Following my Passion By – Nancy Terrell
I was born with sailing in my blood and am actually quite surprised that I was not born in a hot tub, ocean or lake as my love of the water came upon my birth. Of course, those ways of delivery were not really in vogue in 1940 when I was born, but I do not remember any time in my life when I did not love water.
As a small child, growing up in Richmond, we used to take semiannual trips to Virginia Beach where I would spend hours frolicking in the surf. My father would take me out on a big canvas float that was popular in those days and I adored it. Once he let a big wave catch me, I was about four, and I was so petrified that I gave up going out with him for the rest of our vacation, which was probably a very good thing, in retrospect, because it did give me a certain fear of the water which is totally necessary when you begin sailing and living on the sea.
We then moved to Bethesda, MD, and would spend weekends at Ocean City or Rehoboth Beaches. I was then in grade school and had mastered the art of swimming. Being competitive I can remember challenging all of the boys to races up and down the shoreline – and I almost always won. Anyone even remotely interested in yachting needs to know how to swim well and how to tread water for long periods of time. They also need to take a course in water safety and a Coast Guard Auxiliary course in Boat Handling and CPR. It is most important to actually know about the sea, its dangers and methods of safety before beginning any boating.
I was never really introduced to sailing until I lived in Manhattan, after university, and started teaching Romper Room School as Miss Nancy. Romper Room was one of the very first teaching programs for children on television. It was before Captain Kangaroo, Sesame Street or Mr. Rogers. I was the Romper Room teacher for ABC –TV nationally for almost a decade. After an interesting work week I would go with whomever asked me out to Long Island Sound to sail on weekends. I remember well my very first sailing experience. It was on a classic wooden Moth and how I loved it.
Classic Moth Boats are a class of small fast singlehanded racing sailboats that originated in the US in 1929 by Joel Van Sant in Elizabeth City, NC. The Classic Moth is a monohull development class using a modified version of the International Moth rule in effect pre 1969. With an eleven foot over-all length, a maximum beam of 60 inches, a minimum hull weight of 75 pounds, 72 Sq Ft sail area, and very few other restrictions a Classic Moth can be used as a skiff, pram, scow, skinny tube, dinghy, or any combination thereof.
The Classic Moth Boat was an ideal way for me to learn sailing. A friend of my husband’s, a marvelous sailor who just happened to be a Plastic Surgeon, not only taught me to sail on this lovely wooden skiff but also presented it to me when he left Colombia Medical School in Manhattan, where my husband was a resident in Orthopedic Surgery, so that I could continue to use it on weekends and upgrade my skills in sailing. It had a tiller instead of a wheel and I highly recommend learning to sail on a boat with a tiller because it is a great aid in learning the direction of the wind. I can still hear him saying, “Pull it to you, Nancy, and pull it to you.” The reason being that when learning to sail your natural inclination is to push the tiller away, not bring it towards you. During our first beam reach I knew that I had discovered my life’s passion, plain and simple, and this love of sailing has helped me to have a wonderful life filled with great experiences on the water.
The Vietnam War was soon upon us and my husband Bud, who was now an Orthopedic Surgeon in the Air Force, was assigned to Keesler AF Base in Biloxi, MS, which is right on the Gulf of Mexico. The first thing I did, after buying a home, was to purchase a 14’ Hobie Cat that I named Super Chicken. This is when they first came out and I actually bought mine new from the famed Hobart Alter who designed the catamarans and began manufacturing them. This was in the early 1970s - I was young and excitable and it didn’t take much to turn my head toward this lovely small cat with her sleek lines and comfortable sailing area. I loved the idea of switching from one pontoon to the other every time I “came about”. It was great exercise and taught me a lot about balance on a boat. I gave up my monohull Moth, which I had not even bothered to name, and left it for the friend on Long Island who had so graciously let me moor it behind her home. With Super Chicken, I realized that I could travel twice as fast with half the effort. The Hobie 14 was affordable and so much fun. I would invite a friend aboard, with a packed lunch, and in no time we would be off sailing to one of the small, unpopulated nearby islands that protect the shorelines of the Gulf Coast.
My sail number was 312, which was really an early one. I joined both the Biloxi Yacht Club and the Ocean Springs Yacht Club and began not only sailing but racing. The Ocean Springs Yacht Club was located right on the beach and we were allowed to leave our Hobies there which was so very helpful. I could literally drive to the beach, from my home several blocks away, carry the sail and gear in the rear of my station wagon, be on the beach, rig the boat and be off within fifteen minutes. It was so simple and I loved flying the hull and being alone cutting through the waves.
