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Location: Savannah Bay, BVI

My day began at 04:40 when I relieved the standing watchman Matt of his duties. The night was pitch-black and a stiff wind was blowing. I sat up on the prow of the ship, occasionally checking the mooring line. Though I hadn’t looked forward to deck watch, the absolute silence wrapped itself around me. My thoughts quickly filled the soundless void: theories on the meteorological causes of the nightly squalls, the physics of sailing, prime factorization of every number up to 500. My thoughts tend to be unusual. At about 05:30 I woke up the captain for what I thought might be an emergency. “Captain, sir, we’re drifting hard to port and the dolphin striker is chafing the mooring line.” Thankfully this turned out to be a false alarm and my night watch concluded with an epic sunrise.

The day focused on sailing. Following breakfast, we removed the sail covers, performed too many maneuvers with the rigging to remember, and finally, for the first time, raised sail. The four sails snapped eagerly in the wind; they were as eager to get underway as we were. We cast of from Peter Island mid-morning on choppy waters. During the 2-hour sail to Savannah Bay, the ship bucked and heaved like a mechanical bull and several of the crew became intimately acquainted with seasickness. By noon we had sailed past the deep water of Peter Island to the shallows of Savannah Bay, and we were greeted by the magnificent beauty of the Caribbean. We anchored in about 18 feet of water so clear we could see not only the anchor but the fish swimming curiously around it. The beach almost glowed with a turquoise light I have never seen before. This was the Caribbean you see on the front of magazines or in real estate ads.

After lunch we let down a dinghy and made for the shore. Shells, coral, and brightly colored fish stood out in the crystal-clear water. This was the leeward side of the island, Jess explained, sheltered by the island from the easterly winds of the Caribbean. The beach was one of fine sand, palm trees, and tourists blasting reggae music. We hiked inland through a thicket of thorny trees and cacti and arrived at a football field-sized clearing covered in salt. This shallow flood plain floods during high tide, and the trapped water evaporates during the day, leaving only a fine white crust of sea salt. We then hiked so far inland we ended up on the other side of the island on the windward beach. This beach was sun-bleached and apocalyptic: white driftwood lay everywhere among piles of boulders and the rubble of disintegrating cliffs. The waves rose high and pounded the shore with the rage of an ancient sea god. This was the windward side, Jess explained, where the beach was totally unprotected from the elements. The difference was striking.

After some climbing on the cliffs and delving into the local population of sea snails, we all headed back to the good Ocean Star. The forecastle almost feels like home now.