Fathers & Daughters
<div class="content"><h1 class="main-title">Fathers and Daughters</h1>
<div class="dek"> On a charter vacation in the British Virgin Islands with his daughter, two god-daughters, and his best pals, the author discovers that on a trip to paradise with a gaggle of young girls, time can absolutely stand still . . . or move faster than ever </div> <div class="author"> by Herb Mccormick </div> <div class="article-extra-right"> </div> <p><span style="font-weight: bold;">So right before the trip, I purchase a<br /> brand-new Red Sox cap--a white cotton one 'cause I know it's going to<br /> be hot in the islands--and as a lifelong fan of the Boston Nine, I<br /> reckoned it was time to replace my ratty old blue one after the Sox<br /> finally "reversed the curse" and won the World Series the previous fall.</span> You never know when and where the opportunity to yank the chain of a Yankees fan might present itself, right?</p><p> Now we're sitting in Trellis Bay, near Tortola in the British Virgin<br /> Islands, on our Moorings 4700 catamaran. I've just strolled back from<br /> the airport at Beef Island to meet the incoming flight of my old friend<br /> PK and his daughter, Helene. While I met the plane, another pal, who<br /> goes by the nickname Furbio, waited back on the boat with my daughter,<br /> Maggie, and his two daughters, Molly and Lauren. And yes, the trip did<br /> have a pre-conceived theme: After many years of idle chatter, we three<br /> dads were finally taking our rapidly growing "little girls" for a<br /> charter-cruise vacation.</p><p> As PK and Helene sort out their cabin in the forward port stateroom of our big cat, <span style="font-style: italic;">Saturday Knight</span>, the rest of us slip over the side for a refreshing swim. Soon enough, everyone's in the drink.</p><p> We all come back aboard, and everyone's taking turns using the<br /> freshwater shower off the aft deck. Maggie pulls off her red bathing<br /> suit from beneath the towel wrapped around her and gives it a carefree<br /> toss before disappearing below to change.</p><p> A while later, we're<br /> all lounging around, getting the grill and the dogs and the burgers<br /> ready, when it occurs to me that I should be wearing my Sox cap. As I<br /> might've mentioned, you just never know who could be hanging out on the<br /> next boat over.</p><p> So I'm hunting everywhere for the cap and no<br /> one knows where it's gone to and I'm starting to wonder--egad!--if it<br /> might've blown overboard, when it finally appears. Under Maggie's red<br /> bathing suit. Maggie's brand-new, soaking-wet, red bathing suit!</p><p> My crisp white cap is now, well, damp pink, but I pull it on anyway.<br /> And later on I take it off and look at it. And as the evening unfolds I<br /> look at it quite a bit. And every time I do, I think of my beautiful<br /> little girl, and the pink hat starts to grow on me. I mean, really,<br /> really grow on me. By the way, isn't beer great?</p><p> So just<br /> before bed, I kiss my already snoozing daughter on the cheek and put<br /> the hat up on a shelf--the very same hat that just a few hours earlier<br /> I'd been planning to give a good scrub with hot, soapy water--and I go<br /> to sleep. As slumber comes, it occurs to me that I'm never going to<br /> wash that pink hat. Like, ever.</p><p> From the very moment I learned<br /> that fatherhood was on my horizon, I wanted a daughter. My dad and I<br /> had ultimately weathered the slings and arrows of some outrageous<br /> father/son misfortunes--at times the outcome was seriously in<br /> doubt--but I'd had a good, hard look at that movie and was terrified by<br /> the thought of a sequel. Plus, I know precisely what happens to boys,<br /> and when. To paraphrase the comedian Paul Reiser, I went to high school<br /> with me.</p><p> Not that I didn't realize that raising a daughter<br /> would have its own tests, but all in all, I preferred my chances with<br /> the fairer sex. After all, my very own sister always seemed to be<br /> Daddy's Girl, even as he and I were at each other's throats. Would it<br /> be asking too much to have the same sort of relationship they shared?</p><p> There were, of course, early trials and tribulations. I was on a<br /> magazine assignment in New Zealand when I got the news that, back home<br /> in Rhode Island at the tender age of 3, Maggie had plunged some 15 feet<br /> from the balcony of a health club, of all places. But she never lost<br /> consciousness and had a pithy comment to the ambulance attendants after<br /> they'd strapped her to the gurney for the ride to the hospital: "I'm<br /> stuck." She recovered fully and apparently inherited her dad's hard<br /> head.</p><p> She hated loud noises--thunder, fireworks, roaring surf,<br /> the sunset report of a yacht-club cannon--which were all things I<br /> loved. She adored stuff--snakes, spiders, all the<br /> creepy-crawlies--which gave me the willies. But from her earliest days<br /> we undoubtedly shared a passion for several of the most important<br /> things: reading, music, the water. Especially the water. By 7 she could<br /> swim nearly the length of a regulation pool--underwater. She was so<br /> oversensitive to some things I could scream, so compassionate in other<br /> ways I could weep. I guess it goes without saying, but I'll say it<br /> anyway: I love her so.