It was mid-afternoon on New Year’s Eve. The four of us aboard our chartered cruiser were heading eastward along the northern coast of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands.
We soon arrived at Cane Garden Bay, our destination for this special night. We breathed easier as we left behind the choppy ocean. About five hundred feet from the beach, we stopped, dropped the anchor, and turned off the engines.
All too soon, it seemed, the sun dropped below the horizon. As daylight dimmed, I felt as if I were surrounded by the best of the world. On three sides of the bay rose steep and shadowy mountain slopes above whose tops was a huge stage already half filled with stars.
Behind us was open sea. In the daylight it had dazzled and beckoned, but in the deepening darkness, it was home to the imagined sinister and mysterious. A few miles farther beyond was the faint outline of the mountainous island of Jost Van Dyke. We could only guess what it was like on that normally quiet and thinly populated island—shouts, laughter, and throbbing music as owners and crews from the many boats in the harbor crowded into the legendary Foxy’s Tamarind Bar & Grill for the party of the year.
I shifted my gaze back to the immediate surroundings. Along the shore were scattered houses and a few businesses, their pastel colored walls softened by the glow of Christmas lights.
At an open air bar, a lively band was playing to a noisy and happy crowd. From an invisible location far down on the beach came the sound of a preacher giving a sermon. The shifting breeze was causing his words to fade in and out. I heard enough, however, to understand he was comparing Columbus’s discovery of the New World to man’s discovery of God. Added to that was a dog barking, a car grinding its way up the steep mountain road. At midnight, yells, cheers, and whistles went up from those at the bar. Several boaters blew boat horns. Bottle rockets streaked skyward from the far end of the beach. A group of kids began shouting the New Year greeting.
For everyone, this was a special time to say goodbye to the old year as they put out the welcome mat for the new one. For the mountains and sea, however, this was merely another dark pause between times of light.
The noise faded away and a quick visual sweep of the long curved beach showed that all was well. The islanders were going to bed. We took the hint and went below, where sleep came quickly.
Later, I awoke, leaned over, and looked at my watch. It was almost 4 A.M. I thought I heard singing, but surely not at that hour. I pulled on shorts and shirt and quietly tip-toed up the steps to the deck.
Yes, hard to believe, it was singing, the sounds drifting down the mountain, through the trees to the beach, then out and across the water. There were no instruments, but the singers made up for it. Even at a distance, one could tell they were passionate and faithful believers, God’s salt of the earth. I silently joined them in singing, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come, let earth receive her King.”
The singing stopped, a rooster crowed, and soon afterward came the first light of a new day, the first one of the new year. To see it gradually spilling down the mountain sides was reassuring, soothing, and exciting.
Never had I welcomed the New Year so simply and wonderfully, and so far from home. It set a new standard that has yet to be surpassed.
Happy New Year!