Mostly Water


Relaxin’ @ The Soggy Dollar Bar, Jost Van Dyke, BVI


The Soggy Dollar Bar

Three quarters of Earth is water, as is the human body.  Human brains are even soggier. Gray matter accounts for only 15% of the stuff within a skull – the rest of our smarts are composed of – water. Three lush-ish days of relaxin’ at the Soggy Dollar Bar in Jost Van Dyke amplified my thankfulness for the sea. They also affirmed the adage, it’s not the ice in the frozen concoction that chills.  It’s the booze in the Painkillers that melts brains. The cup may hold 12 ounces, but 75% of the swill is water – the minority rules.

Vacations are hyped as get aways. Vaykays spent on, in, or near the sea, are really “get closers.” Our inner sea floats with the swells. Blood feels lighter – saltier – and heart beats keep time with the surf’s rhythm. Ebbing tides swipe land bound worries. We become lax; what was firm back home settles as soft silt beneath our toes at the water line. The past ebbs and the future dissolves. We savor the moment – now.


SDB Challenge, “Swim In, Drink, Swim Out”

We discovered the ultimate beach “get closer” in the Caribbean. Jost Van Dyke is a small island, there is always a sea breeze no matter the time or tide. Every room has a library, the pages of the books are softened by the tropical sea air. Meals are prepared by a chef rather than a fry cook. Smiles run rampant, stories become legends, laughter triumphs. By day’s end, fresh friendships flourish and stress is forsaken. The star soaked sky merges with the sea and envelopes one’s senses with bliss.

The Soggy Dollar Bar serves scores of patrons on a busy day – but it sleeps just six couples at it’s Sandcastle Hotel.  It’s only approachable by boat. We traveled by ferry from St. Thomas and Tortola – but most guests arrive on cruise ship excursion boats, catamarans, and other vessels. These patrons swim from boats to the beach – and back. That’s the SDB challenge; Swim In, Drink, Swim Out.


A Sunny Place for Shady People

Mick, the bartender at the Soggy Dollar understands the magic of lax.  He will tell you it’s not what’s in the glass that is so different from the spirits poured in millions of bars. The famed plastic cup holds a sip of this particular island, a slug of the sea, a dash of sand clinging to the rim. A sprinkling of freshly grated nutmeg crowns the brew. To expect the same sensation from a cocktail by the same name anywhere else is foolish. It’s the whole-ness of being at the Soggy Dollar that is inebriating.  Oh, sure it is, until you ask Mick for another round and the water within begins to spin with the sea.

If you plan a “get closer” to the Virgin Islands, skip the U.S. Saints and ferry to the Brit’s isles. Pack a toothbrush, a change or two of casual wear. Leave the make up home.  Plan to play.  Allow 75% of your being to blend with it’s counterpart – the sea. Make a reservation to Jost Van Dyke to relax. To lax again. That whole thing about becoming slack  and letting salt water make worries go soft … To relax is to get loose…again.


True Blue Blood

Thank you Tina, Mick and the great staff of the Soggy Dollar and Sandcastle for outstanding service – our best beach vacation in 42 years! A shout out to the gang who introduced us to One Love and Ivans – stories to follow  – send me some pix and Stay Shady. Sorry to have missed you Jerry & Tina (two LaSalle Alums) – we are sorry for your tragic loss.

Readers interested in visiting the Soggy Dollar and Sandcastle Hotel contact Tina at and visit them online at

The Imelda Marcos of Boat Shoes


Call Me


Imelda’s Tootsie Keepers

           Last year the world shuddered at the news of Dictator First Lady in Exile Imelda Marcos’ tragic loss of her entire collection of 3,000 shoes. Among the lost soles are a pair of white Pierre Cardin heels. Termites ate them and mold rotted their perky little heels. Her fame was due less than her role as Dictator First Lady than her reputation as the epitome of excess in the Philippines. In her words, “I really had no great love for shoes. I was a working First Lady; I was always in canvas shoes. I did nurture the shoes industry of the Philippines, and so every time there was a shoe fair, I would receive a pair of shoes as a token of gratitude.”


A Shoe for All Seasons

I understand. Every time I go to a boat show, a ship’s chandlery, or pass a Sperry Topsiders’ store, I seem to acquire a new pair of boat shoes. My collection is up to 46 shoes. Less than Imelda’s but 44 more than Mary Ellen’s and she’s a live aboard sailor. I have seasonal favorites, beginning with my spring bamboo woven pink flowers on tan, pink & pale pink two-eyes, darker pink three-eyes, and preppy one-eyed pink, white, and emerald green. When hot weather comes and I’m not wearing flip flops (two pair are Topsiders) the seasonal fare includes yellow, light blue, tan, and light blue, Nantucket red, and madras canvass. Fall brings on the hounds tooth and corduroy, camouflage green, Black Watch canvass and cordovan (cute little anchors tooled in the leather). By winter I’m ready to slip into sturdy Blue Fish standards, a snugly pair with furry lining, or my new Navy blue boots with the really cool medallions.

