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Sailing with Charlie: Gone to Come Back?

Graphics by Anouk Sylvestre

May is a transition month. It’s a time when the season changes from winter to summer. We see it in our weather patterns. In the winter the northern Caribbean often gets bashed by the southern tip of cold fronts that typically travel from west to east. Northern storms send large swells to north facing beaches – great for surfers, not so for swimmers. But by May they are gone and a spell of benign weather settles in, often with calms or light winds. It’s the time when European cruisers make plans to cross the North Atlantic and return home after an annual sojourn in the Caribbean. It’s also a time when North American sailors head back to their east coast home ports and others head south to more equatorial latitudes to escape tropical storms and hurricanes. Our mammalian friends the humpback whales turn north too – after a hopefully successful mating season in the warm Caribbean (they’re just like humans). But most of them ‘gone to come back’, that delightful Caribbean phrase meaning ‘I’m leaving now but I’ll be back’.

Some time ago Charlie decided it was time to be Gone to Come Back. His mission was to sail to the pirate haunts of yesteryear, so he set off on his small cutter and headed west. First stop was Tortuga, off the north coast of Haiti, that old haunt of long ago pirates seeking refuge from the law; they were the boucaniers or buccaneers and were a ruthless lot. Charlie sailed into the anchorage and had hardly got the anchor down when a boatload of ‘officials’ climbed aboard, started stripping the boat in the guise of ‘inspection’ and then demanded money. The pirate haunts of yesteryear hadn’t changed a bit; they were the pirate haunts of today. That night Charlie was Gone, Never to Come Back. But in all Charlie’s cruising, over thirty years aboard, he can’t think of any other place he wouldn’t go back … (except that reef on the east coast of Molokai where he ran aground).

While chatting to a fellow cruiser the other day Charlie was surprised to hear that she was not really enamored with the northern Caribbean islands. “Things are ridiculously expensive, crowds of loud and obnoxious tourists everywhere, huge plastic catamarans all over the place, and mooring balls … $30 a night and no room to anchor! Unbelievable.” As Charlie mulled her comment he had to admit that she was right, it’s all a matter of perspective. Having just come from the southern and western Caribbean and having cruised Guatemala and the Bay Islands she found the local decadence abhorrent. There is little doubt that the adventurous cruising sailor on a budget is getting squeezed out.

The majority of charterers, racing sailors and even the wealthier itinerant cruisers love the islands and will return year after year ‘Dem is de people Gone to Come Back’. But for real ‘salt of the earth’ adventurous sailors once may well be enough. After all, there’s a whole world out there.

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