I was just sailing down in the British Virgin Islands along with all the pirates of the Caribbean. At one point there was threat of mutiny, but I won’t get into that just yet.
It was the week of New Years and the world was a blur of fireworks and calypso and liquid painkillers and dayglow necklaces. The sunsets were all clouds of pink and palm trees. And every face I met had a smile soaked in soca.
I slept, ate, and steered in a bathing suit. I had too, the commotion of a squall was always coming or going; as soon as I put on clothes it would rain, as soon as it stopped raining, I would want to swim. Every day was hot and wet, but there was always a rainbow or a sea turtle on the rise somewhere.
Down there, life is a traveling menagerie and the people of the floating caravans are the exotic animals temporarily displayed from one island to the next. The menagerie moves between more than 50 islands and cays with 20 knots of breeze blowing steady. It weaves between reefs, conch-shell graveyards, and rocks that look like the fell from outer space. It passes pieces of land with colorful shanties, iguanas, and swing sets that dangle over the sea. It glides across crystalline water and that water carries gentle currents that whisper, “Nothing’s gonna shake you, sugar” as they pass boats by.
When I hear the reassurance of those currents, I realize that I want something to whisper those words to me always and forever. Those words become my affirmation and I repeat them to myself, until they turn me inside out. Until they are my truth. Until they are written in all the air that surrounds me and I am devouring them through my inhalations. NOTHING’S GONNA SHAKE YOU, SUGAR!
Pow, pa-pa-Pow, Pow!
Down in the British Virgin Islands, the parties glow deep into the night. I hold their neon luminosity on the tip of my tongue and set fire to a sparkler. This is the dance, this is the baptism of light. A party, a hang, a chill, a gathering; is a lime and if you are at the lime, then you are liming. If you wanted to, you could lime in the BVI forever and ever. Each night I would go to shore for one song, for one touch of sand, but my lime faded long before Venus made love to the moon.
On every island, there are shells upon shells upon shells upon shells, and if shells were still a viable currency, the BVI would be a beacon of opulence that brought the rest of the world to its knees. If you ask me, a shell is worth more than gold– I’ve been known to gamble my shell collections away in late night poker games that had already rendered me penniless.
Cheers to the circus! To the carnival! To the rodeo! The sea is always my rodeo. It’s unpredictable and rowdy and at the same time serene…. that’s why I love it. I lasso the wind and I hold tightly to the reins. Let’r Buck, Let’r Rip! I’m ready for that Ring of Fire.
Down there in the Caribbean, I was riding a sea cow towards that Ring of Fire. Her name was Paula and she was a catamaran with a twin screw- a Lagoon 450 to be exact. Paula was 11 feet longer and 14 feet fatter than Juniper. I could not hug the wind with her, but on a reach and beyond she flew fast and steady. Compared to Juniper she was like a particle of light that was oblivious to the edges of any event horizon. I stood at her helm and shook and swayed, like a witch on the rim of that eclectic Caribbean cauldron, as I steered us counter-clockwise around the islands that surround Tortola.
It was me and seven other women, and they all called me captain. Before setting sail, I was presented with a certificate that read, “To all to whom these presents may come greetings, know all men that by the powers vested in me by the government of the Virgin Islands, Olivia Wyatt, master of the vessel, Paula, with his (but they mean her) gallant crew of 8, is entitled peacefully to cruise and enjoy the waters, beaches and reefs of these blessed islands from the 28th day of 12, 2019 to the 4th day of 01, 2020.”
I taped the certificate to the wall just about the nav station and prayed that there was never a circumstance that made the government regret giving it to me.
My clients were six young female lawyers. Throughout my life I have noticed that most lawyers and judges lime harder and tinker on the brink of breaking laws, more than anybody I know. These gals limed real good. And it was at one drunken point of a lime, on the second evening of the trip, while at anchorage in Virgin Gorda, that the dreaded mutiny came into play.
There was cussing and yelling and alcohol chugging and hands flying and spit spewing. They were livid, not due to anything I had done or not done, but due to the fact that my “first mate/ chef” had clearly never been on a sailboat before. On this day in particular my first mate had fallen off a paddleboard while going to cut our stern line from a tree, had gotten seasick, had thrown up in one of the galley pots, and had dropped a papaya causing its seeds to fly everywhere. The boat looked like a toddler had gone apeshit with all of our food.
I rather liked my mate, though I didn’t choose her, she was selected for me by the charter company. And truthfully, I, like the lawyers, was also made uneasy due to her inexperience.
They lawyers were also upset that neither of us wore uniforms (this company never wears them) or wiped their world with white gloves (I think they were looking for a luxury yacht experience). They went on to complain that I was not some god of the sky. They wanted me to “Steer them into sun, take them to places only populated by hot men, prevent them from getting seasick, and make the rain stop!”
I asked what the best solution was for the situation and they said, “Get a new first mate.” That was easier said than done. I handled the situation well; I agreed, I was calm, I was understanding, I was reassuring, I was logical, and I had no emotional attachment.
I said, “She has learned a lot in the past two days and I have full confidence in her as a first mate.”
Eventually I was able to chase all the little clouds away and the lawyers began to enjoy the world around them- the Baths, the bubbly pools, the floating spas, the white sand beaches, the caves, the salt ponds, and the beauty of the archipelago known as The Indians.
White Bay on Jost Van Dyke was their favorite place that I moored. They called it heaven and we stayed in that heaven for two days. The island is named after a Dutch pirate who, like all good buccaneers, robbed the Spanish of their treasures and hideout on the island with buried piles of gold. That was back in the seventeenth century, but Jost was no legend like Blackbeard who came a century later. Blackbeard roamed the Caribbean dressed in black, with hair aflame, and more than one pistol hidden at his hip. Sometimes Blackbeard didn’t even need a pistol- he supposedly marooned 15 men on Dead Man’s Chest (Dead Chest Island) using only a bottle of rum:
“Fifteen men on the Dead Man’s Chest,
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!
Drink and the devil had done for the rest,
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!”
I think pirate stories are like any good tale from the sea, they always grow larger and wilder as soon as a sailor hits the safety of a new shore. From there the story spreads like a game of telephone from mouth to ear to new mouth. And each new mouth romanticizes the details of the adventure into a shape that resembles more of a fairy tale than a fact. Meanwhile, the boring truths of the stories sink down to Davy Jones’ Locker.
Shiver me timbers! Yo ho ho!
Anyway, one thing I learned from running a charter in the Caribbean is that the weight of people’s lives is unbearably heavy in my hands, and naturally causes my confidence to become shifty and shaky. Put me on a bigger boat, with a first mate who has never sailed, in a body of water I have never known, and my confidence is subsurface. So subsurface, that it takes days for it to rise.
This ain’t nothing new for me, my confidence has been shaky my whole life. It is just something that has never served me well. Confidence comes from a self-trust so strong that you could stay anchored to the earth in the face of a hurricane and it comes from fearlessly being you.
I repeat my line “Nothings gonna shake you, sugar!” Then I shoot far above the blessed islands and float along with the wind of space. I am surrounded by stardust as the wind carries me towards a future full of confidence. And in that future, I am like the giant Pacific octopus; with three hearts, nine brains, eight legs, and blue blood. I can squeeze myself into any shape and I can change my color until I am camouflaged and you only see the parts of me that I want you to see.