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Story and fotos contributed by "caribmon" (ICQ UIN # 7387981) - 28 Jan 98

-Richard Kastelein -- Simpson Bay Lagoon, Sint Maarten, Netherland Antilles

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Best friends, co-owners, crew - Dockside aboard the Sassafras- Best friends / co-owners / crew - Dockside aboard the "Sassafras" after purchasing her in Crete in 1994 and sailing 6 months & 6000 miles to the Caribbean. Unfortunately, the "Sassy" was lost in Hurricane Luis in 97 - She was one of about 1500 at anchor in the 7 square mile Simpson Bay Lagoon prior to the blow (200 -300 left after the blow). "Sassy" was one of a hundred or more that were blown under the bridge - out to sea and lost in the deep water without a trace.

Left to Right - Chris, (Richard's) best friend from Vancouver & his wife Annette, Rich's wife Wieke and Rich "caribmon"

The hitchhiker's guide to the sea - my introduction to vagabondage

Ten years ago, in a small, sweltering Caribbean beach bar, I found my first ride on an ocean-going sailing yacht. Kim-Sha, nestled on the ivory sands of Simpson Bay in St. Maarten, was a typical yachtie pub fueled with Becks beer and rum punch and full of sailors spinning sail tales. It was a night like any other... we were playing our usual game of darts. Only this night there was a new team on board - the Norwegians. Little did I know, the jovial newcomers were to instigate an odyssey of sail-venture that would eventually lead me to diverse countries such as Vanuatu, Thailand, Greece, Fiji, Australia, Grenada, Dominica and CapeVerde.

Stig, Ola and Anders mentioned they were delivering a 43-foot Beneteau from St. Maarten to Turkey for the Mediterranean charter season and were looking for one more crewmember. My job on the island had wrapped up and the cash was dwindling, so I was desperate to go on this dream trip, even though we were to leave the very next day without even a practice run. They seemed less concerned about my lack of experience (I had never sailed before) and whether I would suffer from sea-sickness than I did. They quickly agreed to accept me aboard on a cost-share basis.

Only six months earlier, I landed on St. Maarten with a backpack and a mountain bike, under twenty and big-eyed about the world. I had envisioned some sort of adventure. But to get on a fiberglass toy and attempt to cross thousands of miles of empty, barren ocean with people I hardly know? This opportunity was simply beyond anything I ever expected. I had to go. In St. Maarten, I met my first world travelers in the yachting community. They captivated me with their sagas of sailing around the world. It seemed a unique way to challenge myself and to understand the bond these people shared. Little did I realize, I was about to embark on a voyage that would forever shift my path and profoundly change the way I live.

Caribbean beach scene - Sint Maarten, NA

At 10 a.m. the next day, as I was climbing from the dinghy onto "Opus II", I slipped off the swim ladder and accidentally plunged into the harbor - backpack and all. Friends who came to see us off erupted with laughter as I officially confirmed my landlubber status. Dripping wet, I struggled aboard the boat and bravely faced the Norwegian contingent before hastily turning and saluting the convulsing hoard on the shore. I imagined that night at the Kim Sha - they'd be toasting me and my name would become synonymous with landlubber yarns.

Soon after we left it got rough. At a basic level, the most challenging Rich at the helm of the Sassafras - blue water sailingelement of offshore sailing is handling the instinctive fear of a small land mammal upon enormous seas in a little boat. And it's quite a battle to transform pure terror into exhilaration when 25-foot waves pound a boat. However, once accustomed to surfing down waves, I found it a bit like a never-ending roller coaster ride. It wasn't only the storms that tested the limits of my fear.

I remember a particular incident on a night watch just outside the Caribbean - somewhere too close to the Bermuda Triangle. The sea was afire with phosphorus algae. As far as I could see, the breaking waves were lit up like swarms of fireflies. It was ethereal. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a streak of light about 30 ft long in the water. I started to panic. Aliens? Atlantis? Was I going to die at the hand of an unknown life form here in the middle of the ocean? I screamed and woke up Stig, the skipper, by banging on the deck and blaring out something about sea serpents or aliens. Poking his head out, he scowled and casually informed me that it was just a school of dolphins stirring up algae.

Relief....The symmetry of the dolphin tracks created in the water was stunning. My introduction to the school was the beginning of a long friendship with these intelligent mammals. Throughout the rest of the voyage, great numbers of dolphins (often 50 or more) came to play with the boat. I always welcomed the friendly sea acrobats when I was on deck and they never failed to bring a giant grin to my face, creating a needed diversion from the lonely watches.

Facing solitude on four-hour watches is a psychological trial of enormous proportions. Four hours on, eight hours off - mostly alone, with nothing but the sea and sky. Due to the fact that we had no autopilot or windvane, it was necessary to guide the 'Opus II' across the Atlantic with someone constantly at the helm. Sometimes, being on watch was like having a ball and chain wrapped around my ankle. I could not leave the wheel. On the other hand, time alone on the helm gave me a new perspective on existence. I was forced to think - and more importantly, not think.

