Drunken Sailor -June 5, 2003
Sundowners with friends in St. Maarten - sometimes a pattern that can be hard to break
Beer is only fifty cents
(E. Quinn, Drunken Sailor)
Our brief visit in Toronto has been a hectic mix of recording sessions, boat related errands, and abbreviated socializing. Not much time for casual sightseeing. We did, however, manage to check out the official opening of the newly named Distillery Historic District near Toronto's waterfront. The site is the former Gooderham & Worts distillery, at one time the largest distilling complex in the British Commonwealth. Dating back to 1832, the acres of brick and stone buildings form perhaps the finest example of Victorian industrial architecture in North America. Sadly, alcohol ceased flowing from the stills in 1990; the historic buildings now house a number of artist galleries, studios, and theatres.
Gooderham & Worts contributed more than just fine whisky and rum to a growing nation; a hundred years ago, the excise taxes paid by the distilling company were the largest single source of government revenue. Canadians continue to be taxed for their sins. The price of a drink in a Toronto bar is almost enough to make us consider abstaining. Almost.
The booze is cheap, by Canadian standards, in most of the Caribbean. Even in countries like the Bahamas, where the overall cost of living is high, rum is reasonably priced. In fact, good rum is cheap throughout the Caribbean islands (not surprising since 95% of the world's supply is distilled in the region). Wine is a bargain in the French islands (just about everything else is not) and great beer can be found in the most unlikely places. While in the Dominican Republic, David developed a particular fondness for cerveza Presidente grande served in litre size bottles.
There's a long drinking tradition within sailing ranks. When the Royal Navy finally abolished its daily rum ration on July 31, 1970, British sailors had been imbibing the spirit at public expense for almost three centuries. Even without taxpayer support, cruisers today in the developing world have little difficulty finding abundant supplies of inexpensive grog. This is not necessarily a good thing. Cheap alcohol and a lot of free time can lead to trouble.
Many cruisers left fairly structured settings when they moved aboard. Some find it hard to resist imbibing a few cold ones when there are no appointments to make or deadlines to meet, especially when everyone else seems to be knocking them back. Nothing wrong with the occasional drink (or two or three...). Got to replace those bodily fluids after all. The problem occurs when this becomes a near continuous pattern - a real possibility when you're in company with a lot of other cruisers and the most common form of socializing is having each other over for "sundowners". It's no coincidence that all of the major cruising hangouts we've visited have active Alcoholics Anonymous groups.
For the moment we're watching our money and reducing our alcohol intake. We don't feel too deprived. In fact, we might even feel a bit healthier. Maybe when we head south we'll be able to resist all that bargain priced booze. Of course, we'll still need a few bottles for medicinal purposes....