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No Ordinary Cruise

“I’ve lived on a ship for 38 years,” says Douglas Hazelton, known in St Maarten as ‘Captain Crunch’, “and I love the life.” Up until he sailed into Marigot Bay in St Martin in March, the last nine years of that life had been spent circumnavigating the world with his wife Bethanne, son Antares and daughter Azurra, aboard an 89ft, 1930 Dutch flat-bottom cargo ship called Sindbad.

There are perhaps only ‘hundreds’ of boats circumnavigating the world at any given moment, Hazelton estimates, but ‘ fewer than one percent’ doing it the way his family did. His son was born on a boat, his daughter onboard within the first fifteen minutes of her life, and both children were subsequently educated afloat.

‘Captain Crunch’, originally from Canada, came to the Caribbean almost forty years ago. “In 1967, I was living in the Arctic in a tent,” he explains, “working for a nickel exploration company, saving the money for a boat. I’d been sailing as a youth. It was my dream. I wrote to a charter boat from the back of Yachting Magazine and the guy wrote back with the offer of a dollar a day. I haven’t been back in Canada for five minutes since.”

His account of what followed is one of those richly varied epics that used to be commonplace in the Caribbean before the more prosaic era today – years spent running a 65’ gaff-rigged Brixham Trawler in the Virgins, or an 83’ Chinese Junk in the Dominican Republic, or a 65’ salvage trawler in St Maarten. The nickname came from an ill-fated period running a Glass Bottom Boat in Philipsburg. “I’d come from the Virgins, and I thought ‘this is the Caribbean, everywhere’s got to have fish. So I didn’t even look. I just bought the boat. And what do you know, there isn’t a single fish in Great Bay! The business failed, but the name stuck,” he chuckles.

Arriving in St Maarten in 1969, Hazelton remembers a near-empty island of dirt roads and untouched anchorages. “You could go and sit with [head of government] Claude Wathey,” he remembers. “I went one day, and there was a lady already there, holding a chicken. She said, ‘I’m coming to see Claude’. I said, ‘why?’ She said, ‘somebody kicked my chicken and I want to talk to Claude about it.’”

St Maarten in those days was good to the Hazeltons. Chartering Sindbad for sunset cruises was lucrative, and Douglas had soon saved some $100,000. “I said, ‘that’s it. I don’t need any more of this. We’re just going to start drinking champagne every night. Let’s hit the road,’” Hazelton explains. “The plan was to go out there and get lost.”

With her gaff-rigged main and a mizzen that Douglas had installed, and with 20,000 tonnes of ballast in the form of a 15,000L fuel tank and a 5,000L water tank, Sindbad was able to sail at least 65% of the time from Panama to the Marquesas at an average of 5.2knots. Otherwise, she was under power from a 200HP Gardiner engine.

Sticking between 20 degrees north and 20 degrees south, the family cruised the south pacific, stopping for a year in Fiji.

Would they have stopped if they had found somewhere good enough? “What happened is, we got to Morea,” says Hazelton, “right by Tahiti, and we lived in Cook’s Bay for a year. It was the most beautiful place. We were just starting to get our papers, when I started looking ‘over there’. You think, ‘Christ, I haven’t even seen Tonga or New Caledonia yet.’”

The Hazelton’s lived together on Sindbad for 20 years. Recently, son Antares took up the offer to pursue his own yachting career in France, at which point Douglas has decided to draw this particular chapter of his life to a close and sell the boat.

Although Douglas is asked continually if he will write a book about his voyage, the only project he considers is to write about how his children grew up. “On a boat you’ve got to live with everybody. These children have no inhibitions. They’re not self-conscious.”

Whatever the final result, this was one boat story with a true difference.

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