“Sixteen men on a dead man’s chest, yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.” This pretty much summed up Norman Island in the British Virgin Islands. Supposedly, this island had been the inspiration for Robert Luis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Apparently, a relative of his had been a sea captain, and Stevenson had come up with the idea from reading his relative’s old letters. While possibly erroneous, this tale was quite believable. Looking at the craggy shoreline dotted with short strips of white sand, you could almost see Long John Silver lumbering though the forest.
As we came in to a small cove, called The Bight, to anchor, the wind was unsettled and the sky was a metallic blue-grey. I amused myself by scanning the shore looking for anything that remotely resembled an X, but disappointedly found nothing. Lying in my bunk that night, the sound of the rigging banging against the mast, in my mind, turned into the eerie din of rattling bones.
The following morning, we hopped in our dinghy and set out to explore the fictitious pirate’s hangout. Primarily we were going to see the locally well know sea-caves. The poorly protected cove was rather choppy that morning. Hoping to go snorkeling, we all donned our bathing suits and brought our snorkeling gear. But alas, the chilly wind discouraged us from such aquatic activities. It may be difficult to believe that the Caribbean could ever be chilly, but sitting exposed to the elements, soaked with spray that day, it indeed was. While we were heading towards the black spot on the side of the cliff that was the mouth of the cave, our outboard motor began to spitter and sputter. It coughed and groaned while we all crossed our fingers. If our motor should quit our next landfall would be Mexico. Fortunately, the old girl made it to the mouth of the cave.
Inside the cave, I was quite disappointed to find that there wasn’t much to see. I had envisioned a lofty, cavernous space, somewhat like the Pirate’s of the Caribbean ride at Disneyworld, complete with pirate bones and buried treasure. But alas, there were no animatronics skeletons, not even a measly bat. I suppose in retrospect it was sort of neat, but it wasn’t even close to being worth the trouble we went through to get there and back.
Norman Island had little else to offer, so we left the following afternoon. We would soon be making the next substantial leg of our journey, to Sint Maarten. But first we had to check out of the B.V.I.’s and retrieve our firearm. When we checked in at Jost Van Dyke we had told the officials that we would be clearing out in Tortola, for there are a few different locations in the B.V.I.’s to clear customs. So, we assumed our firearm would be there waiting for us when we returned, as we had been told it would be. But, it is never that easy.
My father walked the distance inland to the police station where we were told the firearm had been kept. When we asked for the weapon to be returned the officials proceeded to put on a Monty Python-esque performance. My father would have found their looking in such odd places as what appeared to be someone’s lunch bag rather amusing if he had not been worried that they had actually lost the gun. The Three Stooges-like searching continued for quite some time until the firearm was discovered in a closet with a broken light. Although, it took them so long to find it that my father got the feeling that they may have been hoping that he would lose patience and leave assuming it was lost. The officials made my father take a cab back, but it was a reasonable request he acquiescently complied with.
This winter had been particularly rough and windy in the Caribbean, and the Anagada passage, the expanse of water between the B.V.I.’s and Sint Maarten, was notoriously rough and windy alone. Throughout our stay in the B.V.I.’s we had been carefully listening for a weather window, and it sounded as if the predicted relative calm on February 12th and 13th, 2002 was the opportunity we had been looking for. As soon as we heard this we made sure we would be ready to leave at sunrise of the 12th, and hopefully make it to Sint Maarten sometime in the late afternoon of the 13th.
On the morning of the 12th, I begrudgingly awoke from a peaceful slumber while most of the sun was still comfortably resting below the horizon. It was a bit blustery and choppy when we weighed anchor, but we figured it was just because it was so early, and we expected the winds and seas to drop at any moment. Well, they never did. The weather guessers had fouled it up again, and now we had to suffer for our ignorant, optimistic, blind faith. In fact, if anything the winds and seas had increased as we slowly snailed along. And, of course, the wind was coming directly out of the direction we were going.
Trying to carry out simple daily tasks in the lurching vessel gave me an unpleasantly acute case of déjà vu. Although, this time it wasn’t quite as bad. The fact that it couldn’t possibly be much over two days total was something of a comfort. But still, cooking was impossible. Even trying to boil water was highly dangerous, but none of us had much of an appetite anyway. A comfortable spot to sleep in was as elusive as Brigadoon. I just sat in a corner in a dazed state and hoped that slumber would overtake me and thus shorten this miserable voyage. But alas, I never got so much as a cat nap until well after midnight when I stumbled into my rolling cabin. At that time, the seas had dropped an infinitesimal amount and I was quite tired, so I thought I’d see if it was any better up forward. It wasn’t really, and I hadn’t honestly expected it would be, but I fell asleep in spite of this.
I was quite sound asleep, in fact, because late the next morning I did not awake to hear the enthusiastic shouts of my family. They had spotted dolphins. When I eventually got up and stumbled astern I was quite perturbed that they had not made more of an effort to wake me. Apparently, a large pod of dolphins had come up along side and swam in the wake of our bow. I was even more disgruntled as they described the dolphin’s amusing antics. They said it was better than any aquarium show any of them had ever been to, and that it was especially impressive how they jumped clear out of the water and flopped backward. It just figures that I would be unconscious for the one good part of the passage.
Later on, I was awake for an event almost as exciting, but exciting in a bad way. Out of nowhere, a freak wave reached up 7 or 8 feet above our deck and hit our side light, breaking the three-quarter inch teak board, leaving it dangling by a wire. We had to go up on the bouncing deck and take it down. It wasn’t a huge deal, but it struck us odd that a wave could reach up so high and hit with such force.
Around noon that day, it was obvious that, at the rate we were going, we would no make it to Sint Maarten until sometime the following day. So, we turned on our motor in hope of avoiding another night out in this inclement weather. But we slugged it out and somehow made it in to Simpson Bay on the Dutch side of Sint Maarten before sunset.
In the days to come, we would find out that we were not the only ones who had had a rough passage and were ticked off at the same weather man. Half the boats that left at the same time we did turned back in frustration. The best evidence of this frustration with grossly inaccurate weather forecasts was told to us by soon-to-be friends of ours that were a professional yacht captain and his wife. She took out her aggressions by making pizza dough and violently slamming the dough on the counter and cursing the egregiously inaccurate meteorologist. Unfortunately, this would not be the last time we would need an outlet for our anger at weather men.