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Unsung Heroes

On completing my first Atlantic crossing, I strutted around the waterfront bars of Martinique like Jack the Lad. With a glass of rhum agricole in hand and half a dozen under my belt I regaled everyone with tales of my daring, my head inflated to the size of a harbor tug’s mooring buoy.

The bragging went on for days until I found myself at a table in a rundown backstreet bar with a group of weary delivery skippers who were comparing stories. Some of the guys had competed 20 or more Atlantic crossings, most had crisscrossed the Pacific a dozen times and a few had sailed around Cape Horn. It was a humbling experience and the metaphoric slap I needed to bring me back to earth.

Over the next few years I became involved in the yacht delivery business, first as crew and then as skipper, and my respect for this band of seagoing brothers grew.

Delivering a well-found yacht at the right time of year is a joy. You get paid for doing the thing you love … going to sea. Unfortunately the delivery business has its villains and more often than not, it’s the yacht owner.

During my delivery days, I would turn up at a dock only to find a wreck of a boat in which the owner would not go to sea but was quite happy to hand over to a delivery crew. I’ve had owners scurry away before we could inspect the boat, knowing full well it was unsafe and I would insist he spend money on it to put it right. One yacht was so decrepit that I told the owner to find another delivery crew. He told me he would tell everyone I was a coward and make sure I never worked in the business again.

Another boat I delivered for a new owner had a dodgy mainsail that blew out south of Bermuda. I spent 24-hours unpicking the yacht’s bimini and then hand-stitched the main back together using the bimini as a giant patch. While this was going on the mate was busy changing fuel filters, about one every two hours, because the diesel in the tanks was contaminated. (We had asked the original owner why there were so many spare fuel filters onboard and he had lied.) In Bermuda, the sailmaker said the sail was so rotten it was virtually beyond hope but he did his best to make a repair. We stuck with the boat and completed the delivery. The new owner blamed the old owner for the state of the sail; the old owner blamed the new owner’s surveyor. Neither wanted to pay the delivery crew.

A posh yacht I delivered through horrible weather with a sick crew was the one that made me rethink my career. I was working through an agency. It was the trip from hell and the boat, although smart, had been used and abused. The owner met us on the dock in upstate New York and was delighted that we had completed the delivery in one piece and on time. His wife wasn’t as happy. She complained to the agency who later subtracted $500 from our fee because she found breadcrumbs in the knife and fork drawer.

I have friends who make their living, and have done for years, as delivery skippers. They are out in all weathers moving boats that are often tired and even dangerous. They send me messages from all over the world as they go quietly about their business on great waters. May they live long and prosper.

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In this edition, Carol Bareuther takes a look at what’s new in and around Caribbean boatyards (page 42). Although the world is facing tough economic times, our marine industry continues to invest in the future. New boat hoists, new drydocks, improved marinas and yard facilities, all with a nod to advances in technology. There’s never been a better time to cruise the Caribbean. Everything a yacht needs is available. Now, if we can get a grip on prices and reduce the bureaucratic nonsense …

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