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It quickly became a running joke. “How come we never went snorkeling here before?” my wife, Shelly, would ask. “What a great beach. Why didn’t we go swimming like this the last time we were here?”The answer in each case was exactly the same: we’d been sailing, beating our way up and around St. John, reaching through the trades, reveling in the sheer joy of our boat speed. Not until the sun
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Of course, 5-year-olds tire quickly, so we went straight to the Maho Bay anchorage on the north side of St. John, picked up a U.S. National Park Service mooring off Maho Point and hit the beach—which is when it all started.

“Honey,” my wife said. “I don’t remember this spot at all. It’s so beautiful. I wonder why we never made it here the last time. Oh, yes, now I remember. We were too busy sailing.”

“Hmmm,” I said, more than a little sheepishly.

The next day it was more of the same. After a leisurely breakfast in the cockpit, everyone grabbed their snorkel gear, and we dinghied back to the beach, where Shelly and I took turns watching a hawksbill sea turtle rooting through the sea grass. Afterward, we took turns swimming over to check out the reef at the north end of the bay.

“Gee, I don’t remember this reef being here,” Shelly said.

“Hmmm,” I said, munching on a sandwich in the shade of some trees on the edge of the beach.

Later, we dropped our mooring and sailed west to pick up Shane Cleminson, a Maryland-based wildlife photographer, originally from Zimbabwe. The wind was still up a bit, so I kept a reef in the main, and we stayed in the lee of the string of islands enclosing the north end of Pillsbury Sound. Things got a bit bumpy as we transited the Leeward Passage between St. Thomas, Thatch Cay and Hans Lollick Island. But soon we were making our way through the placid waters of Magens Bay, where we dropped the hook in 30 feet of water and hit the beach again.

By now, a pattern was emerging. No more sailing on and off our moorings. No more short tacks in confined water when the wind was on the nose. No more toughing it out under sail when the wind went light. When in doubt, we either cranked up the auxiliaries or threw in a reef. Keep the crew happy. Follow the path of least resistance, became our philosophy.

The old me—a hopeless purist—would have been appalled. But I’m a dad now, with a different set of priorities. Besides, we were all having a blast lounging in the cockpit, playing “go fish” in the spacious saloon, and using the trampoline forward as it was truly meant to be—for jumping up and down. Who was I to complain?

The next day, we headed east again, back toward St. John. By now the wind was down to less than 10 knots, and on the nose—no problem. Bridget and I just fired up those magnificent diesels, and the next thing we knew, we’d grabbed another park service mooring and were putting on our bathing suits again.

Daysailing

The next morning we went for a quick sail and then swam and relaxed the rest of the day. After that it was time to pop over to Red Hook so Shane could head back home. By now, I’d become pretty adept at slow-speed maneuvering with Mowzer’s twin engines—using them like the twin tracks on a bulldozer while keeping the rudders on centerline—so there was no problem sidling up alongside an open fuel dock to set Shane ashore.

Early on, when we were picking up our mooring in Maho Bay, I’d gotten stuck in monohull mode and kept circling around every time we missed it with the boathook. But those days were long past. Now, if things didn’t look right, all it took was a well-timed thrust to port or starboard, forward or aft, and the boat would put itself right back where it belonged.

Back on our own again, the three of us motorsailed around Cabrita Point and past Great Bay to the Christmas Cove anchorage in the lee of Great St. James Island. Because of the moderate to strong trades that day, not to mention the fact that the anchorage was a bit crowded, it took a couple of tries to get the hook set where we felt comfortable. But Mowzer’s maneuverability and shallow draft meant things stayed well in hand.

Dinghying ashore, Bridget and I promptly renamed Great St. James “Pirate Island” and set out to do some rock climbing and beach combing while Shelly went snorkeling. The drop-off midway down the beach is nothing less than spectacular—a 20-foot outcrop ending in a sandy bottom replete with sea life. There are so many friendly fish off Great St. James Island it was almost unnerving.

“How come we never…” Shelly said, with a smile.

“Yes, honey. I know,” I said, ruefully, remembering how we’d anchored here before without so much as getting our feet wet.

Relaxing on the beach we met a local charter captain and fire dancer named, appropriately enough, Fuego. Then it was back to Mowzer, where I spent a few minutes watching the boats taking part in St. Thomas Race Week through the binoculars. One of the turning marks was directly off Great St. James, which made for great viewing. After that, I dove on the anchor again and was glad to see it was exactly where we put it hours earlier, in spite of the stiff breeze. Then came dinner and another trampoline session.

Next morning we were up with the sun and set out for Charlotte Amalie soon after breakfast. In contrast to our trip out a few days earlier, there was only a slight swell as we motorsailed back down the coast. Once again, Bridget was back up at the helm, helping pick out nav aids, fast ferry boats and other obstructions—Scorpion Rock was a favorite—as we made our way back to CYOA. Taking a sharp right inside St. Thomas Harbor we motored over to the Yacht Haven Grande marina, where we topped off our fuel tanks in the company of a cruise ships, megayachts and high-octane charter fishing boats. I was pleased to see we hadn’t burned up half as much diesel as I’d expected.

Motoring around the mooring field back to CYOA headquarters over on the Frenchtown side of harbor, I found myself experiencing the bittersweet feeling that comes at the end of every successful charter. On the one hand, it’s sad knowing the fun is about to come to an end. On the other, there’s the feeling of accomplishment at a job well done. The same boat and waters that had seemed so new at the start of the trip now felt like old friends.

Better still, watching the latest round of calisthenics up on the trampoline, I could see Bridget was still having the time of her life. She had not only made it through her first charter trip, she’d loved it, and was raring for more. We had become that rarest of creatures, a happy sailing family—and I’m here to tell you, it doesn’t get any better than that.

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