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Cruising Tales: Brainless Boating Invades the US Virgin Islands

In the late sixties Dick Avery started a brainless boating business in Frenchtown in Long Bay at St. Thomas, U. S. Virgin Islands. Another name for it was bareboating. It was an accurate description because boy, were they “barebrained!”

Not that the boats weren’t basically equipped – head, two-burner stove, bunks, etc. But many of the people who sailed them seemed to have left their brains at home.

The first inkling that the charter boats had better “watch out” for the bare boaters was because the average bareboaters seldom seemed to know who had the right of way. Was it to their left or their right? Whadda about when goin’ in the same direction? And who should give way when they’re coming downwind and you’re going against it?

It was soon obvious that bareboaters seldom bothered to read the charts either. Gee, looks like some sort of current up ahead? Wonder what that is? Oh well, we’ll just sail over it. CRASH! OOPS!

Then there was the business of anchoring. In those days there were no moorings except private ones. Anchoring was definitely easy most of the time. You just threw the anchor over, then snubbed it real quick. The person handling the anchor was always the petite wife, not her big burly husband shouting at her from the wheel. She naturally didn’t want to let out too much line because darn! She’d have to pull it all back up again in the morning!

And hey, there’s lots of boats anchored in one area over there. Must be a better place to be so let’s go over and anchor near them. CRUNCH!

For the charter boats the best entertainment of the day was either watching the bareboats come into a harbor every evening or leave it in the morning. The favorite bareboat anchoring technique in the evening was to drop sails first, then start the engine just before sideswiping an anchored boat. After getting untangled from the boat whose topsides were now nicely banged up, the bareboat would then charge full speed ahead to drop the anchor thirty feet  to windward of the same boat, then immediately snub the anchor up quick and back down hard at top revs. Whee! Wasn’t that fun trying to untangle the prop with the other guy’s anchor too!

Watching the bareboats get underway in the morning was a treat. Naturally the bareboaters got up early in order to show the rest of us what expert seamen they were. The usual drill was to raise the main, sheet it tight, then raise the jib, let it flop violently in the breeze and expertly turn the boat under power, still with its anchor down, to go in front of all the other anchored boats.  Of course the dinghy was trailing on its long painter. 

Most of the time two things happened: The anchor line would reach its extremity and the boat would careen violently back, sometimes throwing its crew to the deck. Then the dinghy would catch another guy’s anchor line and fetch up. My, such fine entertainment—and free at that!

One fine morning at Great Harbour, Jost Van Dyke, we were bringing in the anchor rode. Standing at the wheel I heard someone’s engine start up close by at full throttle. Suddenly there was lots of yelling as a bareboat charged at full speed for our starboard side. I gunned the engine forward so that its bow just missed us. At the same time a naked man with a full erection leaped into the cockpit to put the engine into neutral.

There was a big smile on my face the rest of the day!

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