I remembered well my early fear of the water when, during a storm in which I was crew on a Hobie 16’, we capsized, far out into the gulf, in huge 8’ waves. The Hobie had turned so that we were all standing on the bottom pontoon with the opposite one directly above us in the air. We had both the main and the jib up when another huge wave, amid heavy rains and squalls, came upon us and turned the boat over. I jumped behind me, thinking at the time that was the obvious thing to do, when the sails came down directly on top of me. The boat had night righted itself but had come down on top of me in a 90 degree turn. Had I been wearing a life jacket I surely would have drowned - as it was I dived down and swam underwater until I had no breath left – when I surfaced I turned around and found myself barely a foot away from the water drenched sails. Scary to say the least and the first of one of my NDEs (Near Death Experiences)
One notable difficulty in sailing Super Chicken was the tendency of the boat to 'pitchpole' when running downwind; the sail plan and distribution of the flotation of the hulls was such that it could push the bows down far enough to dip them under the water, stopping the front of the boat and leading to a cartwheel or somersault and subsequent capsize of the boat. I learned about this the hard way and, as one would suspect, and pitch-poled while running downwind far out in the Gulf. We had no cell phones in those days and I did not weigh enough to right the boat. Fortunately, a passing motor boat wired the nearby Coast Guard and they sent out a rescue boat. Recognizing me as “Miss Nancy” I received the royal treatment with even a Sunday Bloody Mary on board. As I recall, we towed Super Chicken back to the yacht club. I then learned to compensate for this by putting my weight as far aft as I could while running downwind.
When my two sons, Michael and Greg, were born, I introduced them to sailing while they were quite young. I still owned Super Chicken, on which I taught them, and bought another Hobie, El Gato, this time a 16’ with a trapeze chair for flying the hull. The Hobie 16 is probably the most popular Hobie Cat, both for recreational and racing purposes and as a one-design racer. El Gato was 16'7" long, 7'11" wide, and has a mast 26'6" tall, but only weighed about 320 pounds. As with Super Chicken, it was intended to be sailed from the beach through the surf, and to be surfed back in on the waves to the beach. Instead of dagger boards or centerboards, the 16 had asymmetrical hulls which acted like foils and kept the boat from crabbing, or slipping sideways from the force of the wind. Both the jib and main sails were fully battened and had a total of approximately 218 square feet (20 m2). I adored using the trapeze to fly the hull.
All of my friends had Hobies at that time which made our sailing and racing much more fun. My sons used El Gato with their friends, raced against me in Super Chicken. We all loved to gather with friends and other sailors for regattas. By this time the two yacht clubs had a small Hobie fleet and the regattas were totally enjoyable. With the warm weather we sailed nearly all year long, with the exception of December and January, as I remember.
The Ocean Springs Yacht Club needed a Junior Sailing Advisor and teacher and somehow recruited me for the job. I was in charge of planning regattas and instructing the Junior Program on the intricacies of racing and winning. We had lots of practice sessions both on and off of the water. I truly believe that all new sailors should start with racing after they have learned basic sailing. New sailors really need to learn the rules of yachting as well as knots, anchoring, heaving to, how to trim and master sails, what to do in case of capsizing and the other entire myriad of necessary knowledge when going to sea.
During my tenure in this position I took our team to many other local yacht clubs to enter regattas. The one I remember the most was when we went to the Southern Yacht Club in New Orleans to compete. This is a very old and fancy club and it just so happened that the Advisors of their Junior Sailing Clubs were also the Gold Medal Champions of Dragon Sailing in the Mexico Olympics of 1968. George “Buddy” Friedrichs, Barton Jahncke and Gerald Schreck were on hand to meet our young sailors and to advise them as the weekend and sailing progressed. WOW – were we all impressed, especially as they wore their gold medals for the award presentations.
We spent a wonderful weekend there, making many friends and learning even more fine points from these guys about the fine points of racing. Buddy, a local stockbroker, became a great friend and used to treat my husband and me to front row seats at the Boston Club, the oldest and most exclusive men’s club in New Orleans. We would greet the King and Queen of Mardi Gras as they came by on their gorgeous huge floats with raised glasses of excellent Champaign. New Orleans was quite a hangout place for me as Bud and I had rented a lovely Creole Cottage on Chartres Street in the French Quarter that we kept for over a decade. Therefore, we always had a place of our own in which to stay for our many trips into the city.
As Bud had long ago gone into Private Practice we were fortunate enough to live on the Gulf Coast for 18 years. During this time I not only participated in numerous regattas, sailing events and yacht club activities, but I also went back to university and was awarded a Master of Arts in Literature. I also bought a lovely LeClare Loom and taught myself to weave, which I totally enjoyed. I joined the local Weaver’s Guild and became quite proficient – so much so that the City of Biloxi hosted a one-woman show of my work at the George Orr Art Center. This was really a highlight in my life – to have all of my friends, colleagues and fellow artists attend the reception, which was on a Sunday evening and was followed by a lovely dinner that Bud hosted for 45 of our closest friend at Trilby’s – a wonderful restaurant in Ocean Springs.
I was then invited to both show my weaving and demonstrate weaving at the World’s Fair in New Orleans in 1984. That was another real highlight as I adore jazz and was able to meet all of my local favorites – Pete Fountain, Wynton Marsalis, Al Hirt and many of the other great Bourbon Street musicians that I had listened to through the years.
