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Radio Days on Grenadas Cruisers Net

At 07:25, Kitty King scribbles last minute notes, picks up the VHF mike, joking to me, her live audience, "Gotta get my twang on."

A few minutes pass and she keys in, announcing in her totally Texan way, "It's daylight in the swamp; good morning cruisers! This is Miss Kitty from the sailing vessel Falcon and I'll be your net controller for the Grenada Cruisers Net. We'll be transmitting on VHF channel 68 for the next half hour. Any objections please come now."

It's the kickoff of the show that runs Monday through Saturday at 07:30, dispensing news, weather and the strangest assortment of entertaining announcements. Like listening to an ol' fashioned radio show, an anchorage of cruisers huddle around transmitters, ready to jump in if needed.

Kitty lets a moment of silence pass before hitting the mike, asking for a radio check, and a roll call of loud-and-clear responses pour in. She continues, "Any emergency traffic, medical, security or navigational needs, please come now."

A voice breaks in, "Info," giving an update on a capsized container ship near St. Lucia that was able to recover all crew but lost track of 13 of their 40 containers. The informant goes on to explain that locals have been paddling out to open the boxes and shop.

Kitty repeats his message, nearly word for word before beginning a list of net protocol. She invites new arrivals to step up to the mike, but hearing nothing she sails on. "Any folks fixin' to be off like a herd of turtles, please transmit now." This part, one of my favorites, often turns into an Academy Awards thank-you-a-thon as departing sailors spill gratitude to their neighbors, friendly businesses and island hospitality before declaring their next port and promising to come back. Soon.

Traditionally, net controllers volunteer time and battery power as a community service to fellow boaters. If there isn't an established rotation, as is customary in Grenada, then the job is open for anyone brave enough to try. Some nets are run primarily by local businesses that invite cruiser call-in throughout the program. Although no longer in the bar business St. Martin's Shrimpy still holds court, and the folks at Antigua's Lord Jim's Locker customarily DJ the airwaves for their visiting vessels.

Pat Craigen of the yacht Beach House is a fan of the forecasters in Trinidad. "The weather report on the Trini Net was good because it says, 'If you're going to Grenada, here's what you'll get, if you're going to Venezuela, here's your weather.' It made a lot of sense to us," she said.

Just like TV news, weather leads the show. In Grenada, Island Water World's Jonathan first offers a disclaimer that he only reads it, then launches into a lengthy report that stretches up to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

"Movin' on," Kitty declares, "Is yer boat broke? Drop a thingy-ma-bob? Need parts and services? Transmit now." Some requests find easy solutions, others are more difficult like the guy asking for one outdoor speaker, 5½ inches in diameter, white only.

Local businesses frequent the airwaves promoting, among other things, barbeques, medical facilities, cricket matches, oil-downs, domino tourneys and karaoke.

Eventually the broadcast breaks wide open, and calls come in for a variety of unpredictable reasons; the true test for the person attempting to control the show. Sharp ears must grab yacht names, no easy task in a multicultural anchorage. Recently a heavily accented voice called in, "This is Angeles."

The novice controller answered, "Go ahead Engineless."

One day Water World became One World and the owner of Star Trek had to suffer through a round of unrelenting Captain Kirk jokes.
Since not everyone calling in uses high power, and hills and mountains get in the way, kind listeners break in to repeat boat names or messages. These relays can be dangerously like the game played by kids when a message is whispered around a circle, coming back to the start as a contorted, garbled mess.

Like any entertaining show, on the net, controversy occasionally rears its ugly head. Recently a lady called in recommending a local guy for work done on her boat. An irate voice broke in, complaining about the same guy and the befuddled net controller worked to right her ship.

Grenada's net controllers like to leave listeners with a thought-provoking adage. Miss Kitty, no exception, wrapped up her performance with, "Life is not like a box of chocolates. Life is like a jar of jalapenos. What you do today may burn your butt tomorrow."

Jan Hein and her husband, artist Bruce Smith, divide their time between the Caribbean and the Pacific Northwest with a boat and a life at each end.

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