From the Vault: Pusser’s Rum

By Eilene Lyon

The “From the Vault” series features an artifact or family photo from my collection to illustrate a tale from my distant past.


The first real vacation I took as an adult, after college, was a two-week Windjammer cruise in the British Virgin Islands (BVI). I had been living in Durango for less than a year, but in that time, my engagement had blown up, I’d been unceremoniously tossed from my apartment, and worked a ridiculous number of hours at two jobs for months on end.

Time for a break and fun times.

Flying Cloud under sail.

The Flying Cloud sailed two itineraries through the BVI, alternating weekly. Most passengers stayed only a week, but like me, some did both cruises. I booked a bunk in the bachelorette cabin, a cramped place where I rarely did anything but shower and change clothes. Sleeping on a paco pad on deck was much better than below-decks.

Our port of embarkation was Roadtown, Tortola, where I picked up a bottle of Pusser’s rum and this souvenir grog cup, reminiscent of the early days of the Royal Navy, when sailors received a tot of rum on good days. I drank an inordinate amount of rum during those two weeks, “Swizzle Time” before dinner being a daily treat.

A busy bar on board.

I was far from the only single person on the ship, and good times were plentiful. Unlike big cruise ships á la Carnival or Royal Caribbean, windjammers carried fairly young, casual customers, fewer than a hundred in number. We snorkeled and partied every day. I packed very little other than swimsuits, shorts, and t-shirts. Barefoot cruises were exactly that—no shoes required, at least not on board.

Each week had a themed party. One was Pirates, Pimps, and Prostitutes. The other was a toga party, no undergarments allowed. Then we did the limbo. I’ll leave the results of that fiasco to your imagination.

Flying Cloud (the big one) at anchor.

Of the sea, my favorite recollections are: The Baths with its outsized boulders on the beach; snorkeling at Norman Island where I came across hundreds of conchs, all moving in unison in one direction; swimming out into the Atlantic at Drake’s Landing and being surrounded by a school of salty, silvery sea bass—unbelievably huge fish; trying to tightrope walk the anchor-rode before plunging into the water.

The Baths on Virgin Gorda.
About to plunge!

Of the people: an Aussie couple who taught us some colorful down-under slang; a quiet businessman, traveling without his wife, who brought luggage full of old work clothes (and shoes) and tossed them in the trash upon disembarking; two sisters with delightful senses of humor, ready to comb the islands for any sort of good time; the absolutely hunky captain with the British accent (oh yes!); and the crew member who wove me a permanent bracelet and a monkeys-fist necklace.

Though this last was a nice man from the islands, he wrote to me after I returned home in hopes of getting a green card. His final letter said he had suffered an accident and lost a leg as a result. I never learned if this was true, or a ploy for sympathy. I expect many American women are the recipients of this kind of attention.

I lost my Ohio State sweatshirt at the St. Thomas airport. A beach towel I bought flew overboard in a moment of inattention. My miniscule suitcase took a detour during the flights home. Despite all that, the BVI vacation remained my favorite for many, many years.

42 thoughts on “From the Vault: Pusser’s Rum

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  1. Sounds like a fun trip! Unfortunately my five day Windjammer cruise was a total disaster as I was too sea sick to participate in anything and spent a lot of time in my claustrophobic bunk cursing the sea rolling above me and myself for letting myself be talked into this. The ship left from St. Martin (the Dutch side) and crossed to St. Kitts – a notoriously bad stretch of ocean according to the crew? (Why would they do that then?) The whole boat was sea sick the first day, (normal they said) – I remember one couple departed at St. Kitt’s and flew back home. Staring at the horizon did not help – nor did the Transderm patch – which I had to remove the next day as my eyes were dilated and I was dizzy – I was grateful for the few shore excursions and kissed the ground when we returned to port. I’m not much of a drinker even in my younger years. The only nice part I remember is them playing Amazing Grace when they raised and lowered the sails. The really weird thing is I’m not usually sea sick on boats, big or small.

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    1. That’s a real shame! In the BVI, the waters are pretty calm and protected most of the time. Back in March, we went in a sailing ship in St. Maarten. Because of Covid, the only other island we were allowed to visit was St Barth’s. It was a pretty choppy crossing, for sure. I don’t recall but maybe one or two people were pretty queasy and taking drugs for it.

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      1. I remember going first to St. Kitts and then to St. Barts which was a movie star haven at the time. And we had one day at a private beach someplace snorkeling, then back to St. Martin, where the shopping and restaurants were okay. I was at least able to eat. It was the only trip where I did not take any pictures at all – I guess I didn’t want any memories of it!

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  2. That sounds like a lot of fun Eilene. I had no idea the Windjammer boats carried that many people or the boats were that big. It sounds like you got to just do your own thing as opposed to being tied to an agenda or a set schedule like on a regular cruise. It was a great way to get over a break-up and come back renewed.

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      1. It sounds fun. I went on a three-day cruise with my parents to the Bahamas in 1972, just one island. It was an Italian cruise ship and lots of fun. I was on a Panama Canal cruise in 1982 and we went to St Thomas, Aruba and the San Blas Islands, the latter was pretty amazing to see; we had to tender in to the island, very rustic village.

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      2. I’ll bet those areas were so much less commercialized back then – and to my way of thinking, much better. We took a private charter to an uninhabited Belize Caye when I was young (in the 70s), and it really was idyllic. Felt like castaways, but we were able to leave on schedule.😄

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  3. This is so much fun, Eilene! Now that would be my kind of cruise. What a gorgeous ship! And to really be sailing enough to feel the wind through your hair. Also I love that Pusser’s cup. We have a bar called Pusser’s here in Annapolis–known for their rum drinks, of course. Love the idea of connecting a collectible with stories from your past–fantastic. Can’t wait for the next one!

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