I had a wonderful friendship with a local boat builder and photographer, Lyle Bonge. Lyle’s mother, Dusti Bonge, was a famed artist who had exhibited often in New York, as well as internationally, and was considered quite a celebrity on the coast. I would go over to Lyle’s house, where he was building his 50’ monohull, Lotus, in the backyard and have long conversations with Dusti, whose studio was also located in Lyle’s back yard. It was a source of constant inspiration for me. At this time I was still studying for my Masters Degree and was enrolled in a course of Women’s Studies. Our final exam was to interview a local woman who had contributed to literature through writing. Lo and Behold, Dusti wrote poems to go with her wonderful paintings so I wrote my thesis on her poetry and art and submitted it as my final project. The editor of the Mississippi Press happened to be visiting with my studies professor. He saw my project, liked it and wanted to make it into a book. Several years were involved in this project so I had the pleasure of seeing not only my thesis grow into a bestselling book, that became a source of the Dusti Bonge Foundation now located in its own building in Biloxi, but I had the opportunity to watch the entire process of the building of the Lotus by Lyle. These were wonderful years and taught me so much about the inner workings of both writing and editing books as well as boat building.
Times change and so do marriages. By the mid 1980s, Bud was on call at three local hospitals as well as doing four operations every morning and seeing 40 patients every afternoon. He was beat when he returned home so our together time dissipated into zero as he ate a quick dinner and went to bed so that he would be rested to repeat the same schedule the next day. (There should be a rule that surgeons only marry nurses because that way of living is really too much for a spontaneous gal that has no love for hospitals or medicine and that actually wants a partner to enjoy marriage with her.) Son Mike had left for Rollins College in Florida and Greg had joined the Coast Guard and was stationed in Hawaii. It was terribly constricting for me to realize that I was now living alone in an Empty Nest Syndrome. I decided that it was time for a change in my lifestyle.
I remember looking into the mirror – really LOOKING. I saw standing before me a 45 year old woman who could maintain her present course of action, or who could decide to make a change. I carefully considered all of the options open to me and decided that instead of separating from Bud and just living apart in the same city, I would take a giant leap and move to the Caribbean to do what I had always wanted to do – SAIL. I have always been a monetarily frugal person, stashing my cash away like a squirrel hides her nuts, so I did have a savings account. The night before my wedding my father had given me great advice, “Be careful what you say, Nancy, for words are like arrows and can never be taken back.” As angry as I was with both hubby and friend, I held my tongue and started planning my escape.
However, I am a Capricorn and as one I decide to try one last course of action – a trip to the Virgin Islands so Bud and I took a vacation to St. Croix. I adored the place – the water, the sand, the surf and of course, the sailing. I knew then that I had to make a full separation in our marriage. When Bud was out one day I drove our rental car into the delightful town of Christiansted and leased an apartment overlooking the water. As I was walking down the lovely old cobblestoned streets I spotted a sign advertising for an assistant in a Metaphysical Book store. I went in, introduced myself and applied for the job. The owner said it would not start for another month and I replied that was fine with me. Having a month to prepare my husband for my departure and separation fit right into my plan of leaving him. I said nothing during the remainder of the trip but on the long flight home we both acknowledged that the marriage was basically over. I told him of my plans to return to the Caribbean but only as a trial separation for several months. He agreed and was generous enough to not only agree to send me a monthly income but to give me his old Bronco to take with me. After several good-by parties and some wonderful sailing with friends on large boats, I said Bon Voyage and headed out for my new life.
Metaphysics were hot in 1986 and one of my hobbies, besides sailing, was Astrology. Apple had just come out with their first desk computer so I bought one, along with a computerized Horoscope Program. I took this, along with my wonderful cat Miss Lucy, and headed down to Ft. Lauderdale, where my son Michael was now living, with loads of wonderful items such as kilm rugs and pillows, art supplies, books, stereo and tape deck, tapes and my favorite wall hangings packed tightly into the Bronco. I stayed with Mike and his live-in girlfriend for a week and then flew to St. Croix.
This was in October, which is the rainy season in the Caribbean, so my first few weeks there were spent basically drenched. However, I soon settled into Ancient Echoes, the bookstore where I worked, and set up my Horoscope program, which became quite successful. I made some friends and purchased a 22’ fiberglass sloop that someone wanted to sell because they were leaving the islands. I got a small mooring in East End and from then all devoted all of my time into exploring the small islands surrounding St. Croix via my sloop named Figaro, after a Himalayan cat that I had owned. I taught my “gal pals” how to sail and we had delightful picnics on the many beaches around, while swimming in the cool, crystal clear aqua waters of the Caribbean Sea.
After a year or so I became fascinated with the nearby island of St. John and decided to move there. I sold Figaro to a friend and purchased a larger 24’ sloop, Witchcraft, that I kept moored in front of my rented home in Coral Bay, which was right on the water and shared with a friend. It was marvelous having a boat right in front of the house that afforded me the opportunity to sail often. Coral Bay is a marvelous harbor and was home to probably 30 to 40 live aboard sailors. The bay seemed packed with boats and yachties – all enjoying the wonderful camaraderie of Caribbean life and sailing. We were always either on boats, out sailing or in the several bars surrounding the harbor. This was where the action was and the conversation completely centered around boats and boat life. Fortunately, I always had friends that could help me out whenever I had problems on Witchcraft. I had a small 6 horsepower engine on the transom which could maneuver me whenever I was in irons or needed more direction. Those years were wonderful but all good things come to an end.
On September 17th and 18th in 1989, Hurricane Hugo stunned the Virgin Islands with its ferocity. It swooped into Coral Bay, decimating everything in its path. When the final price tag was tallied, published reports put the bill at $500 million worth of damage for the private sector and $435 million for the local government – in today’s money it would be four times that. Three of my boating friends died in this terrible storm and the devastation was total. We had no water, no electricity, trees were down, yachts were beached, and Witchcraft went to the bottom with no hope of salvage. Of course I had no insurance. The home in which I was living was a wreck and life was generally dismal.
