Gypsy’s of the Caribbean

The boisterous sea of liberty is never without a wave. -Thomas Jefferson

The Caribbean Lagoons and Marinas present themselves with a wealthy attitude, represented by families of huge and expensive boats and often operated by charter organizations. From here you can sail around the beautiful beaches or spend the night on one of the privately owned islands. Sounds like post card paradise, yes, but because everything has to be imported, the cost of living is adjusted, creating a challenge for the low-budget backpacker for whom the cheapest guesthouse will be too expensive, not to mention chartering a sailing boat.

The “luck for the one who tries” was definitely on my side. I joined forces with Roman, who crossed the Atlantic on the cargo ship with me, and we went to the Marina in Martinique. We spent the first nights on an empty catamaran without a mast, which was a five minute dingy ride away and the last boat in the Lagoon. Ricardo, who offered us this sleeping spot, also had another sailing boat and would be heading south soon – perfect, may we join?

By the time we left we were a crew of seven people on his 10-meter sailboat. Everyone was just satisfied by having found a ride south to Grenada. It would have been delusional not to expect a very intense journey. The boat was in somewhat rundown condition. The rope work and the sails suggested lazy or unskilled operators. The interior was filthy and unorganized. The electronics were a complete mess and barley functional. From the very beginning I got the impression that seven people on this boat weren’t an exception, but rather, the norm. To give you an idea of the sleeping situation: even when two would cramp together on the small mattress and one was on the floor between toilet and kitchen, two people still had to sleep outside on deck. Whenever it would start to rain at least four would be awake – it rained every night.

We sailed along the picturesque beaches of St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines. We anchored for the night in the lagoons or went into town. As nice as the surroundings were, we were somewhat held hostage by the space and freedom available. If it wasn’t for the Rum and Rastaclaus, the situation would probably have exploded earlier. For the moment the boat was a minefield of emotions, which exploded occasionally during the day.

Ricardo the captain was around 60 years old and a one-in-a-billion character. Never before have I met anyone like him. With questions, you would never get a clear answer. In his limited English all he said was “more or less,” “it’s possible” or “never you don’t know.” But the most maddening factor was his boat handling. The normal order of boat owners, learned by experience over time didn’t seem to appealed to him. Basic things such as setting the anchor or sails, rope work, and preparing the dingy he would do in a different way each time, which then, of course, didn’t work. It was just madness and made me explode more than once.

After a sleepless first week we reached the peak of emotions. Now we sometimes slept on the beach or on the couches of the expensive resorts until the first employees would send us away in the morning. It became fun to observe the different worlds happening at the same time and place just a boat apart. Getting to Tobago Keys is a luxury, even for the wealthy, but still our gypsy yacht would float in the same physical space. Little subcultures started to appear on our boat. The Polish couple, Pepy, and the captain spoke Spanish and the remaining three played cards and spoke German until everything merged again to on-board gypsy English. Everyone had to submit some of their personality to the situation. You had to make enough compromises for a half stable equilibrium.

Some days it was harder to stay happy and relaxed than others. Someone would step on you because you slept on the floor. Because of this you would be awake when this person then took a shit half a meter from your head, behind a curtain. Volunteering to prepare the breakfast, you might have had to “clean” the dishes first with cold saltwater and a nasty cloth with which you just smeared the plates. And it’s so hot and humid that you’re dripping. 

Two weeks of very memorable and experiential time passed that I would neither want to miss, or repeat. Anchoring for the last time at a semi-legal spot in the Lagoon of St. Georges, Grenada we left Ricardo and his boat in quick fashion. Having my backpack off that boat was quiet satisfying, and I felt relieved even though I have to find a new one to close the last miles to South America.

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