One April morning, two men surprisingly poked their heads up out of a large body of water off St. John's Island in the Caribbean. They pulled back their diving masks, and one of them held up a beautiful, red starfish, a foot in diameter, for us to see.
We learned that the two lived in a self-contained diving bell, which we could not see because it was so far below us. They were affiliated with a U.S. Navy team that lived several miles away on the island participating in a research study of the ocean floor.
There were six of us on a 39-foot sailboat, which we skippered ourselves, chartered out of St. Thomas Island. This was our first adventure on a 10-day cruise in the Virgin Islands, and it was an exciting one, talking with these men from below the sea.
Another adventure with our fully equipped vessel (radar, sonar and so forth) was to sail languidly into the small harbor of the capital of the British Virgin Islands, Roadtown.
We searched for a spot to drop anchor where the charts showed plenty of water. To our shock and dismay, we ran aground! After nearly a half hour of trying almost every method in the Annapolis Sailing Guide to escape from being aground, we noticed a native boy lazily watching us from his dingy, about 30 feet away. We called to him three or four times without a reply.
"When will the tide change?"
After a couple more calls for help, he replied with a shrug of his shoulders, "I don't know, mon, maybe today maybe tomorrow."
All ended well, however, when a few minutes later a sizable powerboat came along and gave us a pull.
We sailed on to Norman Island, passing caves along the shoreline that are said to have been used by Robert Louis Stevenson in his story "Treasure Island."
There was plenty of water in the Bight of Norman Island, where some of us rowed and some swam ashore to search for extraordinary pieces of coral. I chose to climb to the modest peak of the island, only 43 feet, to take nautical photographs of that island paradise.
It was indeed someplace special, with great varieties of palm trees and ferns. I took a multitude of panoramic pictures of the various seascapes with Hopper-esque sailboats silhouetted against the volcanic islands. In the distance there was one long, low tanker bringing fresh water up to the islands from Trinidad.
I found that I had run out of film, so I put in new film. Then panic struck - I heard a clatter in the underbrush that sent me running for the trail down the mountain. When I looked over my shoulder, I saw that it was only a weary old cow, but I kept on going, even though I noticed the canister of undeveloped film left sitting on a stone. I wonder if it is still there.
The most picturesque island we visited was Jost Van Dyke, where the legendary Fat Albert was known to perform his duties as customs officer for the British government. Unfortunately, Fat Albert was not on duty that evening. When we heard the steel drum music from further down the shore, we wondered if that was where he was.
We anchored out in the bay where we could sleep comfortably free from the swarms of tiny insects found ashore. Afloat, we found the gentle breezes blew them away from us. The next morning, we got our permit to sail in British territory.
Our most exciting day was a visit to Virgin Gorda, which like nearly all the islands was in view of others. There were large waves crashing on the beach, but we headed in to see the famous Baths of Virgin Gorda.
Piles of huge granite boulders rolled up against one another created grottoes open to the sea, which we could swim through. Rays of sun filtered in, piercing the clear water, illuminating the clean, white sand on the bottom. It was a magical experience, like something out of a fairy tale.
And we six travelers left the islands with tales of our own to tell, of men from under the sea and adventures upon the sea.