Marina Cay

In two years of living on St. Martin, we had very few visitors from the states, but because of our work schedule, we didn’t encourage a lot of people to come and see us anyway. Once we got out on the water, however, and while we were in the Virgin Islands, we spurred my mom into coming to see us and bring my brother’s son, Cole, to see first hand why we just invested the last two years of our lives rebuilding Kai Ohana.

They arrived in Trellis Bay, Tortola, on a flight from Miami the morning after their scheduled ETA of the evening before. That night I waited in the airport until midnight (6 hours) before some obscure airport employee snuck out from behind a security door, whispered to an isolated individual of the anxiously waiting crowd that the flight had been canceled, then ducked back in behind the protection of another door that had a sign that read something to the effect of “Authorized Personnel Only – Violators Will Be Vigorously Interrogated and Duly Tortured Under The Auspices Of The Whole Of The Caribbean’s Unwanted Security Partner’s Homeland Security Act.”

But Mom and Cole were happy to have finally arrived, and like all people who newly descend on the islands from the states, they had many stories to tell of overnight delays, comfortable hotel rooms (or not), lost hours of sleep, lost baggage, nice people (or not), good meals (or not), and the like. So while we shucked off aggressive patois-rattling taxi drivers at the airport’s exit and walked toward the beach where the dinghy was, mom talked on like she’d just been released from ten years in solitary confinement while Cole just looked in all directions in awe, soaking up the new colorful environment.

He was fun to watch, being wide-eyed and bushy tailed even after two days of flying, but he acted like a fish out of water as well. As we were sauntering Caribbean-style from the airport (down the middle of the road) to the dinghy dock, dragging their luggage behind us on their under-sized wheels, a car came upon us, and in his surprise, Cole ran to the side of the road backwards pulling his bag with both hands. He tumbled over one of the large stones bordering the road and the bag (the one with all the textbooks my mom had brought for the kids) rolled over the top of him and squashed him flat, nothing visible but arms and legs flailing from underneath the heavy suitcase. The guy in the car stopped in the middle of the street and laughed like the bats of hell had been released all at once at that “po’ lil’ white boy”. Then, after regaining a little composure, he slowly drove off, shaking his head and chuckling to himself. I’ve witnessed many instances (and understandably enough) when the islanders glean great enjoyment from seeing tourists immerse themselves in humbling situations.

By the time I had gotten them to the heart of this artsy hippie community (after dragging their suitcases a hundred yards through the deep white sand in the quintessential just-arrived-to-the-islands tourist fashion) – the bar next door to Aragorn’s art studio where the dinghy was docked — Lauren and the kids had arrived after a morning of provisioning with Martin. Martin had sailed his boat, Jadie, with his wife, Leslie, and daughter, Daniela, (our neighbors of 18 months in the JMC Boatyard) from St. Martin months earlier to Trellis Bay to work in Aragorn’s Studio (www.aragornsstudio.com). Alexis had specifically instructed us that we were not to leave the Caribbean without reuniting with our friends, and in easily conceding to her request, the timing couldn’t have been better to join up with them for this conveniently festive occasion. The whole community was bustling in preparation of Aragorn’s annual art festival.

Being on the boat as long as we had, I had forgotten that most people can’t just jump on a boat and know everything about it. (As if we knew everything after only 100 miles and 2 ports’o’call under the keel). While my kids carried all the luggage and groceries down to the dock, I had Cole help me load the pile into the dinghy. I was asking him to do this and do that (in all sailor jargon, of course – “now hold tight to that painter an fetch me that plunder while I stow it in these here bags and send ‘em aft for the wet trip back”) while I was stuffing the groceries and luggage into big trash bags for the promising wet dinghy ride back to Marina Cay. He was so confused, nervous and scared that he was going to screw something up, he kept repeating, “I’m sorry, oh sorry, ah sorry, sorry ‘bout that.” I tried to tell him not to worry about it, that he’d get the swing of things before too long. Sooner than later as it turned out, I think mostly because of the rinsing he took in the channel during the dinghy ride back to the boat (he strategically sat in the bow at my suggestion). The whole wet trip back to the boat, we was a bellow’n out the “pirates life for me” song with me intermittently interrupting the song to call out to the sea nymphs, mermaids and sireeeens as one 3 foot wave after another aided by a 25 knot gust completely covered us – the “Christmas Winds” had returned with a vengeance. “AAARRRRRRRR mate, ahoy! Thaaarrrrs nothin’ like the sweetness of the sea nymphs breath in yar face ta clear yar ‘ead of the world’s confines and troubles!” I’d yell over the howl of the wind and the waves crashing over the dinghy. “No mate, this ‘eres liv’n life to all she ‘as ta offer. And ‘eres to them beautiful creatures of the deep, Neptune take care them lasses! Aaaarrrrrr!!!!!” I could tell he was starting to get his head in the right place the closer we got to the boat (or was it a look of, “What the hell have I gotten myself into?”)

