a day in the life of a castaway girl

a day in the life of a sailor/snorkel instructor, from sun up to beer 30.

I often wake up before the sun does. My alarm goes off and, unlike those years of reluctantly rolling out of bed for school, I stretch and stand, excited to start a day at sea. Because looking out at the view beyond my balcony instantly erases any worries or bad dreams that might've plagued me throughout the night. They're worthless against the silhouette of coconuts hanging from that three-story palm tree and the shape of St John in the distance and the pink hues reflecting off the current of the waking Caribbean. 

After a couple cups of coffee in my sunrise-lit studio apartment, I catch a $2 local bus and ride it for about 45 minutes, until I get to Yacht Haven Grande. I get off, walk to wiko dock and wait for my crew to arrive beneath a pink sky, sipping at the remnants of coffee in my mason jar.

When the boys arrive, we get in our little dinghy and ride past monstrous, city-size cruise ships and million dollar yachts docked in Havensight. We motor past privately owned sailboats on mooring balls (some with barking dogs on board), through the bay to our pretty little catamaran--the Castaway Cat. We get on board and get her ready for the day. We wipe down the seats, set up the bar, and make sure the restrooms are cleaned. We unzip the sail bags, put out the wench handles, and tie five big fenders on the port side. Then, we take off the safety line and get off the mooring to go pick up our group of tourists from the cruise ships.

When captain gets the boat close enough, we jump off and tie lines tight around cleats on the dock, making sure to get the stern as close as possible. Then we say hello to another group of strange, new faces from all over the world, ask them take their shoes off (for our barefoot trip), and welcome them aboard. We serve them ice water to the tune of Bob Marley as they take their seats around the catamaran. 

After we spring off the dock we put the fenders away, and pull the snorkel vests out onto the forward nets. Then captain slows the engines and we ring the bell to get their attention so that I can belt out a "welcome aboard" speech. I introduce the crew--Jordan, Tony, and Captain Tom--so that they "know who to blame if anything goes wrong." I go over a few safety procedures, such as where the life vests are located and where to find the rum incase the boat somehow starts to sink and how they should toss the bottles into the dinghy so we can ride to safety in style. I ask them to never put paper products into the toilets because I'm the only one with hands small enough to unclog them... and I'm also their bartender for the day, "So please keep my hands clean!" I tell them we're not allowed to serve rum on the way to our snorkeling spot because some of them will drink to much and see twice as many fishies, and that's just not fair. But on the way back, they can have as much free rum punch as they can handle.

When I finish my speech, all the guests cheer. Captain turns the ship into the wind and we raise the main sail and they cheer a little more. Then we pass out snorkel gear all the way to Buck Island. If we finish with time to spare, we socialize with the guests and ask them where they're from and point out neighboring islands for them to ooh and aahh at.

When we get to buck island we get on the mooring in the cove. We call everyone to the upper deck and pass out snorkel vests as Jordon says the snorkel speech and makes them all laugh. "If your mask fogs up in the water and you don't feel comfortable spitting in your own mask, grab one of us. We're a full service crew--we'll spit in it for you." He tells them how to snorkel and what to watch out for in the water. "Does anyone know how to cure a sea sting? Right! You pee on it. Once again, we are a full service crew." We remind them not to walk in their fins on the boat, so as not to break their faces. Then we get them in the water and we lead them on snorkel tours. We point out fish and pull up sea creatures for them to pass around, like collector urchins and brittle sea stars and sometimes, if I can free dive deep enough, a live queen conch. We swim with sea turtles and sting rays and look at a ship wreck.

Then we get back on the boat, put away snorkel gear, and start serving up rum punch, because after all the saltwater the guests have certainly guzzled, they're mighty thirsty. After gear is put away, we do a head count to make sure everyone’s onboard. You'd be surprised how many times people end up on the wrong boat. "Why can't I find my bag?" Maybe because it's on that ship over there? If the count is right, we raise the stairs, and get off the mooring. Then we raise the main sail and the gibb sail--and, if the winds are good, captain turns the engines off. We ride full sail and booze cruise all the way back toward St Thomas. The guests get drunk and we encourage everyone to dance to songs like Shout and Mambo #5.

And then, depending on the trip (sometimes we do short trips and sometimes we do full-days), we'll either take the guests back to their ship or we take them to Water Island for a free buffet lunch on Honeymoon Beach. We don't make as much money on the full day trips, but going to Honeymoon is such a treat for me and my crew. Because instead of mooring, we get the boat in close and anchor into the beach so that the guests can walk off the boat into waist-deep water. And while they're eating and drinking and playing for about an hour and a half, we crew members get to eat for free and play in the water for an hour and a half, too. It's almost not fair that we get paid for it.

When the time is up at Honeymoon, we pull up the anchor, pull up the stairs, and go back through the bay to the cruise ships. We continue to serve rum punch and party with the guests the whole way there. When we get close, Tony gives a tip speech to remind everyone that we get paid the same as bartenders and waiters, and that tips are greatly appreciated. He tells them to go on trip advisor and write a review saying they had the best day of their lives--so that we don't ever have to go back to the states and get real jobs. He suggests that, if they have a complaint, they should write it on the back of a 50 dollar bill and hand it to one of the crew (we'd surely read it). They all laugh and spill their rum and thank us for a wonderful day.

When we get to the dock, we cleat the lines and get the stern as close as possible. We pour the guests' shoes out in a pile and match them up at the end of the dock. Then we help them off the boat and hold a "love jug" in front of them as they depart. Sometimes we get handshakes and hugs, and we're often asked to be in pictures. 

Once they're all off, we take our cat back to her mooring ball and clean her. We zip the sail bags, clean the restrooms, and scrub the decks. We almost always have a couple beers as we count our tips and laugh about the day. And then we get into our little dinghy again and ride back to wiko dock, to watch the sunset over a few more beers at the local outdoor bar in Yacht Haven. We usually find the other crews there, from the other catamarans in our company. Amber tells me about the trips on her catamaran, and we make our way home together. We say goodnight to our sweet security lady and then go straight to bed--so that we're ready to begin another day at sea.