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Jeannie and Mike Kuichs Last Christmas Charter on Avenir II

There’s nothing better than having some of your family on a Christmas charter unless: 1) you usually don’t get along, 2) they don’t offer to pay at least part of the cost or 3) or they expect you to do all the work.

It was our last Christmas charter on Avenir II based in the U.S. Virgin Islands and it was special because Mike’s favorite cousin Ann Pan, her husband Charlie and their teenaged boys, Tony, Andy and Jeffy, would be with us. They were enthusiastic about everything: sailing, snorkeling, shelling, playing killer Frisbee, whatever. They washed the dishes, made their beds, kept the heads cleaned, scrubbed the decks and made it a vacation for us, too.

The wind was lighter than usual for Christmastime. No Christmas winds were blowing this week, so snorkeling was excellent and the nights were clear for superb stargazing. We worked our way up through the British Virgin Islands as usual, stopping at the popular caves on Norman Island where we usually spent Christmas Eve and most of Christmas Day. With such a big protected harbor there at the Bight, it was chock-a-block with boats, with some kind of party going aboard many of them.

Christmas aboard a boat is special because people particularly reach out to strangers and friends alike. One tends to forgive the bareboaters for anchoring too closely to you, to tolerate the merrymakers late at night without grumbling too much and to enjoy all the hard work of Christmas traditions—the special food and drinks, parties, decorations and presents.

One of our favorite Christmas traditions was to go caroling in the dinghy. We’d go from boat to boat, lit with a couple of candles, with Mike at the helm and me at the bow tootin’ on the tooter, my trusty harmonica. With at least a dozen dinghies of carolers tied to us, those singing toward the end of the train would get a little behind on the verses. The first four or so dinghies would keep the beat up pretty well, but beyond that, the song would lag slower and slower. Nobody cared. We all were having too much fun!

Presents were always special for Christmas on a boat, too, because most were to be used aboard boats or for related activities. For Mike’s family we had shark repellent (aftershave lotion) for the boys, a log book for each to record his voyage, toys like Frisbees or beach balls, fish identity cards, pamphlets on corals, shells, plants, etc.

Since they were keen on shelling, we went to some of our favorite places for finding already dead and cleaned shells where at one time there had been dredging. Roadtown Harbour in the BVI was one of the best places where you didn’t even have to get into the water because there were so many shells on the beach. In other places, we snorkeled for them, taking only a few even though some species were very prevalent.

The best and most special find of all the years of shelling that we have done in the eastern Caribbean happened during this charter. We were diving in about ten feet of water on a sandy bottom and found one Angular Triton (Cymatium femorale) which grew in the opposite direction than was normal. The upper Triton grew correctly, twisting to the right, and the lower Triton had twisted to the left but was perfect in all other aspects.

We were tempted to send it to the Smithsonian—but since it would probably have been lost in the hundreds of thousands of specimens housed there, we returned it to the sea. Who knows? Maybe that little triton was starting a new trend in the evolution of its species with perhaps some of its offspring twisting in the other direction.

Jeannie Kuich, once a long-time charter chef in the Virgin Islands, has been writing monthly columns for the Daily News since 1985 and periodic columns for Caribbean Boating, Nautical Scene, St. Thomas This Week and Cruising World magazines. Jeannie is the author of “Soap Operas of the Sky”, the only stargazing sky guide for the Caribbean.

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