Queens Passage: Yacht-hopping in the Caribbean
By Theodosia Greene
Do you fantasize sailing the warm turquoise-blue waters of the seven seas, wind in your hair, sails at full mast, keel in the waves, but are about as close to having your own yacht as you are to being the Queen?
Are you just a budget traveler with a bent thumb?
For a free cruise in the islands, try panhandling. Yachties all over the world always have a weather eye out for a cook or an extra hand with the rigging, and will be more than willing to let you work for your passage to the next island, or across the ocean.
One breezy afternoon on a recent Caribbean jaunt, I was glumly trailing my toes in the warm blue waters of a harbor, listening to the siren song of the trade winds, looking longingly at the bobbing boats.
Yacht charters were high ($300 and up) and my pocketbook was low.Nearby, three young women were cheerfully hammering and caulking the deck of a ketch. I walked over to chat. They were boat bums. Ann, 25, blonde and from New York, was sailing to England and babysitting for free passage. Elise, 20 and French, cooked for $400 a month plus barge and board.
Texas-born Alix had handwritten her contract for a retired American businessman-captain specifying, "cooking only." "Women who island hitch have one big problem and that's the expectation of sexual privileges. You gotta get it straight about sex, " she stated matter-of-factly. "Guys dont have the same problem."
How did they manage to hitch a sail on a sailing ketch?
"Just hang around a marina. And talk it up," Alix tossed. "Best is a boat in the 36' to 46' class with two people aboard. They'll treat you like family." She wiped her hands on the seat of her cut-off jeans. "But avoid the Super Rich. They're like Mutiny on the Bounty. Never pay."
She squinted against the white-hot sun. "Travel light. Hardly anyone goes dancing, but take a wraparound skirt if you like. And if you hit a squall, be ready to throw up with a smile!"
I figured I could manage that. Within a day, my extra luggage was stored in a closet at my hotel and I was aboard a 40' fiberglass ketch. The salivating two man crew who were tired of their own cooking promised no sex (one was too old and the other too young), no leaking hull and no wages, but a free cruise through the Windward Islands.
My meager gear stowed neatly above my bunk in the galley: bathing suit, sun lotion, seasick pills, one change of shorts and shirt, sneakers for hiking as well as for swimming amid coral reefs and sea urchins, a flashlight, straw hat with chin straps, passport, mosquito repellent for those lovely lagoons, and a pocket cookbook.
The sails snapped and soared into the soft blue sky. We slipped away from the harbor into the open waters.Sun-sequined sea. Blowing salt spray. Wheeling gulls and flashing fish. Living was easy. Palm-hooked lagoons beckoned for surfing and snorkeling; little towns and country roads waited for exploring; local markets offered exotic foods: breadfruit (cooked like potato), christophine (cooked like squash), bluggo (banana-like vegetable) and sapodilla (sweet fruit) for dessert.
On the beaches, Nature provided jelly-fresh coconuts (eat with a spoon) and sea grapes. Boys offered fresh fish and lobster from weathered boats named "I'm Tired," "Take Courage" and "Trust No Friend." On the small islands, when you hear the conch horn blow, that means the fishing boat has come in.
The variety depends on time and place and may include lobster, conch, sea turtle, crab and crayfish, as well as flying fish, old wife fish, whiting, mackerel, rockfish, grouper, snapper, etc. Elegant meals cooked in a ships galley are a snap with ingredients like this, and unless you're as nervous about the sea as Queen Victoria in a gelatin bikini, you'll love handling pans at sea.Although rain is trapped in a tarp on deck, fresh water is scarce. Dishwater is fingertip deep. Most yachts have showers and toilets, but bathing and rinsing off seawater after swimming usually happened on deck and we sloshed from an overhead bucket.
If you don't like the look of the green globuled water, gaze the other way and think of mermaids. They're green and they manage to look great, even when wet.Here's how to be a success in heavy seas and doldrums, alike: To the rescue sloshes "the glory of the West Indies!" At a little over a dollar a bottle, West Indian rum transforms the worst into the best (in moderation, mon!). This famous recipe for Grenada Rum Punch is a native sing-song: "One (measure) of sour (lime), two of sweet (syrup), three of strong (rum), four of weak (water or juice)." Add a dash of bitters and a grating of fresh nutmeg -- and you're navigating, mate, navigating!
And when you finally wash up on shore, wherever your destination may be, you will have sailed the seas like a real old salt, and done it for free. Who needs to be the Queen?
Read more about the Caribbean on GoNOMAD