Voyages - From ‘maybe someday’ to ‘maybe again’


After eight months in the Caribbean, it’s back to life on land for this cruising family

After eight months in the Caribbean, it’s back to life on land for this cruising family

Famous quotes. I love them. Usually they’re insightful and correct. Right now, one of them pops to mind. To paraphrase: I’ve never had it so good.

It’s month eight on Dirty Diapers. I sit in the cockpit, Ruggles, our Maltese, curled in my lap. My view: the rising sun, sparkling water, boats everywhere. Below, husband Angus and 1-year-old Dashiell sleep. All is peaceful.

So why do I want to cry?

How time flies — or sails — by

It’s been eight months. Hard to believe. Seems like yesterday when we first boarded the Beneteau 411 — my knees shaking each time I took the helm, knuckles whitening as I reached for a jib sheet. Certainly it wasn’t that long ago when I accomplished my first overnight sail. My chest still tightens as I recall that anchor light ahead of me. First just a speck on the horizon. And then … coming closer … getting bigger … moving faster. My heart races. Good God, we are going to crash! I navigate the boat. My nemesis follows suit. I shriek: “Angus, wake up!”

He races above, looks beyond the bow, and groggily states: “Tara, that’s the moon.”

Two ships passing quietly in the night? Sorry, Longfellow, not on Dirty Diapers.

The last three islands

Thirty-nine islands later, and the new home now is home. Even the famously dangerous Barbuda doesn’t unnerve me. We nose in our way carefully, coral heads everywhere. With a not-so-pleasant encounter with a not-so-forgiving reef two months earlier, neither Angus nor I rely on the GPS. I go to the bow and eyeball the maze beneath the surface. To port: reef. To starboard: reef. Inch by inch, we make headway, slowly, painfully. “No pain, no gain?” In this case, you hope so.

Barbuda proves to be worth the effort, and then some. Robert Louis Stevenson said: “To travel hopefully is better than to arrive.” Well we certainly made our way through the reefs “hopefully,” but arriving is better. I have many favorite islands; Barbuda surpasses them all. An 11-mile beach, the sand an unbelievable pink. Wild donkeys graze, sandpipers dance. And the only people I see? My husband, my baby and my dog (an honorary person). The only way to make the moment more perfect: If I could stop time.

The following day, we visit the charming town of Codrington. The journey is an adventure in itself. First, of course, we dinghy to shore. But that’s not the end of it. We dismount our 8-hp outboard, lift the dink, and lug both over the beach. There, a mammoth salt lake greets us. And another dinghy ride will eventually bring town into sight. The strip of sand only 50 feet wide takes an hour to traverse. But once again, the gain is worth the pain.

“Good morning.” “Welcome.” “Hey, have you ever been to New York?”

Each person greets us, striking up conversation. Dashiell and Ruggles are paid special attention. A friendlier people you won’t meet. But don’t mess with their island. They’re proud of it, and rightfully so. And they intend to keep it pristine. It’s a lesson Antiguan developers learned … the hard way. As we hike, we notice the developer’s trailer, and what a view it has ... now. The Antiguans can thank an anti-development local gang for that. The Barbudians pushed it off the cliff; it now hangs perilously over the sea.

We prolong our visit. Fishing, swimming, snorkeling, relaxing … time is easy to while away. Ambrose Bierce’s definition of a day springs to mind: “A period of 24 hours, mostly misspent.” An impossibility on Barbuda. Every second is precious.

Knowing I’ll never be the one to say, “Let’s go,” Angus makes the decision. “Tomorrow, we head for Anguilla.” The Anguilla Regatta — the last race of the season — begins the following day. And though I’m sad about leaving Barbuda, I’m excited to see some friends recently made at the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta.

As quiet as Barbuda’s beaches are, Anguilla’s beach rocks with parties. Dash bops his head to music. Ruggles frolics with local dogs. Angus and I catch up with Foxy (of the famous Jost Van Dyke watering hole). And Dirty Diapers bobs gently next to classics like Lone Fox. But the boats that most impress me are locally built. As we watch the Anguillans drag their vessels into the water, some snicker: “You think that thing will float?”

“Oh, ye, of little faith.” Not only do they float, they fly.

The last island on our itinerary is one everyone says not to miss: the Dutch Leeward Saba. As we sail in sight of it, we understand why. The island (an extinct volcano) rises steeply — 2,800 feet steeply. We are intimidated as we come into the “harbor,” as they call it. With water several hundred feet deep, anchoring is out of the question. Closer in, we pick up one of the few moorings.

Now settled, I look around. “That’s not where we’re supposed to land our dinghy, is it?” I ask Angus. Waves crash onto the boulder beach. And crash. And crash. And then we notice The Ladder: 800 hand-hewn stone steps — reminiscent of a miniature Great Wall of China — rising 800 feet to civilization. Civilization, we realize, can wait. Then we realize that someone actually hand-built these steps, a testament to the hard work that was and remains commonplace for the pioneers and their present-day descendents. “Boil, boil, toil and trouble,” and all that.

The following morning we take a long dinghy ride to the pier at FortBay. Our taxi driver, seventh-generation Saban Joe Petersen, shows us his land. Picturesque red-roofed towns. Lush gardens everywhere. Sheer cliff drops with views of Statia, St. Kitts and Nevis. Breathtaking. And the people … hard-working and friendly. Everyone helping others. The fact that the island’s two jail cells have long ago been converted into a bed and breakfast says something.

That evening, we watch the sunset. Dash laughs happily to himself, holding onto the cockpit table. Ruggles stretches on the poop deck. Angus checks the sat phone. And then, we get the call.

Sure, our intention from the start was to sail eight months, then sell the boat. The homes we bought as fixer-uppers in Park City, Utah, need to be considered. But the broker’s news — “Dirty Diapers is sold!” — makes us anything but happy. With a trip that was better than my wildest dreams, I long for the past. Even Dash seems nostalgic. Instead of using the sippy cup he’s been trying, he reverts back to his bottle tonight. Maybe actions really do speak louder than words.

A sad goodbye

Our sail to Tortola for the survey is bittersweet. It’s hard to believe that the voyage is coming to an end. I think about how quickly it went from “Maybe someday we’ll go sailing,” to “Let’s go sailing,” to “We’re sailing!” Or from “We’re buying a boat!” to “It’s a liveaboard,” to “Dirty Diapers, our home!” My only hope is that another “maybe someday” will be someday soon. Eight months ago, I was a novice sailor, terrified — especially about bringing an infant on board. Today, I itch to do more; Angus and I discuss a circumnavigation. What better way to see the world, to learn different cultures, to introduce a child to life? “Maybe someday.”

So this morning, I sit in the cockpit, Ruggles curled in my lap. My view: the rising sun, sparkling water, boats everywhere. Below, husband Angus and 1-year-old Dashiell still sleep. All is peaceful. My family on a boat that, in a way, has become family, too.

But soon the boatyard will wake up. We will move off Dirty Diapers, currently on the hard. And she will officially become someone else’s.

Another quote comes to mind: “The two happiest days of a boat owner’s life are the day he buys the boat, and the day he sells it.”

Not all quotes are insightful and correct. And the tears finally come.

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. This is her last dispatch from Dirty Diapers.