We all know the cliché “when in Rome do as the Romans do”. The same may be said for any port you happen to visit by boat. Once you leave the United States and sail into other island nations you are no longer in America and therefore your utmost sensitivity and acceptance of other cultures is the rule. First and foremost I must say that if you sailed to another island country or continent, you are in their country and their customs, foods, and social issues must prevail. Yes, I know that sometimes we feel “superior” to an island’s rules, foods, and social customs. However, we must always remember that we are guests in their country and be polite, accept their rules and their customs. Most of the Caribbean Islands are poor and do not have the level of comforts and conveniences that we have grown accustomed to having readily available.
Yes, I know that there are grand hotels such as Atlantis in Nassau Bahamas and grand resorts in Turks and Caicos, St Lucia, Antigua and on and on. There was a Four Seasons on the island of Nevis when we were there and on an on. These grand hotels are there for the pleasure of the tourists who arrived by plane as well as us “yachties” if we choose to visit for dinner and such. However, this is not the real Caribbean, nor the real local people.
Starting with Nassau and continuing down the entire island chains of the Virgins Islands, the Leeward Islands, the Windward Islands and beyond to the northern coast of South America, each island nation has its own customs, history, bilinguallanguages such as Spanish/English in Dominican Republic (Hispaniola), Puerto Rico, and French in the French islands of St Martin, Guadeloupe, and Martinique. You must prepare yourself for what to expect culturally and well as nautically. Read as much as you can in guide books and travel books about the people and the culture of each island before you arrive there. Let’s face it, you have many hours at sea to read and have a sense of where you are going and what to expect before actually arriving. (See photos of dining choices.)
Even if you do not speak either Spanish or French, at least try and make an attempt to communicate with the locals. For example, we were trying to locate a particular grocery store in Guadeloupe. Since neither of us spoke French and they all spoke French, trying to communicate with the people was a bit trying. Many islanders do speak English, but choose not to do it. However, one well dressed local recognized our predicament and came over to us. He literally walked with us to the store.
Traveling in and out of the island chain offers you so many new and exciting experiences as a visitor. First of all I would want to point out that I deliberately did not use the word “tourist”. I need to explain the difference between a “yachty”and tourist. A tourist who arrived by plane or cruise ship has been surrounded by a bubble of their own culture. Going to a grand resort is still a continued experience of what we are accustomed to albeit much more grand. You never really understand what these islands and people are really allabout if you only stay in fancy hotels or aboard cruise ships.
When you arrive into just about any port via your own skill and vessel, you are welcomed as one of them. You did not fly in or cruise in on a huge cruise ship. You are recognized as a hard working individual who has chosen to arrive on their shores by your own vessel, skill and capability. This alone should make any of you who did this to be proud of your own accomplishments. With this said I do not mean to imply that anyone going by cruise ship is less of a person. Many of us do not necessarily have the time, experience, boat, or crew to try this on their own. I am only trying to point out the differences of life at sea. Cruising gives you the freedom to stay in each port as long as you want from an overnight to a week, or to months.
Just keep in mind some simple rules of behavior: Be polite, respectful, do not flaunt yourself or your vessel, stay low key, not loud or showy. Be interested in where you are and who your hosts are. Do not dress showy, or wear skimpy bathing suits. Most islanders find that offensive. Save the bikinis for the cruise ship or beaches back home. Try their foods, their entertainment, and visit their points of interest and pride.
There is much more to say about cruising down island. I will continue to write about these places as time goes on.
Frances is a Commodore of the Seven Seas Cruising Association and a member of Sailing Association of Marco Island and AP United States Power Squadron.