Blue water sailing - setting a jibOccasionally an hour would go by before I would suddenly realize I had not been thinking about anything - I was merely being. It was a oneness with my environment. Overall, the positive mental metamorphosis was productive. I learned to live with forced meditation. Staring into the swaying compass, I would often find myself blanking out. The limited sounds, colors and scents caused sensory deprivation. The constant rush of water as the boat cut through the waves, the non-smell of the open ocean, the blue sky and the blue sea... I only realized the dramatic sharpening of my senses when we sighted land. I could smell and literally taste the earth that beckoned ahead. The water took on a fresh hue and as we approached closer, the sounds of life were singing in my ears.

Sighting the Azores after 21 days induced a state of euphoria that was beyond joy. All the difficult challenges of the trip were suddenly obliterated with our rediscovery of the forgotten world. On the island of San Miguel, in the Azores, the crews were swapping boats and sailing off to new destinations. It was a truck stop for sea-hitchers. It was then I realized my travel path had suddenly branched off to a whole new area - offshore sail-venture. And it all began in the Caribbean.

ocean sailing - it doesn't get any better than thisOffshore sailing is a unique form of travel. Thousands of miles of open ocean are crossed at the relatively slow speed of about five nautical miles an hour... Imagine slowly jogging across the Atlantic Ocean.

One can find work, accommodation or a ride on a sailboat by scanning the classified sections of yachting magazines, using a crewing agency, putting your name on a crewing list at a yacht club, or direct contact. In many places, direct contact at the marinas or pubs where sailors congregate is the best method. In Thailand, I found a lift to Malaysia by swimming far out to the anchored yachts in bay and chatting with the owners. Perseverance paid off with a crewing position.

Use whatever tactful methods work, but make sure that you are compatible with the others on the boat before you make a commitment to sail. There aren't many things worse than being isolated on a boat with people who you don't get along with. Be particular, be patient and get to know the people as well as you can before you step on as crew for any extended amount of time. Don't be discouraged.

Skippers are not always looking for the know-it-all, hot-shot sailor. A congenial personality and enthusiasm can land you a crewing position ahead of someone else with more knowledge. Emphasize your related skills such as carpentry, mechanics, cooking, or languages (French in the South Pacific for example). It is highly recommended that one gets local day sailing experience or earns a certificate with a national yachting association before setting sail. This will help you learn the necessary jargon and some basic sailing skills.

The scarcity of crew and density of boats make the Caribbean a hitchers' haven. Ample crewing opportunities are available during the peak season which runs from October to May. Experience is often put far behind simple availability. By hitting the docks and right pubs, it's not too difficult to find a boat. Heavy activity starts in the Caribbean at the end of the hurricane season in November. From Venezuela, Trinidad, Panama and the East Coast of the US boats start to flood in. In November, hundreds of European boats take part in the ARC race from the Canaries to the Caribbean.

With the right timing, a little luck, and a dash of will, you can find a boatAnnette and Wieke hoist sail coming to the Caribbean from these areas and sail right into the yachting community. In terms of inter-Caribbean movement, all the islands have their marinas and watering holes where boat owners congregate and dock-walking is still the best method to find a boat. The next best alternatives are crew placement agencies of which there are several in the Caribbean, or charter companies who may have room on a delivery. At the end of the season, Antigua race week in April is the best place to be if you want to find a long voyage to Europe, the States or the Pacific. Ever since the devastation left by hurricanes Luis, Marilyn and Bertha, many of the boats are leaving the area before the summer hurricane season begins. St. Martin is also a gold mine with hundreds of boats leaving from its huge lagoon.

Crewing Contacts

Dockside Management
Bobby's Marina
St. Maarten, N.A.
Tel: (599-5) 24096
Marine Time
Chemin du Port
St. Martin, F.W.I.
Tel: (590) 872028
Palapa Marina
Airport Road
Simpson Bay
St. Maarten, N.A.
Tel: (599-5) 52735
404 S.E. 17th St.
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Tel: (305) 522-2739
Select Crew
Nelson's Dockyard
English Harbour, Antigua
Tel: (268) 460-1527
Caribbean Connections
Village Cay Marina
Tortola, B.V.I.
Tel: (809) 776-4324


http://www.mangomaxx.com Mango Maxx / Such is Life - your Guide to Sint Maarten & the North East Caribbean

http://www.tntmag.co.uk/ "TNT - Magazine, your guide to free spirited living" London, England link for young travellers

http://www.pathfinder.com/@@QwVjAgUAiiwExtHW/travel/surfer/ "Planet Surfer"

http://www.moon.com/ Guide books for travellers

http://www.lonelyplanet.com.au/ Perfection! Great site!

http://www.travel-library.com/ "Rec. Travel Library" - Find out what they saw when they were there.

http://www.green-travel.com/ A very wide variety of Travel & "Eco-Tourisim" information

-Richard Kastelein -- Simpson Bay Lagoon, Sint Maarten, Netherland Antilles

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