TORTOLA, BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS -- With great effort I've just lurched 1,400 feet up a seven-foot-wide road so precipitous that shoes lose their grip. Below me, Brewers Bay shimmers, and blue-green volcanic islands fill the horizon in the background.

I'm up here on Mount Healthy where, figuratively speaking, I've been for most of the past four years, to tell you that despite the best intentions for my summer, I've fallen off the health pinnacle at great speed.

Until June, the routine of my life in 1990 had pretty much protected my health. I worked out at the gym daily, biked 6-20 miles every other day, and ate the healthful foods my family has always served up.

On the surface, there are no reasons for my fall from health, since the summer has been a dream -- at least on the surface.

Mid-June to mid-July was spent with friends in Sagaponack, N.Y. So who wanted to write (why I was there) or go to a gym when the encounters and cocktail invites kept coming each day? I accomplished little work that month in Sagaponack, seldom rode my bike and added 7 pounds to my June 1 weight of 180 okay pounds.

From Sagaponack, I flew to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands for 10 days of marlin fishing. Oh, what an exciting sport that is. But don't ever call the marlin fishing game a health sport. For nine hours each day, I stood immobile by my rod, beer in hand, junk food at the ready. I neither jogged, walked or biked during those marlin days. And who'd be in the mood for sensible food? My weight went to 190 by day 10.

The extra weight, the extra booze and the lack of sleep all made me much less inclined to try for a mid-summer course correction during a 7-day speaking tour in the States. Each night I skipped the hotel gyms and lingered for hours in cholesterol-laden fancy restaurants that serve fine bottles of wine. My pants, better than any scale, told me my weight had edged up again.

And then the second week of August I returned to Tortola here in the Caribbean. For the first time in my life I was to solo captain a 49-foot trawler. For nearly a month now I've taken that vessel with lifetime friends to dozens of islands and deserted beaches, and our bar was well-stocked with $9 half-gallons of Stolichnaya and $2 bottles of smooth island rums.

At sand-strewed hangouts like the Soggy Dollar Bar on Jost van Dyke or the Brewers Bay Bamboo Bar 1,400 feet below my Mount Healthy perch, we drank and partied with new friends. Except for the casual swim, not once did we exercise, until this hike today.

My weight, according to the rickety scales at a friend's house in Cane Garden, now has risen to 195 pounds, up 15 pounds in about 3 months. I have a spare tire. I'm awfully tired, and I'm honestly afraid to see the results from my doctor's visit two days from the day you read this.

I'm also a little chagrined to tell you this. I well know that on the scale of things, my life is absolutely blessed and seems free from many of the pressures others live with daily. I know it appears footloose, too. More than anything, it isn't pleasant confessing one's sins and failures, particularly when one is supposed to be a health maven.

But that's okay. Though I enjoy partying more than exercise, even after four years of being good, I'm also enjoying life a good bit right now, which hasn't always been the case. I've therefore got to pull in the wildness and intemperance again and get back to the business of more sensible living.

The distance between safety and danger is short for many of us. As I look down at Brewer's Bay, my boat is anchored along the bay's eastern rim. From this perspective, that sight is as terrifying to me as the bay is beautiful. I have misjudged the waters here, read the charts wrong. The boat, I now see, sits feet away from an inches-deep shoal that would have sunk us. Sheer luck, a friend of mine, has saved me again.

But sheer luck won't do it all the time in boating or living, I don't think. That's why I've hiked Mount Healthy, to start again.