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March 9, 2003
Allow Me To Introduce Myself … (Guest Appearance By Bill McNeely)

Boris Badenov, arch-nemesis of Bullwinkle J. Moose and Rocky the Flying Squirrel, appeared in many disguises and met them undetected with that line. So allow me to introduce myself, the villain of the piece: my name is Bill. I have temporarily taken control of this web site.

In February, 2002, peacefully passed out in the back of dinghy at Two Harbors on Catalina after a night of aiding the fortunes of the Pacifico brewery, I was roused and hoisted to the deck of a Newport 30 on a mooring. I quickly realized this was not Caribbean Soul, my buddy Dano's 36' trawler, and I was forced to sing, play the guitar as best I could in that condition, and drink more beer by Curt, Allie, Nate, and Michele. Since Dano, Ray, and I had dislocated our friend Suzi's left shoulder the previous day (I'm the villain, remember?), this was a momentous trip.

Time passes. A month later, at the Russian River Wine Road barrel tasting, Curt and Allie told me they were hatching a plan to cruise the Caribbean for a year or so. In April, 2002, we met up again at Avalon the weekend daylight savings time started, and I told them not to take their dog with them to the islands - it would have been too hard on the dog. In return, they forced me to sing at a karaoke bar. I was a guest at a party in the Presidio of San Francisco about two weeks later, and saw them before their final blast off. I told them they would need help down there in the islands, but I would make the sacrifice and come stay with them at some point, lending expert aid. It took a while, but I made it in March, 2003.

And what would be expert about me? I have been a contributing editor at a sailing magazine, and teach a seminar on cruising Catalina Island here in my adopted home town of Dana Point, CA, halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego. I have also sailed New England, the Chesapeake, and the Great Lakes, and made my first Caribbean pilgrimage in 1984, leading 3 boats through the British Virgins. Given my current age, I must have been 14 then, and do not know why the Moorings let me charter a boat in my own name. I've always looked older than my real age, though.

Along the way, I gathered two Ivy League engineering degrees, and have worked as an engineer and executive at not only Fortune 500 companies, but Fortune 5 companies. I've run a management consulting practice for 15 or 20 years now, catering to those companies - and some really fun boutique wineries. A victim of outrageous SAT scores (to this day, I believe they made a mistake and gave me a couple hundred points too many), I'm an intellectual snob who loves the symphony and the opera. But when Jimmy Buffett played clubs that sat 200 or less, I was there to pull him out of the men's room and help him back on stage a couple times. I don't expect Jimmy to remember me, or much of anything about those nights.

Perhaps best of all, I'm used to being shot at, and do not often panic. And I have a bad habit of being right. About everything.

You can see why I'm the villain.

So, on Sunday March 9, 2003, I climbed into a single-engine Cessna 208B at San Juan International airport and made a 20 minute flight to the island of Culebra. The gorgeous hop across the swimming-pool blue waters ended with a gliding left bank through a pass between two hills on Culebra to drop us right on the end of the runway. "Nice flying! I like that left bank!" I called to the pilot as the other four passengers and I started to deplane. "Glad somebody noticed!" he shouted back with a smile.

My duffle bag, brief case of books and maps, and a half-case of wine wound up in front of the terminal in a few minutes, and Edward the taxi driver suggested I head for the town dock to try to find Force Five. I knew they'd be out in the anchorage somewhere, or tied up at - maybe over there - the Dinghy Dock Bar and Grill. But I no sooner got my stuff settled on the dock and focused my compact binoculars to find the boat when I heard a plaintiff female voice: "Bill! Billll! BIIILLLLLL!!! Over here! You made it!"

Moments later Curt was at the dock with his dinghy, and we loaded up. "How long did you wait?" he smiled me. "Allie's been asking all day how we'd find you. I told her you were you, and it would all work out fine - you'd find us."

"I didn't wait. As soon as I put the stuff down and got out my little binoculars, there you were. And you're right - I wasn't going to come 2,800 miles to get lost in this little bay!" I laughed at his comments, and the 3 or 4 inches of water in his dinghy. "Curt, you gotta do something about all this water, man!"

Told you I was a snob.

Curt took me to Second Kiss, John and Diana's Norseman 447, where he and Allie were visiting, worrying about me. The Norseman is a great boat, and the 447 was designed by Seattle's legendary wild, bass-playing naval architect, Robert Perry. Diana handed me a drink in a Cabrillo Beach Yacht Club glass. John had once been commodore of this club in San Pedro, Los Angeles Harbor, just 40 miles by water from my home. I could not have felt more welcome. John announced at least twice that we should have just one more drink in my honor to make sure I did, too.

Finally, off to Force Five. I was thrilled to see Curt and Allie looking so happy, so well, and so tan, and looked forward to getting to know their boat, a veteran of over 12,000 miles of crossing the South Atlantic, and still dry as could be inside (unlike the dinghy). We had dinner and caught up on the news. A week earlier, Curt and Allie had seen a New York Times that was then a week old. "We really have no idea what's going on in the outside world," they said.

Then, after dinner, John and Diana from Second Kiss came over, and something very special in the way of music occurred. I had brought an instrument: my "soft shake," a gentle Latin shaker that fit easily in with the books and charts (and half case of wine). Curt got out his guitar. John offered to play kazoo, and we found a comb. Tissue paper can be scarce in the tropics, but cruisers become very resourceful. Allie managed to liberate a wrapper from a tampon, and fold that over the comb, and John was in perfect tune with us. We proved that we still knew all the lyrics to Volcano ("Don't wanna land no San Juan Airport, or the Yukon Territory!").

Surrounded by friends, and trusting in a proven super-sailor of a boat, for the next week or so, I was home.

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