Virgin Islands Stories: The Cygnus By Gerald Singer
As told to me by Tal Carter
The Cygnus was a 50-foot John Alden yawl. She belonged to Steve Boone, who claimed to be descended from Daniel Boone. Steve Boone was born and bred in Boone, North Carolina and is best known for being the bassist for the popular rock and roll group, “Loving Spoonful.”
Boone moved to St. Thomas around 1970 where he continued his musical career performing at a place called the Grass Shack in Charlotte Amalie. He bought the Cygnus shortly after arriving in the islands and docked her at the Yacht Haven Marina in the Charlotte Amalie harbor.
Boone lived aboard the yacht for a while, sailing around the islands, but never going too far from home. After a while, like many boat owners, he began to spend less and less time with his boat, which, like a lot of stuff in the Virgin Islands, gradually (maybe not so gradually) began to fall into a state of disrepair.
Taking advantage of the owner’s many absences and basically good nature, a series of somewhat disreputable hippie friends and hangers-on began to use the boat as a crash pad. As a result, the Cygnus got a bad reputation, which, in fact, was actually quite an accomplishment at the Yacht Haven Marina in 1971, a venue for a sizable compliment of questionable characters.
But the truth was that life aboard the Cygnus was getting pretty sleazy. One night, a young drifter was found dead in his cabin succumbing to an overdose of heroin. This was when the denizens of Yacht Haven’s, Fearless Freddie’s Bar gave the Cygnus a new name, the Sickness.
After this incident, Boone assigned a guy named Brad, who worked for Zora, the sandal-maker, when she had her shop on Main Street to take charge of the Cygnus.
Brad kicked the remaining druggies off the boat and, in return for maintaining the neglected craft, was given the use of the yacht. Brad sent for two of his friends from Michigan to come down to St. Thomas to help. They all stayed aboard the Cygnus at the dock at Yacht Haven Marina for a while, but eventually they decided that St. John would be a nicer place to be, so they sailed over and anchored in Cruz Bay.
Brad and the Michigan boys listened to a lot of music and smoked a lot of dope, but didn’t do a whole lot of maintenance or a whole lot of sailing.
One day there was talk about the Cygnus having a charter in Aruba and Brad, his two friends and a girl that had joined them made some hasty preparations for the voyage. Their plan was to sail to St. Croix, provision and then sail directly to Aruba.
It apparently was a hellacious trip from St. John to St. Croix. Rough seas opened up some serious leaks and the Cygnus just barely reached St. Croix with all pumps pumping in conjunction with some good old-fashioned bailing.
The girl who joined the crew at the last minute was so freaked by the ordeal that she bowed out of the adventure and flew back to St. John on the Antilles Airboat seaplane.
The girl came back to St. John with the story of the voyage. She said that there was no safety equipment aboard, no life preservers and no radio.
She relayed a message to a guy named Skip, telling him that Brad had asked if he would fly down to St. Croix, help them patch the leaking boat and sail with them to Aruba.
Skip was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam. He had crashed twice. Both times he was the only survivor of the craft. On four other flights, his tail gunners were killed. He came to St. John when his tour of duty was over, where he met Jackie, who became his girlfriend. Jackie had come to St. John from Maine with her girlfriend Allison, where they were living at Allison’s father’s campground.
Skip and Jackie hopped the seaplane to St. Croix and this was the last that anyone ever heard from them or any of the crew of the Cygnus. They vanished without a trace. Although there was all sorts of speculation as to what might have become of them, given the poor condition of the yacht, the lack of safety equipment and communication devices and the inexperience of captain and crew, the assumption had to be made that the boat sank and all hands presumed drowned.