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Sailing with Charlie: A Clean Wake

Graphics by Hannah Welch
Graphics by Hannah Welch

Charlie loves this phrase. It has two meanings: typically in cruising parlance it means to visit a destination and leave it in as good or better a state than when you arrived. This philosophy means that those coming after you will be welcomed rather than treated with suspicion, disdain or perhaps even hatred. Some cruisers may have good intentions but are oblivious to the effect of their actions on other people. Spearing up fish and lobster may feel like a universal right, but to islanders who depend on the resource it may be regarded as stealing. Similarly taking coconuts, fruit and legumes from seemingly wild trees may not be looked upon in a very good light so if possible try to barter, trade or pay a few dollars, after all yachtsmen are rich compared to hand-to-mouth, day-to-day living islanders. Other ‘clean wakers’ go out of their way to help impoverished islanders by donating clothes, books and other unwanted items; others even buy items to give away before departing their last ‘First World’ stop. Things like fish hooks, flashlights, cigarette lighters, batteries, kerosene lamps etc., are goodwill items that will be gratefully received.

The second meaning is the more obvious logical one: don’t throw anything over the side; in other words, into your actual wake. The US is quite clear with their regulations in that nothing can be deposited in the ocean within three nautical miles of shore and even then it must be small pieces of biodegradable food matter or macerated sewage from holding tanks.

One day Charlie had a couple of well-heeled guests (young fellas from Texas) on a sail training course; they were sloppy, untidy and full of bad habits. They smoked continuously, left piles of dirty dishes, never swept the floor and never put anything away. Cigarette ash was flicked anywhere, butts were thrown overboard as were banana skins, apple cores and orange peels. Charlie decided it was time for some training: “These basic sailing courses are relatively simple,” he said. “Most people pass the tests without too much trouble. But sometimes students fail because they don’t abide by the regulations.”

He then explained that plastic and oil waste can never ever be discarded into the ocean, nothing can be dropped overboard, and he emphasized nothing can be thrown overboard within a three mile limit.

Well, things improved slightly but soon they were back to their same old ways. When the final tests were completed they both managed good test results. They were elated … but Charlie brought them down with a bump. “Sorry,” he said. “You failed the practical part of the test.” There were looks of disbelief on the students’ faces. “Don’t worry,” said Charlie cheerfully, “you can take the tests again next year. You were having difficulty with the garbage disposal regs. Study up on those and you might pass next time.”

It was a disgruntled crew that returned to the base next day after five days of sail training. Charlie noticed, however, that things were improving dramatically re tidiness. Just before they parted company Charlie told them he had decided to pass them on their practical skills as he had noted a sudden vast improvement. All was smiles then and Charlie’s gratuity was very satisfactory … but he still remembered a couple of days previously when he had dreamt of throwing them overboard – but that wouldn’t have left a clean wake.

Julian Putley is the author of ‘The Drinking Man’s Guide to the BVI’, ‘Sunfun Calypso’, and ‘Sunfun Gospel’.

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