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Phantom Lady

Posted December 30th, 2010 at 08:10 AM by chas
Updated January 2nd, 2011 at 06:44 AM by chas
"To absent friends, and those at sea."
--Traditional Sunday toast of the Royal Navy

When economic times were better, Cousin Jim and I, naively single like Oxford dons and mistaken for gay when older, took a second vacation in the winter time. This usually meant to a warm location South of the Border. Rio Caliente, a hot springs spa outside of Guadalajara, Mexico in a beautiful national forest. Costa Rica, with its aerial tram through the treetops of a forest; the narrow neck of land where you could swim in the Atlantic and, after a short ride, bathe in the Pacific as well. Puerto Rico, after San Juan on the off island of Vieques, where the locals go to vacation. Antigua, home of Nelson's Dockyard, base of the 18th Century British Royal Navy. But the first trip south was on a tall ship in the BVI.

The Barquentine S/V Fantome: a windjammer- a sailing ship with a metal hull. Ship is my favorite way to travel (then train, bus, car, and last of all airplane--when you've simply got to get there). My longest trip by air was China. How long was it? Five meals and three movies. By the end of the flight, the crew just left the galley open and said "take what you want anytime!" But on the waves, please not your floating island cruise ship, with its bowling alleys and hair salons. I was on a Greek cruise ship once--Americans got a big discount the year after the Achille Lauro, when shipjackers killed a tourist aboard! But it was a smaller on than the floating islands of today.

No, we sailed on the Fantome. At 282 feet long, with a beam of 40 feet; she was the largest and flagship of a tourist fleet that sailed the Caribbean. She'd been owned in succession by the Duke of Westminster, the Guiness family, and even by Onassis. Four masted, with a draft of 19 feet, and 190 foot from the deck to the top of her mainmast, she slept 120 passengers in great comfort. We sailed the British Virgin Islands for a week, stayed aboard when she resupplied, and then, when a storm barred our passage to the French islands, sailed the BVI for another week, hitting some different islands. In those days, while the Virgin Islands were swarmed by tourists, the BVI was a backwater. Look high on the cliff of a small almost deserted island, to see a house atop a cliff owned by ex-beatle Paul McCartney. The islands were called Tortola, Salt, Cooper, Peter, Joost Van Dyke and Virgin Gorda.

We swam off the side platform in the clear light blue water, sipped Pusser's Pain Killers, lunched on the beach after a ride ashore on the ship's boat, and watched the islander crews handle the huge sails, motoring only when the wind was not favorable. There was even a film crew, making a PR documentary! We borrowed an adventure novel from the ship's salon, and explored small islands. At night we made our own entertainment, from Trivial Pursuit to crab races. No TV, or in those days any hand held electronic devices or laptops. She was beautiful lady, her black stripe above her white hull. Some landlubbers would rather be on a floating palace, where usually you can hardly tell you're moving most of the time. But the magic of a wind powered craft, moving on nature's currents both sea and air, cannot be felt aboard such a monster. Phantome was indeed large for a 'little vessel,' but aboard her you could feel the same mystery as aboard a tiny sail boat. To be aboard her was a very rare experience.

We didn't know she was a doomed ship. Afterwards, anyone in the travel industry, from air stewardess to travel agent, would shudder if we said we'd been aboard her. Not on That Day, of course. Years later in October of 1998, during a hurricane, her first time young skipper was told to debark the passengers and a few of the crew, and to save her, run before the storm. Had she stayed at anchor, she would probably have been destroyed--swept up on land by the force of the great tempest that caused hundreds of injuries and deaths on land, let alone at sea. So the management told him to head out to sea, and due to inexperience, he obeyed. After one radio call to his young wife, the ship disappeared forever. All they found afterward was a section of the beautiful teak decking, and a plastic toilet seat. The families of the crew sued the company. But Fantome was gone forever, with captain and all 30 of the 44 crew that had remained aboard, down to Davy Jones' locker, in a significant maritime disaster. She glides on now only in my heart, from my painting on the wall, under full sail of sixteen sheets.

Pusser's Pain Killer
Without ice, blend, shake or stir:
2 ounces British Navy 95.5 proof Pusser's Rum
4 ounces pineapple juice
1 ounce cream of coconut
1 ounce orange juice
Pour into glass filled with ice.
Total Comments 2


Taeblewalker's Avatar
This sounds like the ideal inspiration for some scurvy units!
Posted January 2nd, 2011 at 01:00 AM by Taeblewalker Taeblewalker is offline
CapnRedChops's Avatar
Now there's a memory to treasure. Thanks for sharing.

Posted January 3rd, 2011 at 04:33 PM by CapnRedChops CapnRedChops is offline
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