Hoist the Colors

Every cruiser knows the importance of flying the host nation’s courtesy flag. But what if you find yourself unprepared? Maybe the wind changed your plans. Maybe you refused to buy the overpriced, undersized flag at the last chandlery. Or maybe you just plain forgot. What then? Not to worry! With a little imagination, you can jury-rig any flag of the world.

Early in our first, year-long cruise, I faced the dilemma of entering Malta without the appropriate red and white vertically striped flag. Rummaging through our second-hand flag collection did, however, produce a Polish flag with horizontal stripes. Aha! By turning it and chopping it in half, I had the correct design in no time. The finishing touch was the George Cross sketched into the upper corner with permanent marker. Presto! A Maltese flag! And if we ever choose to visit Poland, well, a reversal operation is not out of the question.

Of course, you can simply sew your own ensign. But what if the flag in question consists of more than a couple of stripes? The Caribbean Islands, for example, sport extravagantly creative designs. I took one look at Dominica’s flag (featuring not only stripes and stars but also a multicoloured parrot) and caved in, buying the darn thing for a whole $10. For our next island, I swore to find another way.

And I did, on the way to Grand Turk. This is the “reuse – recycle” method for British colonial flags, which have a Union Jack on a blue field and, most importantly, a virtually interchangeable central crest. The Turks and Caicos crest features a lobster, conch shell, and a bush – try appliquéing that, for goodness sake! Instead, I cut out a crest shape from a rag and applied a couple of magic markers. With a couple of sweeps of the needle, this was sewn into place onto the Anguillan flag I already had. Just think! This method could also be used – no, reused - in Montserrat, Gibraltar, even the Falkland Islands!

For the Bahamas, I mustered together some everyday materials: thick, yellow kitchen wipes and felt sheets from my son’s art supplies. Using the time-honored Crazy Glue method, I stuck blue stripes and a black triangle in place onto a yellow base. My creation stood as proud and stiff as the Stars and Stripes of the lunar landing, but they did the trick. I’m not sure this product would have withstood weeks of exposure, but it certainly held out for our brief visit. And the money we saved was better spent on a cold Kalik beer.

There is one more strategy one might employ to circumvent the scandalous prices demanded by chandlers for courtesy flags. By making judicious choices, a sailor can practically circumnavigate the world using just one sturdy French flag. Just think of the places you could visit! Guadeloupe, Martinique, most of the Pacific, even the Kerguelen Islands! Land ho!