Adventures start in the mind. At least that’s what I have come to understand as an adult looking backward. But as an 8-year-old boy in the Spring of 1969, staring over the side of the boat at the clearest crystal green water I had ever seen in my short years, adventure was the American Virgin Islands.
I moved to PR in 1968 with my mother. The itchy feet of the adult meant great fun for the child. I lived in San Juan, attended catholic school, played in the streets and empty lots of the neighborhood. I explored “haunted homes”, played “soldier” in the fields and quickly forgot my English in favor of colloquial Puerto Rican Spanish. My three years there were probably the most intense years of my childhood.
How many children get to play in a renaissance castle? A child,s mind runs riot! There were cannons, battlements, “secret passages”, fighting-ships bombing the fortress and pirates all around. Every day was mayhem and madness – at least until I had to go home.
Beyond everything else, however, I remember sailing the Caribbean’s blue green waters and the amazing vistas everywhere I’d turned my young eyes. It’s a sight you have to see for yourself to believe. Water so clear you can see to the bottom even though its 20 feet below you.
We had glorious fun gallivanting across the waves, the billowing clouds rising high above us, and granting intermittent relief from the intense Caribbean sun. It was an experience I was not soon to forget. In fact, every time I am on a sailboat (not often enough), I can’t help recalling the perfect freedom those days gave me and that first experience of incredible adventure.
There were many memories over the three years I was there. And many of them went to form the wonder I have for the sea, the tropics and ships in general today. But the one memory that makes me laugh and is embedded in my consciousness, is a funny little story about the bottom of the boat, an inflatable lounger and hammerhead sharks.
We had taken a motorboat out to a likely swimming area. Reefs, brilliant sparkling green water and what seems to be a perfect place to snorkel or to just float on an inflatable raft as the gentle current lulled you to sleep.
Everyone had either gone out on one of those rafts or jumped overboard for a warm refreshing swim. Except for me. It was a whole lot for me to process and I didnt feel like the greatest swimmer. In the distance, I could see mom and her friends having good fun diving under to see the rocks and fish and coming back up again. One of the guys who came with us was floating out on a lounger, he was floating quite aways out already.
Eventually mom came back to the boat with her other friends. She told me she looked for me and couldn’t find me. That would be because I finally got up the nerve to get into the water. I had actually been bobbing on the other side of the boat when they climbed in. I decided to dive under the boat and surprise them on the other side. That’s when my mother said she heard an object strike the bottom of the boat.
Yeah. That was my head. The water in the caribbean is salty and makes anyone quite buoyant. So I was bobbing under the boat as I tried to get to the otherside. Mom realizing the shenanigans a young boy could get himself into, quickly jumped in and “saved me”. We both got back in the boat to a chorus of chuckles. And that was all of us. Except for the guy floating out away from the boat.
The guy who decided he wanted nothing to do except float and take in the sun was probably a hundred yards out. He seemed ok because he was waving at us. We all laughed and waved back. We all turned to dry off and sat down to talk about this and that and get a little rest in the sun.
After awhile it was starting to get late. We looked up again and our friend was still floating out there. And waving again. We started the engine and pulled in the anchor. We motored over to him. As we pulled him into the boat he was swearing a blue streak. Well, it turns out he wasn’t waving to us at all. All that time he was trying to get our attention. Seems there was a school of hammerhead sharks swimming below him. He didn’t dare put his hands or feet in the water to paddle over to the boat. I imagine the movie Jaws was firmly on his mind while we were all just kicking back in the boat.
Sorry ’bout that!