“You need to get laid, Marty,” Betsy said matter-of-factly as soon as I sat down on the low chair in her well-appointed corner office.

“I, um… Is that an offer?”

“Ha! If it was, you’d know it,” she replied with a smirk and a cocked eyebrow. “And if HR asks, I’m telling you this as a friend, not as your CEO.”

“I know, Bets. But that’s not the issue right now.”

“Bullshit,” Betsy countered, pouring two tumblers of scotch from the decanter on her credenza. “You’ve needed a good fuck for the last year and a half. I know the divorce has been hard on you, but how badly has Gwen screwed you?”

“It was an amicable settlement, Gwen was very fair. She hasn’t screwed me at all… Yes, I see what you did there. You’re very clever.” I accepted the glass she offered.

“That’s why I’m the boss, Marty. Now—as your boss again—I am declining your resignation letter.” She leaned back against her desk, and even though she only stood about five-foot-four, she loomed over me sitting in the deep chair. It was one of her favorite power poses.

“You’re my Chief Operating Officer, you’re a mentor to most of the staff, and you’re named as an essential resource in half a dozen government contracts.” Betsy continued. “If we lose you, we stand to lose seven percent of our business… and that’s a conservative estimate.”

“Dammit Betsy, my head is not in the game anymore!” I exploded as I stood and paced the room with my untouched scotch.

“Back when it was all still happening, I could pretend that… that it wouldn’t. That somehow everything would go back to normal. Maybe I was delusional then, but I got by… But now… now that everything is signed, the house is sold, the lawyers are paid… It’s finally real… It’s all too real…

“Gwen’s not my wife anymore… I’m alone for… for the first time ever… And it gnaws at me, Betsy! I’m constantly distracted. I can’t focus on work… or anything really. It’s only a matter of time before I make a mistake that is going to cost this company more than its fucking market share,” I protested. “I am a liability!”

“Which is why you need to get laid! …Friend again, not boss… But that’s not going to happen with you moping around between the office and that little apartment full of unopened boxes you’re living in.”

“How do you kno-”

“Because we’re friends, Marty. Pay attention… Look, I’m not going to let you resign. But you do need to take some time to get your head together. Go lie on a beach. Get drunk on fruity rum cocktails. Let a pretty island girl fuck your brains out… When was the last time you went sailing, Marty?”

“It’s, uh… We sold the boat when the kids’ weekends got too over-scheduled. Back when school and ballet and scouts and lacrosse were more important than a day out on the bay. It’s been about… I dunno, eight years or so.”

“You used to love sailing,” she consoled gently.

“I did,” I admitted. “So did Gwen.”

“Bullshit,” Betsy called me out again. “You always did have a blind-spot for her, Marty. Gwen only put up with your sailing weekends because you loved it. How do you think the kids got so damn over-scheduled?”

Betsy didn’t start her own company, take it public, and become CEO by pulling her punches, and that one landed hard.

“…Yeah, fine.” I muttered, collapsing back into the chair under the weight of a fresh wave of melancholy. I didn’t like admitting that it was probably true. How long had Gwen and I been drifting apart? The kids had given us a common interest for so long, that by the time our youngest went off to college we discovered that we had nothing else in common anymore.

“How big was that boat?” Betsy asked, trying a different tack to pull me out of my funk.

“Just a twenty-foot daysailer.”

“Think you could handle a forty-foot sloop?”

“A sloop is a pretty straight-forward configuration. I’m a bit rusty, but once I got my sea legs back… Yeah, I could handle it.”

“Good. Frank and I keep a boat down in the Caribbean. It’s dry-docked on St. Vincent. It’s yours for as long as you want it.”

“Betsy, I can’t-”

“You can, and you will.”

“I used up all of my vacation time in lawyers offices and selling the house.”

“This isn’t a vacation. It’s a sabbatical—open-ended, for as long as you need.”

“The company doesn’t offer sabbaticals, Bets.”

“It will by the time you get Steve up to speed so he can fill in for you. I want you on an eastbound plane by Friday.”

“The Board’s not going to like it.”

“You let me worry about the Board.”

“Betsy, I… I don’t know what to say…”

“Say ‘Thank you’ and get the hell out of my office,” she smirked. “We both have work to do.”

