I am a serial and confirmed bareboat charterer. And I have had two epiphanies about bareboating—or perhaps the same epiphany twice—in two sets of islands half a world apart.
The first epiphany was in the Greek Islands, where I had The Moorings provide a skipper because I didn’t know the area, and I wanted someone to handle the boat while I took photos. Most important, the language was literally Greek to me.
Capt. Thrassos was a courtly Greek who spoke fluent English, had a lovely sense of humor and seemed to be related to everyone in Greece. When we arrived in a crowded harbor, he would pick up his cellphone and call his uncle/nephew/whatever, who was the dockmaster. A space exactly our size would appear as if by magic. When we needed more water, another uncle/nephew/whatever would unlock the hose and fill our tanks at the price that locals pay. And when we wanted a quiet dinner away from tourists, he led us up winding steps to a tiny bistro owned by yet another uncle/nephew/whatever. At the charter’s end, Thrassos took our taxi driver aside and apparently explained in graphic Greek exactly what would happen if the taxi didn’t take the least--expensive route to the airport. The driver was so nervous, he reassured us constantly on the trip.
My epiphany came sometime around very dark thirty in a small Greek cove with a building breeze, when there was a distinct clunk (anchor line snapping?). The boat’s motion changed (drifting sideways toward rocks?). I sat bolt upright in bed. I was groping for my T-shirt and shorts when I realized: I’m not the captain. This isn’t my problem.
There is some unwritten rule that the male of the species is called upon in the wee hours to repel invaders. So, I’m the one who has to tiptoe around wondering how big the burglar is, how well armed he is, and why he’s looting our coat closet first.
That night, I sat for a moment thinking that I didn’t have to go out into the wind and wet, and I didn’t need to figure out what had changed. It was a delicious thought.
Like most skippers, I take my captainly duties seriously. While the rest of the crew descends into Pussers-fueled sleep, I’m the one on the bow giving the anchor rode a tug. I’m the one listening to weather forecasts, double-cleating the dinghy painter, and getting out of a comfy bunk because something doesn’t seem right.
I’ve mentioned this tendency to other skippers, and we all seem to share the same mental filtration system. We sleep on soundly when a halyard slaps the mast occasionally, but if the almost inaudible wavelets hitting the bow change from splash-splash-splash to splish-splish-splish, our eyes pop open, the adrenaline surges and a flashlight is in our hands as we bump around on a dewy deck.
I had the second epiphany a month later, when we were aboard an 80-foot Hatteras motoryacht, anchored near the tip of Eleuthera in the Bahamas. Our captain, Mike Nesbitt, is one of those quietly competent types who’s probably forgotten more than most skippers ever know. It wasn’t one of those dark and stormy nights, either. It started as a breezy afternoon in an anchorage with a nasty bottom mix of grass and rock. It had taken a couple of tries to get the anchor to bite, and I could sense that Nesbitt wasn’t entirely satisfied with the holding.
After a quiet dinner, my wife and I toddled off to our stateroom. Around midnight, I could feel that the boat’s motion had changed, and I realized the occasional tug of the anchor rode was gone. No question: We were dragging the hook.
With my newfound Greek wisdom, however, I knew it wasn’t my problem. So, cossetted in a king-size berth in a well-insulated master stateroom, I barely heard the engines start (I probably wouldn’t have heard World War III start). I drifted back to sleep.
I was up early the next morning to enjoy orange juice and a comfy deck chair, and to see how many bad guys the hero of my trashy spy novel could kill off before breakfast, when Nesbitt appeared. He was, as usual, crisply pressed and cheerful, but with one look I knew it had been a long, long night.
As he passed, he said he hoped he hadn’t awakened us, but he’d had to move the boat a couple of times in the wee hours to get the anchor to hold.
“Gee, that’s tough,” I said, and then I went back to my book, giggling wildly inside.
Damn, I like having a captain.