Well, the St. John Community received some heavy news over the weekend. A Love City Legend, an iconic presence, an incredibly talented and knowledgeable mariner and all around charismatic character has set sail for his final destination. After decades of exploration, Captain Phil Chalker left this world on Friday afternoon in a facility in Atlanta with his island daughter by his side and voice mail messages from his St. John family playing in the background.
Captain Phil, as most people fondly know him, sailed the Bahamas and the Caribbean for more than 30 years aboard his sailing vessel, Wayward Sailor. The two shared more than 100 thousand nautical miles together.
His incredible knowledge of sea life and local waters may have qualified him to be an experienced Marine Biologist. A day on the water with Captain Phil was not just filled with fun in the sun, but was also jam packed with vast knowledge of wildlife and coral habitats. Knowledge that he gladly shared. Knowledge you could take home with you and keep for future visits. Amidst the island hopping and lunch stops, a family on board would also receive the gift of “natural adventure and environmental education” that only a man with his experience and know-how could give.
The Captain lived in a small home on the remote island of Lovongo Cay, just a few miles from St. John’s North Shore. Every day, he would pop into Connections, the bright pink building in the center of Cruz Bay. More often than not for a social call rather than actual business.
“He always had a smile for everybody,” said Cid Hamling, long time “island family” and founder of the very essential mail center. “He was a colorful character as so many people who live here are.”
She recalled to me his love of their potlucks at Connections and told me he was always first in line for the buffet of homecooked deliciousness and as ready with a compliment as he was to fill his plate.
“He would be singing your praises about a deviled egg,” she laughed. “And he LOVED his chocolate!”
In an article she wrote for the Tradewinds (as featured on the Wayward Son website), the Captain’s long time partner, Allison Smith wrote:
A St. Johnian is more than just a person who lives on the rock. Some are “bo’n here”, some “moved here” or “sailed here” and some “wanna be here”.
Casting for living on the rock calls for a wry wit, creativity, tenacity, joy, cynicism, tolerance, survivorship, love of nature, general respect, infinite patience, resourcefulness and a strong spirit.
As a man who “sailed here,” the Captain truly encapsulated these colorful characteristics and was an exemplary member of our community of “misfits” on St. John.
Captain Phil will remain a beloved captain and St. John icon for years to come. His presence and that smile on island will leave a gaping hole in the Love City community.
It is lucky for all of us that Captain Phil has left behind an account of his many escapades and adventures at sea. Just a year before his ongoing medical problems developed, Captain Phil’s memoir was published. A recount of his memories and stories about his exciting life, Adventures at Sea with Captain Phil Chalker, begins with his childhood days in Michigan and ends with his arrival on St. John. And, you will never believe what you are reading about the journey in between! Please consider picking up a copy of this dynamic novel, straight from the Captain’s pen, that might just change the course of your own life. Much like Captain Phil changed the lives of so many.
Additionally, if you would like to donate to one of Captain Phil’s favorite St. John charitable organizations in his honor, the list and corresponding links are as follows:
KATS (Kids and the Sea) – Offers rowing and sailing programs for children. Please make checks payable to KATS St. John and mail to: KATS St. John, 9901 Emmaus, St. John, VI 00830
Memorial arrangements on St. John and more information about how you can support the family and honor the memory of Captain Phil will be forthcoming.
RIP Captain…This little rock won’t be the same without you. Wishing you fair winds and following seas on your final journey into the deep blue yonder.
22 thoughts on “Beloved St. John Captain Sets Sail on His Final Voyage”
Sailing with Captain Phil was and is still one of our favorite days on island time. He was so knowledgeable and friendly he made a great day trip for us! Will miss him as will many.
I am so sorry for the island’s loss. It sounds like he sure was a wonderful man. My sympathy to you all on the island, and to the captains’ family.
Captain Phil married Ann and I on his island Lovango Cay in 2007. We loved being on his email distribution list to see some of Caribbean wonders he could photograph. What a wonderful person the Captain was.
Capt Phil taught me to love the octopus on a sail and snorkel with my partner. He will be missed.
Loved Captain Phil – he was so kind and knowledgeable when we were building our business on St. John. He will be missed beyond words.
My husband and I had the honor of Captain Phil marrying us on Feb 19, 2013 on St. John. A magical day that began with him performing a simple and beautiful ceremony in a one of a kind location. Forever in our hearts ♥️ ♥️
Captain Phil renewed our vows for our 30th anniversary on Cinnamon Bay. It has been 10 years now, but we will always remember what a kind gentle soul he was. He took us snorkeling off Lovango the next day and it was one of the best trips we have had in our many years coming to the island. Rest In Peace Captain Phil.
