Island Notes 48
Before our home lays the blue Caribbean Sea dotted with a string of yachts from around the world. The crews of these boats are on extended cruises that often last years. Some settle simply for the beauty of the West Indies. Others plan to circumnavigate the globe. They become our temporary neighbors for days, weeks—sometimes months by those who are smitten by Bonaire’s charms. On occasion, we get to know some of them.
Such was the case with the crew of Willow, a handsome 44-foot sloop that was on a mooring in front of Kaya Playa Lechi for nearly a half-year. During that time, we became friends with the boat’s owners, Brenda Free and John MacGruder. The couple hails from Boston where, eight years ago, they closed their thriving advertising agency, bought Willow, and began a voyage of discovery. It was our good fortune to have them as neighbors for the past six months.
I would often pick Brenda and John up at the dock outside our home at 7:30am for an expedition into the mondi, Bonaire’s outback. My dog, Sparky, would lead the way along a ridge trail or down a seaside path. The humans would follow and talk about grown children, aging parents, boats and dogs.
The four of us would also treat each other to dinners on our terrace or the cozy cockpit of Willow. Hettie would expose Brenda and John to delicious Dutch products that we buy on island or treat them to meals laced with her homegrown herbs. They, in turn, created tasty dishes of curried chicken or garlic-butter shrimp. It proved to be a healthy, gastronomic exchange peppered with a lot of laughter and good times.
John and Brenda became good, temporary citizens while on Bonaire. They joined other divers in helping the national sea park capture the newly invasive lionfish, a voracious foreigner that threatens to decimate our reef fish populations. They also volunteered for Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire, helping with the annual turtle surveys and data collection. Brenda especially liked doing this. I often accuse her of growing gills due to the fact of how much time she spends in Bonaire’s stunning waters. Brenda and Hettie rival each other for hours spent each day in the sea.
So I hang out with the sailors…
One evening, the ladies of the visiting yachts decided to have cocktails downtown and discuss books that they recently read. Their mates decided this would be an opportune time to swap lies, talk boats and drink rum. John asked me if I would like to join them. Does a bull have horns?
I was escorted to Willow by dingy and didn’t even get wet. This was going to be a good night. Five of us sailors sat in the cockpit and watched the sun go down in its typical, spectacular fashion—three Americans and two Brits. I heard stories of Grenada, the Spice Island. I learned that everything on a yacht with working parts will eventually break down (at least once!) and how to fix it. We discussed the worth of various bottom paints, lubricants, and winch handles. This was too much fun.
I asked Mike, the captain of Casa del Mar moored next door to Willow, how he got to fulltime cruising so young. He is in his early fifties and has been voyaging for nearly five years. Mike explained that he had battled cancer and had, to date, won the fight. His doctor advised him after an aggressive chemo campaign to live out the rest of his life in a manner best fitting him. Within a year he had quit his job, sold the house and bought the yacht. He and his wife, Linda, were having the time of their lives, living each day to its fullest. I looked at this happy, fit, middle aged, former San Diego State tight end. Mike was living life on his terms the best he could …. plowing strait ahead and come what may.
But all good things come to an end. Willow’s time of stay had expired. Customs man said it was time to go. John and Brenda needed to get the boat to Panama by June. Willow will be dry docked for a half year while them return to the States to see family. In between, our friends are Columbia-bound with a stop planned in the historic Spanish Main port of Cartagena.
We waved goodbye to our sailor friends this week as they let the mooring loose. John raised the sails and Willow slipped silently away. No motor needed. I followed their course with binoculars on and off for nearly and hour. The last time I looked out, Willow had vanished over the horizon, westbound for South America. Bon voyage, good friends. We will miss you.