If the guy rowing up to your boat with an engineless dinghy and a cheery greeting is barefoot and wearing a shirt with the sleeves cut off, the chances are you have Mike Childers sorting out your navigation program for you. Childers is a single-hander and computer boffin.
Childers is know by everyone as 'Quinn', the name of the 20-foot boat on which he began his sailing adventures. In 1994, he bought a 28-foot Bristol Channel Cutter named Tuntsa, and that has been home ever since.
Over the years, Childers circumnavigated the South Pacific three times. On the final round he ended up in Australia where he stayed for a while before sailing to South Africa. Later, he cross the Atlantic to Brazil, and from there made his way to St. Maarten, which became his winter base.
During the winter months, Childers sets up his navigation program and trains people in its use. Around early June, and to avoid the hurricane season, he sails to his base in the Azores, and does the same again there. While in the Azores, he will often sail to Europe and back, before, once again, turning his bows towards St. Maarten. As Childers puts it "making circles in the Atlantic."
Being a computer programmer has stood Childers in good stead. He saw the need for an easy to use navigation program for not-so-computer-savvy cruisers, and built one. Now his program can be found on boats all over the world.
A favorite story told about the programmer is when world cruisers Ken Kleinhoff and Gail Barber-Kleinhoff of the yacht Sangreal got married in South Africa. Childers never wears shoes, and when they asked him to be best man, he arrived at court with a button-up shirt, tie, neat shorts – and barefoot. To his credit, the judge didn't say a word and proceeded with the ceremony as though this was an everyday occurrence.
Childers has logged over 100,000 blue-water miles – every one as a single-hander. Asked how he sets up his watches, he laughed and glanced around to see if anyone was listening. Leaning forward, he said: "I don't. I spend 90 percent of my time down below doing stuff and resting, and ten percent of the time up on deck. Every so often I do stick my head out for a good look around, though."
The computer whizz says that being alone on the ocean has never been a problem. Books and music keep his mind occupied on those long trips across the ocean and being a friendly, personable kind of guy, he has friends in many places.
Quinn's Atlantic Crossing Forums, held annually at Lagoonies bar and restaurant in St. Maarten, are extremely popular and the last attracted almost 100 would-be voyagers. At the forum, he discussed some of the problems sailors may encounter, described the best routes, weather planning, and a host of other details that might affect an Atlantic cruise.
"It's the trip across from St. Maarten that is the more difficult," says Childers. "The trip back is a milk run."
Kerry Biddle-Chadwick is a freelance writer who has been writing for magazines in the Caribbean and online newspapers since 2006.