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BANGERS, MASH, AND BEANS
The marina in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria was getting to be a busy place in early November as some 240 yachts began arriving from Europe to take part in the soon to be largest ocean crossing battle group ever. Since Eva and I arrived early and procured the choicest slip, we got into the habit of sitting up on the bow with a sundowner each evening to watch the new arrivals jockey around the fuel dock. We were halfway through our Bloody Mary’s when we heard this chap screaming. His name is David and we knew him to be the Captain of a Bavaria 46’ a few doors down. The unusual part is that he had just been badly mugged two nights before and was supposed to be heavily sedated lying in his cockpit. So here he comes limping down the dock at us dragging his bad leg with his nose pushed over to his left ear, a zillion stitches down his face through both lips and chin, a right arm in a sling and so full of drugs he should have been unconscious. On top of that he was waving a 4’ pair of bolt cutters over his head in his good hand. We see this sight and figured he had just gone whacky, so I get up to see about getting him back in bed. As I did a head pops up out of our companionway. It all became clear in that instant. I jumped onto the dock as the pirate scrambled out. I beat him to it and lit right into him. In nothing flat I sustained a badly cut foot, one giant knot on my forehead, a twisted back, two bloody knees, a contused right arm and a burning desire to finish my Bloody Mary! So we go at it on the dock and he breaks away. He runs from me screaming bloody murder and leaps into the water. As he thrashes away I could just see our money and jewelry going to the bottom. But as luck would have it he starts to drown! Being in a pleasant mood I get in a dink and go out and rescue him. By the time I dragged his sputtering self back to the dock a local policeman was on hand along with a good sized crowd. I grabbed the cop’s handcuffs and he grabbed them back leaving us each holding a cuff. I would shove the bad guy over on his stomach to cuff him behind his back and then the policeman would push him back again to cuff him in front. Consequently the badguy is flopping back and forth on the dock like a fish out of water. More police arrive and solve the stalemate. In Spain they cuff them in front! I empty his pockets and found nothing as expected. Fortunately for us Eva had been able to look over our boat and found nothing missing. David apparently saw him through one half of an open eye (the other was swelled shut) just as he entered. When the screaming started it scared him off before he had time to look around. While standing on the dock bleeding, Eva began cleaning me up as I told the story to the cops and then we headed downtown. No one spoke English so the whole process of documenting the incident was hilarious. At one point I showed them my I.D. and told them I was retired. Well; this changed everything. I was ushered into an office with ‘Mr. Big’ as about six of them passed my badge around followed by many grunts and ughs. Then the handshaking started with very large smiles and something about the rich, important American policeman ( I didn’t bother to explain the contradiction). Just as I thought it couldn’t get any better one of the officers snatches the badge off his shirt and wants to trade for mine. His badge was velcroed on and appeared to be made out of tin foil while mine was gold! It took awhile to explain to him what NO meant! Even though I didn’t press charges the bad guy was still in jail when we sailed away. We will always be thankful that David saved the day and alerted us.
This incident was indicative of a much larger problem in Las Palmas. Unlike the Azores, the Canaries hold a lot of very poor people. During the day the locals would sit around the docks fishing and act very friendly but were actually casing the boats and making shopping lists. Then each night Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves would descend on the marina in the wee hours and steal everything that was not glued down. I only lost a pair of nasty old dock shoes this way but others lost expensive bikes, outboards, clothes, fishing gear, etc. The officials would just shrug and say the people needed it and you have insurance anyway. After the boarding we never saw another fisherman and everyone was most grateful.
