Father and Son

Like Father, Like Son: Forty-one years of bareboat  chartering in the Caribbean     by Rod MacIlvaine

On  Christmas Day 1969, after we’d opened presents, with wrapping paper still  strewn across the floor, my father made an announcement: “Our big present this year  is a trip to the Virgin Islands.”
I was ecstatic. For some reason this 13-year-old kid from the Windy City had  fallen in love with the idea of sailing and snorkeling in the azure waters of  the Caribbean.
      Our first trip was ambitious. My dad determined we would sail from Red Hook Bay  on St. Thomas up to North Sound in Virgin Gorda and back, all in a week, on a  Cal 34. The accommodations were Spartan. Our dinghy didn’t come with an  outboard. Refrigeration came in the form of a huge block of ice. And airconditioning?  Forget it! We opened our hatches and hoped the tropical breezes might keep the  cramped space below passably cool. I loved it.
      To this day, I remember what became a milestone experience in my teenage life.  We were sailing through the cut between Great Thatch, Little Thatch and  Frenchman’s Cay on the way to the Bight. With my left hand on the luff of the  genoa and my right on the pulpit rail, I reveled in the mountainous islands  jutting above shimmering seas into cloud-scudded turquoise skies.
    This was the world as it ought to be! When that first trip was over, I realized  my father had given me a great gift.

Not  only did I fly back to Chicago with a new skill, but our first adventure  provided us with common ground that would prove essential during my tumultuous  teen years. From then on, sailing was our thing, something we could be good at  together, something we could talk about and reminisce over. Each Christmas, my  present to him had something to do with sailing.
The following year I joined the junior sailing club in Winnetka, Illinois. My  skills grew sharper in the cool waters of Lake Michigan.
From 1970 to 2011 we took just shy of 20 trips together. My mom always came,  and other family members joined us as well. Mom’s enormous capacity for  hospitality made these trips extra enjoyable. She was the emotional glue that  held us together when dehydration and too much sun made us all crabby.
Dad’s gift was his genius for planning creative vacations, especially when it  came to sailing trips.
As I grew into my 30s and early 40s, he’d phone me in the spring of each year.  The calls went something like this: “Let’s join the Moorings flotilla out of  Tortola next year. It would give us opportunity to do some racing,” or, “You  like fly-fishing. Let’s plan a trip to Belize. We’ll sail. We might even get a  guide and go bonefishing.”

In 1994, we introduced my four kids to sailing in the Abacos. In 2000, my dad  suggested we charter two boats from the Moorings in Grenada. My family and I  sailed a Beneteau 413 while my mom and dad sailed a Moorings 463 with my  sisters and their husbands. Sailing in tandem, we stayed in touch with  walkie-talkies.

In 2002, we chartered in Belize, our most challenging trip  yet as we carefully threaded our way through coral reefs and had to count  islands to determine precisely where we were.
        On July 1, 2011 various members of our family converged at the Moorings base in  Tortola for what my dad had suggested earlier might be his last charter. Our  Moorings 4600 was fully provisioned, and the air conditioning made the cabin  wonderfully cool.
        Tacking up the Sir Francis Drake Channel, my father and I sat at the helm of  our big cat. We reminisced over our 40 years of sailing together. We recalled  losing our diesel engine near Johnson Reef. We remembered our keel bumping in  the shallow waters of Leinster Bay at 0300 as our anchor dragged. We celebrated  the time we were the grand winners of a flotilla race from Gorda Sound to  Anegada. (We talked about that one for a while!)
        The great thing about sailing, especially as father and son, is that you’re not  solving the problems of the world. You’re not talking shop. You’re just  sailing. You’re wonderfully and simply engaged in the present.
        Forty-one years after that first trip, sailing is still the common ground that  binds us. And I’ve carried on the tradition with my kids: we often talk of  distant harbors and wind and waves. Dad’s legacy lives on.
        In 2012, Rod MacIlvaine and his father Bill published Successful Bareboat Chartering. The book is available from  the author.


Like Father, Like Son.pdf