One of the few boats in front of my home that was not damaged was an old Tortolan Sloop that had the mast removed and an engine put on the transom. The owner wanted to sell it so I was able to buy it for a few hundred dollars. I bought a bright pink lawn chair along with a bright pink beach umbrella and moored it in front of our home. When cleaning up from the hurricane became too routine, I just walked out, climbed aboard, put up my pink umbrella, settled into my lawn chair and went motoring off to the Willy T at Norman Island in the British Virgin Islands located just out of the Coral Bay Harbor.
The Willy T was a 1935, Baltic Trader. It had just been established in June, 1989 by Mick and Annie Gardner as a one-of-a-kind floating restaurant and bar that could only be reached by water. The Willy T was to later become the home of the famed Virgin’s Cup Regatta BVI – held in the fall with only female skippers. There I made wonderful boating friends.
Oddly enough, nearby Tortola, the major island in the British Virgin Island chain was totally unaffected by Hugo. Located across the Sir Francis Drake Channel from St. John it was very close although in a separate country. One weekend a group of us decided to go over for an overnight as we were dead beat from cleaning, clearing and scraping up hurricane debris. We took the ferry (one was still working) from Cruz Bay, St. John to West End, Tortola. Coming into that harbor I fell in love – with the mountains and the small islands of Little and Great Thatch leading up to the harbor of West End. It was love at first sight and I knew that I was destined to live in this very spot.
I returned to St. John and thought very carefully about my course of action. I knew that I could easily rent a small place in Tortola but by this time I was 50 and really wanted a larger liveaboard boat. It was time. An old salt friend of mine was generous enough to go with me to St. Thomas to look at boats. I had recently divorced and had some money, although not a lot, set aside. I fell in love with the CYS Charter boats and decided to purchase a 34’ cutter. My friend insisted on a survey which the boat failed so it was back to the drawing board.
I sold the Tortolan sloop and decided to rent a room in West End for a few months and look for a proper boat. A lovely West Indian friend of mine volunteered to let me put my Bronco, which I was still driving around in St. John, on his barge and deliver it to Tortola. As soon as I arrived I drove to Nanny Cay Marina and made friends with Ted and Sue Mercer who were the owners of Nanny Cay Yacht Brokerage. I told them how much I had loved the CSY layout and asked if they had a listing on one. They said that they did. It was a 37 foot cutter named Antares but that it was out on charter. Feeling rather discouraged I headed back to West End stopping at Pussers Landing for a sundowner upon arrival.
I must admit that I have always had a guardian angel sitting on my shoulder when I needed one. Sitting next to me at the bar was a lovely young couple. Seeing my dismay they struck up a conversation. I told them my story of the hurricane, losing my home and not being able to find a boat to live aboard. Well, actually I had found a boat, a real honey of a CSY 37’ named Antares, but that it was out on charter. They looked at me with a twinkle in their eyes, took me by the hand, drinks included, and led me to their charter boat that was docked nearby at the marina. In front of me, tied to the dock was Antares. Nothing would do but that I should join them for the rest of their holiday as they had discovered that they didn’t know nearly as much about sailing a larger boat as they had thought they did and truly needed some help.
To make a long story short, I joined them, right then and there and spent a delightful three days with them sailing the channel and visiting several other harbors, picking up a mooring ball at each. This was so great for me because during this time I was able to accurately access Antares to see what was right and what was wrong. When the charter came to an end I had a neat list of all of the items that needed to be fixed. I took this to Sue and Ted, showed them my list and made an offer on Antares which was five thousand dollars lower than the listing price – as is. This was fine with me because I knew, from having lived on both St. Croix and St. John that I could find plenty of worth seamen who could help me in making her ship shape. I moved aboard the next day.
I spent the next six months just cruising around the U.S. Virgin Islands, including a return trip to St. Croix, St. Thomas and the British Virgin Islands. I had met a handsome, young Australian named Matt who was a sailor and needed a place to stay until his fiancé arrived from England. I let him move aboard, as we had two staterooms, and he helped me with the mechanics and engine, which was a 401 Perkins engine. We became fast friends and sailed into St. Thomas to pick up Claire when she arrived from the UK. They both stayed aboard until they got a job being Captain and Chef for a large Moorings Charter Boat.
My life was about to take another sharp turn at that time, but I did not know it. We met a really great sailor named Dave Cooper who was doing yacht deliveries throughout the Caribbean. Dave had just lost his sloop, Villa de Coop, in the first Caribbean 1500 Yachting Race from Norfolk, VA to St. Thomas. He was making a delivery on a Beneteau 40’ from Tortola to Bermuda and asked me to come along and crew. I accepted and began yet another chapter in my life.
