“Are you going to be here tomorrow? Can I bring you anything? Do you need bread”. These were the questions Sidney asked as he approached Cream Puff. I sat on the rail with my feet over the side. He said. “I am a vendor, I sell all sort of things. This is my store”. I asked, “What T-shirts do you have and how much are they?” He tosses me a line and says, “Tie me alongside and I will show you”.
Meet Sidney the boat vendor. He says people often refer to the vendors as a boat boy but he doesn’t find this offensive. He has been selling T-shirts from his boat in the Tobago Cays for 30 years. He is 54 and started his business at age 24. Being a boat vendor in the Tobago Cays isn’t easy. First, the proprietor of the business must be accepted to and join an association of boat vendors. This is managed by the Marine Park Association. If successful, they are granted a license. Sidney has license number 29. The St Vincent Coast Guard regularly checks vending boats in the park to ensure licenses are current and no one is selling illegally. This is done for the protection of the tourist and the vendor’s businesses. An over aggressive vendor is not welcome because they want the people visiting the Tobago Cays to have a wonderful time. Tourists are the bread and butter of this small industry and extremely valuable to the charter yachting business and mainland. The association helps train the vendors to approach boats in a polite nonthreatening manner. The Tobago Cays is the top destination in the southern Caribbean for charter boats. It is a little slice of heaven. Our experience with the boat vendors has been nothing but politeness and smiles.
Sidney arrived on Union Island from Trinidad at the age of six and now speaks three languages. Besides his native tongue of English, he speaks fluent German and some French. As we look at the flags flying from the stern of the vessels anchored here, being trilingual has merits for his vending business. He tells us people are often very surprised when he converses with them in their own language. He made a big sale earlier this morning to a charter boat full of Germans. It was the first boat he went to and this is the first day of his new season. Sidney thought this to be a good omen that this year he was going to have a good season and make a lot on money. His season is short. He is out here just about every day from mid November until mid July. Very few boats come here in the hurricane season. The area is wide open to the ocean and communications for a good weather forecast are iffy.
Sidney was married twice and has three children, two from the first marriage and one from his second love. His floating store has housed, fed and educated his children who now support themselves. He owns a small house on Union Island about 10 miles away from the Tobago Cays by boat. There is a gleam in his eye as he talks of his children’s accomplishments. His daughter just obtained her college qualifications to become a teacher.
Now that he is an empty nester, Sidney has the bug. By bug I don’t mean an ailment or a Volkswagen. He has the same bug as Cindy and me. He has the bug to travel. He and his wife are talking about a move and traveling in an early retirement. He wants to see more of the world and meet the people. His wife was born in Martinique and therefore has a French passport. This means for them the entire European Union is open as a residence or work. They are thinking this might be his last year selling wares from his floating store. Sidney says, “Please don’t take this the wrong way. And, I hope you will understand what I mean. But I am tired of seeing that same beach everyday”. He points to the white sand beach off Cream Puff’s stern. We both know too well exactly what he means. We both had aspects of our jobs wearing on us.
At the end of this season, he is seriously thinking about selling his boat and renting his house. He talks about opening a bakery in Europe somewhere. He says he is a pretty good cook. Or, perhaps a pizzeria instead of a bakery. The plan is still very fluid. He and his wife have some time to work it all out. We all agreed having the plan was a solid first step.
I can’t help but wonder how many boats have traveled through here and purchased shirts, souvenirs or bread from Sidney. The cays will not be the same without his charming personality. I also can’t help but wonder where Sidney will wind up. Will it be the bakery, the pizzeria or some other entrepreneurial entity in Europe? I like to think our paths will cross again one day and we meet the man determined to follow his dreams to travel and meet people. The man who thinks it would be nice to have snow occasionally. Perhaps we will buy a loaf of bread from him from a mountainside bakery in the French Alps as we continue our travels after sailing. I like to think this might happen. I hope it does.