Personal Journey: Caribbean voyage with lots of family

Posted: April 17, 2011

One boat, two boats, three boats - our family sailing trip kept growing.

Early last summer, a few seafaring members of my family began toying with the idea of sailing our own boat throughout the southern Caribbean for a week. With my nephew, "Admiral Jeff," and a few other experienced sailors in the family, the trip's itinerary was plotted. From summer to early January, more and more family members signed on. Finally, after chartering three catamarans - a 38-footer, a 40-footer, and a 50-footer - our crew of 10 kids and 21 adults would soon set sail.

Admiral Jeff chartered the boats, mapped our course, accumulated the needed credentials, and sent the many detailed e-mails to get us organized: Have passports, pack lightly, buy your own snorkeling equipment, have life vests for the kids, etc. After flying into San Juan, Puerto Rico, and spending the night, we taxied to the Puerto del Rey Marina near Fajardo. After provisioning the boats and receiving instructions, we motored out of the harbor on a warm Saturday in January. Philly would soon have a week of snow!

First stop: Culebra in the Spanish Virgin Islands, for swimming and snorkeling at Flamenco Beach. The next day, it was off to the small island of Culebrita and an even more beautiful cove, with aquamarine water and pearl-white sand beaches.

For the next few days. we sailed into St. John, St. Thomas, and Jost Van Dyke, traveling through parts of the Sir Francis Drake Channel. We did scuba diving by Booby Rock and moored in Cruz and Salt Pond bays. We sailed with flying fish and swam with sea turtles and had the most beautiful beaches all to ourselves, even building a campfire one night.

Friday morning, we sailed for Vieques Island. That evening in Vieques, we jumped into the boats' dinghies to go see the Bioluminescent Bay, where plankton causes the water to glow with a greenish/fluorescent tinge at the slightest movement. I looked up at the moonless sky, just as we had planned it, and saw a zillion stars as I'd never seen them before. I don't know which was more beautiful - the sky or the water.

Because we were always moored by sunset, Trace, our "cruise director," planned four special evenings on the boats: A Hermit Crab Race (with toy crabs); a Pirates' Night (everyone dressed as a pirate); a Trivia Night with our own Alex Trebek; and the ever-exciting Admiral's Night, when everyone dressed in white and could have his or her photo taken with the admiral.

When I described my sailing adventure to a coworker, she said: "If I had to spend a week on a boat with my relatives . . . I don't think we'd be talking by Wednesday."

That wasn't the case with my family. We all got along fabulously and are planning a 2013 voyage with four boats.

As the quotation on our T-shirts said:

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

- Mark Twain

And we did.

Liz Dempsey lives in Bryn Mawr, Delaware County.

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