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Returning to the Nest – A Sea Gypsy Revisits his Favorite Island

I’m fascinated by the indefinable point in which friendship morphs into love. I am also intrigued with the twin concepts of family and home. This interest puzzles me—I’m not sure I should harbor such land-locked, terra-firma yearnings. My life as a sea gypsy is basically one of departing, leaving and abandoning. And yet my heart still aches for certain shore geographies: bits of rocks, clumps of earth, certain urban intersections.

It would be silly to deny I occasionally miss my dirt-dwelling friends, that I want the warm embrace of the people I love.

What is more valuable than a hug? Has any symphony ever been written as lovely as the trill of my wife’s laughter? Doesn’t the smile of my daughter blot out the brightest sun? Which would I rather have: the Hope diamond or the respect of my friends?

My boat is currently in New Zealand. It is stored far, far up the Whangarei river. My wife Carolyn and I recently visited, via airplane, the lovely island of St. John, USVI. This is the most wonderful place we’ve ever lived under the American flag. We  headquartered out of St. John for a couple of rhum-soaked, happy decades. Despite not having a single blood relative on the island, St. John is still home to us. And, despite our recent absences, it is still where our hearts reside. There are more people on this tiny rock that we love than anywhere else on earth. They were/are/always-will-be family. We luxuriate in their presence.

I was in Cid Hamlin’s house.

Cid and I go back a long way. In the early 1980’s I, a struggling writer, asked to ‘borrow a desk’ from her for a few days. Once entrenched within the bosom of her Cruz Bay office it took over a decade for her to evict/exile me… to its toilet.

Toilets are perfect for the crap I write. I like the ambience of bathrooms, restrooms, powder-rooms… mysteriously odoriferous places forced to pretend (in polite company) they are something else. They match the odd cadences of my subversive writing. I actually perched my word processor on the lip of the urinal. I wrote thousands of stories there. (Yes, I was a gentleman and left whenever the ‘facilities’ where needed by Cid or her phone-addled Connection co-workers).

…where was I? Ah, yes… recently at Cid’s house and playing guitar. It was a marvelous party. There were twenty-five of my closest friends. We hadn’t seen each other in a couple of years. As I began playing, I noticed Cid out of the corner of my eye. She was doing something but I didn’t allow her movement to distract me. Mostly my eyes were closed. I was singing. The music swayed me. Then I refocused on my audience. There were all wearing cotton earplugs. Cid was handing the last one out to Vela, a six year old live-aboard from Great Cruz Bay.

“Yes,” Vela told Cid brightly, “these DO make it better!”

Now, I suppose some people might be offended or others irritated. I smiled. It was a perfectly Fat moment. My friends loved me so much and were so confident in our relationship… that they could… despite my being out-of-their-lives since the late 1990s… pseudo-insult me in such a manner.

It was wonderful.

And, hey, I just sang a bit louder.

When we first arrived from New Zealand, Carolyn and I stayed aboard Virgin Fire with Joe Colpitt.

Joe is an extraordinary man, and the adult which has ‘most evolved’ since I first met him twenty years ago. He was painfully shy back then. He seldom spoke, and then so quietly he was usually inaudible. As a consequence, he didn’t make friends easily. But he was on of the most knowledgeable seaman I’ve ever met——and a damn fine shipmate too. We sailed and raced and whittled various boat bits together for a couple of happy decades. He’s now as much brother as friend.

And Joe is full of surprises. When he told me he was interested in becoming a singer and musician I actually laughed in his face. Now I delight in watching him ‘take stage’ musically whether he’s touring the Midwest with the Fiddler’s Sun Mountain Band or just playing a regular solo gig on St. Thomas or St. John.

Yes, Carolyn and I ‘slept around’ during our visit. We spent a couple of nights with Larry Best and Lenora Stanciauskas of Osprey. They are currently building a ‘shore base’ (house) on St. John and we were their ‘first ever’ house guests.

We’re the only people who know them longer than they’ve known each other. We introduced them… well, sort of.

It was in 1971. I was living in a (free) closet in Boston while building a boat. Larry was also building a boat. One night Larry was so completely exhausted that I sent him home to my commune to get some sleep. He was supposed to unlock the front door, climb the stairs… make a right, left… then his second right… but he goofed up and hopped into bed with a very startled Lenora! (The rest, as they are, is history).

We build our boats and sailed from New England to the Caribbean… where I lured them to St. John… and where they have since ended up ‘swallowing the anchor.’

Time ran out before we were able to stay with Thatcher Lord and Vicky Rogers of Trinka. We first met them in St. Augustine. They attended our daughter’s second birthday party… and our daughter Roma Orion is now 25 years old.

I was a librarian at the time——although I thought of myself as an info-maniac.

We were supposed to rendevous in Grenada but they were unable to make it so they wrote us a letter to tell us they’d meet up with us on a certain date in St. John. We made it to Grenada and searched in vain for them. We also didn’t get the letter… but sailed into Cruz Bay, St. John, on exactly the date reqested… into their warm embrace and a party that lasted until… well, the year 2000! (It was weeks before we realize our reunion on St. John was by pure chance… or, perhaps more accurately, by cosmic fate).

We were only on St. John this time for a week but it was a week of love and memories. We met ‘Where there’s a Will, there’s a Way!” at Skinny’s in Coral Bay—and got the scoop on his latest ‘…racing Cowhorn’ project.

Hurricanes bring out the best in people. Carolyn and I fell in love with Will during Hugo in 1989… during which he served as both our moral compass and role model.

We also sat idly in the Cruz Bay Park with circumnavigator Ted Seymour and Wayward Sailor Phil—and chewed the fat just as in the old daze (sic).

Yes, we played music with Mighty Whitey at Latitude 18 on St. Thomas—and saw marine surveyor Will Howe and ocean racer Murray Davis as well. (At Bottom’s Up, Tim Peck, Cap’n Kirk and Bruce Mercer… not to mention Danielle… brought me up-to-speed on the local St. Thomas marine scene).

Perhaps the best part was hearing the sea yarns of Trish Capuano and Dave Dostal… two St. John sailors who fell in love in a Gite (small rental farm house) in France… as our guests… while Carolyn and I were covering the Brest Regatta in 1992.

Trish and Dave currently have their beloved Rob Roy in Scotland—and regaled us with many a fine tale of ‘pub-crawling-undersail’ in that lovely, lonely, loony country.

The thing which puzzles me most about St. John is how much I love it and yet how much I don’t want to live there any more. I don’t want to live anywhere anymore. My life is a journey. I’m only content when I’m in motion. Change is my only constant.

However, should THAT ever change and I decide to swallow the hook… I’ll sail back to St. John poste-haste… and into the loving arms of my patiently-waiting friends.

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