It’s the way it goes, isn’t it? Your eyes focus upward, your stomach flutters-no, you’re not in irons, wallowing off a lee shore. You’re in an airport, standing at the ticket counter, and you can tell-you can just tell-something is amiss with the flight.
Something was amiss, all right. A day’s worth of engine trouble and crew illness had stalled my departure from San Juan, Puerto Rico, after perhaps the most blissful escape to the U.S. and British Virgin
Islands I’d pulled off in years.
The two-week sojourn of sun, water, sail, and old friends was a winner in every way, and I’d even crammed in a fair share of work, visiting charter-company bases and reuniting with marine-industry contacts. The breezes were so steady and the sunshine so plentiful that I’d scribble notes in my pad and think, Work? Are you kidding me?
But for the moment, that was all behind me. Now I was standing in a long line that snaked over itself at least three times. We travelers were doing our bit to clean the floors with our luggage, pushing and pulling it this way and that. The hapless mates aboard this unlucky flight then started doing what all gregarious transients do: We started talking with each other, commiserating, standing guard over each other’s possessions as one of us would make a run to the soda machine or the coffee shop.
During a particularly excruciating phase of this 28-hour watch, I literally bumped into Alan, a doctor returning from his U.S. government post in Africa. He’s a virologist battling AIDS and the HIV virus. His two daughters and his wife were traveling with him, and we chatted for a while about his work. Then he asked about mine.
To my surprise, he got very excited, enthusiastic even, and peppered me with questions about sailboats and chartering and lessons and destinations. He was in the zone.
Alan wanted to know everything. Everything.
“I wonder about taking my family out,” he said. “I wonder if they’ll like the heel, if it’ll be too hard for me to handle the boat and show them the ropes and relax too.”
His younger girl yawned; the older one rolled her eyes. I could see he had his work cut out for him. But he wouldn’t be alone. The charter companies are experts at making families and skippers comfortable, I explained.
“They’ll help you with everything,” I said. “Even put a skipper aboard the boat for a half or full day or two to help you adjust. You can take a cat if you prefer.”
Alan listened intently. I could just imagine what he was like at his profession: Intelligent. Exact. Time marched on, and the delays and misery of our circumstances started to fade, slightly, as we probed the wonderful, rewarding world of sailboat chartering with family and friends. Still, how I’d trade this agony for the beaches and beam reaches of Sir Francis Drake Channel.
Then I had a miscue of my own. “Here, have a business card,” I told Alan. “Contact me.” Oops. I’d given away my last card. It was a kooky milestone marker of my years of spreading the good word about chartering. How could I let this one get away? What a numbskull! I scribbled my contact info on a scrap of paper and gave it to him. If he had any more questions, all he had to do was shout.
I hope Alan makes the most of any chartering opportunity that comes his way. When I got back home, a few came my way: Dave Reed, the editor of our sister publication, Sailing World, wanted to take his family and friends with him on his first family sailing vacation to the Bahamas; Mark Pillsbury, CW’s senior editor, was eager to dive into the fresh water of Lake Superior with some Midwest-born friends. Turn to page 52 to read these tales of voyages to the North and South.
Before Dave and Mark set out, I had a bit of advice for them each, newly acquired: Don’t forget to take plenty of business cards so you can spread the good word on chartering while you’re making your own memories. Now armed with my fresh supply, and duly ready for my next airport encounter, I promise I won’t.