And that’s how, four days later, I found myself at the Ottley Hall Marina outside of Kingstown, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, watching a travellift gently set Frank and Betsy’s boat down into the water of the haulout slip. She was a Hylas 46 center-cockpit sloop; her name, stenciled in elegant script across the transom, was “the Right Off“. That seemed more like Frank’s sense of humour than Betsy’s.

The series of connections that had brought me from San Francisco to Atlanta overnight and then to Barbados and finally into ET Joshua Airport had taken most of the day. The whole trip I’d been consumed by the idea that this was the first time I’d ever been on vacation by myself. Gwen wasn’t in the seat beside me. The kids weren’t there. There was no one to watch my bag when I ducked into the restroom. No one to remind me to buy a pack of gum to help with the pain in my ears. No one to wake up when the flight attendant came through with drinks.

I was alone all day with 500 strangers.

By the time I hailed a cab, I just wanted to check into a hotel and collapse into bed. But I didn’t have a hotel reservation; I was staying aboard the boat. The staff at the marina were friendly enough, but not in any particular hurry. “Island Time” I think they call it, and I’m pretty sure they do it just to irritate tourists. So it was almost another two hours before I was able to step aboard the Right Off to inspect her.

She was a beautiful boat, with two cabins, a well-appointed galley, and a salon all trimmed in wood and brass. Her sunken cockpit was wrapped in a cozy upholstered bench on three sides with room to seat six plus the pilot comfortably. The navigation equipment had been upgraded and was more advanced than anything I’d ever used.

I ran point-by-point through the inspection checklist that Betsy had provided, much to the consternation of the Marina staff, before I concluded that the Right Off was ship-shape. I topped off the fuel and water tanks, finally signed off on the receipt, and maneuvered out of the marina on the diesel motor.

The sun had long since set and only the barest band of pink remained along the western horizon. I wasn’t ready to test my skills as a navigator in unknown waters in the dark, so I dropped anchor for the night in the shallows just outside of the marina. There was a bit of housekeeping to do—clothes and food to stow, the berth to make up, towels to hang, dinner to cook.

Ok, dinner was just a reheated can of soup, but I did avail myself of Frank and Betsy’s liquor cabinet. As I sat down alone to eat, it occurred to me that I hadn’t thought about Gwen once since I had arrived at the marina. It was probably the longest I had gone without her interrupting my thoughts since we’d sold the house—the last time I’d seen her was at the closing. Maybe Betsy was right. Maybe an adventure was exactly what I needed.

The next morning I put the Right Off through her paces. I motored away from the marina until I found an uncrowded stretch of open water off the west coast of the island, then spent the day practicing my jibing and tacking until I was confident.

Conditions were gusty, with winds between ten and eighteen knots. She was tender in the higher gusts due to her shallow keel and high center of gravity. Ideally, the Hylas would have a crew of two. I would have loved to have had my son along on the foredeck, but with electric winches and all of the running rigging leading back to the cockpit, I was well able to handle her myself as long as I stayed alert.

It was the best day I’d had since Gwen announced she was leaving.

That evening I went ashore. I was tired but so invigorated from the day that I felt confined on the boat. Besides, I couldn’t bring myself to eat reheated soup for dinner again.

I wandered the streets of Kingstown alone and ate fresh fruit and hot samosas from street vendors. As the sun set and the shops closed down and the music turned up I drifted into the first bar I came across and mingled with other tourists.

Making small talk was never something that I excelled at, but I discovered that flirting was easier now than it had been in my twenties. Somewhere along the way, I’d learned to listen more, talk less, and to ask better questions.

I bought drinks for a few women, but the bar crowd trended younger. Sure, they were all nice to look at, in their light summer dresses or sarongs and tank tops. I just couldn’t seem to get past the idea that most of them were barely older than my daughter in college.

Ultimately, I left the bar alone after last call. I was still a little drunk when I got back to the boat, and a little hungover when I took her out again late the next morning. Heading to windward with the wind in my hair and the spray on my face cleared my head quickly and brought me back to life.

I spent the next few days gaining confidence in my skill as a sailor, and teaching myself navigation. The GPS computer on the Right Off did most of the work for you, but I’m cautious by nature—some might say overly—so I gave myself a refresher course on the compass and sextant too.

