Nope, they didn’t sink the boat. Or bring girls aboard every night. Or stop up the head a dozen times.
They were a typical American family of four: daughter about nine, son a lanky 15-year-old, mother forties, dumpy with frizzy hair, and father, slight, balding with glasses. Father, the number two man at Polaroid, had just created a new film which he was trying out for the first time with a borrowed company camera. It must have been their first time aboard a sailboat because they all seemed quite intimidated. When Mike asked the son to help hank on the jib on Avenir II, our fifty-foot sloop, anchored in Long Bay, the son got down on his knees and crawled forward.
They were all ok, pleasant enough, no trouble really – just not very interesting. They never complained, didn’t fart or tell really dull jokes. It’s just that there was no spark or enthusiasm, the essential ingredient that makes a charter great.
The cruise was going smoothly and all appeared to be having a good time. But they were very keen on going to the Baths on Virgin Gorda, particularly so father could try action shots with his new film. They weren’t quite clear what they meant by taking action shots but we hoped they didn’t insist upon leaping from the highest boulder into the shallow waters. We stood off the Baths twice, hoping to anchor and go ashore but the north swell was putting very high breakers on the beach. It was too rough to land even our very stable 13-foot Boston Whaler or try to swim ashore.
Leaving North Sound on the way back to St. Thomas we sailed to the Baths for another look. The surf seemed down a bit so we anchored and watched awhile. Mike finally decided that he might be able to get them ashore. We piled them into the dinghy with towels, camera, new film and all.
Mike had them sit by the sides of the Whaler with their feet sticking out. He told them forcefully that when he yelled “GO!”, that they were to leap out and scramble ashore as fast as they could. They were not to stop, look back or try to help one another, but just get themselves onto that beach!
They floated outside the surf line, everyone poised, ready to jump out and go while Mike gauged the waves, hoping for one small enough to surf the dinghy onto the beach. Finally he realized that it was just too rough. Completely absorbed, he said to himself, “No.”
They all heard a “go!” and go they went into 15 feet of water. Mike was astonished. What were these people doing in the water? Mother was screaming that she was drowning. Father was trying to hold up both her and the camera. Son was panicked. Daughter kept her head and swam back to the dinghy.
Mike pulled mother back into the dinghy first, then the rest followed with soggy towels and drenched camera. When they were back aboard Avenir II, dried off and calmed down, there wasn’t much to say except what Mike said to father.
“Well, at least you learned your camera can’t swim.”
For some reason that didn’t go over too well.