There are many different ways we can give back to communities that are important to us as sailors. For Hank Schmitt of Offshore Passage Opportunities (OPO), it all began as a simple urge to help out a buddy he made soon after he arrived at the island of Dominica in the eastern Caribbean several years ago. Albert, one of the local so-called “boat-boys,” was the very first person he met there.
Hank, who worked on offshore oil rigs and fishing boats before he got into yachts, was concerned about Albert after learning he too spent time fishing offshore in his little skiff during the off-season when the yacht business was slow. He felt Albert’s boat was badly in need of an upgrade, so he dunned the membership of OPO, a crew-placement service he’s been running since the mid-1990s, for small contributions to buy the materials to build Albert a new boat. He made a rather large contribution himself and soon enough Albert had a sturdy new ride.
This rather small effort metastasized into something a bit larger this past year, when Hank decided to help all the boat-boys working Prince Rupert’s Bay off the town of Portsmouth at the north end of Dominica. It can be tough anchoring in the bay, due to the hard grass bottom, and the old mooring field had dwindled away over time, so he tapped his membership for more contributions and raised $26,000 to buy materials for 50 new moorings.
I spent a week with Hank at Dominica this past winter aboard Avocation, a Swan 48 he manages, as he launched what he calls Yachtie Appreciation Week, a cruising rendezvous that celebrates both the yachts that visit the island and the folks on shore who work to service them. The boat-boys in Prince Rupert’s Bay are a bit unusual, in that they have organized themselves into a trade association they call the Portsmouth Association of Yacht Security (PAYS), and this provided Hank with the partners on shore he needed to make both the rendezvous and the new mooring field a reality.
While hanging with Hank aboard Avocation in Prince Rupert’s Bay, I met a few other cruising sailors who are anxious to help people in the eastern Caribbean. Clair and Magoe Menning, a couple from Texas who cruise a Leopard 46 catamaran called Macario, have launched their own non-profit foundation, Macario Advantage (macarioadvantage.org), that organizes small on-the-ground community development initiatives throughout the region. This past winter they focused mostly on Dominica and played an important role in getting the new PAYS moorings in place.
I also met Joan and Greg Conover, who cruise a Morgan Out Island 51 ketch named Growl Tiger. They provided logistical support for Yachtie Appreciation Week and also worked to funnel disaster-relief supplies to Haiti after the terrible earthquake there in 2010. Perhaps not coincidentally, I also caught a quick glimpse of SAIL’s own ex-staffer Tom Linskey on his catamaran Hands Across the Sea, who with his wife, Harriet, has been running an eastern Caribbean literacy-promotion foundation of the same name (handsacrossthesea.net) for several years now.
You needn’t start up your own non-profit to follow in the wakes of sailors like these. Nor do you have to raise money independently like Hank to build boats and install moorings for friends you make ashore. The most important thing really is to simply build relationships.
True enough, boat-boys on certain islands in the Caribbean and throughout the world can sometimes be a royal pain in the butt. But this is the exception rather than the rule. In most places people treat the sailors who come to visit with dignity and respect, and all we really owe them in return is the same sort of respect. The best way to support them is by simply doing business with them. If you have a job that needs doing and someone you like ashore is offering to do it for a reasonable rate, you should take them up on the offer and welcome them into our cruising community. Both sailors and the places we visit will be stronger for it.
SAIL’s Cruising Editor, Charles J. Doane, sails his Tanton 39 on the Maine coast and down in the West Indies whenever he gets the chance. He is the author of The Modern Cruising Sailboat, published by International Marine, and is a contributing blogger at SAILfeed.com