I went to a Women on Water seminar (St. Louis Sail & Paddle) last Saturday (they don’t stock boat shoes). The theme was that women are from Venus, Men are from Mars, and most sail boats are Captained by human beings that pee standing up. Women were encouraged that it was not necessary to “grow a pair” to command a vessel. However, they should learn all aspects of sailing so that if Captain Bligh is knocked over board by a rogue boom that the woman may or may not have been responsible for securing, said woman will have options. Well, the presenter might not have said or implied this but my take away is:  confident sailing women who know the ropes (and sails, and navigation, etc) can and should take charge when they want to because they can. For example, if a woman practices how to do a Man Overboard maneuver; she knows how to conduct a rescue. She’s also got the chutzpah to toss a life ring and circle around the sodden, misogynic, control freak a couple of times reminding the soaking Captain Testosterone that a woman’s independence is a strength and if he doesn’t get it he can swim to shore.

The Ex Libris is docked in a gender-balanced harbor, probably more Uranus than Mars or Venus. All of my female dock friends are on their first marriages and can sail. Most are proficient at the helm or as crew. Crew is anyone saddled with the job of hoisting and tuning the sails, taming the wind, yanking the lines every time the wind changes or you want to change course. Frankly, lugging a huge sail up a 50’ mast is not my idea of recreation – hence, George serves as the crew or, Deck Monkey. We women eschew being, smelling like or working as hard as a Deck Monkey. We like taking the helm and we don’t bark orders. That’s what’s different about River Rat Winch Wenches – we don’t ask any man for power– we take it.

5Logo We also like fashion and accessories (custom embroidered shirts, hatbands, and jackets) to embellish the jargon laden sport of sailing. Some women decorate their cabins with nautical tchotchkes and wear nautical styles of jewelry. I decorate my feet. Deck shoes serve as a function, an amusement, a fashion (lack there of), and a secure platform to walk on slippery decks. My collection is probably 25 years old. By rotating through the seasons and flip flopping most of the summer –  deck shoes really don’t wear out. And, like my jeans, striped shirts, patch madras Bermuda shorts, embroidered caps, emerald green slacks, and pink oxford Polo shirts – they never really go out of style. The thing is my shoes fit me and acknowledge my passion for the sea and all things boats. George just smiles and compliments my shoe-thing and is content to be First Mate.  He’s pretty confident that should he ever fall overboard his Captain wouldn’t circle three times before hauling him back on board.

The Blue Marble


The Blue Marble
Photo Courtesy of NASA

When the crew of the Apollo 17 spaceship was about five and a half hours into their lunar voyage 41 years ago they became the first human beings to photograph a fully illuminated Earth from 28,000 miles away. With the sun at their backs and a clear view of the whole planet, the astronauts declared when viewed from space the Earth is a blue marble. Look closely at the top right of the photo – that’s a typhoon in the Indian Ocean.


Pohnpei, Micronesia

Last week, we worried about the projected path of Typhoon Haiyan in the South Pacific with winds up to 240 mph. Abruptly; a storm half a world away seemed personal. When I was a very young high school teacher, one of my junior history class students, Leslie, distinguished herself as the most brilliant person I’d ever encountered. She was bright, perky and curious about how the world worked. We urged her to graduate early and attend UConn. Within a scant few years she was doing biogenetic work at MIT. She retired 11 years ago and has been on an open-ended sailing adventure ever since.

I taught at a small rural school in northeastern Connecticut that is less than 90 minutes from Rhode Island but it’s always seemed too far away to visit. Like time, travel is relative. Leslie and her husband, Phillip sailed 28,025 miles from their homeport, Seattle aboard Carina, a 33’ Mason. Over the past decade they’ve posted hundreds of photos and narratives of their voyage  ( including a live GPS page that plots their current location. They’re currently anchored off Pohnpei, an island in Micronesia, which is 7,033 miles from my office window. Carina’s steady blogs have kept me connected to Leslie all of these years. I’ve followed her across the seas. This summer she gifted me with a day together in Rhode Island. I felt very close to her having kept abreast of her voyage and peered at her photos for the past decade.


Photo Courtesy of NASA

Leslie said blue water cruising is the same situation that astronauts endure in space. Sometimes the night sky and sea blend as one and it becomes absolutely clear that there is absolutely no one out there who can save you except yourself. You’re on your own on a big blue marble. If something breaks, you have to fix it. The sea won’t remember you or the boat if you sink.

