Beach Bites

By Tom Neale, 2/10/2005


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We boaters are always looking for that perfect beach. Some of us are looking for crowded beaches so that we can pick up “companionship.” I gave up on this a long time ago. I’m not the kind of guy who ever had any luck picking up companionship on beaches. I used to envy that little guy in the commercials who at least got enough attention to get sand kicked in his face. Nobody ever even bothered to kick sand in my face. I was so skinny the big guys were afraid they’d miss. Some people are looking for deserted beaches so they can go au naturel. This isn’t a problem for me. I never have to look for a deserted beach. I can go to any beach, take my clothes off, and the beach becomes deserted right away. Then there are people who want the tourist paradise beaches. These are easy to find. You can spot them from miles offshore because of the sun oil slick floating out from all the tan lotion. I’m afraid to go near those beaches because the Coasties might think all that oil is coming from my bilge. I don’t think it would work to say something like: “Just smell my bilge, officer, and see if you think it smells like coconut oil.”

Lots of boaters are looking for a beach to exercise. Every time I find an exercise beach I join in, but I join in from the cockpit with my binoculars. Those things are heavy, and you can really work on your biceps as you keep them trained on an exerciser of choice on the beach while your boat’s rolling around anchored offshore. After I work up a sweat holding my binocs to look at the jumpers and pumpers, I just concentrate on the slo-mo people sitting on the beach with their bodies contorted into strange positions making even stranger noises like “Ooom.” They call it “yoga” but I don’t see much point going to the beach to do it. I do this sort of stuff too, almost every day. But I do it in the privacy of my own engine room. There’s nothing more uplifting and relaxing than inserting your arm between your legs, followed by your head, as you try to reach up to get that wrench you didn’t bring with you when you just spent ten minutes getting into position to reach what you needed to reach with the wrench. The major difference is that the things I say aren’t exactly anything like “Ooom.”

Most folks (and certainly the song writers) think that the perfect beach has to have palm trees and, that all important ingredient, mangrove. When you find a perfect beach anywhere near mangrove (and that’s usually what they’re near in the tropics) you usually end up with a special beach ingredient called, “no see-ums,” especially at sunrise and sunset. It’s a breakfast/dinner sort of thing...for them. The islanders where we hang out sometimes call them “sand flies.” The travel magazines seldom call them anything, discreetly omitting any mention of them when they tell you about “cocktails on the beach and early morning walks.” I’d think it’s a conspiracy between the sand flies and the editors of the travel magazines. But I haven’t figured out what the no see-ums could be giving to the editors in return for all the fresh meat the editors are supplying to the sand flies. Sitting out in our cockpit, we can always tell when they (the no see-ums) start materializing out of the mangrove. Everybody on the beach starts a dance called the “Sand Fly Shuffle.” They don’t even need music. There’s only one thing good about no sand flies. If you’ve gone to the beach to “pick up some companionship” you always have an excuse to slap somebody’s backside on the pretext of helping them out.

Beach Bummers

1. A beach exploration on one of those small isolated islands in the Bahamas or Caribbean can easily become disastrous.

2. An amazing number of people don’t adequately anchor their boats when they land at a beach and go ashore to explore. When the tide rises, their boat floats away. They are then stranded on a “tropical island,” and it isn’t fun. In isolated places, such as the many small islands in the Bahamas, you can’t call for help because your VHF hand held is in the dinghy that’s gone.

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The advantage of sand flies is that, without the exercises necessitated by binoculars, they can bring the benefits of the beach right into your boat. They say that no see-ums only hang out along the shore, and that you’re safe if you anchor far enough off the beach. The only problem is that they haven’t bothered to say this to the no see-ums yet. On calm nights the sand fly would find his way to the North Pole if he thought there was some thawed meat up there. And they know there’s always thawed meat on a boat. So they come through the screens, come through the hatches, come through the dorades, heck they come down the hole in the middle of the mast when the sun sets on a calm night. Then they munch out before going to bed. Next morning bright and early, they’re up again to help you wake up. After breakfast they disappear and nap all day long, to be ready for cocktail hour.

By now you may be thinking that there’s been far too much talk about sand flies. After all, we started talking about finding perfect beaches. Actually, we’re still talking about finding perfect beaches. It’s just that these little guys make a very important point on the subject. I’ve noticed (I’m sure you have too) that most of the beaches we read about and dream about are all down in the lower latitudes with tropical weather (where I am as I write this). There’ve been so many songs and advertising campaigns about getting down here to find that perfect beach and everything that goes with it that sometimes it’s hard to imagine cruising anywhere else. But the important point is that the song writers and ad people seldom tell the whole story. I haven’t heard many beach songs about the no see-um. Down here, where I am now, there may be a few good beaches without them, but up there, where some of you are now, in the cooler climes that every body is supposed to sail away from, it’s hard to find a beach that does have them—even in the summer time. There are all sorts of “perfection,” and one of the best is just being on your boat wherever you are. You don’t have to drop your job and sail away to find perfect beaches. You’ve probably got some really good ones right around home. They may not have palm trees and mangrove, but they probably are sans sand flies. And all you’ve got to do is Enjoy.

Copyright 2004-2008 Tom Neale