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The Birth of Diego

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After we’d lived on the Cay for a couple of years, Dorothy became pregnant again.  Living on Lovango, we were equidistant from the two hospital choices:  Tortola or St. Thomas.  Tortola was to windward, St. Thomas was to leeward and more modern—the newborn babies were taken from their mother’s side and kept in a well-lit antiseptic ward behind glass for their safety.  When it was time to feed or cuddle them the babies would be brought back and forth by a nurse.  Tortola being more backwards, they left the baby sleeping at the mother’s side. Being more backwards ourselves, we opted for Tortola.

Part of the reason we favored Tortola was the location of the hospital, which was right across the boulevard from the harbor.  Traffic was sparse in those days (1977).  The foreshore had not been filled in as of yet, nor the new Customs dock built, and one could bring the dinghy almost up to the front steps of the hospital.  Though small it was a welcoming place with competent nurses who took a personal interest in the patients.

Part of the reason was the doctor—Robin Tattersall, a brilliant surgeon who could have had his choice of positions back in England but chose to practice in Tortola because he was needed there and because he loved to sail.   He raced his fast old wooden boat, Galatea, frequently winning Foxy’s Wooden Boat Race, and earned a reputation as one of the best sailors, and doctors, in the region.

The Grand Plan with the Grand Kid

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We weren’t the only ones who came from the USVI to see him. Tattersall treated everybody who came through the door without reference to their financing.   While he made plenty off wealthy matrons who came to his villa-like clinic for plastic surgery and deluxe recuperation facilities (hence the witticism “tits by Tat”), he also had been known to take a brace of chickens tied together at the feet as payment from a north side peasant or a string of fish from a weathered old fisherman for removing a growth from his forehead. Paul Johnson, the charismatic master mariner, built handsome hardwood doors for Tattersall’s clinic in exchange for the delivery of his first son.

I sailed Dorothy over to West End, Tortola for periodic pre-natal check-ups and  the sleepy little port became familiar with our little 28′ sloop pulling in, paying out plenty of scope, setting its hook carefully in the deep anchorage,  then me rowing ashore with my progressively more pregnant woman.  I made sure that the port officials knew I might arrive in a hurry some day in mid February.
They were totally cool with that.

Maybe it’s my imagination but I seem to remember that BVI Customs and Immigration were courteous and helpful in those days while US Immigration officials appeared to have been given training—and had to pass tests with at least a “C”—on how to gratuitously insult people coming through their doors.   In the aftermath of the 9/11 fiasco, US Immigration was disbanded by a House vote of one to 350, or thereabouts, and one of the three reasons why was “rudeness to the public.” I kid you not; I read it in the New York Times.  The current Homeland Security officers are actually pleasant to deal with—a vast improvement.


On Feb 22 Dorothy began to feel labor pains, just after our neighbor Suzy, who had some midwife experience, went to St. Thomas to pick up supplies to last her until Dorothy should be delivered.  I did not want to be the one to deliver the baby, so, mindful of Dorothy’s mother having her second child quickly and her last one almost in the cab, I hustled Dorothy out onto the boat, raised the sails, turned on my new engine and ran it just below the red line on the tach, motor sailing for Tortola.

“How are your labor pains, honey?” I said in a sweat at the thought of delivering a child on the boat. “They’re getting closer…and more intense,” she replied.  When I heard that, I jacked up the throttle past the red line and, as her pains grew alarmingly closer still, I rammed the throttle control as far as it would go.  Venceremos entered West End harbor in Tortola with a huge bow wave blossoming at her stem and a steep stern wave pulling the stern down while the wake came boiling up past her rudder.

I came full speed right into the inner anchorage, dropped the sails, kicked the anchor off the bow, threw out coils of line, cleated it, and pulled the dinghy alongside.  Once Dorothy had settled into the after seat I bent my back to the oars and made the dinghy leap towards the ladder that ascended the dock.

Immigration Changes in GRENADA for Yachts / Boats

For months I had fretted that we might not easily find a cab when the moment came, but I needn’t have worried—at the top of the ladder, an honest face looked down filled with concern, and two strong hands extended to help Dorothy up while I braced her from below.   The brawny hands belonged to the owner of a shiny new taxi van who, alerted by my breakneck approach, was parked at the top of the steps, with its doors slid open, the back of the seat bent down flat to make a bed, with a blanket nicely softening the plastic seat, and with an embroidered pillow at its head.

After we were properly situated, the taxi driver shut the door carefully, then climbed into the driver’s seat, turned on the ignition and, while careful not to jolt her, nonetheless left in a spray of gravel.  As the cloud of dust blew away I was hanging out the window, trying to notify Customs and Immigration of my unorthodox clearance. As I looked back, I saw them out on the porch of their office waving Godspeed.  In fact the whole little settlement was watching and wishing us well.

Boatwife a.k.a. Wonder Woman

That driver was marvelous, racing down the long, empty, straight stretches of the Queen Elizabeth coastal highway, braking expertly into the turns, warning other traffic with long authoritative blasts on his horn, never reckless, perfectly focused.  I paid him twice the standard fee while he protested that he would have been proud to do it for free—and I know that is true.

Dorothy’s pains were coming very close together now, but Dr. Tattersall was in the midst of a complicated eight-hour operation. The doctor in his stead, who had served previously in the Kalahari Desert, forever distinguished himself in our memory by using his stethoscope as a slingshot to fire a wadded-up glove wrapper at a rooster crowing insufferably over a sexual conquest just outside the delivery room window

When the baby was born, the doctor put him in my hands first off, then the nurse took him, cleaned him off and gave him to Dorothy.  She stared at his face and said to me, “Look, Peter, his left eye has a little droop just like yours.”

I sailed back to the Cay that night to be with Raffy, and came back with him the next morning.   He took a long look at his brand new brother and said, “Let’s call him Diego.”  He’d been reading the life of Columbus written by his son, Diego. Dorothy and I loved it immediately.

Diego he was, Diego John Muilenburg.

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