We sailed with him on numerous occasions in the past few years. We looked forward to those days and we were never disappointed: his knowledge of the sea, his unique perspective, his personalized service, and his dry/salty wit were beyond compare. He will be missed. Our condolences to all who loved/respected him.
Oh no! I’m heartbroken. I’ve sailed with Capt Phil a few times and he always made us feel like family and we knew him forever. What a great soul. I’m sorry to the family and all his friends on island.
One day in the water with Captain Phil was worth years in a classroom. I wish I knew half of what he had forgotten especially about octopus. Thanks for the fun times on the water. RIP Captain Phil
Captain Phil was the first friend I had when I moved to St John in 2000. He gave me island advice that at first I believed was a bit of a joke. It didn’t take long for me to realize the truth of what he said. “Jane, island life is different. We’re a small town at heart. We don’t have mainland entertainment. Everyone knows your business. So, if you do something stupid, we’re all going to talk about it. The good news? In a week, someone else has done something way worse and we’ll all talk about that. You’ll be forgotten.”
I did many a sail with him. After Phil lost an eye to cancer, I was concerned he would have issues with depth perception. “I’ve never had that problem. Guess what? My new eye is made of coral!!” He was so excited about that. When my son visited, his sail with Captain Phil was the highlight. On his next visit, I hadn’t booked a sail for him. He was really upset with me. “Mom, how could you not? Captain Phil is an ‘eyecon’.
He promised he’d do my eulogy if I died first. I wish I was there to honor my friend. You are missed. Love, Jane
My wife and I had an all-day snorkel with Captain Phil back ten years ago, on our first trip to St. John. Not only do you get a great day snorkeling, but Captain Phil gave us a short course in marine biology as well. His love and enthusiasm for the sea was very evident . What a wonderful man, he will be sorely missed on island, and dare I say, is irreplaceable. Wishing you calm seas Captain Phil !
Our family sailed about every time we were on STJ, he taught our then 11 year old daughter to free dive, she was hooked. We sailed on our 25th anniversary, etc., it was so much more than a chartered sail. I know he will be sorely missed….our prayers to his family and vast number of friends
So sad to hear about Captain Phil. We had the good fortune of sailing with him Christmas morning 2019. A colorful character is an understatement and he taught our son how to snorkel and gifted him a well worn sailing hat. We will remember that trip well.
We sailed with Captain Phil twice and they were two of the most memorable days we’ve spent on St John. His knowledge of the marine ecosystem made a trip with him more than just a day of snorkeling (anyone who sailed with him now knows how amazing octopi are!). A life well-lived. RIP.
I did not know Captain Phil, but he sounds like a wonderful character. Sounds like he lived his life the way he wanted to, until close to the end. My condolences to his family and friends who are missing him now.
But I DO know of Mike Agranoff, referred to in the last sentence! He’s a first-rate folksinger from New Jersey. A very talented songwriter, he’s done a hilarious parody of Paul Simon’s “The Boxer” (“The Folkie”) and also one of the traditional song “Railroad Bill”. My favorite CD of his is called “… or Would You Rather Get a Job?” I had no idea he’s a fellow fan of St John! Small world!
So so sad to hear about Captain Phil. What an incredible man he was/is! We sailed with him 2 times: once around his Lovango Cay home/area and another time he & my husband secretly planned a vow renewal for us on Jost Van Dyke. I was totally shocked…..stood in that little church yard on Jost with a bathing suit/coverup on, wet hair & all. It was amazing though; a day I’ll never forget! I’ll forever remember Captain Phil for not only all he knew but the amazing person he is!
I simply couldn’t believe when I heard captain Phil had passed. He was so full of life and such a soulful human being. We sailed with him several times and he was like family. You taught us about life and led by example on how to embrace your journey. You will always be in our heart Capt Phil and your wayward sailor. Our thoughts and prayers to your family.
I met Capt. Phil back in Dania, Florida in 1978 when he lived aboard his boat “Reef Roamer”. He became a true friend immediately and was a prime influence in me pursuing a life with the sea. He set me on a course to get my initial Captain License while teaching me the finer points of sailing. I last heard from him years ago but think of him often.
He will be missed. My sincere condolences to all who knew and loved him.
I used to keep my second work monitor on the St John Ferry cam, it was a welcome mental health break during the day. I’d see Captain Phil & Tarn head off & return with passengers every day. One day he didn’t make the trip & I felt like he wasn’t going to return. So sad, wish I had known him in real life. All of my love to his island family and friends.
I’ve just noticed a sailboat in Cruz Bay, moored at – or close to – his old spot. White boat, red sails. Wondering if that’s the Wayward Sailor reborn?
There are no Roses on a sailors grave. No Lillies on the oceans wave. Only the sound of a seagulls peep and the tears that a sweetheart weeps.