As we were at the airport picking up our guests, we had a bit of unscheduled excitement back at the boat. A Sunsail charter boat slammed into the back of us and did just under $3,000 worth of damage — crushed the toe rail, put three one-foot gouges in the stern just port of the name (the same stern quarter that got hit when the previous owner had her in Trinidad – though that collision put a 4-foot diameter hole in her) and took out one of the wood stanchions. Tracy and Alexis luckily stayed on the boat while we were gone and witnessed the accident (along with our new friend Cap’n Michael Beans who was visiting at the time), and by the time I had gotten there to sort it all out, Tracy had done a great job getting all the information and arranged for the offending party to meet me later that day. I’ve admittedly gotten soft in the Caribbean, and I was not looking forward to a potential conflict with an arrogant bareboat charter skipper, but the British chap in command turned up to be very nice, took full responsibility for his actions, and said Sunsail’s insurance would cover it, and if not, he would. (By the way, Sunsail did pay the full amount of the damage. Go Sunsail!)

So after Cole and I survived the very wet dinghy ride from Trellis Bay to Marina Cay (the girls took the dry ferry over) and got the groceries unloaded (while I handled the accident), the kids swam to and explored the eight-acre island while the grownups got caught up on all the news back home. Upon their return, they continued swimming, often jumping from the ratlines, fishing, and then got Cole acquainted with everything on the boat while Preston got Cole’s bunk set up in his cabin. Overall, they just had a jolly old time — not bad for an eventful first day.

The next morning I heard two people walking on the deck at about 4:00. I reached for the belaying pin I keep close by just for these occasions and was getting ready to jump up there in my ninja underwear and knock the snot out of those marauding “pirates” (I’ve read too many accounts of “pirate attacks” on yachts) when I heard two simultaneous streams of fluid pouring over each side of the boat just outside my portholes. I can just picture what preceded this early morning aquatic event in the pitch black of Preston’s foc’sle cabin – Cole: “Hey Preston, you awake?” Preston: “Huh? Yeah, I am now.” Cole: “I gots ta piss.” Preston: “Yeah, me too, let’s go outside the parental unit’s portholes.” Cole: “Yeah, that’ll be fun, Butthead. Heheh, heheh, heh…” So I emailed his dad (Ted, my brother) later that morning, “It hasn’t even been 24 hours, but I think he’s found his element, good luck getting him back!”

Ted sent me some fishing gear along with Cole and a note that said, “Better look out Craig, Cole’s going to out-fish you!” The following night Cole showed his true fishing ability. We had barbequed chicken for dinner and after we gnawed on the bones, we threw them off the boat to feed the crabs (over our shoulders — a tradition we developed long ago). Well to my surprise, it was the first time I’d seen jacks attacking them like piranha as soon as they hit the water. So Cole and the girls got out the rods and were putting pieces of chicken and broccoli and bread on the lures Ted sent. And also to my surprise, they were actually getting hits on everything they threw in until they lost 2 of these prized lures and I put a stop to it (good lures are hard to come by in the Caribbean). Apparently these fish have teeth like nobody’s business. The following morning, I was throwing a big spoon he sent to me, and after casting it several times the day before without a strike, I told Cole, “Your dad buys junk lures.” As soon as the words fell from my mug, a big barracuda grabbed the spoon, my rod doubled over, and it was gone in a flash. I asked Cole not to mention that to his dad.

