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The Lure of the Sea

I tried to imagine days or weeks of this type of sailing instead of hours, and expressed my admiration for early sailors who braved the transatlantic crossings.

The Lure of the Sea by Tom Wuckovich

Explore the Caribbean By Way of Sail

For centuries, mankind has had a fascination for the sea. It is mysterious, ominous, beautiful, and unpredictable. It offered hope, promised adventure, and rewarded those who braved its dangers. It's not hard to love the sea, or to dream about its secrets. Many have-and I am among them.

sailing boats

My love for sailing and the sea began almost 20 years ago, spurred by a chance charter in the pristine waters of the British Virgin Islands on a Moorings-owned 50-foot sailboat. Like those early explorers, my first experience-my rite of passage-is with me to this day. And each spring I charter again, longing to revive those memories that have given me so much pleasure and to acquire new ones.

Each voyage is different. Each moment is better than the last. While there are no real dangers involved in yacht chartering, there is the uncertainty of the sea. What does remain constant is the sense of adventure, the thrill of discovery, the romance, the feeling of accomplishment, and the bond forged between vessel and crew.

On my last seven-day sail, our crew of six, including captain Patrick Wright and first mate Ilana Wright, set sail from French St. Martin in the Leeward Islands of the Caribbean. Under the captain's expert seamanship, we explored the whole of St. Martin/St. Maarten, the island that flourishes under two flags-French and Dutch; the French isle of St. Barth's; and the English-dominated island of Anguilla.

These were not long, arduous voyages, but they gave me, my friends Dennis and Carol Sanchez and Patty Pierce, ample opportunity to embrace the thrill of sailing, with time ashore to savor the island experiences that make each journey unique.

We raised anchor at Oyster Pond on the windward side of St. Martin on a warm, sun-splashed day, carefully navigating the narrow pass between the dangerous reefs, making our way to the open sea.It was early afternoon and the wind filled the mainsail as we turned south toward Philipsburg, the capital on the Dutch side. We were only a mile or so offshore, and the lush green coast of St. Martin stood well defined against the turquoise sky and indigo-colored water.

Today, these islands aren't the same as they were when Columbus and others chanced upon them, or when they were conquered by French, Dutch, Spanish, and English privateers. This is another time, another century. But there is still much to learn in a different way.

St. Martin/St. Maarten arial view

St. Martin/St. Maarten is 37 square miles in diameter; with the French claiming the larger share. The island is dotted with quiet coves, miles of inviting beaches, two main towns, and many interesting villages. It is a popular tourist destination, especially for cruise ships, because the variety of experiences it offers makes it a worthwhile port. The Dutch half features considerably more nightlife, with bars, casinos, and discos scattered in and around Philipsburg.

On the French side, the capital of Marigot sports a distinct European flavor. The outdoor cafés along the waterfront, shops, and boutiques add to the allure. Saturday is market day in Marigot and street merchants line the town square selling everything imaginable. We wandered among the vendors looking for that special souvenir before stopping at a café for lunch and some wine. Fortified, we climbed to the restored fort above the town and were greeted with a commanding view of Marigot and the many boats anchored in the translucent water.

That evening, resting comfortably aboard our Moorings yacht, the Island Spirit, we dined on lobster and listened to the waves gently lapping at the side of the boat while the twinkle of lights on shore blinked like tiny fireflies. This tranquility is difficult to leave, but in the morning, we would be bound for Anguilla, a four-hour sail northwest of St. Maarten, where we would continue our voyage of discovery.

The seas were mixed when we left our anchorage, and the yacht glided effortlessly through the swales. I tried to imagine days or weeks of an Atlantic crossing and expressed my admiration for those early sailors who braved the transatlantic journey with no idea what awaited them. As Anguilla came into sight, the irregular motion of the yacht seemed less stressful.

Cap Juluca Resort, Anguilla

Anguilla is a small island, with desolate beaches on which you can wander for miles. The shoreline is popular for snorkeling and the submerged shipwrecks there are favorites with snorkelers and divers. We dropped anchor at Sandy Ground, went ashore, and hired a car to take us on a tour of this island paradise. After visiting several museums and galleries, plus the very posh Cap Juluca resort, we asked to be taken to an isolated beach where we spent the afternoon virtually alone, lolling in the sun, swimming in the warm waters, and watching the sun set. By the time we returned to the yacht, dinner was waiting. We ate a delicious meal of lamb, vegetables, and garlic potatoes skillfully prepared by Ilana. We were certain the seamen of the 16th and 17th centuries never ate as well. That evening was spent telling tales of the sea and romancing our own past escapades.

Our last two days were saved for St. Barth's. This tiny island, a six-hour sail from Anguilla, is a favorite haunt of celebrities and jet setters. This was my seventh visit to St. Barth's, but I never tire of its charms. Gustavia is the main town in St. Barth's, and its red-orange roofs stand out against the emerald-green hills. It has a reputation for excellent shopping, especially for fashions and perfumes from France. Its other reputation, though dubious, involves Le Select, a small bar near the waterfront. Here, it is said, singer Jimmy Buffet found the "best cheeseburger in paradise." It is hard to argue this point after sampling its hearty offering.

We spent the days in St. Barth's, sampling the beaches like Grand Saline, St. Jean, and Columbine. We moored at the dock in Gustavia and simply stepped off the yacht to enjoy the surrounding pleasures, which were numerous. There are many restaurants and bars in town, especially along the waterfront, and the food is delicious. Fresh-baked French bread from the local bakery is a treat not to be missed. A tour around the island is easier with a rental car, and the most fun is a "mini moke," an open-air car about twice the size of a golf cart. It struggles to make it up the steep roads, but is fun nonetheless, and it is better than walking.

Evenings in St. Barth's are devoted to dining or dancing until the wee hours at one of a few small nightclubs. On our last evening, the sunset was magnificent, drawing a large throng of yacht people and locals to the waterfront to watch the pink orb slip below the horizon. We celebrated our journey that evening by treating our captain and first mate to dinner ashore.

Man on Sail Boat

The most melancholy portion of any yacht charter is the final moments when it ends. My flood of emotions that night ran the gamut from sadness to elation to nostalgia. I know I will return; I hope my friends come with me. Like those who came before me, I can't escape the sea's unrelenting call. I want to be counted among those who cherish it: the lovers, the dreamers, and me.