You’re sailing into Leinster Bay in the Virgin Islands. There are no other boats. Later you sail up to Norman Island to anchor in the Bight. There’s one boat. Too crowded! You move on. That’s the way it was in the fifties and early sixties.
Among the first to sail into the Virgin Islands in the fifties was Kit Capp, a young adventurer who found he could make a buck taking a newly divorced friend or a couple sailing. The rumor is that he later found a treasure stash on Mosquito Island in the BVI and sailed away.
In 1949, Commander V.E.B. Nicholson and his family sailed into English Harbour, Antigua with their schooner Mollihawk and started Nicholson Yacht Charters. Both the Virgins and Antigua became a magnet for anybody with a boat to charter. But it was hard to find customers.
Most of these early sailors were young, single and broke. There was no such thing as a double berth, any privacy or room for luxuries on their yachts. The galley consisted of a two-burner primus and a small ice box. Ice was available only in Charlotte Amalie and in Road Town, Tortola. Drinks were served warm, there were no showers and light below was by kerosene lamps.
Things changed in the mid-sixties when young, married couples arriving low on cash, started chartering out of St. Thomas. It wasn’t easy to get started. There were only two charter brokers in St. Thomas to book your boat – Frank Burke and Francie Henry – and in Antigua, Julie Nicholson. You had to entice tourists off the street or from bars to take a daysail and hope they would tell their friends about you when they got home.
It was hard for the charter cook to get food that Americans were used to eating. There were two “supermarkets” in the main town, Publeo and Lucy’s and some outdoor markets. She had to learn the difference between plantain and bananas, sugar apples and soursop or tannia and yams. She would discover that chayote could be substituted for celery. Few green vegetables other than cabbage, beans and lettuce were available except immediately after the weekly supply from mostly Florida and Puerto Rico. Asparagus? What is?
Good meat was hard to find but bull’s foot was abundant. There were lots of fish but how do you cook something called Old Wife? Seldom were chicken breasts available.
The skipper didn’t have it much better. Parts for the old engine or outboard, electrical and plumbing supplies, etc., when found, were expensive at Sea Saga and Francois Hardware.
But by the late sixties things had begun to change. Don Street was already writing his guide to the Caribbean. Two other people turned the haphazard chartering into a prosperous industry. These pioneers, Bob and Dorothy Smith, sailed their schooner Primrose IV from Newport Beach in 1965 and began offering daysails.
Realizing that the charter boats needed a central booking agency from which they could do business, Bob and Dorothy started Ocean Enterprises with their partner, Dave Barry, across from Yacht Haven in Long Bay. They managed Yacht Haven and added a second story for a snack bar and their apartment above Fearless Freddie’s Bar. The bar was a popular hangout where you often found the previous night’s customers in the morning, sound asleep on their stools.
St. Thomas was becoming a regular stop for a handful of cruise ships. It was still a low-key, delightful and charming place where things went along at their own friendly pace. You knew all your neighbors and you helped each other out. And the islands and the sea were doggone beautiful!
There were some drawbacks. All telephone calls had to be operator-assisted and it took a good fifteen minutes just to obtain an operator. The Post Office also had its own “island way”. It would not deliver mail to the marina.
Why not? Well who ever heard of delivering de mail on de water, mon? It only deliver on de land!