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Little Harbour

In the late eighties and early nineties I skippered HELEN R, an aged CSY 44, as a crewed charter in the VI. I had a kind of frequent-sailor agreement with the owner, a doctor from Florida, and he gave me a good rate on her every time I went out. Several times a year, I brought people from California, where they didn’t know any better, and ran them through the islands in the old girl but all in all, they left pleased and I had repeat business.

Just prior to hurricane Hugo, HELEN R was rolling at anchor off Sandy Cay and my charter party was ashore enjoying the beach. Since I was the captain, crew and cook, anytime the charterers were off-board, I took the opportunity to clean ship and take a few moments off duty (some say my entire chartering endeavor was simply taking a few moments off duty).

Sidney’s Peace and Love

Sidney’s Peace and Love on the right.

Just before 2:00PM, a 20-foot, homemade, green plywood skiff approached from the west. An oversized outboard clung to the transom. As he closed on the old CSY, the driver threw over a couple of ancient fenders to protect HELEN R’s gel coat—a moot gesture—and held the skiff close by holding on to the gunwale. The Kelly green topsides sported the words, hand painted in white, “Sidney’s Peace and Love” The first ‘S’ in Sidney’s was written backwards.

Half a beard and a burgeoning pot-belly were accompanied by a smile and a, “Hi Skip.” I said hello and he handed me a couple Xeroxed paper menus and invited us to his restaurant just across the way in Little Harbour (Jost Van Dyke). HELEN R was well victualled and the charter party had paid—some say overpaid—for their meals aboard so I didn’t expect to take him up on the offer. But then came the hook when he said, “The skipper eats for free,” “What?” I did a double-take and asked for explicit clarification. “You mean if I bring my charter party in for lobster dinner, I get mine free?” “Ya mon.”

The decision made, all I had to do now was convince the charterers that it was in their best interests to pay for a meal on shore that night. An hour or so later, the charterers returned, sun burnt and happy, raving about the beauty of Lawrence Rockefeller’s little Sandy Cay. In a matter of fact voice I said we will spend the night at Little Harbour but before I could mention the shore-side attractions, one of the women gushed, “Is there a restaurant there?” The others chimed in with similar questions. My annoyance at the crew for leaping at the first chance to forgo my cooking was tempered by the prospect of free lobster for the captain. Ya mon.

By seven that night we were anchored in Little Harbour, showered, clad in our best tropical wear—captain in whites, of course. While sitting in plastic chairs around a circular table we were under a thousand t-shirts, waving in the breeze, stapled to the rafters. They were consigned and autographed by years of visiting sailors.

We took advantage of the honor bar and ordered lobster dinners for everyone. Of course, I discreetly reminded the waitress that I was the skipper.

When the dinner arrived, the side dish was, what is now a Sidney’s tradition, half an ear of frozen corn on the cob. It was boiled and hot but winter corn is not a known agricultural product of the Caribbean and as such must be imported frozen. But the real problem was that each plate only had half a lobster on it. The charterers were incredulous and started mumbling about the “half a lobster dinner.” I felt obliged to defuse the issue before mutiny broke out. I took Sidney aside and explained the situation and he just said, “Ya, mon.” and the other halves of the lobsters were delivered in good order. After the meal, it was explained that the dinners are based on the weight of the lobsters being two pounds. If the lobster weighs 4 lbs or more, only half the lobster is served, otherwise the whole schmeguegui lands on the plate. That night, all the bugs weighed over 4 pounds and that is why we only got half a lobster.

When we asked for the check, one of the charterers said, “Hey guys, instead of spending an hour figuring out who ate what, let’s just split the bill 5 ways.” I wasn’t about to tell them I got mine for free and I ended up as one of the five and paid my share. Ya Mon.


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