I’ve never laughed so hard as I have on some of my charters, but it’s typically only funny after the fact. Every time I think I’ve seen it all, my people outdo themselves and serve up the unexpected. I’ve had some snafus out there to be sure, and they loom large when they’re happening, but they’re usually balanced by some pretty awesome stuff when you take the time to look at the big picture. If you’ve ever had an imperfect sailing adventure, keep the faith, and read on to feel better about yourself.
I once had a charter in Tahiti with a group of sailors in their advanced years. Most of them had hearing aids and restrictions on what they could lift or eat. One loved to drive the dinghy and did so onto a reef, into a dock, and under another catamaran in the process of raising its anchor. Another was incontinent and in denial about his condition, which kept me cleaning at all hours. A third snuck beer and gin into her cabin every night and came out ready for battle with anyone in her way. It was a long 10 days.
Another time, in Tonga, our windlass had a sketchy solenoid so every morning I gave it a thump with a winch handle, which worked—until it didn’t—and I had to side tie with a buddy boat each night thereafter. At one point before the complete windlass seizure, the crew brought up the anchor and got it well and truly jammed into the bow roller—upside down. That took cooking oil, a bottle of liquid dish soap, and a full hour to lubricate and clear.
In the Exumas, we had a water hog aboard, and despite my repeated warnings about running out of water, he took long showers. It didn’t occur to him that I could hear the water pump running, and on his third offense, I just turned the pump off at the nav desk. Neither of us fessed up.
In the BVI, I had a newbie couple used to five-star hotels and room service. Although we had a 45-foot cat with plenty of luxuries, nothing was going to be posh enough for people needing “another foot of width in their cabin.” I had to take on water three times and run the genset all night for air conditioning. The fuel bill and my aggravation level were equally high.
A medical emergency that required scalp staples occurred on a Florida charter. The amount of blood from one smallish head wound is truly mind-boggling and requires a crime scene clean-up crew.
And once off the coast of California, I may have saved the entire crew just by gut instinct. We had dinghied into a cave. I checked the sea state before entering and it was calm, but once inside a random wave came from nowhere and thundered in, blocking our exit as well as all light. Instinct made me turn the dinghy just so and gun the engine long enough to crest the wave inside the cave and get pushed outside, safe and sound. Pure action, no hesitation, and good training came to the rescue.
Sounds like skippering charters is a nightmare, doesn’t it? But in each of the cases above, I found solace in the early hours as I sat watching a sunrise in a gorgeous location somewhere in the world and thought how lucky I was.
The good things were just waiting to be acknowledged. Over the years, I taught a person to snorkel, and his enthusiasm was contagious. He had never seen the underwater world and considered it the best adventure of his life. I took another out for a swim despite her fear, and she couldn’t stop hugging me afterward for the feeling of accomplishment it gave her. I have helped old folks up on paddleboards, and their grins were worth the numerous dunkings I got in the process. I have fixed broken jammers, figured out messed up rigging, and kept refrigeration running despite some really tired batteries so the beer was cold and the chicken didn’t have to be tossed.
Most of the stupid stuff that happens on the water isn’t life-threatening, and many of the episodes become great stories. Once you solve the initial problem, think about the big picture—you’re on the water, your troubles are few, and the sunrise and stars are worth the price of admission. Reach for the Zen and know that you’re stockpiling anecdotes for years to come. Eventually they will make you laugh. I promise.