turks Bank as the depths changed from 7,500 feet to 30. The waves boiled and broke over two enormous patch reefs about 200 yards away. I preferred not to look, so instead I entertained homicidal thoughts about Jeremy Waters, master of the fair yacht Calypso, and listened to my husband, Johnny, who stood amidships telling me where to point the boat.

It was Jeremy’s idea to sail to Salt Cay, in the Turks and Caicos, which we were in the process of rounding. His idea was to blow off the well-traveled and, I might note, well-charted routes and sail, as we jokingly said, to the places that had no helpful little anchor symbols. Jeremy, who wasn’t interested in where everyone else had been, was sailing gleefully along just a few miles ahead of us with his wife, Nica, and their two kids. “Oh, um, hey!” he’d called on the VHF earlier. “Keep an eye out as you come around the north side there. Ah, there’s a couple of big patch reefs. You can’t miss ’em, really. See you there!” Slow, I thought. I’m gonna kill him slow.

I don’t know how it is on other people’s boats, but cruising on Osprey is something akin to a child going through growth spurts. We bump into what we think we can do—but we aren’t so sure—and then follows a period of indecision and angst (this would be the tantrum-throwing part) until we just go do it, invariably growing from the experience. From the beginning, there have been mentors who’ve nudged us through these phases, whether they realized they were doing so or not. Each has helped us take giant steps in our journey of many small ones.


The very first were our friends Kevin and Karen McPadden, who, on their Tayana 37, Dream Seeker, never stopped convincing us that we could do this thing: move aboard full-time, school our kids, and go sailing. Every spring, they’d return to Annapolis, Maryland, from the Bahamas, tantalizing us with beautiful shells and plans. They shared insights and contacts gleaned from 26 years of living aboard and many stories over many dinners after many long days of work and preparation. Finally, when it was time for the first big jump, they led the way from Florida to the Exumas and spent weeks showing us around.

There was Tim Frank on Pearl, a Downeast 38, who never would admit to guiding us anywhere; he’d simply say he was leaving and would we like to join him? And we’d say, “Sure!” and follow his fearless lead, not knowing any better. (His ears routinely burned on these little excursions, and he learned to be cautious when answering the VHF if he knew I was on the other end.)

And most recently there was Calypso. We were, by any definition, an odd couple: a 45-foot steel sloop and a 28-foot fiberglass-and-wood Bristol Channel Cutter. But Nica and Jeremy had many more years of cruising experience, and while it’s true that when we sailed together, Osprey nearly always ended up at the destination first (there was that waterline-length difference), it was_ Calypso_ who was leading us all the time, urging us to push what we perceived to be our own boundaries.


“We figured you’d either love us or hate us after that,” Nica said, laughing, when we gathered up later after anchoring in the lee of Salt Cay. Instead, I thought about how scared I’d been between those reefs and how satisfied I felt to have come through the fear. I was grateful once again that we’d been lucky enough to earn another set of teachers—even if, sometimes, I did want to kill them.

The Clarkes have no doubt found more mentors in Guatemala while they wait out the hurricane season.


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