Satellite image of typhoon Haiyan 7/11/13

Satellite image of typhoon Haiyan 7/11/13


Corner Office with a View

I can’t see past the willow tree outside my office window but the screen size images of the typhoon’s wake are intensely clear. When I saw satellite weather photos of Typhoon Haiyan with winds up to 240 mph charging up from Micronesia, I feared for the safety of the souls aboard Carina.  Leslie seemed so far away and too close to Harm’s way. I thought of the Blue Marble and realized our world is smaller and what’s outside a window can be seen on a laptop. Without hesitation, I emailed Leslie and inquired about her safety.


Leslie & Phillip in Pohnpei

Within the hour, Phillip and then Leslie replied – “The ugly nasty horrible typhoon Hiayan was just a nasty little 1007 mb low when it passed us last weekend.  Computer weather models predicted it would spin up into a nightmare and it did just that. We had a rainy, gusterly day at home, monitoring our gps drag alarm and bailing the dinghy regularly.  Otherwise we were fine.”

There is a box of marbles on my office bookshelf. Marbles remind me that there are just so many days to play during any lifetime. Some of us learn that playing the  game of rowing our own boats means discovering that is life is often but a dream as we go gently down the stream. But, as with most toys, it’s easy to lose one’s marbles and then the game is over. I figure the best way to express my gratitude for Leslie and Phillip’s safety is to offer some help for those not as lucky. I’m 5,565 miles away from the Philippines but only a couple of keyboard strokes from the Red Cross ( Give a little, it will mean a lot to people who feel like astronauts lost in space.


Whistle While You Work


Narrow River, RI
Boats Afloat

My Mom could whistle really loud by putting a piece of grass between her thumbs, cupping her hands, and blowing. My brother Scot caught on pretty quickly but I never mastered the grass thumb whistle. Whistles are a big thing in the lives of boaters. Coast Guard Rule 33 mandates that vessels 12 meters or more in length carry a whistle. Boats of 20 meters or more must have a bell in addition to the whistle. For those of you planning a Caribbean cruise with a bottle of Kaopectate and a few thousand other vacationers, take comfort in knowing your safety is ensured with a whistle, a bell, and a gong on board that makes a loud tone and sound that can’t be confused with a bell. Little boats like our Whaler, Finn and fleet of kayaks can get away with just a whistler aboard.


Grandpas and Trains

My grandpa was a railroad-man who worked the caboose. Like sailors who built their homes with a view of the sea, Grandpa always lived near train tracks. One warm afternoon he took my brother, cousins and me to watch for trains by standing near the tracks that bordered the lawn. He checked his pocket watch and grinned, “I’ve got a surprise for you.” and waved at the approaching freight train. To our amazement it stopped right in front of us. The engineer stuck his head out and in a deep baritone called, “All Aboard!” We clamored aboard the massive locomotive engine, waved at cars stopped at the crossings and rode from Caledonia to Retsof right into the round house. Each of us got to blow the whistle at least once as we powered through cross roads. I probably got to blow it more than once, because I was the oldest and my brother could always just blow his grass whistle.


Newport Homage to the Sea

Two advancements in scientific research were announced last week. First, dolphins whistle at each other by name. They apparently choose their own whistle signal and keep it for their entire lives. Proper dolphin etiquette is to address others by their name before launching into conversation.

Play it Like Jagger

The second announcement involves the connection between music and workouts. Our gym caters to Baby Boomers and the sound system blasts rock and roll oldies and moldies. Classic rock often makes me feel like Keith Richards looks, it does not enhance my endurance or the joy of a good sweat.  According to researchers, making music, by singing, humming – or whistling rather than just listening while exercising makes for easier workouts. It’s daunting to think that fitness centers will morph into karaoke lounges. I know a lot of words to many songs but not all of the words to any songs so I’m going to follow the seven dwarves and whistle while I work out. If we meet during one of my sessions and you hear a whistle – consider it a dolphin sort of greeting.  However, if I blow out five short blasts – back off. I’m trying to tell you the workout is killing me, or my life is off course, and I need some space between you and me.


End of the Line
What a ride we shared.

Railroads decoupled cabooses long ago and liability lawyers assure us that wayward children are not allowed in train engines where they could be tempted to blow the whistle. I’m glad whistling increases one’s emotional motor control while messing with boats because playing in and on the water demands a degree of fitness. With all of the physical energy required to sail or kayak it’s nice to know that by simply whistling we can boost our sense of wellbeing and better enjoy time on the water.