For Turner, like Crimmins, it is a rare day in port when no landlubber stops to inform him how lucky he is to live the carefree sailing life. Once, anchored off an Out Island settlement, goombay music floating across the night air, the late Zachary Scott told Crimmins admiringly: "You live the life the rest of us plan to live when we retire." In reality, Turner says, the daydream of sailing for livelihood usually fades to harsh paradox: "The people who dream of chartering don't have the experience or money to get into it. Those who have the money and experience don't want the headaches."
There are fewer charter sailboats in Nassau today than 20 years ago when Bahamians first conceded that American-owned windjammers were no threat to their own charter fishing fleets. The West Indies is chockablock with boats, but the attrition rate among skippered yachts is heavy even as the bareboat business flourishes. Among dozens of ex-charter skippers who have swallowed the anchor, Miami yacht broker Art Kadey is fairly typical. As owner of the clipper-bow schooner Pinocchio, Kadey stuck it out longer than most, 10 years, before selling his boat (now Cyrano) to writer William F. Buckley Jr.
"It got to be like a prison," Kadey recalls. "You're a companion, teacher, entertainer, psychologist, servant—and you've still got to be master of the boat. You're gone for two weeks and then you come back from the islands with 24 hours to get your boat spruced up. The next morning you've got to be up with a smile"—he fixes his face into a stiff grin—"ready to meet your new party. At the end of a season the whole difference between profit and loss may come down to the ability to do your own carpentry and mechanical work." Kadey likens chartering to playing pro football: "You have to love the game and its bumps, but you can never forget it's a business. People go in thinking they'll have a ball and maybe also make a buck; a couple of seasons and they're gone. You see it all the time."
As a competitor Kadey watched Crimmins for years. "We all had gimmicks: marine biology, sailing instruction, swinging singles boats. Mine was having a piano aboard. What Crimmins has is a manner that appeals to rich people. But beyond that, he's a pro. Nothing much surprises him—and it's a business which can turn around and bite you any time you think you've got it mastered."
The Ministry of Tourism's Edwards, who skippered the schooner Bon Fire out of Miami and other charter boats in the Bahamas before swapping the helm for a typewriter, sees chartering as something Lewis Carroll might have invented for Alice. "In hotels, the word guest is something of a euphemism, but in chartering it's the whole mirage," he says. "Imagine telling someone, 'You're paying $2,000 a week, but unless you can pretend you're sailing as the skipper's nonpaying guest, the whole thing will fall apart.' But that's the way it is."
Even in the most spacious boats, rancor at anchor can spread like dry rot. "Guests can get off not only hating you but hating each other," Edwards continues. "I've seen friendships of 20 years wrecked on a 10-day cruise."
Crimmins himself is unable to pinpoint why he succeeds where others fail. At 57 he is neither taciturn nor yo-ho-ho, and in truth he doesn't look salty. Even in khakis and deck shoes, with a worn blue skipper's cap covering gray-flecked hair, he could be mistaken for a professor, or one of the doctors, lawyers, pilots and executives who are the bulk of his clientele.
Perhaps significantly, it is against such men rather than fellow skippers that he tends to measure himself. For 25 years he has struggled to upgrade a barnacle-rough occupation, and one yardstick of personal success is the flow of offers of high-paying jobs—"at least one each season, usually in personnel or public relations"—that come from wealthy guests. To a Depression era high school dropout, sensitive about his lack of formal education, guaranteed income and paneled offices are flattering come-ons. "I look at most professional men who sail with me—they'll come aboard with their briefcase and their Maalox No. 2—and I think, 'My God, what would it be like to sail just two weeks or even two months a year?' " He goes on, "The man offering the job is almost always the company president. I tell him truthfully he's got the only job that interests me. I'm already head of a challenging business. Why should I want to step down?"
It is that fever for control of one's own helm that drives most charter-boat owners. "Nobody is ever totally independent," Crimmins says, "but this comes close. It's like owning your own little nation." At its best, "it's the most wonderful life I can imagine."
And at its worst? Lighting an old briar pipe, he puffs miniclouds that drift to leeward. "It's like prospecting for gold," he says. "If it was any more difficult, nobody would do it. If it was any easier or less risky, the whole world would try."