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A cruising sailor’s seven deadly sins

By Tara McCann Beavers

I’m going to hell. And I’m sinking there fast.

For five months a nagging thought had plagued me. It decked me with each breaking wave that crashed into the boat. Pooped me every time we surfed a night swell. Thundered into my head as squalls caused me to unintentionally jibe … and jibe again. The thought? Oh my God! We are going to die!

Just then, my husband, Angus; our 1-year-old son, Dashiell; our Maltese pup, Ruggles; and I reached our southernmost destination: Grenada. With sadness, we pointed Dirty Diapers’ bow north, and as we made our way back in warm Grenadian waters, I realized I was beginning to chill. Then came that reef.

The ocean’s inferno

A few miles west of the Tobago Cays, an electricity plant greets us — loudly — in the otherwise serene Mayreau. We decide to

motorsail to Salt Whistle Bay. Angus keeps the red buoy correctly to port. Still, it seems odd. And then our Beneteau 411 crunches and stops short. A second later, Dirty Diapers leaps forward, her bow 5 feet in the air. Dash wails, Ruggles yelps and Angus rams the boat in reverse. Nothing. She lurches, then settles on her port beam. Waves raise and lower her onto the reef. In a quiet tone that scares me, Angus orders, “Tara, put on everyone’s life vest.”

Oh my God! We are going to die!

My hands shake as I lift Dash from his car seat. Oh Dash, what was I thinking when I subjected you to this? I tighten his infant PFD … and tighten it some more. My knees buckle as I unbuckle Ruggles from her leash and slip her paws through her doggie PFD. Oh Ruggles, we should have gotten off months ago. The boat heaves and grinds. “Check the engine room,” orders Angus. “See if we’re taking on water.”

I carry Dash in a way that would make New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady proud. I keep Ruggles close at heel and sprint down the companionway. Tentatively opening the engine room door, I prepare for the deluge. Dry, not a trickle. In disbelief, I give Angus the good news. He looks portside at an approaching wave, negotiates the helm at just the right moment, and Dirty Diapers takes it on her beam. Her bow levels, and she stands tall. Water laps gently on her side — both sides — and the reef is left behind.

Angus steams landward, bringing us as close as our

5-foot, 9-inch draft allows. If Dirty Diapers is going down, she’s not going down far. We anchor, and Angus jumps overboard to assess the damage. With Dash and Ruggles held tightly on my lap, I assess our near-death experience. OK, I quietly admit to them, maybe it wasn’t really near-death. But still, it’s an opportunity to realize how fleeting life can be, to better myself as a person, to thank God every night.

The devil within

Wrath: the first of the seven deadly sins. It surfaces when Angus surfaces. “Minimal damage.” He’s all smiles; I’m not. He notices. “Are we taking on water?” he quickly asks. Well, no. But he’s soon to be victim to another type of flood.

“I am leaving with Dash and Ruggles,” I roar. “You do what you want, but this sailing stuff is crazy. I knew it from Day One.”

Knowing my current is too strong to combat, Angus agrees. He’ll sail the boat home himself. “But first, let’s head to Salt Whistle Bay, see how the boat floats for the night because we are going to have to sail somewhere. There’s no airport on this island.” The devil, knowing I am still in his clutches, chuckles.

Salt Whistle Bay turns out to be everything we were hoping for before the grounding. Swaying palm trees line the quiet harbor. A short walk takes us to the adventuresome windward waters. Occasional checks confirm that Dirty Diapers is still afloat. And as I calm down, Angus and I plan: We’ll head up to Bequia, and from there I’ll catch a puddle-jumper with Dash and Ruggles.

The gods smiled on us: a perfect sail there. But the devil rejoices when I grudgingly agree to continue on to Martinique. Sure, I’m interested to see Trois-Islets, childhood home to the Empress Josephine Bonaparte. And St. Pierre, the Paris of the Caribbean, whose ruins from Mont Pelee’s 1902 eruption are awe-inspiring. I don’t care about the food this French island offers: baguettes, chocolate croissants, apple pastries. My mouth waters. No. Mais non! The flights here are by jet, direct to real civilization. That’s why I agreed to come to Martinique. And, quel domage … Angus says we must stay a few days longer to deal (successfully) with the boat. Satan smiles: Gluttony, here I come. As I gobble down another pastry, I wonder how the women stay so thin. And as a topless French woman walks by, I wonder if Lucifer is wielding his evil powers on my husband, as well.

