adventures. Even in that, he and I had much in common. We sat
in his heady restaurant of tropical blooms and shady palms, signed
copies of our books for one another, and too soon, just before the
evening dancing began, he went off to bed. It was hard to imagine
that this place had once been a swamp, that one intrepid couple had
transformed it into a tropical ideal.
Everyone called him Johnny Coconut because when he and Mary
arrived in the Caribbean, they were dismayed by the lack of coconut
palms, which were ubiquitous in the South Pacific. John knew that
these fast-growing trees quickly made themselves indispensable as
food, drink, fuel, and building material, and decided to introduce
them to Palm Island. So, while building his paradise, Johnny sailed
up and down the island, planting coconuts everywhere he went.
By the time we visited the island, the trees were towering and
plentiful, and the resort was a picture-book version of what one imagines when dreaming of a tropical paradise. I soaked up this character
of legend, wondering how a person could accomplish as much as
he had by 80.
Finally, we pulled ourselves away from Palm and sailed on, up to
the Tobago Keys, a cluster of islets surrounding an enormous and
exquisite turquoise lagoon. Around the white sandy islets of this
tableau swayed Johnny’s palm legacy, which I would have taken for
granted as being what one expects of a place like this if we hadn’t just
met the man who planted the trees. It’s impossible to imagine that
these universal symbols of island life didn’t exist here before John.
We also sailed to Canouan, the laid-back island; Bequia, the
island of eclectic whaling culture turned artsy; and Mustique, play-
ground getaway for the rich and famous except for the charterboat
guests who flock ashore with paparazzo aspirations.
Since that first charter, when I met John Caldwell, I’ve been back
to the Grenadines several times over the years — with guests and
with my family — but never again to Palm Island. A year after my first
visit, John died, his oasis was sold to a resort company, and I haven’t
wanted to see how his legacy has been packaged. These days, with
new groups of guests, I’ve discovered other nooks of these extraor-
dinary islands, places that were loved by people I liked, such as the
extraordinary Johnny Coconut.
In 1985, Tania was the youngest woman to solo circumnavigate the world
and is the author of Maiden Voyage, the international bestseller about
her 2 1/2-year adventure aboard a 27-foot boat at age 18. She lives in
Vermont, and runs sailing flotillas around the world. www.taniaaebi.com
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO: To char-
ter a 40-footer in the Grenadines
(bareboat) with The Moorings costs
$4,200 - $5,900, depending on
season. Visit www.Moorings.com
Tania Aebi Sailing Adventures is offer-
ing an all-women Grenadines flotilla
April 17-27, 2014. Cost per person is
$2,500 - $3,500 (including provision-
ing, excluding air and meals ashore).
The lush palm trees of the Grenadines,
such as here in the colorful island of
Bequia, are a legacy of Johnny Coconut.