CRUIS­ING the FA­MIL­IAR

Cruising World - - On Watch -

As a se­rial cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tor, I’m ad­dicted to the new: new har­bors, new oceans, new peo­ple. But we are cur­rently back in our beloved Vir­gin Isles, where we are in­stead con­tent­edly cruis­ing the in­ti­mately fa­mil­iar. My wife, Carolyn, keeps ask­ing me, “Do you need a chart?” and I keep re­ply­ing hap­pily, “No, I know these wa­ters like the back of my own hand.”

Once upon a time, I thought St. John, in the U.S. Vir­gin Is­lands, was the most beau­ti­ful is­land in the world. I now know that is not true. Fatu Hiva’s har­bor is more dra­matic; Cha­gos is more re­mote; Cape Town more im­pres­sive; Phang Nga Bay more oth­er­worldly; and Bora Bora is far more beau­ti­ful be­cause of its en­cir­cling reef, jagged ridge­line and breath­tak­ing la­goon.

Though we hail from the Midwest, Carolyn and I have spent more time liv­ing and sail­ing in the U.S. Vir­gins than in the con­ti­nen­tal United States, and thus, there are more peo­ple we love on tiny St. John than in all of the 50 states com­bined. That is why we’ve been re­turn­ing for a year or so be­tween cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tions to hug those con­ti­nen­tals and West In­di­ans we love so dearly and who have treated us so well through the sun-kissed decades.

St. John is home in ev­ery sense of the word, re­gard­less of whether we are an­chored in Great Cruz, Ca­neel, Maho, Coral Bay or Salt Pond.

The very best thing we did while head­quar­ter­ing out of St. John from the late ’70s to the year 2000 was raise our daugh­ter, Roma Orion, aboard. She al­lowed us to ex­pe­ri­ence the de­lights of the cruis­ing life anew through her fresh eyes. Yes, our cup run­neth over in terms of fam­ily love and fam­ily cruis­ing, which are one and the same to us Good­lan­ders.

And so it was im­me­di­ately ap­par­ent these past few months that Carolyn and I were miss­ing some­thing pre­cious as we sailed through our home­town is­lands and Vir­gin mem­o­ries: our daugh­ter, Roma Orion.

“But Dad,” she said over the phone from her Asian is­land home, “Sin­ga­pore is so far away. It is so ex­pen­sive to fly. And I don’t think I can get time off work.”

“Honey,” I said softly, “I didn’t raise you to value mun­dane pen­cil-push­ing over ex­tra­or­di­nary sail­ing, and while Sin­ga­pore might be far away, these mod­ern jets are ex­tremely weatherly. Loosen up the purse strings, OK? Work can wait. The ocean calls. Come visit.”

So we re­cently spent a won­der­ful month cruis­ing small dis­tances in very fa­mil­iar places with our daugh­ter, Roma, and her daugh­ters, Sokù Orion and Tessa Maria. In a sense, our laugh­ter-filled jour­ney was twofold: Roma was re­liv­ing her aquatic youth while Sokù and Tessa were in­vent­ing theirs.

Roma’s fa­vorite mo­ments this trip came as we were an­chored off the Bit­ter End Yacht Club on Vir­gin Gorda, in the Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands. This has been one of our fa­vorite an­chor­ages since the 1970s. We watched Char­lie and the Choco­late Fac­tory at the Sand Palace, a free-of-charge palm-fronded video

hut on the beach, and ex­plained to 6-year-old Sokù and 3-year-old Tessa that this sa­cred palace was the only place their mother had a chance to watch a movie un­til she went off to Bran­deis at age 18 on schol­ar­ship.

“But she could watch her ipad, right?” asked Sokù.

“Nope,” said Roma. “Nor did we have a 12-volt TV aboard. And it was an all-day beat to wind­ward to get here on the en­gine­less Wild Card from St. John, but it was worth it to see an ac­tual movie!”

Roma also still re­mem­bers ev­ery busi­ness from St. Thomas to Trinidad that sold Lady­bird books or Archie and Veron­ica comics. They were two items that al­most bankrupted me as a strug­gling writer.

“Tur­tle!” Tessa screamed on the east end of Jost Van Dyke, when she spied one slowly poke its nose in the air.

“The USVI is one of the few places in the world with a grow­ing tur­tle pop­u­la­tion,” Roma told her. Then she re­counted her tales of help­ing tur­tle hatch­lings on St. Croix find the sea on a full-moon night as an en­vi­ron­men­tally aware teenager.

“Gosh,” said Sokù while look­ing down at Barry the Bar­racuda, who lived un­der our boat while in Salt Pond. “Those grin­ning teeth sure look nasty!”

“Snake!” yelled Tessa at a moray eel a foot or two be­neath the sur­face. “I see a green snake!”

Both girls love be­ing toyed with by the Mys­te­ri­ous Wave Splasher, the pa­tient un­der­wa­ter god who waited and waited as we sailed to wind­ward, and then splashed them when they least ex­pected it.

Sokù, be­ing older, helped us with our ship’s chores. She es­pe­cially en­joyed rais­ing and low­er­ing the dinghy on its davits, pay­ing out the stay­sail tag line and help­ing Grandma pick up a moor­ing in na­tional park wa­ters.

