Dirty Diapers lands over the rainbow

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There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.

There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. Two full months, that’s how long we’ve been on Dirty Diapers, our 41-foot Beneteau sloop.

Lions and tigers and bears, Oh my!

Anchors that fail, sickness that ails,

And swirling winds of gales, Oh my!

So I’ve adopted a ritual: After 10-month-old Dash falls asleep and my husband, Angus, is engrossed in charts, I secretly click my heels three times. I hope I’ll be forgiven for wearing mud-caked Tevas and not red, shiny pumps.

A detour

Tortola’s beauty surrounds us. I barely notice; I’m paralyzed with fear. We will soon embark on my first nighttime sail. The Anegada Passage … even its name sounds like a life event. Last night’s dinner with a seasoned captain doesn’t help. Looking for assurance, I ask Thorpe Leeson if he enjoys sailing under the moon. He chuckles and shares his motto: “Keep land in sight, don’t sail at night, and everything will be all right.”

Thanks, Thorpe.

The Passage must be done, that much I know. And the distance between islands requires overnights. That much I know, too. I just never processed that fact. So it’s about now that I casually ask Angus, “Hey, umm, when was it exactly that we decided to do this trip anyway?” Given that we’ve talked about it for well more than a year, he wonders if I’m crazy. I can’t get mad. I’ve wondered the same thing for weeks now.

Angus questions my ability to helm Dirty Diapers alone on my nighttime watch. Call me the Cowardly Lion, but one incident after another has left me rattled. That, along with the guest who exclaimed, “You’re brave to do this. I mean, my God, you really don’t know the first thing about sailing!” (I’m thinking it’s time to re-evaluate friendships, but that’s a different matter.) As for me, I don’t question my ability one bit. The brainless Scarecrow, I know I have none.

And then we check our voice mail. Business beckons, stuff we probably could have addressed across the Passage using the Internet, but a great excuse for more day sailing in familiar waters. I present the argument, and Angus agrees: We will delay the inevitable and return to our house in Culebra. I go below. The Tin Man whispers a heartfelt thanks to the Wizard.

Home, sweet home

Now it’s not like I want to throw in the towel, but indoor showers and toilets that don’t require quadriceps to flush? They do sound amazing. And try as I might, I can’t convince myself that cleaning Dash’s clothes in the ocean gives them a “sea breeze scent.” I’m not much of a homemaker, so who’d suspect that the impending use of a washing machine would send such chills up my spine? We turn around, face St. Thomas — which hides Culebra just beyond — and head home.

Landlocked … two blissful days. I watch my munchkin scurry along. Accustomed to the boat’s constant movement, Dash easily walks here. So much for our idea of finishing the trip before he is too mobile. He has his own agenda and still sports the shiner received on his first venture toward freedom. Dash’s hard landing just beyond my arm’s reach caused him to howl for two minutes … me for two hours. Angus quickly hung netting in his berth, giving him a safer play area. Looking around, I realize the boat is now better childproofed than our house.

It’s Day Three on the hard, and something funny happens. I actually miss Dirty Diapers. “Maybe it’s time to get back on the boat,” I propose. “Do some practice sailing.”

Angus smiles. He knows me well enough to give me the time I need, but he itches to move forward — or downward, as the case may be. We decide to take advantage of where we live … what the backwater travel magazines have sexily dubbed The Spanish Virgin Islands.

Back to the water

Hoisting sails, we head toward Cayo Norte. With unusual west winds, the surf is exceptional. Angus catches one wave after another and rides long lefts. We also catch supper. That night we anchor off Culebrita. The sun sets behind the oldest working lighthouse in the Caribbean. On the barbecue, mahi sizzles. Our Maltese, Ruggles, prances on the beach. Dirty Diapers bobs gently, alone under the stars.

Another welcomed call arrives by satellite phone. A great friend from Stanford, Steve Breinberg, is visiting Puerto Rico with his parents. I invite them aboard. We continue around Culebra and then head to Vieques, which — like Culebra — is largely undeveloped. Both islands had been used by the U.S. Navy for bombing practice. The military moved out of Culebra in the 1970s, but only recently from Vieques. Miles of pristine beaches were opened to the public. Speculators out there? Sorry, the Navy deeded the land to Fish and Wildlife, assuring future generations a Caribbean that barely exists today.

