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Sailing with Charlie: Sailors and Congenial Hosts

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By the beginning of August all eyes are turned eastwards; the month is approaching peak hurricane time in the islands with September being the most likely. Many yachts will have already hauled out and hurricanized; others will be prepared to make a run for it if an ominous storm system is heading our way. It takes about three days (150 miles a day) to reach Curacao with all their safe, protected anchorages south of the hurricane belt.

By mid-October, if the plague has subsided, charter boats will be preparing for what will likely be a very busy season.

Charlie reckons it’s time for locals to step up and take their rightful place as sailors and congenial hosts to waterborne visitors. With all the hi-tech instruments, water makers, electric winches, chart plotters, gen sets and air conditioning it’s easy. The big tourist attraction in the BVI has always been yachting. The pay is good (four figure gratuities are not uncommon); the trick is to entertain your guests with stories, history and local titbits of interest.  

Make sure you can engage the visitors with interesting anecdotes.

For instance, every island in the BVI has a story. From a famous shipwreck (Salt Island) to pirates and buried treasure (Norman Island), Drake’s Anchorage in North Sound (Virgin Gorda), the wreckers’ island (Anegada), a Quaker island (Little Jost van Dyke) and world famous beach bars (Jost van Dyke), a unique geological beach with granite boulders (The Baths) … the list goes on. There’s enough there for a week of happy hours.

Time for the locals to act as Sailors and Congenial Hosts. Graphics by Anouk Sylvestre
Graphics by Anouk Sylvestre

On almost every trip Charlie gets the question, ‘Are there sharks in these waters?’

Of course there are, but it’s best to minimize the fact so as not to discourage snorkeling. Mention dolphins and turtles and the high probability of seeing them; the conversation now becomes more relaxed. Have a fish identifier on board and explain some of the wonders of the underworld – sorry, underwater world. ‘Can the boat tip over? that’s another one, but smile, shake your head and point out all the hundreds of boats sailing around. ‘What about pirates?’ ‘Well, these days all the pirates have turned into smug drugglers and they want to avoid everybody, so no problem.’ ‘Will we get seasick?’ Answer: ‘I’ve never ever been seasick in Caribbean waters.’  After a while you can almost feel the relaxation set in.

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A personal yarn or sea story will add to their perception of you as a true Caribbean hand.

Charlie remembers a time in Cuba, at a chintzy Russian prefab hotel near Santiago, when his first mate entered the toilet and a member of staff came running up to her and peeled off two squares of TP and gave it to her. TP was obviously an expensive luxury likely to be stolen if a whole roll was available on display.   

Stories are wonderful but diplomacy is wise. Don’t mention politics, especially to Americans – it can be a very touchy subject. If you do get drawn into it just say ‘everyone has a right to their own opinion, but not their own facts.’ Then change the subject. If they want to fly a flag of a political leader just say ‘No, this is the BVI.’ 

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

So Caribbean you can almost taste the rum...

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