And, of course, we sang songs as we sailed. “What Do You Do with a Drunken Sailor,” “Michael Row the Boat Ashore” and “A Whole Boat of Mixed Up An­i­mals” were our fam­ily fa­vorites.

We all laughed when I asked Tessa what her fa­vorite sea chantey was and she im­me­di­ately replied, “‘She’ll Be Com­ing Around the Moun­tain when She Comes’!” Close enough. “Can I switch on the an­chor light?” asked Sokù as the sun set astern of us. (In this part of the trop­ics, the sun al­ways sets astern while we’re at an­chor be­cause our ves­sel is al­ways pointed into the east­erly trade winds.)

We found it in­ter­est­ing to sail with our daugh­ter while she was ac­tively par­ent­ing and nur­tur­ing her own two chil­dren, a much more stress­ful job than merely be­ing a kid aboard while we were do­ing the same with her.

“Now I re­al­ize why you al­ways made me wear my safety har­ness off­shore and

a life jacket while in the cock­pit,” Roma in­formed us. “Al­though, it drove me nuts at the time.” For the record, Roma could swim at an early age. We be­gan “drown­proof­ing” her at 3 months.

In our month to­gether, there were lit­tle sur­prises that de­lighted us. I was read­ing a book on the aft deck when Sokù ap­proached and asked un­ex­pect­edly, “Grandpa, can we check the oil?”

I im­me­di­ately stopped what I was do­ing. We went be­low and I watched her re­move the dip­stick from our still-warm diesel, wipe the oil off with a soft cloth, rein­sert the dip­stick and fi­nally check the oil level.

“Never use a pa­per towel,” I re­minded her. “Tiny bits can ad­here to the stick and even­tu­ally clog up the en­gine.”

“The level is a tiny bit low,” she said, show­ing me the dip­stick.

“That’s only about an eighth of a quart down,” I replied. “This Perkins M92B never burns a drop. She’ll be fine un­til the next oil change.”

Be­sides mas­ter­ing the me­chan­i­cal, there was a larger les­son there: Never get overly com­pla­cent, and al­ways check to con­firm what you think you know. Per­haps Sokù was too young to fully grasp it, but I’ll show her again and again when she vis­its, un­til she ab­sorbs it.

How do you know when you demon­strate some­thing to a young sailor that it might ben­e­fit them for their en­tire life, both ashore and afloat? That’s why I al­ways try to seize the teach­able mo­ments when the kids are to­tally en­gaged, not just when it’s con­ve­nient for me.

At 65 years of age, I value my pri­vacy and the si­lence of the sea that nor­mally em­braces me. Carolyn and I are a soli­tary cou­ple, for the most part, but I love the chaos of vis­it­ing fam­ily as well. I con­sider it a great com­pli­ment that Roma, who could eas­ily va­ca­tion in any lux­ury des­ti­na­tion on Earth, of­ten chooses to spend time with us aboard our boat. Then again, she’s been on the boat in Tahiti, Aus­tralia, Thai­land, Asia, South Africa, South Amer­ica and the Caribbean.

Per­haps the best times of this most re­cent voy­age came af­ter a highly ac­tive day when the grand­kids fell asleep and Carolyn, Roma and I sat in the cock­pit un­der a mil­lion stars. “How is The Sea

Gypsy Man­i­festo com­ing?” Roma in­quired about my cur­rent writ­ing project.

“Fine,” I replied. “And how is cor­po­rate life on the fast track of Sin­ga­pore?”

The ques­tions are not im­por­tant, re­ally, nor are the an­swers — but the ask­ing and the re­ply­ing is ev­ery­thing. Love is made from such mun­dane evening mut­ter­ings.

Too soon, the bliss­ful month was up. The kids were both sun­burned. They had boat bumps, mos­quito bites and sto­ries ga­lore. I luffed up into the bay be­side the St. Thomas air­port. Carolyn and Sokù seam­lessly low­ered the dinghy into the wa­ter as though they were prac­ticed part­ners. Then our daugh­ter gave us the ul­ti­mate com­pli­ment by sigh­ing and say­ing, “I’m not ready to leave yet; I want to sail just a few more miles.”

“Don’t worry,” Carolyn told her while hug­ging Tessa. “We’ll sail Ganesh back to Sin­ga­pore soon.”

The sea had worked its magic, as it al­ways does. We were tired but not weary. We were com­fort­able in our own skins, and happy within each other’s em­brace.

Sokù said proudly, “Ganesh is the best boat in the whole wide world!”

One thing is for sure: This sail­ing fam­ily agreed.

Cap’n Fatty and Carolyn are get­ting ready to point the bow of Ganesh to­ward the south­ern Caribbean, just south of the hur­ri­cane belt, where they’ll slowly pre­pare to shove off on their fourth cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion in early 2018.

On a stopover on Jost Van Dyke, Grandpa Fatty and Roma Orion in­tro­duce the next gen­er­a­tion of sea gyp­sies to the ven­er­a­ble Foxy’s.

It’s never too soon to take com­mand. Un­der­way, Tessa and Sokù get a feel for the helm.

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