Charter Advisors Special Feature
Charter Sailing - Oh The People You'll Meet
by Capt. Kev
At Charter Advisors we talk a lot about the "experience" of charter sailing. The boat, your crew, and weather all play a part in the experience you have on a charter sailing trip. But there's a wild card in the "charter experience" mix. One that adds unpredictability, comedy relief, and even a whiff of danger. What kind of crazy thing could I be driving at? Well, its not actually a thing at all, it's the people you meet along the way.
Charter sailors are a mixed bunch. We run the gamut. First timers, Salty Dogs, "Yachties", Families, Weekend Sailors, resort people that thought sailing looked "cool", etc. But this isn't what I'm on about. True, you're going to run into a few of these generally likeminded folks, but some of the most interesting people you meet while out on a charter sailing vacation aren't even sailors. These are the folks you don't expect to meet, but do somehow, and are all that much better for it.
Anytime you pull into a resort marina or moor up out front of anyplace with "Yacht Club" in the name, you're bound to meet some colorful people. What cracks me up is that one couple here might look down their noses at the state of your salty appearance while the next couple behind them is in awe of the fact you have a yacht anchored off-shore. Regardless of who they are or what their attitude is like back at the "Club" or resort, should something unexpected happen when out island hopping, people usually look to a sailor for help or advice. It's a twist on meeting someone "by accident". Except this version actually involves someone else having an accident and then bringing it to you. I'll explain.
One day I was waived over by a man limping through the shallows over on Jost Van Dyke. I was hiking, he appeared to be lost. Apparently salty, scruffy, and a deep tan equaled "local" in his mind. He asked if I was from "around here". I said, "sort of". He told me he couldn't find the resort captain who had dropped him off. And boy was he was freaking out about it. The long sea urchin spike sticking through his foot probably didn't help. "Am I going to die?" he asked. "No, not today" I assured him. "Tomorrow or the day after is a possibility though if you insist on leaving that sea urchin spike in there". That's when he asked me to remove the spike. Just a tip guys, don't ever ask a guy you don't know to touch your feet. I don't care if you're bleeding to death, your feet are your own issue. I helped him get back to the dock where he had been dropped off earlier in the day, located his captain, and got him underway back to St. Thomas for medical attention. See what I mean about never knowing who your going to meet? I never would have guessed I'd have met this guy when I woke up that morning.
Heading into town is where you'll catch the local flavor and if you're polite, you just might make friend for life too. Islanders are some of the kindest, most polite people I've ever met bar none. A single taxi ride may reap a handful of new friends along the way. I met a couple this way that were also on vacation, yet they were still Virgin Island locals. They lived in St. Thomas their whole lives and came to the BVI to relax, away from the "busy city". I learned local-interisland-tourisim was an actual thing that day. Who'd have thunk it? To this day, my best friends in the world, people I call Brothers and Sisters are local folks I met in the Virgin Islands. These friends are constant examples to me of hard work, endurance, selflessness, and love. That's right, love. Men here actually talk about the importance of showing love to one another. Imagine that?! Friends like this are rare. Get to know the locals. You'll be glad you did.
On the flip side, some of the locals aren't islanders. I'm talking ex-pats now, and some of the finest are sailors working with or for the various yachts. I met Ashley over a decade ago working the watersports shack at a well-known yacht club in the North Sound. Now she's a captain on massive motor yachts. Late one evening when my daughter had a hair-braiding "emergency," and she was the first to offer help, asking an islander friend of hers to meet my daughter in Trellis bay. There she was met by a group of local women who put her up on an empty outdoor stage, sat her down, and braided her hair village style. After a few minuets it was clear. My daughter was being immersed and welcomed into their circle of friends. The braiding and gossip went on till sunset. You couldn't plan a more special evening with your kid if you tried. It's an experience she won't ever forget and one we couldn't have planned. It was all because of a great friend we met along the way. But what made this evening most special was seeing how happy my daughter was after meeting all those joyful, positive, opinionated, and animated local ladies. Take it from me, there's much more below the surface of a well polished vacation if one cares to take the dip.
