From the March 1993 issue of 48° North by Diana B. Jessie
The first thing I should’s known when I left home was that the first letter of my last name and the first letter of the name of the boat should be the same. You think that sounds dumb, try to collect mail in a foreign port where they don’t understand your names. Your first name is their last name or visa versa. Or maybe they don’t understand their own names… and maybe they don’t even use the same alphabet. In fact, if you’re smart, your first name, last name, nickname, boat name, dinghy name, and dog’s name all start with the same letter, preferably “Q” or “X”, as those usually are the cubby holes in the post office with the least amount of stuff in them… except the overflow from the “Js,” “Ss,” and “Ws”.
The second thing I should’s known before I left home was to make sure that the name of the boat didn’t have more than three letters. Something really simple so that on the radio when you are trying to spell it out, it doesn’t take all day. An ideal name would be Cat, Rat, Cow or Dog. Charlie Alpha Tango doesn’t take too long to spell and it is fairly easy to understand. When you see some of the names like Adonis of Middlepoole or Birdie of Crossbay, you know that you could miss lunch and your second beer just trying to spell all of that our on the radio.
The third thing I should’a known before leaving home was to get all the credit cards on different dates and with different companies. “Don’t leave home without it,” folks means take everything with you. But sometimes with the date expires and you can’t get the renewal and your spouse, crew, has the same card with the same expiration, you have empty pockets because you are spending days looking through the post office under seven different letters and didn’t get to the bank. Take a Visa, a Mastercard, a Diners Club, and Amex, and get one for each of your friends. Make sure that one goes out every month, then you’ll always be covered with cash.
Speaking of cards brings me to the fourth thing I should’s know when I left home; get a telephone credit card. Of course, when you leave home you don’t have a home telephone unless yo have enough bucks to have a home to leave behind. The poor folks don’t do that so they don’t have phones and that makes it really hard to get a telephone credit card. But you can leave some money it you have any, and get a card without a phone. But, you have to keep money in the bank so that Ma Bell doesn’t starve while you are looking for your mail under nine different letters in the post office, ‘cause her bill is in there somewhere.
The fifth thing I should’a known when I left home was to forget the dumb t-shirts, fish hooks, books, and all the other crap people said a good cruiser takes along to trade. The guys out in these little islands of the world don’t want th eleftovers from your garage sale. They’ve got t-shirts on the beach that they want to sell you. They are so busy selling fish, it wouldn’t occur to them to trade hooks or take time to read a book. If you’re looking to make deals and you want to get a bargain, then get some of the green folding stuff at the bank and keep it with you at all times. It fits all nations, all sizes, and all situations. It doesn’t take up much space and your boat will be lots tidier without the junk. You can always use the t-shirts for rags.
The sixth thing I should’a known when I left home was to corner the market on pickle relish, pancake mix, and pipe tobacco The folks who come out to sail with us always have to bring a supply of that stuff. They don’t mind bringing it, but I mind all the insinuations about what we must be doing with it. Contrary to what some of our friends have accused us of, pickle relish is NOT an aphrodisiac, we don’t use Krusteaz pancake mix for facials or bondo, and the pipe tobacco is not lit to send up smoke signals on a still day to alert the natives that we are in town.
The seventh thing I should’s known when I left home was to tell the United States Customs Agency that I was leaving. There’s an old saying about “you can’t go home again,” well, maybe we can’t. Things wear out and you buy new stuff in foreign countries. Then you begin to wonder if you’re going to have to pay customs and import duty on all those things you bought. My Tupperware all died (that’s next on the list) so I cornered the plastic container market in Thailand, again in Cyprus and most recently in Barbados. Those are practical goods but how am I going to explain all the baskets? Every time I go shopping I forget to take a basket or I don’t take enough baskets. So, I buy another one because all the markets of the world always have at least one basket stall for dummies like me who aren’t organized. We don’t have to worry about clothes because we’re still wearing all those old dumb t-shirts that we took with us for trading.
But Customs may decide that our import business of plastics and rafia is subject to tax. Oh well, as long as they don’t look too closely at the solid teak barge that we use for a dinghy, I guess we’re okay.
The eighth thing I should’a known before I left home was to stay away from the Tupperware parties. It has a lifetime guarantee and everybody says you should use it. Wrong! It may well have a lifetime guarantee but that doesn’t mean it’s going to last a lifetime. That just means that if you hold onto all the pieces for six to seven years you can turn them into the Tupperware dealer and get free replacements. I’ve got a whole bunk full of Tupperware pieces. They’re stuck in there with the new plastic, the baskets, and all the leftover t-shirts that we never traded. The Tupperware doesn’t break unless you keep it on your boat, in the tropics, in the direct sunlight. Then it dies… just like Kevlar.
The ninth thing I should’a known before I left home was to get a letter of guarantee from the Coca Cola Company about returning bottles for deposit. The really sophisticated countries do everything in plastic and aluminum so you don’t have to worry. But out in the real world you still buy in glass and leave a deposit for your bottles.
You finish off your case of bottles between islands or countries. You then go to the store in the next country, carrying a case of empty bottles fifteen miles down some hot, dusty road. You get to the store, buy your new case of Coke and leave off the empties.
“No you don’t… hold on there a minute. These bottles came from some other country and they aren’t the same size as ours. Our bottles are a half inch taller than yours.”
They don’t care if you‘ve carried them all the way across the Atlantic and that they are extra weight. They probably know that you stuck them in the same berth with the old t-shirts, baskets, broken Tupperware and new plastic stuff anyway. So, you don’t get any local cash to tide you over until the bank opens, and you can’t use your credit card either.
The tenth thing I should’a know before I left home was to say a big fat “NO” to people when they said “You be sure to write lots of letters and tell us what’s happening to you.” I write and they don’t write back. Well, maybe they do write back and we just don’t get the letters… because you see, like I said back at the beginning, we should only have to look under one letter in the post office.
Well, I could think of more than ten things, but I gotta go back to the post office and do the “Ls” through the “Zs”. After that I still have to check out the box that says, “other” and the box that says “dead.”