“It’s in that direction. We won’t see it for a while because the island is so flat. It’s just sand and palm trees. Just wait.”
We were twenty miles away and Ross had let me steer his 53-foot 20-tonne resin hulled sailboat. We were headed away from the volcanic cluster of the British Virgin Islands, dozens of lush peaks rising pointed and fertile from windex waters. Sailing towards something I couldn’t see was a very small act of faith I was very willing to take. Still, I looked at him askance to test.
“Just wait,” he said. Originally from Ireland, Ross had spent four years sailing around the Caribbean in his hand-built replica of the first sailboat to sail around the world solo helmed by Joshua Slocum in 1989. His boat was gorgeous and he slept in his clothes. He had a one-eyed rescue dog named Luna. It was easy to trust him.
The British Virgin Islands are the bareboat capital of the world. To bareboat means to rent a sailboat as is, without any crew or supplies or even linen, chained to nothing but the weather. Our group of forty people was sprawled over five boats, two catamarans and three mono-hulls, on a trip called Soul Sail, started by Tyler Rice and Liz Nurse. We would wake up early and meditate, sail somewhere and swim topless until it was dark, eat lobster with our fingers, cracking the sharp shells, blood from cuts on our fingers mixing with butter. We would force the dj by mass consensus to play all night. Some of us even took to the bushes or the beach, still-wet bikinis under evening wear peeled off and resigned to getting sandy again.
The island first appeared prickly on the horizon, the trees a mirage over the water.
All the swell reports showed no surf on the forecast for the rest of the Virgin Islands but looking at this island on a map it was too exposed not to have some sort of wave.
The British Virgin Islands are not known for consistent surf. They have Cane Garden Bay, Josiah’s and other spots accessible only if one has their own boat, not often breaking but world-class when they do. I’d never heard anything about this island, though. I’d only ever read it fictionalized in Virgin Island native Tiphanie Yanique’s novel, “The Land of Love and Drowning,” as being the birthplace of the main character’s mother, a place populated by the mythical people the Duene whose feet face backwards and who in charge of keeping the world wild.
Early the next morning Ali, Aaron, Michael, Aldo and I headed to the east coast in the back of a barebones old truck, metal scrapping against metal the whole way. We yelled at each other over the wind as the truck drove at high speeds over the rutted road, nothing around but a blur of what grew out of sand.
The reef broke maybe half a mile out. Aldo lived on the island and had agreed to hook us up with a bunch of his gear. We took three kayaks, Ali and Aaron together on one, Michael and Aldo each on their own, and I took the paddleboard. We brought an clanking anchor and a few boards on the kayaks. The line of waves breaking stretched around gentle curves of the island in both directions, and the churning white never stopped.
When we reached the reef, we looked back. We were far out. The waves were in fact perfect, but with large, lumpen and very sharp coral heads the sizes of boulders just below the surface. I watched outgoing water draw dry over them, inert but malicious. We rushed out through a narrow channel in the breaking waves, which were shoulder-height to overhead, struggling to get out the back. I looked at the others, noting the whites of their eyes, trying to watch them as they disappeared and reappeared behind each passing wave.
We anchored the kayaks out the back and Ali stayed with them. We could still see a few oasis-like landmarks on land and noted them, even as the current pulled us down away from Ali who sat bobbing alone. We soon watched her disappear as well. Three of us took turns on the two boards while the other waited out the back. The waves were rights and lefts, A-frames, coming up out of the deep Atlantic perfectly shaped by some invisible hand. Everything was heightened by a tinny chemical adrenaline of basically being on the moon. Out of reach, out of saving distance. Soon it was just Aldo and I, diving under sets and praying not to hit bottom, taking whatever waves we wanted, floating together during lulls. At one point Aldo turned to me from watching the horizon and said, “I don’t think anyone else has ever surfed here before.” It was nice to know some parts of the world are still wild. I made Aldo name it Mimi’s.
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