Weekend sailing with my family in San Francisco bay didn’t require much skill in navigation. You were never out of sight of some famous landmark. But my goal was to take the Right Off over the horizon into the open ocean to Barbados. My first baby-step would be Bequia, the island immediately south of St. Vincent, only about six nautical miles away.

When I felt confident enough in my ability, I made a plan to leave first thing the next morning. I went ashore to buy groceries and to file a float plan with the SVG Coast Guard office in Calliaqua—overly cautious, remember? I had given myself a whole day for the short trip, but the petty officer on duty assured me that with the current winds the crossing to Bequia—pronounced “Beck-way,” apparently—would only take me a couple of hours.

I got back to the Right Off a little after three-thirty in the afternoon and considered taking her out for a bit more practice when I decided… fuck it. As Tony Stark said “Sometimes you gotta run before you can walk.”

Gwen wouldn’t have gotten that reference, but my kids would have, so that put a smile on my face.

I hurried through my anchorage departure checklist, again wishing I had my son along to help, pointed the bow south, and sailed for deep water. The sun was low in the sky by the time I dropped anchor in Admiralty Bay about fifty yards off the shore of Port Elizabeth. The crossing had been thoroughly uneventful—boring even—and I was thrilled!

I set about furling the sails, coiling the sheets, turning off the instruments, locking the wheel, rinsing the salt off the deck—I had a whole arrival checklist of chores to do. The western sky was going from orange to purple and the moon was rising by the time I finished and poured myself a scotch to celebrate.

The silver moonlight played across the surface of the bay, darting in and out of the orange reflections from the shore and the dancing white anchor lights of the other boats nearby. Music from the beach bars drifted across the water. A girl in a white bikini strolled alone along the gloaming beach, and the palm trees swayed in the evening breeze.

I sat on the gently rocking deck sipping Frank and Betsy’s scotch and considered going ashore. But I decided to stay in tonight. Sailing the Right Off across open water—even if Bequia did appear on the horizon before St. Vincent disappeared completely—was a significant accomplishment for me, but probably trivial for any experienced Caribbean sailor. I chose to savor my minor triumph in private.

As I enjoyed the stars and the music and the scotch, my eye was drawn back ashore to the girl on the beach. Her swimsuit shone in the deep shadows of the palm trees and… Wait, was she?… She was!… The girl on the beach had stripped off her top, and was stepping out of her bikini bottoms.

She left her swimsuit by a tree, jogged naked across the narrow beach, and waded into the surf. I couldn’t make out details clearly, but I could see that she was tall and shapely. Her legs and hips slowly disappeared beneath the water, and she swung her arms out and plunged into an oncoming wave.

I glanced around at the other boats anchored nearby but no one else seemed to be above deck. Did the girl in the water know that she was being watched? A moment later, she broke the surface and threw her head back, her dark hair flinging water in a perfect Fibonacci spiral, her back arched and her breasts tight.

She sank back to her shoulders and swam forward a couple of strokes before she bent forward to dive again. Her shoulders arched forward and the sea water glistened in the moonlight as it flowed over her back, over the curve of her ass, over the backs of her thighs and her calves and then her feet as she disappeared beneath the waves.

I didn’t realize I was holding my breath as I waited for her return, but I exhaled as she emerged again some thirty or so yards from me. There was a pair of binoculars on board, but it would have been unseemly to get up and fetch them. I was happy to watch this mermaid from a distance and let her enjoy her imagined privacy.

She rolled over on her back, breasts exposed to the starry night sky, and stroked backwards, strong arms pulling her through the water. I could only imagine the muscles in her chest flexing and stretching and the way her breasts would move with each stroke. Or how her buttocks would tighten below the water with each kick. Or the way her hair would flow like ink behind her.

I watched in silence as the naked mermaid swam and frolicked in the moonlit surf. She seemed to sparkle. Tantalizing bits of her kept appearing and disappearing beneath the surface, and though I was too far away to really see anything through the darkness, my imagination filled in the details.

She was erotically beautiful from a distance. More so than any stripper from three feet away. A stripper’s dance is planned and rehearsed for an audience; the girl in the water was spontaneous and impulsive and unconcerned with anyone’s pleasure but her own. Her care-free attitude was seductive.

I watched her for about twenty minutes before she waded back to the shallows. She looked carefully up and down the beach before darting to the tree where she left her bikini. I imagined the way her breasts must bounce as she ran. She pulled her swimsuit on quickly, and then strolled away into the darkness.

