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The Spirit of Cruiser VHF Radio

Each morning at 0730 from Monday through Saturday, the invisible airwaves of VHF channel 66 crackle with life, tickling the bright antennae of the sailboats around Grenada’s southern end, bristling with energy. Coffee-sipping cruisers gather round the wireless, seeking emotional feedback on a timeless wavelength, something bearing a gift beyond price, almost free.

No, they seek not Geddy, Alex, and Neil. They are drawn to the Cruiser’s Net, a 30-minute-ish information communion hosted by cruisers, for cruisers. “The Net,” as it’s called, features local news, weather, buy-and-sell, events, businesses, and other happenings of interest for those sailors anchored, moored, or lashed to Grenada. It is a not-too-distant cousin of the inspiration that founded A Prairie Home Companion, and versions of it can be found on your local, small-town radio to this day. (Try the AM dial! It’s a hoot!)

Each morning a different cruiser controls—or hosts—the Net, working from a script. Radio transmissions being what they are, this is sometimes a fuzzy, hissing exercise in “What did they just say?” But mostly it’s an informative and useful tool for people who live on boats to plan for their onshore needs: shopping, beer, partying.

What makes the Net interesting isn’t its format or its content. Listening to people try and sell old gas cans or dinghy repair patches during the “Treasures of the Bilge” segment is only captivating if you need something or are trying to unload something. And hearing about yet another performance by the local band The Leaky Seacocks can induce yawns. What makes the Net interesting are the characters coming through the radio, the people and the businesses and sailors all tethered to this community.

For example, there are dozens of families out here cruising on a long-term basis. While many follow some kind of homeschooling program, there are also classes hosted twice a week by Andre on the sailboat Gaga. His classes are at 0900 on Hog Island beach, and they sound like graduate-level studies.

“Good morning cruisers, and good morning little cruisers,” Andre intones in his university-perfect Ukrainian accent. “This morning’s class on Hog Island will be about the principles of electricity in a marine environment. And at the end of the class we will build our own multimeters to take back to our boats and test all our circuits.”

On many days there is a trivia question, presented by the enigmatic Frenchman called Camus. “Today’s trivia question has to do wiss zee sings found around zee island of Grenada,” he says in his pronounced but understandable French accent. “What do okra, sea moss and cassava all ‘ave in common?”

“Oooh, oooh,” Chantal piped up when she heard the question. “They are all thickening agents!” When she jumped on the radio and gave her answer, Camus said, “Yes, zat is right, zey all contain polysaccharides.” Yay! More coffee, and pass the sea moss!

The local marinas and restaurants are eager to share their daily specials, which mostly revolve around lunch. Marie, a native of Quebec, apprises us of her offering at Meat & Meet Market, located in Le Phare Bleu Marina. Darren from Prickly Bay Marina, in his baritone Etonian accent, tells us about the “fresh buns and baguettes” that are ready each morning. Steve and Sonya from Whisper Cove Marina fill everyone in on the food and entertainment options available (“Yoga at 0700, followed by deep tissue massage, then an open-air art class, then a Texas Hold’em tournament, all on the dock. Happy Hour from 1630 to 1900, three beers for $12EC [about $4US], and saxophonist Paul Emmanuel, plus an open mic night. Another restaurant in the bay is Cruiser’s Galley, and their focus is lunch, with offerings such as beef & chicken soup and lasagna & mashed potatoes. On Sundays, another restaurant—Taffy’s—offers a traditional roast English lunch, with Yorkshire pudding and all the trimmings.

Perhaps most entertaining is a local taxi driver called Shade Man. Patrick (Shade Man’s real name) provides much of the transportation for cruisers—shopping busses, rides to river tubing and this week’s Hash, private pick-ups. He is also a regular feature of the morning Net, always signing off with his trademark line: “Stay safe, stay dry, and don’t forget to close your hatches, because the liquid sunshine is always around.” One morning a group of cruisers were milling around, chatting with Shade Man outside Island Water World, a local marine hardware store. He told us he had lived and worked in Miami and been a trucker in Canada years ago.

“Man,” he said, “you cruisers got brass balls, goin’ out on dee ocean like dat.” Another cruiser looked at him and said, “Man, you got brass balls driving a taxi on the roads in this country.” Shad Man laughed. “No, we all know each udder, and we move at just the last moment. D’ere only a couple crashes a year here.”

The sense of community created by the morning Cruiser’s Net seems at odds with the ideal of the sailor. What kind of person would choose the solitary and self-sufficient life on the water, then immediately form strong social bonds? But this is the life I grew up with in Green Harbor, where fishermen—aloof, irascible, pugnacious—flocked to the community of the barroom, where disputes could always be put aside in favor of aid. I am rediscovering pieces of my youth in this Caribbean paradise, and it comes mysteriously, through invisible airwaves, a man-made enigma reflecting the spirit of us all.

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