VOYAGES

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After five months, it all changes

After five months, it all changes

Just as our cruisers begin to feel comfortable, one misstep sends them scrambling for their PFDs

Five months without a clock and time still ticks loudly. Major changes: some take years, others … months, days, minutes.

My life: made up of milliseconds

It took me three years of Stanford to decide I wanted to be a mergers and acquisitions lawyer, 30 minutes of giving a campus tour to B-movie king Roger Corman to change my mind, and a 30-second collect call to lay the bombshell on my parents: “Forget Yale Law. I’m gonna work on ‘Attack of the Crab Monsters, Part II!’ ”

It took 39 months between “Hi, I’m Angus” and “I do,” three minutes for two lines to appear on an EPT test, and 52 hours of labor for Dashiell to arrive. There were nine months of discussions with Angus about sailing the eastern Caribbean, six weeks of a UCLA sailing class to think I could sail, one minute steering our 41-foot Beneteau to realize I could not, and four months of the trip before I finally unclenched my teeth. A month after that, and it finally fits like an old hat — or a sun visor, as the case may be.

1800s to the present

As we drop anchor for the night, I have a choice: Let Joshua Slocum guide me through the late 1800s with his classic “Sailing Alone Around The World,” return to 1972 with an outdated edition of Don Street’s bible Cruising Guide to the Lesser Antilles, or stay predictably in the present with Chris Doyle’s Cruising Guides. Angus usually plans tomorrow’s leg by reading Doyle, so I’m sailing in the past with Street and Slocum.

Blame it on my nighttime reading, but I have to wonder: The more things change, the more they stay the same? Maybe, but then again …

Pirates don’t top the list of my worries. Not the case for poor Josh Slocum. Every night, before his nighttime reading, he methodically laid down carpet tacks — his method of keeping “savages” from boarding. Savages, Fuegians, pirates always on his mind.

In fact, we did have a pirate scare in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Baby Dash is safely

secured in his car seat. Ruggles, our 4-pound Maltese, lounges on a cushion, tied to her leash. Angus and I relax. Now confident with the boat, we let the Autohelm take this watch. We approach Wallilabou, a customs port. Suddenly, I jump up. “Angus!” I scream. “Gunfire!” Three tall ships blast cannons. And up high, swinging from the mast, is the pirate king, lord of them all. He laughs maniacally as a modern speedboat races out to us. Is the pirate king dispatching men to

dispatch us? Not really. But production assistants menacingly order us to vacate the premises immediately. As we retreat, I watch Johnny Depp himself making the Disney film sequel to “Pirates of the Caribbean.” And I whisper — sorry, Angus — “Hey, Johnny boy, I’d clear the carpet tacks off for you any time.” Not life-threatening but a boisterous greeting to remember.

I’ll admit it; I’m jealous of ol’ Slocum. He always had an impressive welcoming committee: Lord Hampton of New South Wales and King Malietoa of Samoa showing him their lands, Mrs. Robert Louis Stevenson in Apia bestowing him with her late husband’s books. And so for months now, as I climb the mast to pull down the main, I optimistically look about. Moorings and Sunsail charter boats stare back. A century later, the seas have opened up for cruisers … and with that, anonymity.

I finally admit that Charles and Camilla won’t be having us for cocktails. And just then, we glide into Lord Glenconner’s Mustique. We quench our thirst at Basil’s, the only public bar on the private island. Seated nearby, resident Joan Irving strikes up a conversation. Within minutes she offers to take us on a tour the following day on her mule — “The only way to see our island.”

Sure enough, at 9 a.m. sharp she arrives. On the street I’m relieved to find not an animal but a go-

cart on steroids, her mule. We cruise past Hilfiger’s, Jagger’s and Bowie’s homes. Joan introduces us into her friends’ mansions. A book-publishing clan plays with Dash and Ruggles. Four hours of touring for no other reason than to welcome us.

And for culture, we find it in unlikely Carriacou, an island so authentic in every way that it feels West African. Angus and I drop anchor in Hillsborough rather than the more yachtie Tyrell Bay. We prefer the freighters and fishermen here. It adds to the charm. The local celebrity is Canute Caliste, who is in his 90s. He epitomizes his seafaring culture in his “naïve”-style paintings of whalers and mermaids. His artwork is sought after internationally and displayed in museums. The remaining pieces are seldom sold. We strike up a conversation with his daughter, Clamencia. The conversation quickly becomes friendly. Before we leave, she sells us three of her dad’s paintings from her personal collection “to remember her island by.”

