CHANGES IN LATITUDES -- SAILING IN THE BRITISH VIRGINS ISLANDS
(instead of the Abacos)
I can't remember a trip I've anticipated more eagerly than this one. Though we planned and booked it more than a year ago at the Annapolis Sailboat Show in 2000, the last few weeks of waiting have been agonizing, as if each hour til departure has really been a day. For me, the terrorist attacks of September 11 have placed more of a premium on escape, and on taking nothing in life for granted, especially since we live in Maryland not far from Washington and close to a number of important government installations. At work, the three months prior to departure have been consumed by a huge transaction, and with that finally closed, I've needed a break badly. Finally, Cap'n Rick and I haven't been away by ourselves in nearly 2 ½ years, having taken all of our vacations in that period with friends or family. As the experienced sailors, we'd been doing most of the work and planning on past sailing charters, while catering to our friends' expressed and un-expressed expectations, and it was time to treat ourselves. In short, we desperately needed to "lay low, down in Abaco," alone.
At the same time, there is no small hesitation about getting on an airplane, facing the logistical challenges of the new security regime at already challenging airports, or culling our luggage to meet with the new requirements. I've been worrying about it for a few weeks, probably needlessly, but that's how my warped mind works. (I actually wore a sports bra rather than the usual underwire affair, and avoided wearing favorite clothing with metal closures, to the airport, to avoid setting off the metal detector.) Packing for a week's sailing is tricky under normal circumstances. One doesn't need much in the way of clothes (mine take up a space about 12 inches square), but its all the other stuff that seems so essential that takes up so much space -- the snorkeling gear, GPS, handheld VHF, CDs, cameras, cruising guides, paperbacks, sunscreen, bug repellent, fun-noodles, etc. It all adds up, and the fantasy of taking off with just a backpack never seems to materialize. But even with all the junk we feel like we're carrying (a duffel and carry-on apiece), lots of people we encounter keep asking where the rest of our luggage is.
I am a great trip planner. Depending on who you are in relation to me, this can be a wonderful thing, or it can be a pain in the butt. If you're my husband my main travel companion -- it is both, because you get the benefit of all of my well-made arrangements, but you also have to live with my lists and preparations.
Planning a trip is a pleasure to me, and it makes the anticipation of a journey much more tolerable. This is especially so if I am returning to a well-loved place. I can project myself into the places I hope to find myself, from arrival to departure. This does not mean that I live with rigid itineraries; it is more a matter of knowing what the options are at any given time or mood or circumstance.
The day before departure, Friday, November 2, didn't start too well. I was sick, really sick, with a horrible sinus infection. For a few days before, I'd been watching the weather with trepidation, as a tropical depression was gathering strength off the coast of Central America and its projected path included the Bahamas. (My track record with hurricanes is so horrible that some of my traveling companions call me Typhoon Tonya -- the explanation of "Tonya" is for another day; the airlines might as well issue a Hurricane Warning for my destination as soon as I buy my ticket). And then the coup de grace: an e-mail from our charter company's owner letting us know we were still welcome to come to the Abacos -- he was going to be throwing a hurricane party and could probably get us some hotel rooms but sailing would be problematic for at least part of our precious week. So Rick and I called down to Marsh Harbour to get the scoop. Yes, we could come down, but Sail Abaco would be flexible with us if we chose not to. Having already experienced a hurricane-interrupted charter in the BVI in 1998, we decided to get out of harm's (i.e. Hurricane Michelle's) way and go somewhere else. There was NO WAY we were not going to go somewhere, as vacation weeks for us are just too hard to come by in our over-committed lives.
Immediately, I started surfing the travel websites to see what kind of airfares could be had to the islands on short notice. Not good, with most coming in over $1,000 with awful itineraries with multiple stops and late arrivals. Then I thought of the Moorings we'd sailed with them many times before -- maybe they had some of their great airfares left, and maybe they had a boat available. And sure enough, they did. Wonderful Turah in their home office set us up with great airfare to St. Thomas with a decent itinerary, a room at the Mariner Inn for our first night, and a Moorings 352 for the week. Meanwhile, I re-booked my air and charter boat for the Abacos for next June.
Of course, making such a dramatic change spun my sick head around. My obsessive need for planning would not be satisfied, but at least we know the BVI well, having sailed there three times before and even having a reasonably current chart and cruising guide on hand at home. Packing would be the same; all those charter necessities are already accounted for. And I could use my grocery list for the Abacos down here, and handle my own provisioning in what are likely better-stocked stores. Freed from the constraints (real or imagined) of entertaining our crews, and hitting those first-, second- or even third-timer must-see spots, we could sail wherever we wanted. My only real problem, at least for the first few days, was this feeling of unreality: Why am I in Roadtown instead of Hopetown? Why is the water 60 feet deep instead of 15 feet? Why am I drinking Carib instead of Kalik? Why am I at 18 degrees north latitude instead of 28? This soon faded away. Island time is island time, regardless of the venue, and it didn't take long to make the shift.