The ARC is mainly a European event. It brings the continentals over to the Caribbean each Winter and most of those are English but plenty of Scots, Irish, French, Germans, Scandinavians, and some Italians, Spanish, & Australians. A few Welsh too, but that’s another story. There were only a handful of boats (like us) representing the colonies. One day we had a flag raising ceremony where we marched through the streets with each group showing their colors. There must have been two dozen countries represented. At a bar or restaurant you had to give your order to a German who knew English who in turn would tell a Frenchman who knew German who would then tell an Italian who knew French and Spanish just to get your order. Even if you went to a Chinese restaurant thinking Kung Fooey was the same everywhere; forget it, the menu was in Spanish. When I would say something like ‘howdy’ the Brits would let out a good laugh. Then Eva would greet them with a ‘how ya’ll doin’ and send them into spasms. They immediately started giving us lessons in the Queen’s English and generally attempted to civilize us. The operative word being ‘attempted’. It wasn’t until someone brought out the Bangers that we began to view our progenitors in a new light. The sausage, mashpotatoes, & beans were so good we had two different folks bring us more down from England. Then we would cook them up and eat alone so we didn’t have to share!
For two weeks we watched as folks scrambled to ready their sailboats. Had I not witnessed the goings on I would not have believed it. One would think that having sailed to the Canaries from Europe everyone would be relatively prepared and experienced. Not so. We watched as people changed their rig and sail plan, installed SSBs but never used one before, added self steering and other little knickknacks like generators and radar. They strapped on hundreds of jugs of fuel and water and would then ask innocent questions like how to get there! They hauled their boats for a last minute bottom jobs, signed on crew who were complete strangers! and had a tremendous good time while doing it all. The last couple of days food was delivered to the dock. Wholesale proportions of everything you could imagine was stacked on the docks spreader high. In their ‘free’ time folks attended seminars and rescue demonstrations. The whole place was
incredibly electric and sustained a fever pitch for two solid weeks. At the end of the day all worked very well.
Then the beginning began. Up until this time I thought Chaos Theory was something physicists and astronomers discussed quietly in the halls of MIT. But the working reality of it unfolded before our eyes. In a three hour period 240+ yachts from 76 to 28 feet exited the marina through a 50 yard wide opening. Then they all sailed about in a square mile area while waiting for the starting cannon fired from a Spanish Destroyer anchored off shore. The big boats in the racing division stormed back and forth liked caged lions. The rest of us went nuts avoiding collisions of which there were four we know about! When the countdown clock hit zero and all the boosters were lit there is no possible way I can explain the sight of the most HUMONGOUS ocean going flotilla in the WHOLE WIDE WORLD blast downwind to a destination 3000 miles away!
The rest of that first day we basically tried to keep from getting run down. But by night fall there were only a few lights about and within a day we were alone on the ocean. The SSB became our social center for the next 25 DAYS! Eva volunteered as a net controller taking positions daily from the 66 boats in our class. In the beginning everyone talked about the fish they were catching and the whales they saw. Bets were flying with optimistic projections of arrival times. Halfway across we were all moaning about torn sails, broken spinnaker poles, bum engines or mutinous crew. Nearer the end the frustration of no wind, lack of fuel and missed flights could be heard without the radio.
On an average day the Humpback whales following the boat would close in about dawn and scare the pudding out of you when they would blow right along side. And what a smell. Ghosting along the Dorado would school in the shadow of the boat like goldfish. They were so thick we would catch and release on like tackle! In the afternoon we would go for a swim and catch a nap. We ate well while it was calm and would talk for hours about the future. We named our next Neopolitan Mastiff ‘Samson Plutonious Chapman’ but you can call him ‘Sam’. Each day was a variation of the same. Not quite as sedate when the wind was blowing 40 knots and the waves were level with the anchor light but, all in all, a pleasant voyage.
