Decades ago, when my other half, Rick Martell, got his U.S. Coast Guard-issued captain’s license, the first thing he did was make sure he got a winter-long gig in the tropics, away from snowy, icy New England. I wanted to kill him — until he invited me down for a week while the owner of the Cambria 44 that he skippered was away. I flew into St. Thomas, in the United States Virgin Islands, and took a taxi to the port of Red Hook, where Rick waited aboard the boat. The next morning, we cleared out and sailed to nearby Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands.
En route, with brisk trades blowing under sunny skies, I saw a whale breaching for the first time in my life. That was that — I fell in love with Tortola, and never looked back.
A year later, Rick sailed our ferro-cement staysail schooner Hammonasset there. I quit my job stateside, and before long, he and I were sailing the B.V.I. and the rest of the Caribbean islands chain as crew of the custom-built charter sailboat Windward Haze. We home ported the schooner in the same anchorage as the charter boat when on Tortola and this earned Rick the nickname Admiral. For years, where ever we’ve sailed and worked, it’s always with at least a couple of boats at our disposal. It’s made life a bit complicated, but always fun.
Today, we laugh at the thought that even in the early 1990s, lots of people, even sailors, had never heard of Tortola. That’s certainly changed, given its position as the headquarters of countless charter companies. What hasn’t changed is that I will always love Tortola, and every time I go back, the sight of Sage Mountain and those emerald waters and my many friends still there brings tears into my eyes for the amazing years we had there.