Three Dangerous Things to Avoid in the Caribbean!

You may have heard stories about pirates in the Caribbean.  Yes, they exist throughout the entire Caribbean.  Common sense and a keen regard for securing your vessel and yourself in high risk areas is absolutely necessary.  Listen to other cruises, read the Caribbean Compass, listen to the faintly heard Safety and Security Net every morning at 0815 on 8104.0 USB and ask customs and immigration about recent security issues in their country.  All these steps will help you avoid risky situations and becoming a target.

Once you have taken all these steps everything will be fine, right?  Absolutely not!  There are three more very dangerous things to watch out for while cruising in the Caribbean:

A. At the top of the list in numero uno place are Charter Boats. Crewed charter boats are included in this category as well.  We’re talking chartered sailboats, catamarans, and powerboats.  Charter boats are the most feared vessel in the Caribbean, even if one includes the pirate pirogues that roam the waters off Venezuela.  Avoid being near a charter boat at all times!

The worst charter boats are (in order based on lack of charterer’s sailing experience):

Horizon Yacht Charters


The Moorings



The reason to avoid being anywhere near a charter boat is the charterers’ lack of knowledge or experience to safely anchor, sail or navigate the waters of the Caribbean.  Charter companies based in the Caribbean allow inexperienced people to charter any vessel in their charter fleet, less than 53 feet.  Of course the charter companies deny this, yet it is a fact.  Here are a few instances we know of first hand:

We have observed a Horizon charter boat attempt to pick up a mooring at Norman Island for over 1-hour without success.  A passing dinghy attempted to assist the charter boat but the charter boat waved them away.  They finally accepted help and didn’t move for several days.

A Switch charter boat attempted to anchor in the Tobago Cays, in front of a cruiser who was anchored in front of us.  The charter boat decided to move because they anchored too close, pulled up the anchor of the cruiser in front of us and both boats began dragging directly toward us.  Luckily the cruiser cut his anchor line to avoid colliding with us!

In Ile de Saints off Guadeloupe, a private charter boat named Utopia decided to anchor in front of us. After letting out a limited amount of scope, their dinghy, tied to their stern, was brushing against our bow.  I calmly stood on our bow, discussing the situation with them and talking in normal tones since their cockpit was only a few feet from me.  The two couples on board said they would discuss the potential safety matter.  After 3 hours I again strode to our bow to visit with them.  The charterers’ explained that even though they were so close to me they did not think that in their 30 years of sailing experience they were a hazard to my vessel.  I calmly asked their names and explained that when we collided the gendarmes would like their identification in order to press charges.  Upon hearing this they decided to move a safe distance away.

We were hanging off a mooring buoy with a line ashore at Wallilabou, St. Vincent enjoying a cocktail while watching the sunset.  A line ashore is required in this deep anchorage because of the swirling winds.  2 hours later, in the pitch-black night, a Moorings crewed catamaran came motoring into the bay looking to anchor for the night.  The catamaran had never been into the bay before as evidenced by their indecision at finding the mooring area.  The catamaran attempted pick up a dinghy mooring within 30 yards of us where no line could ever be put ashore.  I calmly talked with them, as they were off my bow, that the moorings were on the other side of me and that a stern line was required.  In spite of my advice they began picking up the dinghy mooring!  This was not to be so with increased vigor I finally convinced the Moorings “captain” and his French passengers that it was wise for them to move very far away from us. 

Need another example?  A flotilla of Moorings charter boats entered Salt Whistle Bay, Mayreau and proceeded to anchor in this very small bay.  According to Don Street, there is room for at most 11 boats in this anchorage but every evening a minimum of 20 boats anchor here, mostly charter boats.  One of the flotilla boats anchored near the south end of the harbour, exactly where the reef can clearly be seen by any competent sailor, and was quickly awash on the reef.  The charters on the grounded vessel quickly jumped into their dinghy and informed the flotilla leader who arranged for them to stay in a room ashore for the evening.  The charterers were joyous because they were able to stay on dry land for a night!  Do you think the real owner of this charter boat will ever know his vessel was awash on the reef in Salt Whistle Bay? 

How about one final example.  A huge 91 foot steel ketch named Sea Diamond, a charter boat from Maine and now residing in the Caribbean, was anchored in front of us on the Dutch side of the Lagoon in St. Maarten, nearer the eastern shore.  The water depth is around 8 feet in this area and usually good holding, unless you favor the eastern shore of the Lagoon where the sea grass grows and the anchoring is not as good.  The wind went up at 10 pm and guess who started to drag?  The crewed steel ketch in front of us!  Our dinghy was quickly deployed after failing to arouse the ketch with an air horn and verbal yelling.  After informing the person who answered our knock, who claimed he was the “captain”, that he was dragging, the ‘captain’ emphatically stated “that is impossible”.  Well impossible or not this steel behemoth was now about 2 feet from my bow!  Only by quickly starting our engine and moving 90 degrees away from him while we were still anchored saved our vessel.  The ‘captain’ proceeded to re-anchor his now adrift vessel and never bothered to apologize for his ineptitude.   