The Call of the Caribbean and Further (Chapter 2)
By – Nancy Terrell
My first Caribbean cruise was in the summer of 1990. I had just lost my only sibling, a brother with whom I was extremely close, to AIDS. I was terribly depressed and needed a get-away. Because of my experience in sailing I was invited to go “down island” by the Charter Captain of Ginny and Charlie Cary’s private vessel – a 60’ Beneteau schooner that was at the dock at the Moorings Charter Company, which the Cary’s started in Tortola, British Virgin Islands. This was a gorgeous sailing machine. Captain Rob had invited his daughter and son to sail the Caribbean with them and included me. I flew to St. Lucia and joined their family – never had I seen such beautiful islands and gorgeous water as that in the Caribbean. Together we visited St. Lucia, Nevis, St. Kitts, Antigua, St. Barts and St. Martin. I loved all of the islands but my favorite was the small island of Isle de Saints off of the coast of Guadeloupe, French West Indies. It was charmingly quaint and I have often returned there over the years. During this first Caribbean trek I realized right then and there that cruising in the Caribbean Sea would comprise a large part of my future life.
During the next two decades I would duplicate that trip up and down the island chain many different times on various boats with different owners. I was always available to crew and did so whenever the opportunity availed itself.
Meanwhile, back on Tortola, I had moved aboard my 37’ CSY cutter/sloop Antares and enjoyed cruising the U.S. and British Virgin Islands with friends. In the spring of ’91, I met Captain Dave Cooper at a party and found him most interesting. He discovered that I loved sailing and asked me to be a part of his crew in the delivery of ELLE, a 35’ Beneteau sloop, from the BVI to Bermuda. I jumped at the chance, never having visited that lovely island. We left in June. I left Antares in what I thought would be capable hands. Did I ever learn a lesson on that one?
At any rate, one of our fellow crew members brought along a bag of weed. Dave, having worked for NSA decades before, was very much against having any kind of drug aboard, including alcohol, so when he discovered this he made the guy throw his stash overboard. When we arrived in Bermuda we sailed through customs. The fella who lost his weed was furious that we had passed inspection so easily and that he was now without his joints. We partied hearty the night we arrived and rolled into our bunks about two in the morning. At 6 am we heard a rap on our hull – to our amazement an entire Drug Squad, including dogs, entered the boat for a full top to bottom, bow to stern, drug search. Thank God, David had been the captain that he is known for today or we all would have landed in a stern Bermuda prison. We live and learn.
I have always been an artist and began selling my art when I was in my early twenties. Having arrived in Bermuda I discovered that one of the international artists, that I truly admired, was teaching a workshop there the following week. I told Dave that I wanted to stay on the island to take the workshop. This actually worked out quite well as the owner of ELLE had two sailor friends who wanted to crew. However, as we all know, the best made plans are laid to waste. As Dave was leaving the harbor on Elle to continue on to New York, and I was waving goodbye, a nearby merchant came running out of his shop towards me asking if I was Miss Nancy. He then proceeded to tell me that he had just had a call from Tortola with a report that my sloop, Antares, had taken on 5 feet of water during a storm and was sinking in Sopers Hole where she was moored. Naturally, I took the first plane back to the BVI and spent the rest of the summer in bitter fights with my insurance company and Parts and Power, who totally duped me into spending twice as much on fixing my Perkins 108 as a new one would have cost. A sour taste still lingers in my mouth for both companies. I then learned about the sexism involved in sailing during that period.
Dave eventually returned to the island and we moved in together in the pink house that is now the home of one of the charter companies next to Frenchman’s Cay Shipyard in West End. We lived on the bottom floor with a dynamite porch that extended the entire width of the house and looked out over Sopers Hole where Antares was securely moored in front. Dave rigged up a pulley system that took our dinghy back and forth to the mooring ball as Antares had a draft of almost six feet and had to be moored in deeper water. This worked quite well for us and we began sailing the BVI on weekends. Dave had procured a job as Manager of Frenchman’s Cay Shipyard, which was located down from our house, so he could walk to work. I have always been a writer so I began a 20 year stint as the yachting reporter for various Caribbean magazines and newspapers. http://www.allatsea.net/?s=Nancy+Terrell
During these years Dave was the Captain and Maintenance Person for the Mercedes of sailing yachts. S/V Jessie was an Alden 54 that Dave and I took care of in the BVI. The owners were lovely people from Chicago who enjoyed sailing the Caribbean. Dave and I would deliver Jessie to whichever island they wanted and the return to deliver it back to the BVI. We took several trips with them through the Bahamas, the Abacos and on the Inter-coastal Waterway that runs up and down the eastern shore of the United States. We also raced Jessie in the Caribbean 1500 (miles that is) in 1993, winning first place upon the finish line in St. Thomas with a start in Norfolk, VA.
Dave also served as Captain for the Nina, a Columbus replica, during the Tall Ships Celebration for the 500th Columbus Day Celebration in New York Harbor in 1992. He had sailed the ship from the Tall Ships Parade in Puerto Rico, where I joined him, to New York for the Tall Ships Parade in both New York and in Boston. The Nina had a 15’ tiller and was really difficult to maneuver making us both wonder if Columbus would have actually discovered America had it not been a following sea the entire way.
