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Salty Memories

It was last day of the year – a time of reflection and serious thought. A time to look back on the past 364 days that have led up to this one and ask yourself the fundamental question… do you really have enough ice? A quick check in the galley reveals that, in our case, we have sufficient to resurface the Rockefeller rink. We are ready to roll.

What better way to see out the year than a sun-soaked sail aboard a 60-foot catamaran with a handful of your oldest friends? Whispering trade winds propel us away from the hustle of Road Town and out across the Sir Frances Drake Channel under an open, blazing blue sky. We are headed to Norman Island. The last time I made this trip I was hoisting sails and serving drinks in a starched shirt with gold epaulettes and pigtails – a look that should, quite frankly, be illegal in anyone over five years of age. Just beyond the marina we pass the exact spot where, two Christmases ago, our charter yacht passed a man at the helm of his boat wearing a Stetson, a pair of enormous aviator sunglasses, and very little else, bringing a whole new meaning to bareboat chartering. This time round the only thing I’m lifting is an ice cold Red Stripe to my lips and no one is naked… quite yet.

 

The warm winds catch in our sails and the canvas snaps and rasps noisily above our heads. The ocean is like liquid glass and we dangle our legs over the side of the boat dragging our toes in the salty water. It’s not hard to understand why so many round-the-world sailing expeditions beginning in the BVI never progress beyond the North Sound. It’s utter paradise.

The sail from Tortola to Norman takes no more than two hours, and soon we are passing four craggy pinnacles of rock that jut out of the water like giant incisors – The Indians. I had one of my first diving experiences here. I was flush with recent Open Water I success and confident that my underwater domination of the Treasure Isle pool would be mirrored in open ocean. Dismissing offers of help from the rest of my (highly qualified) dive party I flipped back off the side of the dive boat – equipment on, weight belt secured, BC completely deflated – and went down like a homesick mole. I resurfaced to screams of laughter, and, in an attempt to retain a sliver of dignity, refused all help getting back into the boat, a manoeuvre that took me close to half an hour. The worst part was I lost one of my contact lenses inthe struggle and was forced to spend the actual dive pretending I could see.

Half a mile further and we have reached Norman. This is the most southerly of the British Virgin Islands, and reputed to be the inspiration behind Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Since 1843, various legends have deemed Norman Island the site of buried treasure.

I’ve spent many an afternoon and evening in The Bight – some I can remember, some I cannot – but the Pirates’ dinghy dock will always take me back to the New Years Eve when myself and two friends missed the last ferry back to Tortola. One serious team talk later and it was decided that we should “borrow” a dingy and make it back on our own. At 5 a.m. and in a state of slight intoxication this seemed a shrewd move. A water approach seemed the stealthiest. Our approach to the water’s edge was fast, fearless and soundless – until I made the rookie error of trying to jump over a lone chaise longue in my path. I was unsuccessful, and hurtled noisily into the shallows with all the subtlety of a Hawaiian shirt. This attracted much attention, and a crowd of curious onlookers watched us as we swam away from the beach and around to the dinghy dock. We hauled ourselves into the nearest dinghy, gunned the engine and motored away as fast as our 15 HP outboard could propel us out into open ocean. Where we ran out of fuel. We were towed back by the dinghy’s rightful owner who was kind enough not to make a citizen’s arrest but who did deposit us right back on the ferry dock in front of the crowd of onlookers. The odds of being watched are indeed directly proportional to the stupidity of your act.

 

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We moor in The Bight and spend the day diving from the bow of the boat into impossibly clear water, sipping Painkillers from plastic cups and watching the boatloads of tourists board the Willy T ready to have a few too many drinks and make some bad decisions.

The sun has lost its fire as we make our way back to Tortola and is a melting disk of amber slowly being swallowed up by the sea. It’s the last day of the year – a time of reflection and serious thought. A time to look back on the past 364 days that have led up to this one and ask yourself the fundamental question… what the heck was I thinking buying so much ice?

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