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Sailing with Charlie: Fear!

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Hurricane season is here again and as we approach September, the most prominent month for tropical storms, we must all keep a watchful eye on the weather and be ready to make defensive preparations if necessary. For boaters that means having adequate supplies, essential safety gear, sufficient ground tackle and a plan of action depending on the expected wind force and direction.

Stocking up on rum and beer for the hurricane party may be a priority for some but every boater should have their wits about them during a storm. After the storm there will likely be some unfortunates needing assistance and stumbling around in a non-coherent manner won’t help.

Some in the Caribbean community will do little more than pray but only the most naive believe that prayers can change the direction of storms. These same people will likely say that “our prayers were answered” when a storm misses us, and “we needed that to restore our humility,” when it hits. In other words prayers are really only useful to give thanks – thanks for succor, thanks for the challenge, thanks for the reminder of the power of nature.

Charlie once saw a drunken sailor standing on the bow of his anchored boat, rum bottle in hand, screaming into the elements, “Come on! Show me your worst. Give it all you’ve got ..!”

Talk about tempting fate; this was Dutch courage at its worst. As he staggered back to his cockpit he tripped and fell head first onto the coaming. The storm raged, his ground tackle dragged and his dinghy, which should never have been tied behind his boat, let go and disappeared into the spume. Charlie didn’t see the errant mariner again until after the storm had passed when a dinghy from another boat stopped by to check on him. Thank God for good Samaritans.

Graphics by Anouk Sylvestre

Fear is a necessary emotion because it galvanizes us into action; our mind flashes through a range of terrifying images resulting from potential violent situations making us think of all the things we can do for self-preservation.  When a storm actually strikes a small yacht, especially at sea, there’s no time to be afraid because it’s time for action; there’s no 911 in the middle of the ocean.

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When a storm is imminent on a big sailing ship, captains with large and sometimes inexperienced crews must be aware that it is essential to show no fear, but to give detailed orders in a loud and confident manner. Fear can spread like wildfire if it starts and is detected. And fear can make a once efficient crew turn into a wobbly, jelly-like mass of stuttering incompetence.

Charlie has therefore added one more item to his list of essential safety items: a pair of thick, brown, waterproof trousers for the captain.


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

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

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