</p><p> Then there were my pals, PK and Furbio,<br /> as good a set of friends as a fellow could ask for. We'd all been born<br /> in Newport Hospital a few months apart when Ike was still running the<br /> big show, been constants in one another's lives for decades on end,<br /> stood up for one another at marriages, and been right there with an<br /> open ear and a shoulder to lean on when parents set forth to the great<br /> beyond. PK was Maggie's godfather; his daughter, Helene, and Furbio's<br /> youngest, Lauren, were both mine.</p><p> I had a long history with<br /> these lads, and for years and years we'd been talking about chartering<br /> a sailboat and taking a spin together through the B.V.I. And that's all<br /> it had been: talk. Then, somehow, all the planets in our different<br /> daily universes fell into alignment--the i's of school vacations were<br /> dotted, the t's of work commitments were crossed--and suddenly we were<br /> in Trellis Bay last spring with a freezer full of food, a chart spread<br /> out on the saloon table, and a week's worth of plans to be made. We<br /> were finally going sailing after all.</p><p> At 7, my Maggie was the<br /> youngest aboard. Helene, 10, and a terror on the lacrosse fields back<br /> home in Baltimore, was just enough older to think Maggie was at times<br /> goofy, and just enough more mature to be her good buddy anyway.<br /> Fourteen-year-old Lauren was happiest listening to musicals on her<br /> portable DVD player, but she was a pacesetter when the activities<br /> turned aquatic. At 16, Furbio's oldest daughter, Molly, was the elder<br /> of the tribe in many ways: Her wry observations soared over the heads<br /> of the other girls about 99 percent of the time. And if Maggie grows up<br /> to be half the water-woman Molly is, I'll be very happy.</p><p> The<br /> first stop, naturally, was The Baths at Virgin Gorda. We ferried the<br /> girls in as far as the dinghy mooring on one of those days when the<br /> rollers were breaking on the beachfront and, when swimming ashore, you<br /> had to time your approach between the wave sets to avoid getting<br /> crunched at the last moment. I actually only learned this after<br /> Maggie's successful, if spluttering landing. She never would've tried<br /> it had the other girls not been over the side the moment we picked up<br /> the mooring--in other words, before I could say anything--and it set<br /> the tone for nearly all the adventures that would follow. The very last<br /> thing my daughter was going to be was left behind.</p><p> I've<br /> wandered The Baths a few times over the years, but it was all so very<br /> different with a bunch of kids who'd never been there before, whose joy<br /> and energy over all this new terrain was contagious, and this, too,<br /> would become a recurrent theme for the voyage. If you want to view<br /> something familiar through a fresh set of eyes, do not hesitate to<br /> bring a few fresh sets of eyes.</p><p> That night we anchored in<br /> Gorda Sound for another round of swimming and a barbecue, and next<br /> morning we hopped ashore for a tour of the Bitter End Yacht Club, a<br /> discovery for the girls that was on a par with Columbus' of the New<br /> World. Luckily, since the next stop was the parched island of Anegada,<br /> I had a quick look at the water tanks before we shoved off, and<br /> promptly topped them off while I still had the chance. Do you have any<br /> idea how much fresh water four young ladies can consume in the space of<br /> 48 hours? Neither did I. For some reason, my lecture on the benefits of<br /> saltwater bathing was met with silence. </p><p> In Anegada, we ran<br /> into my old pal Bob Grieser, the marine photographer, who was there on<br /> assignment for another sailing magazine. Included in Bobby's wide<br /> repertoire of skills is his remarkable ability to imitate a barking<br /> hound, and thus the nickname Photo Dog was bestowed upon him. If a<br /> voyage can have a mascot, he became ours, for the girls, especially<br /> Maggie, adored him. He joined us for the ride out to Loblolly Beach and<br /> an epic snorkel on the reefs--the new experiences just kept coming and<br /> coming--and when we returned to the harbor, he made chums of the local<br /> fishermen and did his best to get the girls to pose for a picture with<br /> a big, live Anegada lobster. Only brave Helene had the nerve, though<br /> they all made extremely short work of one after its brief detour to the<br /> open-fire grill.</p><p> Our little trip was flying by, but it was starting to get really good, and it would get better still.</p><p> One wishes he could say the vacation was a success on absolutely all<br /> counts, that the girls took to sailing like the fish they resembled<br /> once they splashed the water, but that would be pushing it. For them,<br /> the sailing was simply the means to reach a new island: Maggie<br /> generally hit the trampoline or the settee and zonked out for every<br /> passage; the other girls retreated to books and iPods or joined my<br /> daughter for a nap. But I made some serious inroads with the guys,<br /> neither of whom had sailed much before. By trip's end, Furbio was<br /> envisioning the day he retires as a firefighter to move aboard a<br /> catamaran, and PK, though not exactly bitten by the sailing bug, is now<br /> in the market for a cabin cruiser. Not bad, if I do say so myself.