I finished my scotch and went below deck. It had been a good day.

The next morning I decided to give myself a day in port to see Bequia. I went ashore, found some breakfast at a beach-side hotel, and strolled up the hill into Port Elizabeth. It seemed a quiet town, not as busy and bustling as Kingstown. The locals were all very friendly and vendors and shopkeepers were happy to chat. Apparently it would have been busier if a cruise ship had been in port, but there was none scheduled for today.

I bought a few sundries, a new shirt, a hat to wear ashore. As I wandered aimlessly among the shops, I almost bypassed a local jeweler when I remembered my daughter’s approaching birthday. So I walked in to look around. There were a couple of other people browsing, and the shopkeeper was busy with one of them.

Much of the work had some sort of maritime motif. Shells and seaglass featured prominently. The workshop set up visibly in the back confirmed that all of the gold and silversmithing was done on site.

A gentle tap on my shoulder accompanied a polite “Pardon me,” and I turned to meet the eyes of a woman close to my own age, give or take a few years. She was tall, easily as tall as me, and pretty in a way that seemed effortless. Her face was framed in a tumble of raven-black hair that fell just past her shoulders. Dark eyes that shone with youthful vitality highlighted soft features that I guessed to be Italian, or maybe Greek. Her demure smile was disarmingly alluring.

“Can you help me?” she asked bashfully. “I was trying on this necklace, and I’m afraid I can’t seem to work the clasp to take it off. It’s very small.”

Around her neck was a complex arrangement of silver petals woven together with gossamer thin chain. She didn’t wait for a response, and turned her back to me, pulling her hair to one side holding it out of the way, bowing her head and exposing the nape of her elegant neck.

“I’d be happy to.” I answered and stepped behind her taking the thin chain between my fingers.

She was wearing a white sundress suspended from her shoulders by two thin cords. The soft fabric was the perfect offset for her golden tan. Silver bracelets adorned both wrists, silver rings her fingers, and silver earrings dangled from her ears. The sheen of the metal provided an elegant contrast against her sun-darkened skin.

“You’re right about this clasp. It is tiny.” I fumbled with it between my fingers and my hands brushed against her warm, bare skin.

“Take your time,” she replied, shifting her posture a bit, leaning forward slightly, pressing her backside against my groin.

Was she flirting with me? I think she was. I grinned to myself at the realization, and I took my time, letting my hands rest between her shoulder blades.

At last I managed to get a thumbnail beneath the delicate mechanism of the clasp. As I spread the necklace open I allowed the edges of my hands to drift lightly across her bare shoulders.

“There we go,” I announced.

She straightened, letting her loose hair fall back into place, and took the ends of the chain from me, her fingers brushing across the backs of my hands as she did so. From over her shoulder I could see down the front of her loose, flowing dress and caught just the briefest glimpse of the tan lines on the cleavage of her unconstrained breasts before she turned and stepped back to face me.

“Thank you so much, Mr…?”

“Marty,” I answered, offering my hand. “How do you do?”

“Marty,” she concluded, shaking my hand. “I’m Karen. It’s always a pleasure to meet a gentleman. How long have you been on Bequia?”

“I just arrived yesterday, and came ashore this morning. You?”

“I’ve been here for two weeks. I’m afraid I’m leaving tomorrow,” she sighed, “but I’ll be back. This is my third visit.”

“Then I’ll bet you can recommend a good restaurant.”

“Oh, Jack’s Beach Bar, no question. They have a magnificent view. You’ll be tempted to order seafood, but you have to try the fried chicken.”

“That sounds perfect.” My heart was racing. I was about to do something I hadn’t done for decades. “…Do you have plans for lunch, Karen?”

“Are you asking me out, Marty?” her eyes flashed and she smiled.

“I am,” I answered, returning the smile and doing my best to keep the nervous shake out of my voice.

“Well, I’d be delighted,” she accepted. “It’s a bit early, but if we take the scenic route, it should be lunch time when we get there.”

She bought the necklace, despite the tiny clasp, and wore it out of the store. Karen lead me on a meandering path through town and pointed out her favorite sights. We retreaded much of the ground I’d already covered, but I didn’t mind. Karen was an enchanting companion and a knowledgeable guide.