Excursions and outings are another gold mine for meeting interesting folks (even though they usually aren't sailors, imagine that!). I've met some pretty colorful characters this way. Some have been friends for decades now. In fact, this is how the original members of the Mayday Crew met and earned their name. Many years back, I was staying ashore and rapidly tired of shore-side living, so I signed up to go on a snorkeling excursion aboard a 60-some-odd foot motor cat built to carry many a resort guests in speed and style. Normally Captain "Buck" would have been at the helm, but being early in the season, we had a stand in, Captain. Ernie I think was his name. As guests lined up to get aboard the weather took a turn. Sky's grey'd up and the sea became lumpy. Captain Ernie suggested we just head to Tortola to let the girls go shopping instead (we were very out numbered). So shopping it was. After I boarded I ran into a couple that I had met at breakfast that morning. We started talking as Captain Ernie took the helm, working his way out of the North Sound Channel. Not far outside the channel I noticed some white smoke coming from the starboard engine. The kind you see when a car overheats. Not a great sign, but not the end of the world either. I figured it was just an overheating engine. I walked back to the engine hatch and stood on it with my bare feet. That was a mistake, the hatch was hot, very hot. Nearly burnt my feet hot. This wasn't an overheating engine. We had a fire on our hands. Looking aft I watched as the smoke changed from white steam to black smoke. It didn't take long for my new buddy to join me in realizing what we were dealing with. It was in this moment that he told me he was ex-Irish Special Forces. Boy was I happy to hear that. He went above decks to tell the Capt. Ernie who thought we were nuts, until he saw the smoke himself. Mayday-Mayday-Mayday went our distress call on channel 16. While this was going on up on the fly bridge, I was checking engine number 2. We could always shut down engine 1, douse the fire with the remote extinguisher and motor home on one engine. That would have been the drill if engine 2 wasn't also on fire, which it was. Long story short, the remote extinguishers didn't "activate" so we ended up fighting what turned out to be a engine oil fire by hand with hand held fire extinguishers along with the ships first mate while our Captain continued the Mayday call. We were "rescued" by a nearby shuttle-craft from Necker Island, the "Stingray". A handful of guys ran to the head of the line, ahead of women and children in an attempt to be the first to board the rescue boat. Shameful is the only word. Needless to say they sat alone on the ride back. Our tour boat had an uneventful tow back to the yacht club. Most everyone onboard that day (except for the mousy men) became good friends. And a new legend was born. The Mayday Crew began as a small group of friends that by some weird twist of fate would be on scene for many more mayday calls, but they started here. The Mayday Crew adventures even drew the attention of the New York Times who featured our story.
It doesn't take an emergency to meet interesting folks though. I've met some really great people doing the polar opposite. What's the opposite of an excursion that involves a slightly firey boat? Dolphins, what else? Every so often I have to remind myself that it's ok to do the "tourist thing". I'm in the Caribbean a lot, so tourist attractions have lost a bit of luster for me. True, some of them don't have any luster to begin with, but there are still a few that I just never considered or followed through with because they were tourist check list items (though I secretly wanted to check it out myself). Case in point, the Dolphin Experience on Tortola. I've driven by in the boat. I've driven by in a taxi, but I never stopped. That was until I finally got over myself and booked an "experience". This is where I met Will Elder and his wife (who's name has fallen victim to my minimal capacity for memory). Don't get me wrong, she made a great impression and we've subsequently all become friends, but I'll be danged if I can remember her name. I'm getting off track now.
I had just gotten off the boat for some shore-side R and R with my family and decided now was the time to do the "dolphin thing". Within the next hour I took my family from ferry to taxi and headed to the Dolphin Experience in the East End of Tortola. It was on the ride over that we met Will and his new bride (see, still can't remember). We hit it off right off the bat. Genuine, happy people enjoying paradise on their honeymoon. The kind of folks that just put off a good vibe. The guys apologetically exchanged our reasons for wanting to go play with dolphins (as men have to by law), then joined in with our wives and kids with our giddy excitement. My kids still talk about them and that trip to this day. Why? Mostly because of the shared experience, but also because of the happy surprise of meeting new friends. After our shared experience, we discovered we had many other things in common. Including a passion for the sea. Will had never been out on a sailboat, but it was always been on his bucket list. One of these days when they come back to the BVI's we'll take Will and his lovely wife with the impossible to remember name out sailing. It's what friends do.
A few months later I got shanghaied into another "tourist excursion", going on a glass bottom boat. Sea It Clear Glass Bottom Boat to be specific. I snorkel plenty, I really had no real motivation to go underwater sightseeing in an area I'd been to hundreds of times before. But if I never went I wouldn't have met Gumption. Those of you who are regular readers of Charter Advisors knows well of the adventures Gumption and I have been on, but what you might not know is how we have grown as friends from those early days. Or how we've worked together for his non-profit Save The Turtles BVI, or the work we've done together on ISPY, a special group that helps support island kids. Sometimes the friendships become more. In these rare instances friends become brothers and sisters. People you're happy to help, and miss whole heartedly when you're not around them. Oh the people you'll meet indeed!
I've met lots of different kinds of folks though my years sailing. Mostly unintentionally. Some have become dear friends, others I reminisce about through story, but just as many have slipped the mind with time. But they all enriched my life in one way or another without me asking. Truth be told, when I'm not on the water my interactions with new people are pretty limited. I'm not what you'd call "social". But sailing is different. It's a different life, an alternate universe where people actually talk to one another in person. It's a world I suggest everyone visit as often as possible.
- Charter Review: The Moorings 5800 Ocean Suite by Captain Kev
- Charter Review: VOYAGE Charters, VOYAGE 520 Silver Lining by Capt. Kev