SimplySailingOnline.com shows by example how easily you can eliminate stress, become more independent, raise your children in a safer environment (while spending more time with them, instilling values not based on the mighty dollar) and avoid the traps of commercialism. Because we live and sail simply, we have been wandering for 11 years with no intention of stopping. This is not a trip for us; it is our life, and I hope to share our success with stories of laughter and tears, as well as how-to tips and DIY projects for preparing, sailing and making a boat a home, so that others can join us.
With the recent attacks on boaters in the Caribbean, I fear that something is being lost. As travel-savvy sailors, the victims were not walking alone down a dark alley wearing gold jewelry. They were not in what any of us would perceive to be dangerous situations. One of the boats was anchored in our favorite anchorage in the entire island chain. Anchored off an island where you feel safe, not bothering anyone, sitting down to eat dinner in your own home, you should not have to wonder if or when you will be attacked. Unfortunately, the unthinkable happens. And recently it seems to be happening a lot.
Is the Caribbean becoming more dangerous? How do you answer that question? When these attacks happen too close to your home, heart, or friends, it sure does seem like it. But what I try to remind myself is that these types of crimes have always been a worry. Most landlubbers lock their doors, many even have bars on their windows. What may be happening is that there are more of us exploring these islands now, with more to offer thieves, and growing unrest in some island nations is spilling over into the anchorages. Remember, though, even Slocum peppered his decks with tacks to ward off unwanted guests. This type of crime is not new.
When I think of the Caribbean and its people, however, these crimes are not what is foremost in my mind. Tragic: certainly. Life-altering for the victims: no doubt. But I will not allow my love of the islands to be tainted by these random acts of violence, any more than I'll let similar crimes keep me from enjoying traveling in my own country.
So, in light of the bad reputation that is being bestowed on the entire area (justifiably, or not), I want to share a story about my Caribbean. Or, more specifically, my son's Caribbean.
At 17 years old, Nick's greatest pleasure upon arriving at any new island was to go exploring. After the boat was back to harbor status and he was free to leave, he would gather up food (if he thought of it), shoes (if we made him), a hand-drawn map of the island (from information gathered from cruising guides), and any money he may have in the local currency (which generally wasn't much, if any) and after verifying that he'd be home by dark, he took the dinghy to shore to explore. He was like our own recon team, finding the stores we needed and the nearest attractions, but mostly he was looking for surf.
Our first trip to Antigua was no different. From our anchorage in Falmouth Harbor on the south side, Nick started walking. His ultimate goal, as if he needed one, was Parham, simply because he had heard us talk about it, so he thought he'd head that way. For reasons only a teenager could explain (possibly because his map reading skills aren't always the best) he headed up the West coast of the island.
His usual mode of transportation in the islands is walking, but after a stint on St. John he discovered the joys of hitchhiking, pointing in the direction he wanted to go rather than walking backwards with a thumb out. You rarely have to wait long for a ride in the islands, and on Antigua, for many miles Nick hitched a ride with an islander. Because Nick's answer was a little vague when the driver asked where he was going, he suggested Nick take a bus. It's cheap, it'll take you all the way around the island, it's a great way to play tourist. (On Bermuda, Providencia, and many other islands, we let local bus drivers be our tour guides. They're usually proud of their island and want to share her beauty and history with tourists, especially the kind that just hop on the local bus and go.)
What Nick's new friend didn't realize, and Nick was too embarrassed to explain, was that he didn't have even the small bus fare. The driver dropped him off at the bus stop and Nick waited for him to drive away before continuing his walking tour. Before he got far from the bus stop, though, a bus arrived and seeing him there, it stopped. Now Nick felt obligated to at least go on the bus and ask the fare. As soon as he stepped onto the bus the normally chatty group of island women stopped mid-word to eavesdrop. As he feared, he didn't have nearly enough money, so he thanked the driver, explaining that he only had a few E.C. He got off the bus and started to walk away.
He hadn't walked far when the lady at the very end of the bus started waving to him and shouting, "Come, come. Come back!" Accustomed to following directions, he did as requested, though completely confused as to why this large black woman was calling him back to the bus. He re-entered the bus and saw that every woman was passing up loose change to the front, handing it all to him. They all talked at once.
"Where you going, chil'?"
"Here's some money."
"We'll getcho der, honey, don't cho worry none."
After paying his fare, Nick realized that they had given him more money than he needed. He tried to give it back but they all laughed and told him to keep it. They probably figured if he didn't have enough money for bus fare he needed it more than they.
He sat with the ladies who had been the most excited to help him and they immediately started mothering him. They wanted to know where he was going, what he'd been doing, where he'd started walking, if he'd eaten yet. They offered him their island cookies which he gratefully accepted, this being one of the outings that he'd forgotten to bring food.
As the bus pulled away a chorus began, "White boy on da bus, we got da white boy on da bus!" Nick said it was as if they were sharing their good deed for the day. With every new person who entered the bus, the story had to be retold in a dozen voices. "See da white boy on da bus? We got da white boy on da bus!" They shared how they'd given him enough money to ride with them. And now, to their great pleasure, they had the white boy on da bus.
When Nick tells this story he always includes that it was quite possibly a Sunday. The women looked well-dressed as if they were coming home from church. Maybe the day's sermon had inspired them to help those in need. Maybe the sight of a blond headed kid walking down the road on Antigua is so unusual that they had to get him on the bus to hear his story. But I prefer to think that it's just the island way. If you have something that someone else needs, on an island, you share. Because some day they're going to have something you need. Right now what I think we all need, black, white, brown, islanders, cruisers, landlubbers, here, there, and everywhere, is a bit more of the excitement that these women had, the good feeling it gave them to help someone else. We all need to be a bit more enthusiastic about getting the white boy on da bus.
STOP THE PRESSES! Slight change of plans for next week. I just had a woman accuse me of putting her in danger because I sail enginless. She went so far as to give me her boat name and request I not anchor near her. Deal. MONDAY, once my blood pressure is no longer red lining, I will respond.
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