Next stop: Isles des Saintes. A quaint village, a Norman emphasis, an interesting naval museum in Fort Napoleon — and more chocolate croissants. It’s exactly what I need. We while away an afternoon at Baie de Pompierre. I hold Dash in calm waters and realize I’m glad not to be looking down on this scene from a plane.

Angus and I discuss the next leg of the trip. He gives me a choice: sail the rough, longer waters around Guadeloupe, or cut through its middle on the Riviere Salee. A river? No breaking waves? No reefs? Land within an arm-stroke on both sides? Call it sloth, but I don’t care.Sounds good to me.

We wait, at 5 a.m., for the keeper to raise the drawbridge. Dirty Diapers motors through majestically. The sun rises. Mangroves surround us. Birds call morning hellos. A lone fisherman waves. For more than an hour, we quietly proceed. And when we again reach open water, we are met by a pod of nearly 50 porpoises. They frolic at our bow, being anything but lazy.

The final four

Satan’s winter home? It’s Antigua. We arrive during the Classic Yacht Regatta. I’ll admit it, I hide my head as our plastic Beneteau sails into the harbor. We pass Ari Onassis’ vintage motoryacht Christina O, classic sailing yachts Juno, Rugosa and Bolero. Within moments, lust spears its head. “I want that boat. No, that boat.”

“You don’t want the boat,” Angus interrupts. “The owners barely leave their corporate offices. What you want is the crew’s jobs. With no owner on board, they get to enjoy these boats nearly all year round.” True. And I begin lusting after cabin boys in a whole different way.

Within 24 hours, Angus is invited to crew on Ticonderoga. A 72-foot L. Francis Herreshoff ketch built in 1936, it elicits sighs of awe. But my sigh is one of envy. I resign myself to idly sitting in the harbor aboard my plastic, fantastic Dirty Diapers, jealously watching classics at the starting line.

And then good friend Thorpe Leeson comes to the rescue. “I found a babysitter, and you’re crewing with me on Magic Carpet,” he says. From the distance, I see her: a 56-foot 1959 Sparkman & Stephens yawl. She radiates. I’m suddenly nervous. I’ve never raced before. “No problem,” Thorpe assures me. “You’ll just handle one of the two coffee grinders.” I’m relieved. I can do that. But two coffee grinders? How much java could this crew drink?

The next morning, sporting my Magic Carpet T-shirt, I quickly learn what a coffee grinder is. Captains Lee Taylor and Tod Bassett (two of the most likeable captains you’ll ever meet) put me on the jib sheet. I grasp the coffee grinder, waiting for my orders. The start gun blasts. We’re off!

Stunning beauty everywhere. Nordwind, Lone Fox, Lion’s Whelp. Off in the distance, Ticonderoga approaches. I squint. Is it possible? Angus at the helm! How did he manage that? Envy, then avarice. Ticonderoga isn’t even in the same class, but if there’s wind to be gotten I’m greedily going to get it. I crank the winch. Sweat trickles from my brow. Grind in, let out, grind in again. Each gust of wind: Mine, all mine. And as Ticonderoga swiftly glides by, Angus lazily waves.

Magic Carpet doesn’t take first. No matter. The day couldn’t have been more perfect. We sail back toward the harbor. All around us, sails are dropped from world-class competitors. I help lower Magic Carpet’s. And as I look about, I suddenly notice Dirty Diapers, my plastic Dirty Diapers. The same Dirty Diapers that didn’t sink after we hit a reef. The same Dirty Diapers that was the foundation for Dash’s first step. The same Dirty Diapers that has shown me seven months of great adventure. And as I look at my plastic fantastic, surrounded everywhere by beautiful classics, the seventh deadly sin awakens: pride.

I’m going to hell. So be it.

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.