Sometimes we would rehash events. For Instance; as an ARC yacht approached Las Palmas in early November they ran across a fellow treading water 40 miles out! He was a Nigerian who stowed away on a freighter, got caught, and was thrown overboard! Then about a thousand miles out of St. Lucia another fellow goes overboard (accidentally) and after 16 hours of treading water is found by the same yacht as the African! Another sailboat approaching Las Palmas was sideswiped by a tanker and only lost their mast! A boat struck a mother whale with its calf alongside. Rode up onto its back and slid off without any apparent damage to either! There was another heart attack at sea but this time boats converged on the victim and saved his life. The all time worst was the fellow who went up his mast about three days from the finish to fix something. He got to the top, clipped in his safety line, had a heart attack and hopefully died then (DRT) because his wife could not get him down and had to motor to Barbados with the body swinging at the top of the mast! Then there was the day we were driving along a Madeiran mountain pass with the sunroof open when a water fall decided to cascade down on the car! On the island of Lanzorate near the African coast they still rode camels to get around! We even got to within about 50 miles of Africa but got spooked and turned back out to sea with the boat covered in Saharan sand. So much stuff. I could write a book or maybe a letter!
As an example, the yacht ‘Tokio’ is a Whitbread-60 around the world racer. SITOA was tied up nearby for awhile and the crew took a shine to Eva. One day they took me out on sea trials. The thing is really dangerous. When you sneezed it would jump up to 12 knots and get going so fast downwind it would throw up a rooster tail. If I sat somewhere I would invariably get yelled at because there would be a line running under me with 30 tons! of pressure on it. When I worked the grinder it would eventually spin out of control beating me to a pulp and every time I thought I found a safe place out of the way the boat would tack sending me rolling across the deck only to be collared by some hefty 20 year old crew dog who called me Sir. The indignity of it! Finally, I worked my way to the stern only to be told to switch runners on each tack and to be lively about it because if I messed up the mast would come down! (all 100’of it). By the end of the day I was at the helm. Unreal. How often does a Joe Blow like me get to drive a world class ocean race boat? It was about this time I started giving the Captain advice on some of the finer points. The day ended with me looking like a walking, talking black and blue mark! At night we would have dockside BBQs and Eva became the crew’s mom (it’s hell to be old!) making Pina Coladas to die for. Then the next day I did it all over again on a Whitbread Maxi-72 owned by the German liquor company BOLS!
After almost a month at sea the island of St. Lucia finally shows up. By now Eva was famous due to her radio show and about 2 1/2 million people greeted us upon arrival at the dock (mostly because they all got there ahead of us) with a corresponding amount of rum. The island was your standard idyllic Caribbean paradise with coconuts on white sand beaches, rainforest and all. After two weeks of kissing the ground, a fun Christmas, and daily hassles with the infamous native boat boys we decided to head north. We also figured Y2K would be safer at sea! We stopped in Guadeloupe and Saint Maarten. Evidence of past and recent hurricanes was everywhere because there was never any money to fix anything. Masts stuck out of the water in the lagoons. Bridges and docks were crumbled. Many people were quitting the islands.
Eva and I will never forget hurricane Lenny this past November. Our friend Carl Wake was sailing down from the Chesapeake to meet us in St. Lucia for Christmas when he was caught by the eye of the storm several miles SW of St. Croix. Lenny packed 150mph gusts. This kind of wind will shoot a 2x4 through an Oak tree. Carl did not survive. His body was found three days later off the island of Saba by the USCG. We will never know why this happened when he could have easily been safe ashore.
Now that we are back in the Virgins it feels like we never left. Fortunately we have the memories and a two foot stack of pictures to prove it. In the last nine months alone we sailed over 8,000 miles, crossed the Atlantic twice, spent about seventy days at sea, caught enough fish to feed Japan lunch, and did it all without mishap! Since the boat I (almost!) delivered across the Atlantic a few years ago caught fire we considered this quite a feat. Other than a little drooling and an occasional twitch we’re in great shape.
The sailing school is completely booked for the season and I suspect it will be next year as well. We committed for one more year and have then decided to change our life again. After a final sail to Central America in the Spring of 2001 we plan to settle down in Sebastian, Fl. and we even see a POWERBOAT (ugh, spit, choke) in our future.
:-) Curt & Eva