BITS and PIECES # 18

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January 11, 2013 by palamow

BiTS and PIECES # 18

Hello again from Luquillo,

For this week’s post, I decided to continue the story I began with ‘THANKSGIVING AT THE REPUBLIC OF PALOMINO’ (BITS and PIECES # 11) a few months ago — so, here it is — I hope you find it enjoyable…

KICK THE TIRES AND LIGHT THE FIRES

Sometime in early 1991, while I was skipper of the Coral Queen, a 38’ Delta Dive boat, operating out of Puerto del Rey Marina in Fajardo, an eastern Puerto Rico seacoast town. I had re-connected with Palomino and the Bachman family (BITS and PIECES # 11) – their island ‘Republic’ was a mere thirty minute trip from the marina’s dock, and Doña Bachman occasionally engaged the Coral Queen to bring visitors to the island. On one extraordinary instance, she flew her oldest daughter’s entire Harvard Medical School graduating class to Puerto Rico so they could spend a few glorious summer weeks decompressing on the island before reporting to their various hospital residencies – it took me four trips to transport all of the young doctors, their luggage, lots of food and blocks of ice out to the ‘Republic’ — the ‘Queen’ had become an ‘aquatic bus’ of sorts..

During this period, I had befriended Santiago Ortiz, the Bachman family’s aged retainer/caretaker, who was a permanent resident on the 100 acre island — he lived in a tiny, beachfront hut – with an equally miniscule dog, a ‘Sato’, as the local island mongrel breed is known, who traveled with Santiago whenever he took the Bachman’s small runabout across to the ‘big’ island to fetch supplies – on one such trip, the dog fell (or jumped) overboard undetected. Fearing the worst, Santiago was crushed by the loss of his beloved canine companion. The next morning, as I was passing through the narrow channel between Isla Ramos and some barely submerged shoals, while bringing a boatload of divers to a nearby reef, my dive-master, Jeff Richardson spotted Santiago’s bedraggled puppy paddling wearily toward the distant shore! I cautiously brought the Coral Queen alongside the exhausted canine – Jeff fished him out with a boathook hooked through his collar and quickly dried him off with a towel – we promptly christened him ‘Tarzan’ in honor of his extraordinary swimming abilities.  When I stopped off at Palomino to return ‘Tarzan’ to his overjoyed companion the next morning I was tearfully assured that I had acquired not one but two lifelong friends…

By late summer of 1991 my workday had evolved into a pleasant predictability — boat maintenance in the morning; dive trips to a nearby reef most afternoons and relaxation after off-loading dive tanks and cleaning-up after the divers in the late afternoon – I had moved onto the Coral Queen as an austerity measure, and, although this practice put me in constant proximity to my workplace, I found no difficulty doing so since a sailboat had been my ‘floating’ home for many years…

And then, one early morning while I was scrubbing Coral Queen’s bilge, I was interrupted by a representative of the Disney Company – they were about to begin filming “Captain Ron” a Caribbean-based comedy/adventure starring Kurt Russell, Martin Short and Mary Kay Place, and wanted to hire the ‘Queen’ and me to roam around the waters surrounding the nearby offshore islands while they filmed the ‘establishing shots’ that they would use to select locations where they would eventually shoot the movie. I swiftly agreed (the money was good), so, on the appointed day, Jeff and I brought the ‘Queen’ around to the marina’s loading dock in the early morning and began assisting the movie crew in loading cameras and other gear on board while we waited for the ‘second-unit’ director and his assistants to show-up. We shoved-off around nine o’clock that morning – as was my habit, when we were about to depart, I shouted “OK, let’s kick the tires and light the fires” to Jeff — it was an old Air Force aphorism I had adopted long ago — the Disney folks liked the maxim so much that it was subsequently used as a line of dialogue in the movie by Kurt Russell (as Capt. Ron)…

We headed east toward Palomino, circling around it while the crew was filming – then we were off to Icacos, Lobos and Diablo, three tiny nearby islets and more filming. I anchored in the lee of Lobos while we ate a quick lunch and they reloaded the cameras – then we were off again, this time to Isla Culebra…

The trip to Culebra took a little over an hour – I spent the time getting acquainted with my newfound Disney friends – it turned out that they knew of my father – some had actually worked on films or stageplays with him in the past, which made our relationship easier and more pleasant.  We tied the ‘Queen’ off at the loading dock around five o’clock that afternoon, and after we unloaded the gear, and made plans to begin anew the next morning, most of us headed to the Puerto Del Rey Yacht Club at the end of ‘A’ dock to cool off with some refreshments…

As we regrouped at the Yacht Club bar, and ordered a round of drinks, one of the Disney crew, a chap named Ransom Walrod, asked me where in California I had grown-up – I replied ‘I was born in Hollywood and grew-up in Beverly Hills – as a kid I attended Beverly Hills Catholic School’.  He quiclkly responded ‘Really? So did I’.  When I looked slightly skeptical, he grinned and said “Sister Eutropia!” – with his mention of the name of our revered, erstwhile principal, he immediately established his ‘bona-fides’ as a fellow inmate who had endured the strict but loving supervision of the Sisters of the Holy Cross…

We became friends over the course of the movie’s production, sharing stories and discovering mutual acquaintances (he worked occasionally with a boyhood friend Wesley Ruggles). I was later hired by Disney to move the sailboat that is the focus of the movie to various locations around the island so scenes could be filmed — later, I made a brief appearance in the film as captain of a boatload of Cuban pirates (a local salvage vessel hired for the purpose) that pursues the sailboat carrying the escaping Martin Short and his cinematic family…

As the filming was winding down, and my assistance was no longer required, two more memorable things occurred — our marina was frequently visited by a large (and friendly) manatee — although manatees normally live in brackish (salty) water, they seem to like sipping fresh water whenever it’s available — knowing this, when ‘our’ manatee would appear near where the ‘Queen’ was docked, I would quickly connect a hose to the dock’s faucet, turn on the water and drop the hose into the water for the manatee to enjoy. On this particular day, just as the manatee had surfaced and had started to drink from my hose, I was startled by a high pitched squeal of delight from behind me — turning, I immediately recognized the ‘squealer’  — it was actress Goldie Hawn (who was visiting actor Kurt Russell, her ‘significant other’) — she was entranced by the large sea-creature, asking me if she could dare to swim with him — I replied ‘Sure, he’s very gentle’ and she swiftly stripped to the bathing suit she wore under her clothing, and fearlessly jumped in while continuing her squeals of delight — I’m happy to report that both Ms. Hawn and the manatee seemed to enjoy their swim together!

Shortly therafter, as I was working on the ‘Queen’s’ engine early one morning, a gentleman from the Hooters restaurant chain’s home office in Florida showed-up unannounced, with eight Hooters girls in tow — he had enquired at the marina office and was told that the ‘Queen’ might be available to take the girls, who were the winners of that year’s Hooters swimsuit competition, on a photo shoot for their magazine — I quickly agreed (this time I didn’t worry about the money) — the girls were extremely friendly, personable, and of course, gorgeous — I made sure that two of them were standing next to me, each with an arm entwined possessively around my waist, as we passed the dock where a scene from the movie was being shot — whistles and hoots erupted, interrupting the shooting while we passed by — and my reputation was firmly secured…

After that, things slowed down again to the former ‘pleasantly predictable’ mode — I went back to the old routine willingly — I was rapidly approaching age sixty and needed some space between excitements…

And then came the ‘Night Dive from Hell’ — but that’s another story, for another time…

© 2013 – Alan Mowbray Jr.

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