Sailors in the 80s and 90s did as sailors have throughout history and on into today – they meet at the local bar for sundowners at the end of the day. In Sopers Hole there were two such watering holes – Pussers West End and the Jolly Roger. Lou Schwartz had just taken over the JR, as we called it, and was well into sailing. One night when we were there talking about old times with some of the sailors who had been there forever, the subject of the defunct West End Yacht Club came up. Carter Powell was sitting with us. At the time she was working for Mike McFarland who had been the Commodore of the WEYC when it phased out years earlier. Carter and Dave had the great idea of renewing the club and hosting races for all of the sailors in the USVI and BVI Islands. At the time of re-forming this club I wrote the following article for both the BVI Beacon and Nautical Scene.
“The West End Yacht Club, known locally as the “Loyal” club, was formed in 1978 by a group of sailors in Sopers Hole, West End, Tortola. Feeling a need to add legitimacy to their races and serious parties they joined together and asked Walter and Inez Hyman of locally owned Walters’s Superete if they could meet there. It was here that The West End Yacht Club elected Morgan Sanger (Margaret Sanger’s grandson) as their first Commodore and took steps to register themselves as an official Yacht Cub.
One of their first races was the Sweethearts of the Caribbean held on the closest weekend to Valentine’s Day. It was dedicated to the true Sweethearts of the Caribbean, the Schooners. That was 25 years ago this year. The following year they added the Classic Yacht Regatta, which used to be held in March until the declining numbers of schooners, due to hurricanes and the relocation of many of the old classics over to Europe, called for the races to be combined.
Over the years the yacht club has gone into remission and been reborn three times as people have come and gone. Its last rebirth was in 1991 when it was once again up and running due to the efforts of Dave Cooper and Carter Powell who was elected Commodore, a position that she held until she left the BVI in ’97 when Dave Cooper took over the leadership.
The WEYC is known for their fun low-key races, holding seven regattas a year each at the same scheduled time. Their usual start for home races uses the many islands in the western waters of the BVI as marks so you might find yourself starting outside of their yacht club, The Jolly Roger Restaurant & Bar in West End, Tortola, out around Little Thatch, Sandy Cay, the Great Harbor buoy and Great Thatch, always in a very interesting order and with different directions for each race. When yachts register they are given a ditty bag usually always worth more than the nominal entry fee and everyone always wins a prize at the Awards Ceremony. If there are 50 entries, there are 50 prizes. This is only one of the reasons why all sailors of the BVI love the WEYC.
As the “JR” is their home so they need no budget to pay managers, bartenders or housekeeping, etc. For this reason, their budget is always in the black and they give extra monies to support the Island Sloop Program, which they support. One of the sloops in this program is Vigilant – an island sloop that was built in Tortola in 1882 and still sails annually in Foxy’s Wooden Boat Race. All BVI Island Sloops are owned by the H. Lavity Stout Community College and are maintained by the members of the Marine History Division, the members of the board of the WEYC and the KATS (Kids and the Sea) Program.”
*note – most of us belong to, and support, all of the clubs – but we all have our favorites
As I was the writer in the group, I became the PR person and Social Chairman, a position I truly loved. The WEYC became the focal point of our lives during those years we lived in West End. We either entered every race on Antares or worked on the Committee Boat. We also found a 30’ Carver Sloop sitting deserted in the Nanny Cay Boatyard that had been impounded for drugs by the BVI government. After much paperwork we were able to purchase it for 7K. We renamed it Hot Flash and entered it in all of the races as racing our home, Antares, became way too much for me. We had a painting party and painted her a turquoise blue with hot pink lettering. We bought a hard dinghy with a small outboard and named her Premerin after the drug used for hot flashes. Dave raced her in all of the races and had a great time. She always placed in her class and had a great crew.
In the mid 90s Dave went to work as a yacht broker for Nanny Cay Yacht Sales run by Thorpe Leeson and Annie Westcott (now Annie McPhail). We moved aboard Antares and docked her at Nanny Cay Marina on Tortola. Our watering hole moved to Peg Legs Restaurant & Bar and it was there I met many of the sailors that asked me to join them when cruising the islands. They loved the stories that I wrote for various rags and wanted to be featured. As I was always looking for content, I was happy to oblige by going along as crew. I cruised the islands for three weeks on Alaendra, Loon Song, Far Niente, Windsong, Carpe Diem and various other sailing vessels that I have long forgotten their names. Meanwhile, we were sailing Antares throughout the BVI, St. John and St. Thomas on weekends, holidays and such. As true sailors, we would go out at the drop of a hat and stay as long as we could. We always took Antares to the regattas as a Mother Ship when we were crewing on other boats or racing Hot Flash – both for the WEYC races and for the Royal BVI Regattas. I fondly recall so many of the good times and am only sad that time does progress and with it our lives change.
` Such a change occurred in 1998 when we sold Antares to a younger sailor. We had decided to switch from sailing to a power boat as we were both getting older and wanted more room than a sailboat affords, more storage area and more stability. With that said, I had no idea Dave would “search the boatyards” without me when I left for my annual trip to visit grandchildren in Hawaii. E-mails passed back and forth without mention of a boat. As soon as I returned Dave told me that he had a surprise “Welcome Home Present”. He thought it would be nice if he would take a day off work and we could take the ferry to Virgin Gorda.
