On a typical day, the bay in front of Lovango Cay is busy with boats filled with passengers, journeying to the small island off of St. John in search of underwater adventures or fine dining on her shores. But, on Sunday evening, a very different type of celebration was taking place. Notable boats by the number, overflowing with community members, friends and family filled the small bay with the intent of a memorial and final send off for Captain Phil Chalker.
Captain Phil was a a lifelong charter captain with over 100,000 sailing miles under his boat’s keel and a St. John legend in his own time who left our world this past year. As we left Cruz Bay on Sunday evening aboard Southern Hospitality with Captain Bruce Tywon, destined for an emotional and beautiful ceremony in honor of Captain Phil, we caught up with his boat, Wayward Sailor. It was adorned with flags and flowers and overflowing with love from his closest on island companions who were on board.
To our left, Sail Helios, owned and Captained by Jay Rushing, a lead organizer of the evening’s events, caught up with us under the glory of her full sails in the dwindling sunlight. In that moment, I felt surrounded by greatness…sailing legends of St. John.
And, then, from behind us, the Kekoa came into view, raising her black sails with only Captain Jamison and his family on board. As the four boats neared Lovango Cay together in the Golden Hour, other sailboats and dinghies filed into the bay around us.
The arrival of so many beautiful vessels near the beach in front of Captain Phil’s former home was breathtaking.
Helios, Wayward Sailor and Southern Hospitality tied up to each other in a good old fashioned “raft up” with dozens of friends and loved ones on board with the intent of giving the good captain a proper send off. Kekoa and the other boats encircled the trio of vessels that became one with the application of lines and fenders between them. A beautiful ceremony was delivered by Phil’s partner, Allison Smith, she and Captain Phil’s grandson, Lincoln Liburd, his sailing buddy, Jay Rushing and his first mate and dear friend of many years, Tarn Hildreth. A soundtrack of sailing shanties and Kenny Chesney songs such as “Guys Named Captain” and “Song for the Saints” played in the background.
The service followed time-honored traditions of sailors and mariner protocols such as the playing taps, the firing of honor cannons and the eight bells sounded at the end of a sea watch, signaling that Capt. Phil’s watch was over.
At the end, the urn was passed from one dear friend to another as his ashes were scattered from the back of Captain Phil’s beloved boat into his home waters in front of Lovango Cay where he may rest eternally at peace in the sea that he loved so much. Flowers from St. John, hand picked by his island family were tossed into the sea, mingling with his ashes as they drifted into the glimmers of sunlight on the water to the tune of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
For those of you who loved Captain Phil, or simply were privileged enough to spend some time of the water with this St. John sailing legend, rest assured in knowing that his final send off and fond farewell was absolutely moving. And, according to those closest to him, exactly what he would have wanted.
Rest in Peace dear Captain…My only hope for the future is that glimmers of your greatness and love for the sea will live on in the St. John sailing and boating community. May fair winds and tall ships greet you in your final resting place.