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by Dan and Jan Ahart
Man of War Bay, Tobago, West Indies, December 18, 2001. We have now been anchored off Charlotteville for two months. Friends ask us what we could possibly do at anchor off a small village with only 1,500 inhabitants for two months without getting bored or on each other's nerves? I don't think it's going to be easy to explain to our non-cruising friends, but I will try.
First, I don't think we are an exception to what seems to be the norm among cruising couples, which is, the couple must have almost identical interests and they must be the very best of friends, married or not. We know many couples on land who say they would probably be at each other's throat's if they were forced to live with each other too closely for very long. This is simply not the case with cruisers. Incompatible couples simply don't cruise or don't do it very long.
Second, there is something about this place that attracts cruisers. Some are here for their fourth or fifth visit. And one or two have been here for three or more months. Why are the cruisers so fond of Charlotteville and what keeps bringing them back? Well, I think the attitude of the locals is contagious. They speak English; they are friendly, clean, respectful, and honest. Stories abound here about lost wallets and passports that were returned promptly or turned over to the local police. No one locks boats, cars or houses and walking the streets at night is a non-event. There simply is no visible crime, period.
Third, the other cruisers are all very interesting. In this part of the world, the Europeans out number Americans by at least four to one, so there is always someone who wants to practice speaking English and pass the time. Transient cruisers are usually retired professionals of some type, so there is no shortage of expertise among the "fleet." This is most apparent during social get togethers. It sounds rather forward, but cruisers are very comfortable with simply getting in the dinghy and going over to another boat, introducing themselves and getting acquainted. Most of the time this leads to an invitation to come aboard and have coffee or tea. Once there is some familiarity, there is usually an opportunity to join others or invite others for the traditional "sundowner," which is a get together at sun down for refreshments and conversation. The most frequent size of a sundowner is two to four couples, which gather on one boat or another. For some reason, even cruisers succumb to the typical separation that occurs whenever men and women get together. Eventually, the women begin to talk among themselves and the men do the same. I don't know what the women talk about, but the men usually start talking about boats and sailing rigs or some subject related to boating. This usually leads to a comment or question about some technical aspect of sailing, radar, water maker or generator operation and of course, weather interpretation. At this point it gets interesting because frequently someone is very technically competent in the area being discussed and everyone learns from him. Eventually friendships are made and email addresses exchanged. We have made some very good friends this way and correspond by email with about a dozen cruising couples on a regular basis. The real fun part is rendezvousing with friends after each couple has visited different locations. Also fun is exchanging books and loaning and borrowing VHS movies.
There are some unwritten rules concerning conversation. No one asks about what one did prior to becoming a cruiser. If that person wants to talk about it he will. We also avoid politics, religion and financial matters, except of course, everyone is intensely interested in the various stock exchanges - that being integral to most cruisers ability to cruise. We do ask where people are from and what it is like where they call "home." We have yet to find a cruising couple that cares much about sports. I guess we are just too far away to follow sports with any degree of continuing interest. Cruisers by and large are more interested in the basics of life aboard a boat. Keeping systems working effectively and safely and visiting interesting places and meeting interesting people.
Fourth, there are the activities ashore, which include visiting the internet café, the library, which is surprisingly large and well stocked, eating at one of the restaurants, buying local produce and other groceries or joining the party, when one of the pubs has live musicians, who are usually members of a steel drum band. This time of year, groups of carolers have been forming on the streets in the evenings and always ask cruisers to join them. All of the carols sound familiar, but some of the words have been localized. There is no doubt that the people are the most interesting aspect of life ashore. In our two months here we have made many friends ashore. Some trace their families back to slave days. Some are expatriates, who have settled here recently, or their parents or grandparents settled here for some reason or other. We meet them at the restaurants and stores or one of the small bread or vegetable stands. It's kind of neat to walk down the street and have locals wave at you and wish you a good day. So these are some of the reasons why we like it here.
We are also asked about a typical day on the boat. In other words,
what do we do all day? Days and nights in the tropics are very close
to a consistent 12 hours each. Cruisers very seldom stay up late.
Most visiting is over by 2000 or 2100 hours. The sun is down by
1730 and up at 0530. We are usually in bed by 2130 and up at 0530.
Our breakfast is usually just juice and maybe cereal or fruit. Next,
we listen to the weather and the various cruisers communication and
safety "nets" on the ham radio. Sometimes we talk to friends, who
are under-way or have anchored at another island. If there is some
necessary work to be done, like changing oil or washing clothes, we
usually do it in the mornings while it is cool. By mid-morning our
chores are usually over and we settle in to do reading or writing
or even tackling a crossword puzzle or a computer game. Noonish is
usually time for swimming, snorkeling or napping, as that is the hottest
part of the day. Afternoons, we usually go ashore to visit the library,
which is air-conditioned and therefore very popular or do a little
shopping. Sundowner time is, well, sundowner time or we do some more
reading or watch a movie before bedtime. I know it sounds arduous
and it certainly can be, but overall we usually cope very well. Days
spent at sea are quite different in that the boat needs a lot more
attention, but at anchor, life is pretty laid back. After all, "It's
the islands, mon." Stay tuned.