“Well, he really missed me if he’s taking a day off,” I thought, complimenting myself. Naturally, I jumped at the chance - picturing a romantic holiday of lolling in hammocks and a delicious lunch on the beach. I should have known better – how many years does it take to know a man, anyway? Yep, you’ve got it. The moment we arrived at the dock we head directly over to Virgin Gorda Boat Yard to look at a boat that Dave had seen, thus admitting he had made this trip before. Dumb me – I fell for this hook, line and sinker.
Pushing three foot saw grass out of the way, we clomped through mud and water towards the rear of the yard, only to see this monster of an old trawler high and dry on stands. She looked like I felt, a much older version of a “once fun piece of work” and she definitely needed some TLC. By this time, I knew that my sweetie had never even planned for us to have lunch on the beach – however, tramping though a boat yard is indeed Dave’s idea of a romantic outing. He had contacted the broker before I returned, picked up the key and had permission to go aboard. Needless to say, once aboard, she had my heart – I loved her just as he knew I would.
POTENTIAL – that was the magic word. She had wonderful, gorgeous lines and potential galore. We ferried back to our condo that we had rented upon selling Antares, got out pen and paper and went to work on how we could afford her. We are not wealthy people so buying a boat is like buying a house – the two big questions are -
1. How much can we afford to spend?
2. Can we buy her for that amount of money without bankrupting the budget or living on a shoestring for the rest of our lives?
These are important questions for anyone contemplating buying a vessel, of any type. As both of us had owned many boats before - we knew, before we started, that there had to be money left over for maintenance. A good rule of thumb is 10% a year, of the value of the boat, will be spent on the boat annually – both in maintenance, boat parts, upgrades, etc. We then took the amount of money that we had spent on rent, and would spend on rent if we didn’t live aboard, and multiplied that by the number of years the actuarial charts said that we would live. This is an excellent way to work the numbers.
Swan Song needed major repairs. We took the next week to work out a budget for her re-construction. We divided the work into phases – the exterior bottom, the exterior top, the engine room, the living area, galley & heads and the pilot house. We then wrote down what our minimum requirements were for each area in labor and materials as well as the time allotted for each. We also enquired about having her towed to Nanny Cay Marina Boat Yard.
We decided that we could afford her if we did most of the work ourselves. Dave spoke with his broker who worked out a really good deal for us. Swan Song was in receivership so all we had to do was pay the yard bill, the broker’s fee and the import duty and taxes. With this decided we took the plunge and signed the papers. Even though it took us years to reconstruct her I have never been sorry. Boats are like men; once you fall, you spend the rest of your lives loving them!
We moved aboard and began planning our cruising schedule. Having lived through major hurricanes during our years in the BVI, we were not about to let our beloved trawler go through one. We sold Hot Flash to another racer and planned to cruise to Venezuela for the hurricane season in 2006. By this time I was 66 and really needed to get out of dodge - should a blow come through. Cleaning up after hurricanes will age you far more than years.
The following is an article that I wrote for All At Sea, in 2006, describing the cruising lifestyle, whether by sail or motor.
“I have been living on boats in the Caribbean for the greater part of the past 23 years; thinking back, I recall that most of the other cruisers I have met enjoy this lifestyle. For, once adjusted to the differences from living on land and the changing of mental attitudes from “wants” (the consumer society) to “needs” (what is actually needed to live aboard,) living aboard seems a sensible way to reside—outside the limits, that is.
Most cruisers are skilled yachts-people who have spent years dabbling in life on the water and additional time contemplating how to actually accomplish and pay for a life outside of their country—without a normal job, where one lives basically in isolation without the support of family, friends, community or your educational, spiritual, and political backgrounds. Living aboard is like growing older—it is most definitely not for sissies. As well, living aboard is definitely not for those who cannot abide their partners 24/7—this immediately cuts down on the numbers.
One of the most difficult issues women cruisers face is that of leaving the comfortable and safe confines of urban society. I have met very few women farmers who enjoy boating so we could assume that most women who are cruising have left the delights of urban living—theatre, museums, community events, libraries, cultural centers, music and such—along with their families and jobs. They have chosen, as have male boaters, to live on the water, in almost constant movement, dealing with foreign counties that embrace varied cultures, lifestyles and economic backgrounds.
Cruising requires great self discipline. There are very few things to socially enjoy while yachting other than eating and drinking; we all have lists of boaters who did not adjust well to these preferences. Visit any beach bar in the Caribbean and take in the “rummies” as well as cruisers and charterers who think that drinking is just something one habitually does while on the water. We all know that few countries have actually passed laws concerning drunk driving while at the helm. MADD would have a field day with the fatal accidents that have occurred within the Caribbean caused by drinking skippers.
Another change in lifestyle is that boaters tend to be more politically liberal, although more fiscally and environmentally conservative, than mainlanders. A great many of them want to live “outside of the limits” that bind/blind our current world. They view what is happening politically within their countries and dislike what they see. Although most responsible boaters vote in absentia, there are many who don’t. If you are one of these please do not complain to me about the political situation in your country. By not voting you have denied your option to help change the world.
Cruisers are frequently retired from high risk jobs and pastimes. I know many cruisers who were pilots, motorcyclists, auto ralliers or racers, stockbrokers, firemen, etc. Many company executives just want to get away from the rat-race when they retire. They sell their homes, their cars, put their furniture and belongings in storage and run, not walk, to the nearest yacht brokerage to purchase their dream of the sea. Most of them have had enough of commercial life to totally enjoy life on a boat, spending their spare time in reading, working on projects, provisioning for the next passage and figuring out the cheapest place to purchase diesel/gas.
