March 16, 2003
I Take My Leave (Guest Appearance By Bill McNeely)
Seven or eight nights on Force Five had
flown by, and my return ticket on American Airlines called
out to me. It was time to head home. We had arrived at Esperanza,
the second city of the largest island in the Spanish Virgins,
Vieques. We had visited the entire town - about 3 blocks -
the night of St. Patrick's Day, looking for a wild party.
They were in short supply. On my cell phone, I had arranged
air transport from Vieques to Fajardo, a town 40 miles from
San Juan on the northeast corner of Puerto Rico. From there,
I would find some ground transportation to San Juan International,
and thence to Orange County, Ca.'s John Wayne Airport.
In my time, we had done some good sailing,
explored several islands in the Spanish Virgins, snorkeled,
dinked, and fished, and lived several adventures. Time and
discretion forbid my telling you all of them. Like Sherlock
Holmes's Dr. Watson, who hinted at other cases ("the
sudden death of Cardinal Tosca
the arrest of Wilson,
the notorious canary trainer
the tragedy of Woodman's
"), I will withhold, among others, the strange
case of the shark remoras, the bay of the baby barracudas,
the odd events on the Fajardo ferry, and the tale of Stephanie
the Bushwhacker. Those of you who can should try to arrange
a visit to Force Five while cruising. I feel sorry for those
of you who cannot.
The morning I had to leave, we awoke to
find some semi-wild horses grazing next to the Esperanza beach.
As I packed, I thought back on cruising in general and my
great times on Force Five. Obviously, the islands we had seen
were ripe for big, big changes. Vieques, long a military base
and stronghold, was being ceded to civilian use by the Navy
after many protests from the 7,500 or so full-time civilian
residents (and some greedy real-estate developers). Within
the last year, a large Wyndham hotel had opened on the island's
north shore, and the sun will soon set on the day of $45/night
guest houses on Vieques. The announced plan is to maintain
half of Vieques as a nature conservancy. If that can be done,
with a city at Isabel Segundo and a smaller settlement at
Esperanza, the island may become both very visitable and a
real gem. Culebra already has some vacation home developments
appearing, and some out-and-out mansions. The other, smaller
islands in this group will need reliable fresh water sources,
but that can be done. Marina Cay in the British Virgins is
an example. I am undyingly grateful for the chance to be part
of this place at this time. When I return, even if it's in
six months, things will have changed.
Happy as I am to visit Curt and Allie, and
all their cruising friends like John and Diana on Second Kiss,
I know that the cruising life is not for me. As I said, I
have no patience with anything, and cruising is all about
patience. Other impatient friends and I have often asked each
other what you do while cruising, and we've never found an
answer that satisfies us. There is always more to do on the
boat, but there is always more to fix up on your house, and
if that were all you did, you would feel like you'd accomplished
little. Exploring is great, but long passages are hard, and
many days spent at a single anchorage would, for me, prove
dull. Besides, I would miss the opera, symphony, and major
league baseball too much (I would manage to create my own
smoky little jazz clubs, though). So, Caribbean cruisers,
hear me now: I know I can never really be one of you, but
I thank you heartily for accepting me as though I were.
So, that morning, we dinked ashore, my last
Force Five dinghy ride. We managed to call a cab to the Vieques
Airport by cell phone, and Curt and Allie rode with me across
the island. "You could stay longer, Bill, maybe another
week. Are you sure you don't want to?"
Tempting. The rumbles of a coming war in
Iraq had grown so loud we could hear them on Vieques, and
a week later I had no idea how tough travel might get. If
I stayed another week, I might have to stay longer. "I
really need to get back," I said. "I have some meetings
things I need to do
"Whatever you're going back to, it
will still be there in another week or so." Get thee
behind me, Satan!
At the airport, we looked out on the ramp
at the planes. "Where's your plane, Bill?" Allie
Most of the planes were twin-engine, 6-passenger
Islanders. "It's one of those, either 980 or 981 out
there, I'm sure," I said, pointing to the numbers on
the planes' tails.
"One of those?" Allie gasped.
"Allie's not big on flying," Curt
interjected calmly, "and small airplanes
"NOOOOOO, Bill! You can't do this!"
Most of the eight or so people in the little terminal were
focusing in on Allie. "If you get into one of those things,
it's the last we'll ever see of you!"
"Hey - these have two engines, and
the one I flew over here on only had one," I told her.
"Islanders are super-reliable. If they lose an engine in
flight, they slow down about 15 knots, drop 100 feet or so,
and just keep flying." I thought it best not to explain
why I knew that.
Curt folded Allie into one of his arms.
She had begun making a low, moaning sound and seemed to have
lost visual contact with us. "It's a beautiful day,"
Just then, the little airline's agent came
striding through the terminal. "William!" he called
to me. "Fajardo, huh? Here we go!"
"Thanks for everything, guys!"
I said, shaking hands as Allie seemed to regain consciousness
long enough for a final farewell. "Don't worry - I'll
be fine! I'll send you some guest columns for the web site!"
And now I have.
I flew from San Juan International to Chicago,
changing planes at O'Hare and wondering how many times I had
been there. I called Dano back in California from the bustling
Chicago terminal. "On schedule, OK," I said. "Pick
me up at John Wayne about 10:30 PM your time. What's the temperature
there, 60 or so?" He told me it was pretty cool at home.
"I'll be easy to spot. I'll be the only one standing
there in shorts, an aloha shirt, and a big straw hat. And
sunglasses. At 10:30 PM."
Now I'm busy making everyone here
jealous of my trip, boring them with my photos, telling my
stories. OK, guys, the web site is yours again. Thanks for