B. In second place on the Danger List are the dreaded Mega Yachts and Super Yachts.  These beasts are spectacular to view, from afar.  To the Mega Rich this is their toy.  They want the latest, greatest and most expensive toy on the block in order to impress their friends’ back at the club. “Yes Chip (or Skip, Biff, Todd and Drew if it applies), I have my motor yacht “Lipps” (at least a 140 foot Feadship, Lurssen, Burger, or whatever) berthed at Il De Sol in St. Maarten for the season.  Would you like to jet down, on the G5 (or Citation X) of course, and have a bite to eat?”

The Mega Yacht crews are always dressed in their Mega Yacht attire – matching shorts and t-shirts with a drawing of the ship on the back and the ship’s name emblazoned on the front. The t-shirts are not the only things that make you notice the crew from the Mega Yacht, it is also their partying at all hours of the night. These hired workers spend nearly every evening at Crew Bars enjoying the local beverage of choice, alcoholic of course.  Now there is nothing at all wrong having drinks and fun with your friends.  The crews are having the time of their life, living and playing aboard a luxury yacht in the Caribbean.  What could be better than that, if you have to work?  To the crews this is one big fraternity party.  The crews of the Mega Yachts are the luxury gypsies of the 21st century.  They are paid for their work, which also includes food and accommodations.  The standard salary for a cabin steward is $150.00 (US) per day.  The pay scale increases as the level of responsibility goes up.  Somehow the crews of the Mega Yachts believe they belong on the covers of Vogue and People Magazine, among others.  But once you actually observe the boys and girls of these monsters up close you know the real truth – The cover of Teen Magazine would be most fitting.

The three Mega Yacht centers in the Caribbean are St. Maarten, Antigua and St. Thomas. There are specific crew bars that cater to the Mega Yacht crews.  In St. Maarten it is the Soggy Dollar Bar, located in La Palapa Marina.  On Thursday night there is a $2.00 vodka night that attracts a lot of partygoers!  In Antigua Abracadabra is the place to be where the music is non-stop until the wee hours of the morning. The Mega Yacht crews are definitely interesting people to watch from a distance.

If you are in one of the two Mega Yacht centers you must beware of several things:

Tenders – These are the Mega Yacht dinghies.  Well they are actually boats that approach the length of your sailboat at times!  These tenders will use the dinghy docks and literally take over.  They have no regard at all for your little dinghy.  They will tie to the dock directly over your dinghy, smash your dinghy into the dock or simply use your dinghy as a fender for their tender.  The crews have been given access to the ship’s tender for some unknown reason (since they can just walk off their Mega Yacht onto the dock where they are berthed).  The people who use the tenders do not understand the rules of the road in regard to small boats.  In fact they lack the skills of basic seamanship all together.  They were not hired for that!  So beware of your dinghy in the neighborhood of any Mega Yacht tender!

Food & Drink – If you have ever seen a Mega Yacht crew person in a grocery story you will understand this warning.  They will buy anything and everything in the store that is not nailed down.  In a grocery store you can spot the Mega Yacht crew because they usually have several grocery carts overflowing with at least 6 of every item they can fill the cart with.  They have no concept of what all these items cost since it does not matter to them.  After all, they have a wealthy owner who never questions their expenditures!  If you want any specific item or just groceries in general you will need to outsmart the Mega Yacht grocery shoppers and beat them to the punch! Remember, the crews party hard and stay out late so they sleep in the mornings!!!

Parties – As stated before, the Mega Yacht crews are the ultimate party people.  However, the pulsating music and pickup lines at the crew bars gets very tiring at 2:00 AM in the morning when you are trying to sleep.  It is wise to anchor a long distance away from any crew bars!

C. In third place on the Danger List are French boats.  The French are excellent sailors.  They routinely place first in the ultimate around-the-world races.  They practically invented and perfected today’s modern catamaran.  However, it seems that no one taught the French how to anchor!  They can sail perfectly into an anchorage with only two or three other sailboats and simply anchor right on top of at least one of the sailboats.  It is uncanny how they always do this.  During the approach of Hurricane Ivan to Grenada in 2004 a group of French sailboats decided to leave Prickly Bay and move to the more protected waters of Mt. Hartman Bay.  As the French were picking up their anchors at Prickly Bay an urgent message was broadcast on the VHF radio to the boats anchored in Mt. Hartman Bay, “The French are coming, the French are coming!”  A group of fellow British sailors recognized the problem the French boats would create in Mt. Hartman Bay and attempted to warn their compatriots.  That is a true story.

I have had the misfortune of having a French sailboat anchor directly on my anchor in the Lagoon on St. Maarten.  I had been worried about a large, 91-foot charter boat that was anchored about 100 yards in front of me when a French sailboat named Sinbad decided to anchor directly between myself and the charter boat!  As he was dropping his anchor I calmly informed him that he was anchoring right on top of me.  I requested that he not anchor on me.  This request fell on deaf ears (yes, the captain was able to speak English since he spoke to me when he closely passed the stern of my vessel on his way towards the bow of my sailboat).  Yelling and cursing on my part ensued, along with a trip to his bow aboard my dinghy, again to no avail.  My ensuing angry glaring and gesturing at him finally caused him to move a safe distance away.  This technique is acceptable practice in the presence of French sailboats anchoring on you in the Caribbean.

Someone explained to us that in the standard French sailing handbook it states that a French sailor is instructed to anchor with at most a 1:1 scope in windy condition.  A 1:1 scope will not even hold a day-sailor in place!  Sie la vie…!

Handbook for Caribbean Cruising

Volume 1: Eastern Caribbean

Dangerous Things to Avoid