We sat on the deck of Sunset Vista; a home located 600 foot higher than Cruz Bay on the island of Saint John, United States Virgin Island. We were staying on Captain Newhard’s boat, The Flying Circus, but Neil wanted us to see that same view from a friend’s home and it was an entirely different view, but nevertheless breathtaking and totally new from what we saw at sea level.
Monday evening on the 19th of March 2007, Boyd Tarney and I had driven from Fort Wayne to Chicago. From there we flew to Philly, and then on to Saint Thomas USVI. After our plane taxied across the tarmac at Saint Thomas Airport we hired a taxi to the Red Hook Ferry and took it to Cruz Bay. We stowed our gear on the sandy beach near St. John’s ferry dock and hiked to a seaside bar named JJ’s for a much-needed break and a prearranged rendezvous with Captain Neil.
Within half-an-hour we saw the tall mast and red hull of a Columbia 50 named “Flying Circus” coming in the harbor under full sail. The captain brought his bow up into the wind, dropped his sails on deck, glided to a mooring ball, left the helm and hustled to the bow, grabbed his mooring ball with the boat hook and successfully secured his vessel on the first attempt. Minutes later the captain helped his charter guests over the tow rail and into his inflatable dingy. Neil brought his charter guests ashore and then met us at JJ’s. It’s always great to see a trusted friend and fellow Waynedaler. Neil grew up in the Waynedale area where he attended Elmhurst High School with the Class of ’64. Neil’s father, Paul Newhard was a local contractor and carpenter. The wisdom and woodworking skills he passed on to Neil has served the captain well over his lengthy sailing career.
Neil, for a short time after high school, worked at Fort Wayne Zollner Piston Corporation, but the restrictions and boredom of factory life sparked his desire for travel and exploration. Maybe it was wanderlust, or perhaps his inability to accept society’s constraints, but whatever it was he left Fort Wayne and moved to Northern Michigan and the Great Lakes where he hunted the North woods and eventually met up with a wise old-salt named Bernard (Bones) Lehman. Bones took the young captain under his weathered wing and taught him the finer points of how to sail a wood boat.
“Keep your ears to the wind, when you feel too much air in one ear, turn ’till you pick up the same amount of air in the other ear and then your face will be into the wind. Any man who’d sail to windward in a gaffer would go to hell for breakfast. Keep a light hand on the tiller, son. Keep your rudder inputs to a minimum because they act like a brake, watch the tell-tails,” he said, as he puffed on his big-bowled pipe and studied the rising smoke. At that time the captain owned a 37-foot, cutter rigged Alden Coastwise Cruiser, but he first sailed a 22-foot Catalina, then a 36-foot Columbia that he moved from Michigan City, IN to Elk Rapids, MI and after that he purchased Sir Tom a 1939 Alden and after he sold Tom, he bought Touché, a wood racing sloop made of oak, mahogany and teak wood that was built in Newburgh, Germany. Touché was a magnificent beauty, with all the lines of a fine lady. He first sailed her on Lake Michigan and then had Arnold’s Yacht Service truck her to the New River Marina at Port Everglades, Florida and from there he sailed her south to St. John USVI 22 years ago where he began his new career as a charter captain.
Hurricane Hugo sent Touché to the bottom of Little Cruz Bay in 1989 but new deals can be made if you don’t mind doing a lot of hard work and some finagling. Neil’s next boat was another wooden beauty, it was a yawl named Hirondelle, she too was very fast and with Neil at her helm she won three Rolex Regattas and several other races sponsored by the Southern Ocean Racing Commission. It was with great satisfaction that we sat at JJ’s with one of the best sailors in the Caribbean and talked over old times in Waynedale…of fast cars, faster women and a few wicked deeds common to many of the local high-spirited youths.
Neil charted while Boyd and I crewed. Andy Norton from Fort Wayne and his friend Pam Jordan from Tallahassee had made previous arrangements for a day sail. They were on a cruise ship that stopped at St. Thomas and we picked them up at Red Hook. The weather was perfect for sailing and snorkeling, with mild tropical breezes and plenty of sunshine. Andy and Pam were delighted to take a break from their cruise ship and it’s always great to hook up in an island paradise with folks from your hometown.
What a different world it is at St. John. Instead of a taking a morning shower we jumped in the ocean and then rinsed off with fresh water. Instead of getting in our car and going off to work, we climbed in the dinghy, pulled the start cord on the Yamaha engine and headed for shore and some breakfast. Our days were filled with sailing, snorkeling, and spear fishing while our nights found us sitting at an open-air, ocean-side bar, listening to the beat of a Caribbean blues band and a bit of old fashioned rock & roll.
Neil has a piece of ground on shore for his boat shack where he keeps his many projects; three vintage Triumph and Norton motorcycles, an oversized dirt bike, numerous antique outboard motors, a custom wooden wagon that he made for his nine-year-old son Enzo, a table saw, band saw and numerous wood carving tools. The boat shack provides the captain with a home base away from his boat when he’s not sailing and it’s an indispensable item for stowing extra sails, tools and other paraphernalia. When we weren’t sailing we sat around the boat shack with a collection of other colorful folks, who stopped by and talked about the next race or other island topics and concerns. Rob Stark showed up later in the week and he joined in the sailing adventure and added to the already pleasant company.
Our sailing vacation seemed to fly by and it ended aboard Flying Circus. Neil, Boyd, Rob, and I sat in the cabin and felt the gentle rocking of the 50-footer as she tugged gently on her mooring.
Neil told this story to his Waynedale listeners:
There once was an old pirate who looked out over the horizon and saw the sails of a ship. The captain called to the first mate to bring the spyglass.
“Aye mate,” said the captain, “I see a merchant ship fresh from the orient with spices and bounty aplenty. We will board her and rape and pillage. Bring me my red shirt so that if I am wounded in battle, my mates won’t see me bleed and lose heart.”
The next day after the plunder was finished, the old pirate again looked out over the horizon and called for the first mate.
The captain asked, “What’s that on the horizon mate?”
The first mate raised his spyglass, and answered, “I see three British warships, each with 80 cannon and more speed in their sails then we can muster.”
“Aye mate,” answered the captain, “bring me my brown pants.”
If you are on a cruise that stops at St. Thomas or if you happen to be vacationing in St. John, give Captain Neil a call at 1-340-626-8845. The sailing experience will be unforgettable.
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