I totally enjoy living aboard and cannot imagine giving up this freedom to live on land. If we don’t like our neighbors or our surroundings, all we have to do is start the engine or raise a sail. Life on the water has far more adventures than normal living; but I will be the first to admit that this life is not for everyone. As cruisers we create our own limits – most of us live totally outside of the limits set for us by society. I guess cruising is one of the last great lifestyles where one can be called a nonconforming individual—and let’s just hope that with all of the new laws and regulations we can keep it that way.”
Unfortunately, with the onslaught of terrorism and the rise of terrorist groups all of the great cruising spots, throughout the world have made it much more difficult for cruising to be as casual as it once was. Checking in and out of island countries takes much more time and effort; costs have also risen making cruising much more expensive as small islands began catering to super and mega yachts. Still, there is nothing in the world that compares to life on the sea.
Dave and I enjoyed cruising the islands of Venezuela so very much that we stayed for three years. Our most favorite locale was to go to Mochima National Park, throw out the anchor, and just relax for a few weeks. We had a great dingy with a powerful motor so we would scout out all of the local towns, pulling in to their docks, enjoying a local lunch and handicrafts made by the women of the town.
In 2009 my son Greg, who lives in Hawaii with his family and his brother, had a Down Syndrome child. He needed my help so Dave and I pulled up anchor once again and headed for Hawaii – a trip that would take six months. We cruised Colombia, The ABCs, the San Blas Islands (which I absolutely adored) and stopped in Panama for a month or so to make preparations to go through the canal. That was a wonderful experience. We were joined by friends Foxy and Tessa from Foxy’s Bar in Jost Van Dyke, BVI, and had a real adventure. From there we cruised up the western tip of Central America, stopping at night and going in for dinner in the various countries before going out the next day. I had visited Guatemala and Honduras in the early 1980s and enjoyed returning. We then cruised the western shore of Mexico staying several days in their major cities and enjoying the life there. Upon reaching Acapulco we crossed over into the Sea of Cortez to La Paz where we spent a month getting the boat ready for the 2500 mile trip to Oahu, Hawaii. During this time we took daily cruises to the outlying islands and inland trips to the Bahia Peninsula on our dinghy.
Because La Paz is a great artistic center, I elected to stay there and take workshops while Hawaiian friend, Bill Beadle joined Dave for the Pacific crossing, which took 22 days. We arrived in Hawaii together in July of ’09 much to the delight of my family. We settled into our slip in the famous Ala Wai Marina on Waikiki Beach in Honolulu and joined the Hawaii Yacht Club which was also located in the marina. A part of the yacht club was designated to the Cruising and Voyaging Society which we immediately joined. As we had done far more cruising than any of the other members we began leading them out on joint trips to the surrounding islands. This was really fun with sometimes up to 20 boats participating. Because of this the club awarded us the “Cruisers of the Year Award” for 2011.
As all sailors know, stink pots are fun but sailing is better. We missed racing and the HYC sponsored a lot of races so we purchased a Newport 30’ Mark III named Makani Kai and began racing her in the weekly Friday night races, which started at the club and went out onto a long course down the Waikiki Beach before returning to the finish line, again at the club. This was loads of fun and we won several trophies for our class.
During this time I also enjoyed crewing with friends to the other Hawaiian Islands. I had never been on an actual cruise liner so a fellow sailor joined me and we spent a week on the Norwegian Princess doing a proper cruise of all of the Hawaiian Islands. This is far different from cruising on your own boat but we both really enjoyed it as there was no cooking, cleaning or washing up to do – plus the bar was always open.
Life has a way of creeping up on you when you are having fun and before I knew it I was well into my 70s, had a Total Knee Replacement and a heart attack. Dave also had two stents put it. It was obvious that we were going to have to move off of the boat and finally have a land home. As real estate in Hawaii costs $1,000 a square foot, we decided to move to southwest Florida where homes were inexpensive and the boating was great. Several of our yachting friends in Venezuela had moved to Cape Coral. In 2013 we took a trip back to the BVI and rented a charter boat for two weeks of cruising. Before we returned to Hawaii we visited our friends in Cape Coral and fell in love with the quaintness of the city as well as the 450 miles of canals. We bought a home and moved there in 2014 returning to Hawaii in spring to visit our family.
Seniors or not, our boating experiences were far from over. In 2015 we bought a 36’ Trojan cruiser and have enjoyed cruising in the Gulf of Mexico, where I started sailing 50 years before. She is at the dock in Paradise Marina, North Fort Myers and we have made lots of friends in the boating community.
I was delighted when Val asked me to write about my boating history and upon winding up these two chapters and amazed at how my love of the sea has dominated not only my life, but my love life and my sons’ lives. They own the largest Sport Boating business in Hawaii and feature para-sailing, jet skiing, charter fishing, a Pirate boat with show cruises and surfing lessons. I guess you could say that they got their genes from me.
So to all of you gals out there that read this and want a new and different lifestyle on the sea, I only have one piece of advice – windup your current jobs, lives, etc. and figure out a way to DO IT. You will never be sorry – just don’t wait too long.