“Holy s—-!” Angus yells. I’m at the helm, relaxed. Have I done something wrong? I frantically search. Angus points. Something mammoth moves beneath. And then another, and another. Submarines? But the Navy left. And then they surface again. Humpback whales. Two adults and a baby frolic, thrilling us with their display. For an hour, we let the boat drift. Their sheer size and grace are breathtaking. I race to the bow. The baby, 30 feet to port, plays by the hull until mother nudges him away. I look around. In my view: a dramatic coastline, humpback whales and nothing else. Because of Dirty Diapers, I know I’m one of few who will see this. I realize how lucky I am.

Anchored in Bahia Ferro, the land is beautiful, the water phenomenal. Snor-keling reminds us of Vieques’ history, as eagle rays and reef sharks glide above bomb shells. But the only explosions we witness are the glow of dynoflagellates — a component of phytoplankton, and the cause of red tides — in Bioluminescent Bay. It’s a relatively cool, moonless night (about 78 degrees, I’d say). Steve, Angus and I force ourselves into the water to observe the stellar display.

We bid farewell to the Breinbergs in funky Esperanza and head to Cayo Santiago. The Caribbean Primate Research Center calls it home — as do 700 rhesus monkeys. Signs warn to stay away, but curiosity wins. Within steps of shore, monkeys are within hand’s reach. Alone — as Angus remains aboard with Dash — I realize these primates aren’t cuddly. I rush to my dinghy, half-expecting them to fly, like the Wicked Witch’s winged monkeys.

We sail toward La Cordillera. A strip of cays that is now a marine sanctuary, it is a diver’s heaven. But now it’s I who itches to move forward. We stop in Culebra for the night. I have no desire to sleep at the house. The outdoor shower and the muscle-building toilet are fine by me. The following morning, we leave early for St. Thomas. Winds whip and waves chop. I’m at the helm. Angus watches another breaking wave. “Aren’t you nervous?” he asks. And I’m stunned to honestly answer “No.” In fact, with Charlotte Amalie in sight, I am the one who proposes continuing on.

You’ve come a long way, baby!

After a night in St. John, we head to Tortola. The Anegada Passage awaits. I help Angus hoist the dinghy the following day and realize that this time there is no turning back. We sail beyond Virgin Gorda, heading into my unknown. Over my shoulder, I watch the sun set. Soon, darkness arrives. I put Dash to bed and convince Ruggles that, yes, she can relieve herself on the boat. (We have learned that if not on land, her preference for such matters is to use a certain oversized sailing magazine. Maybe it’s a good potty read for her, too.)

Angus and I don harnesses. It’s now my watch. In the distance, I see one other boat, but that doesn’t stop my knees from shaking. Angus, knowing his shift will be long, asks if he can catch some sleep below. I blurt, “I’m scared to death!” He stretches out topside.

Somehow right about now, Oz gives me courage. I don’t gasp every time Dirty Diapers surfs a swell I haven’t seen. I tell Angus to go below. For four hours, I sit alone in the cockpit. Just me and nature. Peaceful. Not a very religious person, I’m overwhelmed by how spiritual it feels.

My watch ends. Angus sails Dirty Diapers until the first hint of daybreak. He wakes me for my second watch. I witness the sun rise over St. Bart’s. I have journeyed my Yellow Brick Road. It has led me to a place even more beautiful than I imagined. Though exhausted, Angus and I know we won’t sleep until the now awake Dash can nap. So we explore Gustavia, the main town on St. Bart’s.

Later that night, Dash sleeps. Angus pores over the charts. And I head into my cabin. I click my heels once, twice … then I stop.

I’m already home.

Tara McCann Beavers put aside a Hollywood career as Francis Ford Coppola’s producing partner to cruise the Car-ibbean with her husband and infant son. She will be filing periodic dispatches from Dirty Diapers, their Beneteau 41.