by Lisa Reintsma
April 2009

I try to keep my balance on the back of the bobbing catamaran as I watch the tall, lean captain in front of me.  Imagine Michelangelo’s David, but leaner, with warm, bronzed skin, sandy blonde hair, wearing navy blue board shorts.  For someone who claims to be 43, Captain Blair Heinke looks ridiculously young and toned.  I break my gaze from the tanned physique and turn to an even more breath-taking sight.  We’re surrounded by turquoise water for miles in every direction, adorned here and there with islands of uncorrupted wonder and beauty.  It’s easy to see why they are called the Virgin Islands.  I give up on trying to stand steady and slide into the white waterproof booth behind me, taking a seat on the surprisingly comfortable plastic cushion.  Inhaling the fresh Caribbean breeze, I look back at the captain and owner of the chartered catamaran.

“Go up to the bow and get the anchor set to go,” Captain Blair instructs my two older brothers from behind the giant steering wheel.  I smile at the sight; the handsome sailboat captain taking control as his hair blows in the wind.  It would be a great start to a romance novel if it weren’t for this being a family vacation and all…not to mention my boyfriend’s here.

“So, Blair, where are you from?”  I ask.

Looking over to me with a grin, he replies, “I’m from Big Sky, Montana.”

“Wow, that’s a huge change from here!”  I exclaim.  I was expecting Florida or maybe California.  “How’d you end up in the Caribbean?”

“Well I only live here from November to usually March or April, the winter months [in Montana], ‘cause I’ve spent a lot of winters in Montana and it just got old.”

“Understandable.  I guess you’re pretty bummed out when you have to go back?”

“No, not really, because my wife lives up there,” he says nonchalantly.

I’m taken aback by the mentioning of a wife.  “I didn’t even know you’re married,” I reply semi-questioningly, trying to get more out of him.  I definitely hadn’t picked up on any indication of a significant other in the three days I’ve known him.

He sighs and looks down at his naked left hand, where not even a tan line gives a hint toward his other life and love.  In a sad tone he replies, “Yeah, that’s the hardest part about doing this.  It’s tough to be away from your wife for so long.  We’ve been married for 11 years and I wanted this boat to be something we could enjoy together, but it’s kind of become a barrier.”  He shifts his gaze to the control panel behind the wheel, but he isn’t really looking.

My boyfriend pops his head out the sliding glass door that separates the kitchen/dining/living room inside from the stern deck.  He steps out and I’m almost blinded as the bright sun ricochets off his pasty body and into my eyes.  Wearing nothing but the superman swim trunks I dared him to buy and a cheesy grin, Matt declares that it’s “Anchor Beer Time!” and tosses a can to me and another at Blair, who quickly snaps out of his trance in time to catch it.  After popping it open, I raise my beer to Matt and nod once in thanks.  He gives me a you’re welcome wink and retreats back inside to get more cans for him and my brothers.  I’ve learned there’s a beer for all occasions (special or not) when you’re sailing in the Caribbean.

Grateful for the light-hearted interruption, I get back to the interview. “So you got the boat after you got married?” I ask.

“Yeah,” he replies, taking a sip of his drink, “I only started sailing about eight years ago.”

“Is that when you first came to the Virgin Islands?”

“Actually, no.  I came here when I was 22.  I was in my last semester of college.  I had been so stressed and burnt-out and one day one of my buddies came in and said, ‘Hey, let’s go to the Caribbean,’ and so I went.”  Blair shrugs casually as he talks, now coming over to take a seat.

“You didn’t finish the semester?”

“No, just packed up and left.  I had just got to that point, ya know?  We got down here and got little jobs doing painting and bartending and stuff like that, and made just enough to cover our expenses.  For the first two months we lived in a tent on this campground we found, ‘cause it was only like $5 a night.”

“Wow, I wish I had the guts to do that,” I say, truly meaning it.  I begin to imagine myself boarding a plane to the Caribbean, replacing the heavy weight from stress on my shoulders with the gently-tugging strap of a single duffel bag carrying my bare necessities.  However, before I can get too deep into the fantasy, Blair informs me that life on the water isn’t always easy.

“I actually almost died while windsurfing.  It was early winter and there was a strong current.”  He takes a sip of beer before continuing.  “I was on my board paddling my ass off for a really long time, but I was still getting pushed out to sea.  I was like a mile from shore and there were these huge swells, like 8 to 10 feet high, and the waves kept crashing down on me.  And these aren’t like shore waves where they’ll knock you down but you know you’ll be back up in a minute ‘cause there’s ground beneath you.  As soon as you come up for air there’s another one.  Eventually you just get so tired.”  Blair’s eyes shift to the water as he shakes his head.  Then he takes a drink of beer before continuing.

“By that time I was exhausted and the hypothermia was so bad that I couldn’t even shiver anymore.  Then, all of a sudden, I heard a helicopter and saw it in the sky right by me.  It sent this basket thing down.  I don’t know how I survived it, man, but somehow I used my last ounce of energy to climb into that basket.  And that’s the last thing I remember until I came to in the hospital.”  He slowly shakes his head as he says, “I should have died out there.  I don’t know how I made it.”

“Wow, that’s so scary,” I say, looking out at the seemingly placid water over the side of the boat.  I remember seeing the water on the first day we arrived and being amazed at how clear and perfect it is.  I lean over the side and look down.  A few small fish swim just inches from the surface of the water, but it’s hard to make out whatever’s below them.  Everything becomes darker and more confused the deeper I look.

I glance back at Blair, who suddenly appears his age.  A strange sorrow forms inside me as I notice the wrinkles surrounding his eyes and the worry lines around his mouth.  I try to shake the feeling.  Adding some pep to my tone, I say, “You must have a really exciting life.  What do you do when you’re not chartering?”

“Well, it’s a nice life but not too much excitement these days.  A lot of friends and family come to visit me when I’m down here, but when I don’t have any people on the boat, I’m usually either cleaning or repairing it.  It’s a lot of work.”

“Any regrets?” I ask, wanting to bring an end to the conversation.  I have a sudden impulse to go find Matt and give him a bear hug.

Blair brings his beer to his lips and tilts back his head, letting the last drops fall down into his throat.  He tosses the can in the beige trash container next to him and says, “Nope.”

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