</p><p> But the longish sail from Anegada to Jost Van Dyke was one of my<br /> highlights, mainly because it gave me the chance to reflect on the trip<br /> so far. I was actually glad to see Maggie curled up and snoozing; her<br /> mother would've been scandalized by the hours she was keeping, and she<br /> clearly needed the rest. But her days (and nights) had been filled with<br /> swimming and laughter and camaraderie. She may have been the junior<br /> member of the sisterhood, and as such she spent equal amounts of energy<br /> learning from the others and seeking their approval. But in return she<br /> was granted generous helpings of time and patience and friendship. It<br /> was a wonderful thing to watch.</p><p> Yes, we could've taken the<br /> kids to Disneyland or on a ski trip, but what's better than a 24/7<br /> sailboat excursion in the Caribbean, where the best lessons learned are<br /> the intangible ones--what it takes to be a good shipmate, to be<br /> considerate of others while living in a small space, to conserve water<br /> and energy and be immersed in nature and the outdoors? What other venue<br /> could give you what you get--what you earn--by being on a small boat<br /> for a real voyage?</p><p> As we dodged one squall after another on<br /> the sail to Jost, I realized our week together would ultimately become<br /> one seamless memory--all of us together, frozen in time, healthy and<br /> tan and very happy--like an image from a favorite old photograph. Who<br /> knows what the future will hold, what these little girls will<br /> eventually become, what grand adventures are waiting out there for<br /> them? At that moment, I couldn't have cared less. We were all together<br /> on a boat cleaving purposefully through the blue Caribbean sea.<br /> Whatever happens, I realized in a sappy moment for which I have no<br /> excuses or apologies, we'll always have these islands.</p><p> Well,<br /> I'm sure you can guess what happened to the pink cap. By week's end,<br /> the sweat and brine had conspired to erase the reddish tint almost<br /> completely, and it looked just about brand-new. Like our little trip,<br /> now coming to an end, Maggie's pink present simply wasn't meant to last<br /> forever.</p><p> After Jost, we pulled into The Bight at Norman<br /> Island, where the piercing sound of a yelping mutt signaled a final<br /> drive-by visit from the beloved Photo Dog and where the girls had a<br /> quick, unfortunate glimpse of the antics atop the lewd, infamous Willie<br /> T's, which led to a round of questions that were simply impossible to<br /> answer and fingers' crossed that the moms would never hear about this<br /> singular lapse of judgment. </p><p> Finally, we got up real early on<br /> our last full day and made our way over to The Indians--the B.V.I.'s<br /> signature outcropping of rock and sea life, one of the great snorkeling<br /> spots in the Caribbean--where we scored the best mooring around and set<br /> up for a long morning and afternoon of water sports.</p><p> By 0900,<br /> Maggie and I were in the water with masks and snorkels and making for<br /> the nearby reef. She insisted on leading and took right off, and I had<br /> to do some serious booking to keep up. I was a pretty proud papa, I<br /> must say, when something happened that will remain with me for a long<br /> time.</p><p> I could see she was heading for simple trouble, a fringe<br /> of coral with no pass and small, breaking wavelets, where there was no<br /> option but to turn around. It was no big deal, really, but she had a<br /> moment of panic and started babbling away, her eyes very wide, though<br /> it was impossible to pinpoint the exact nature of her distress since<br /> she refused to take the snorkel out of her mouth.<br /> "Rrrrrrrmmmmmmmrrrrr," she said. In any event, I waved for her to<br /> follow me in the opposite direction, and she dutifully collected<br /> herself and obeyed. </p><p> As we worked our way into deeper water,<br /> she sidled up alongside and grabbed my hand, and she held on as we<br /> calmly resumed our way back to the boat, now enjoying the play of light<br /> on the reef and the schools of small, colorful fishes.</p><p> It was<br /> much later, on the flight home actually, that it dawned on me that the<br /> entire little escapade encapsulated so many transitions one deals with<br /> as a parent: trust, discovery, discomfort, fear, support, recovery,<br /> more trust. </p><p> And the final little moment, just before we<br /> reached the boat, gave me a clear look at the coming attraction that<br /> all fathers of young daughters will someday inevitably face. As we<br /> approached the swim ladder to climb back aboard, she gave my fingers<br /> one last, tough, lovely squeeze. Then she let go and was gone.</p> </div>
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