Tobago Cays, the Grenadine’s heralded treasure. Don Street’s words ring in my ear: “Many years ago the Cays were deserted. Now you can expect to see other boats, but there are plenty of anchorages to go around.” Three decades have changed even that. Boats everywhere. Locals zigzagging in tenders, hawking their wares. Once deserted? No more. Forget the welcoming committee.

As we struggle to find a place to anchor, we just want solitude. That accomplished, we jump overboard. All is forgiven. The number of boats above becomes nothing compared to the schools of fish below. We spend hours diving the coral. Now that it is a marine preserve, hopefully one can do the same three decades from now.

I chuckle that night as I read Josh’s adventures. With Yankee ingenuity, he talks of his moneymaking schemes. Trading tallow fat, apparently quite the success. And a shark comes in handy for charging admission to view. Call him the P.T. Barnum of the seas.

But it certainly isn’t money on my mind as I dive off Isle de Rhonde. I swim peacefully alone. Then, stripes just off to my side. And teeth. All at once I realize it’s a tiger shark! I’m scared to death; he’s not. Slowly, I back away. Forget admission prices. The closest tiger I want to see is on a cereal box.

Still, money has continued to talk over the centuries. After scouring the funky Grenadine isles of Bequia, Union, Petit St. Vincent and others, we do find bags we’d love to sell, made by local ladies using West Indies flour sacks and sail ties. We buy about a hundred and set up a Web site. The West Indies Bag Company — dba WeBe Bags — is born (www.webebags

.com). Like Slocum, we aim for fat of our own.

Grenada, our midway stop, the most southern latitude: 11 degrees, 58 minutes. Nowhere shows the effects of time like here. A Cuban aircraft and a Russian biplane rust away on the airstrip of the now-defunct Pearls Airport, a testament to 24 hours of fighting played out on this land, which had little to do with islanders. The owner of the ramshackle soda shack next door is, like many, outgoing. He tells me about his seven children in the States — all of whom went to Ivies: “Three to Harvard, three to Yale and one to Princeton.” But when I ask him about the invasion, he quiets. “We really didn’t want the Cubanos,” he says, “or the Americans. We just wanted peace.”

In 1972 Don Street heralded the beauty of Grenada’s capital town and main harbor, St. George’s. “Outstanding,” he called it. Three decades later, he’s still on the mark. It’s an understatement to say the hillside, with its architecture dating to the 1700s, is picturesque. But then take closer notice. St. George’s Anglican Church, built in 1825; the Catholic Cathedral, with its brightly painted interior; homes, offices, shops … all without roofs. Devastated by one night, Sept. 8, 2004. Hurricane Ivan wreaked havoc on an island considered “too south to be hit.” The father of the brilliant progeny makes another pithy observation: “It wasn’t Hurricane Ivan; it was Hurricane Rufus. Cause he roof us.”

Our carefree sailing takes a new tone as we anchor in Prickly Bay. Surrounding us are monohulls and cats in various states of destruction. The following morning, a conveyor line forms. Dismasted boats wait to be repaired. A large crane resteps a mast and then prepares for the next. A sense of hope builds. It is fitting that two days later the Easter “Around the Island” Regatta would take place. The Grenadians are looking for rebirth, a chance to begin time again.

Time to head home

With the adventure being even better than imagined — and not nearly as scary as expected — I cockily suggest, “Hey, let’s breeze down to Venezuela.” We discuss the possibility, but we have time limits — the most important being returning home before hurricane season. Besides, we still have many islands to see on our way back. Even with these thoughts, though, it’s with sadness that we point our bow north. It doesn’t seem like five months since we started.

Heading north, there is one last Grenadine to visit: Mayreu. A small island, so we figure it to be a quiet layover before overnighting to Martinique. But Saline Bay, with its electric-generating plant atop the hill, is not what we have in mind. We read that the northern Salt Whistle Bay is spectacular. Easily motorsailing out from Saline, we notice the red buoy. Angus, at the helm, keeps it — correctly — to port. Still, it seems odd. I leaf through Doyle’s Cruising Guide. “Keep to seaward of the buoy (currently red).” Seaward! A matter of seconds and it’s too late. Dirty Diapers crunches and stops short. My heart stops. A second later, she lunges forward. The bow raises 5 feet in the air and stays there. Dash wails. Ruggles yelps. Angus rams the boat in reverse. Nothing. The boat lurches. Then settles on her port beam. Waves raise and lower her onto the reef. Angus races below, then reappears. In a quiet tone that scares me, he orders, “Tara, put everyone’s life vest on.”

Seconds … seeming like centuries … changing everything.

Tara McCann Beavers put aside a Hollywood career as Francis Ford Coppola’s producing partner to cruise the Caribbean with her husband and infant son. She will be filing periodic dispatches from Dirty Diapers, their Beneteau 411.