On another day, they all left me on the boat to change the oil in the genset, make some Skype calls and do some other odd jobs while they took the ferry to Trellis Bay to the art festival. I always like to be alone when I have the salon floor open so I can work in peace without people unexpectedly and abruptly joining me in (falling into) the engine room, or kicking my tools on top of my head leaving a nice lump before ultimately tumbling into the black hole of the bilge — it happens every time. Again, we got really lucky on the timing of this art event as it is supposed to be one of the Tortola’s top annual attractions. The day before, Preston and I went over to help Martin set up all the booth’s lighting, but in all the festive atmosphere, we ended up having a few too many free-flowing rum punches, and though we got all the lighting installed, I don’t think our work would have passed any building codes or inspections in the U.S. No worries, mon, we in da Carib, just no touch da wire, mon, o’ you get mash up.

My mom, as with Cole, did better than I expected. At eighty years old and two knee replacements to her credit, she could get in and out of the dinghy and in and out of the boat with assisted ease; she slept well as Tracy’s cabin mate; she negotiated the cramped head with fineness; she continually cooked, prepared a myriad of snacks all day, and constantly cleaned the galley; and she handled the slight but consistent rolling motion of the boat like an old salt. One day she announced, ”Today I’m all about us not cook’n, I think we should go out for lunch and dinner.” Gotta love Mamaw when she’s tired of being the galley slave.

Up to that point, she appeared to be having a great time and seemed to love the boat life (as long as we weren’t rolling too much). But in the back of my mind I kept thinking about how she would fair on our scheduled ten-mile sail to Road Town (Nanny Cay Marina). We had an appointment to be at the marina on a particular day at a precise time and come hell, high winds or high seas, we were going to make that appointment. I hoped the weather would be favorable, however, or else she’d be hugg’n a bucket with the lot of ’em I’m sure, and it would probably be the end of her boating life, I’m sure of that as well.

But we still had time to burn before the voyage, and for several days the kids would take the dinghy to explore some of the surrounding islands that few tourists visit while Lauren and I would exercise (mostly yoga and swimming), get chores done or dive. On one of those occasions Cap’n Beans invited us to dive with him on a nearby reef. He had a tank while Lauren and I snorkeled and we covered a reef from the shore of a nearby island to a depth of forty feet for about an hour. I was pleasantly surprised to see the coral reef and supported sea life in as good a shape as it was in such a high traffic area.

But the highlight of the whole Marina Cay excursion was Preston performing with Cap’n Beans who entertains a nightly sold-out crowd with a “Happy Ahrrrr” (pirate theme) show in the bar on top of the island (click here to visit the good Cap’n’s website). The building, which also serves as the island’s reading room and book exchange (and Lauren’s and my personal yoga studio) is also Cap’n Bean’s writing studio by day (he’s currently compiling a book on his extraordinary life in the Caribbean. Go to: www.beansmusic.com for more info), and even more interesting, was the home of the author Rob White and his wife Rodie (for more on the history of the island, read White’s book, “Two on the Isle”).

Cap’n Beans has an uninterruptible routine during the first half of his show, but the second half he has set up as a sort of free-for-all letting the gregarious crowd sway it to their whims. Preston rehearsed with him one afternoon, and then played 3 songs with him on the first night (one of them was Preston’s favorite, the “Milk Cow Blues”) and they did another show after my mom arrived for her benefit. Cap’n Beans was so kind to Preston and our family that it still amazes me. He introduced us to the rip-roaring, rum-drunk charter fleet crowd at the beginning of the second half of his show: “Now listen up me ‘earties! Who of ya swabs out der ‘ave seen the real pirate ship moored down in that tharrr ‘arbor?” “AAHHRRR!!!!” roars the crowd. “Well, mateys, this ‘ere family of buccaneers owns that thar vessel and is in the midsts of sail’n ‘er around the world.” “AAHHRRR!!!!” roars the crowd again, only louder. “And I’ve the pleasure of introducing this here lad, Preston Bach, who’s going to come up ‘ere and play a few ditties with me. Would ya like that?!?” “AAHHRRR!!!!” roars the crowd with even more intensity, rum drinks sloshing high aloft the rum-soaked, tropically-clad crowd.

Well, Preston was in heaven during the show and even more so after their finale. He’d played live at the yacht club in St. Maarten on a few occasions, but this was different. The crowd had been primed (in more ways than one), and they enthusiastically participated in the show. He’d also never basked in so much attention after a show, too bad all the women in the audience were two to three times his age and/or married. Oh well, better luck on another Island perhaps.

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