BITS and PIECES # 25

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March 16, 2013 by palamow

BITS and PIECES # 25

Hello again from Luquillo,

I’ve hit a bit of a snag this week — other writing tasks have taken precedence within my normally relaxed schedule — so, I have ‘copped-out’ so to speak — instead of coming up with a fresh new story, I have selected a tale from my 2011 collection ‘Snapshots from the Road’ as this week’s blog feature…

If you haven’t read it as yet (or even if you have!) I think you may enjoy it, so, here it is:

THE  CRABB’S DOCKYARD RAID

The Caribbean Island of Antigua was (and still is) a magnet for magnificent motor and sailing yachts – there are several marinas and dockyards in and around Falmouth and English Harbour on the island’s south coast, providing dockage and the assorted marine services necessary to support them – with prices to match their opulence!

There was only one such facility on the island’s north shore – Crabb’s Marina & Dockyard sat on an inlet next to Parham village – it had one short wooden dock, a smallish marine store, and dockyard haul-out services next to an open field where the hauled boats were propped-up while they were worked on.  Crabb’s catered to less affluent sailors, mostly couples and small families living-out their life’s dreams while cruising the world on an austere budget, aboard well-worn cruising sailboats…

In the spring of 1983, I hauled-out my somewhat weary 35’ sloop to scrape off her barnacles, lay a fresh coat of anti-fouling paint on her bottom and attend to some overdue maintenance issues – sail repairs, bilge cleaning, mending rigging and patching up some minor storm-caused damage to her deck and hull.  In order to finance these necessities, I had agreed to manage a small fleet of charter sailboats operating from the Crabb’s dock…

I had arranged for dockyard manager Wingrove Crump (it seemed that many Antiguans had names that would have ideally suited characters in a novel by Dickens) to haul my boat and set it down in the shade of some tall eucalyptus trees in the corner of the dockyard – it was my intention to save money by accomplishing most of the work myself, and to fit these chores in whenever I wasn’t fulfilling my boat charter responsibilities…

The dockyard portion of Crabb’s operation occupied a field beside the main road that ran between the island’s capital city of St. Johns in the west to the tiny village of Willkie’s in the east. Just outside the gate a narrow, rutted side road led to a cement factory and the training grounds of the miniscule Antigua Defense Force – and thereby, as they say, hangs a tale!

When I hauled-out, there were ten or twelve boats already in the yard, propped-up on stands while their owners busied themselves at various refitting tasks…

As the travel-lift (a massive four-wheeled machine that straddled the boat and picked her out of the water by means of reinforced canvas slings) was moving my boat to the yard, I noticed a forlorn and decrepit wooden yawl wheezing her way slowly down the channel toward the work dock. Later that afternoon, when the workday was over, I met the yawl’s owners over a few beers at the ramshackle dockside bar.   They were an aged Scots couple who had spent the last decade or so cruising the tropics from the Pacific islands to South America and then across to Africa and back to the Caribbean. Their still pretty yawl carried her age with dignity, but the measured results of every mile they had traveled showed clearly on her venerable topsides.  They were a lovely old couple, with almost indecipherable Scottish accents and predictably proper old world manners – they seemed to fit in nicely with the eclectic assortment of cruising sailors and bumbling villains who called Crabb’s their temporary habitat.  We soon found out that the Scots had an unusual cruising companion that they had acquired somewhere along the way – a female Bonobo chimpanzee they had named Gwendolyn – she was 15 years old, weighing around “7 stone” (100 lbs.) and was about 1.5 meters (5 feet) tall by her proud Scottish ‘parents’ reckoning.  Curiously, ‘Gwennie’ had a pet of her own, a large, lemon-colored male cat named MacTavish – the two were virtually inseparable, playing and sleeping together…

The Scots were hauled-out in the corner of the yard, near me, and so I frequently had an opportunity to chat with them while we worked on our boats…

During the early hours of the morning, Gwendolyn was permitted to clamber down the long ladder propped against the yawl’s hull – upon reaching terra firma, she cheerfully allowed herself to be tethered to the yawl’s rudder post, with enough slack to allow her to wander about or sleep in the shade of the boat when the sun came up, which she frequently did to avoid the oppressive summer heat…

As spring progressed into early summer, the boats in the yard began to sparkle once more, as our tasks neared completion – we all looked forward avidly to the day that we could launch and be back on the water where we belonged.

Then, something totally unexpected occurred that temporarily upset the dockyard’s usual tranquility…

The instructors at the Antigua Defense Force training facility down the road decided to put their new recruits to the test by having them infiltrate the dockyard one Saturday in the early morning hours. That they did so secretly, without informing Wingrove Crump of their intentions was the beginning of what became a hilarious misadventure…

As usual, at 3 AM, Gwendolyn and MacTavish were allowed to assume their early morning sleeping accommodations beneath the yawl…

It was still pitch dark as the ADF ‘commandos’ began their simulated assault on the sleeping dockyard.  All might have gone well if one hapless recruit, in full jungle camouflage, his face blackened with non-reflecting grease-paint, and carrying his AK-47 assault weapon cradled in his arms, had not decided to squirm under the old Scot’s yawl to take up an offensive position while he awaited further instructions from his sergeant.  As he silently crept forward, he encountered a large, warm, furry obstacle – said obstacle objected strongly to being re-awakened at this early hour, and reacted by coming swiftly to her feet and roaring angrily – whereupon the recruit dropped his weapon in the dust, and retreated hastily to the safety of a nearby building while screaming at the top of his lungs. Gwendolyn, no stranger to guns (her owners had taught this tool-using primate to shoot their ancient double-barreled shotgun off the stern of their vessel while on long sea voyages) picked up the AK-47 and explored it with interest…

By this time, most of the dockyard was awake – the combination of Gwendolyn’s roars and the recruit’s panic stricken screams had done the job.  Reacting to the ensuing pandemonium, the old Scot came swiftly down the ladder in his nightshirt to find out what had caused his Gwennie to roar. He quickly grasped the situation and demanded that the chimp relinquish the weapon immediately – a contest of wills ensued – Gwendolyn was not ready just yet to give-up this fascinating new toy – a tug of war began, which continued until the old Scots lady climbed shakily down the ladder in her night dress and began to scold them both in a firm tone – Gwennie immediately capitulated and let the old man retrieve the weapon.  With a sigh of relief, the old Scot cradled the gun in his arms and muttered darkly “It’s a damned good thing that this bloody gun wasn’t loaded with any bloody bullets” at which point he aimed the purloined weapon to the sky and pulled the trigger – the resulting staccato burst of explosions as the weapon discharged its entire magazine at full automatic mode served to awaken anyone within a mile of the marina who had so far managed to sleep through the chaos – the old Scots lady promptly sank to the ground in a faint – Gwendolyn grinned and clapped her hands appreciatively while MacTavish the cat, who was nobody’s fool, bolted for the relative safety of the dockyard’s gate…

It was some time before calm was restored – one resourceful soul rounded-up the owner of the dockside bar and everyone retreated there forthwith to discuss the matter sagely over a few early morning bottles of Heineken beer.  The commanding Officer of the ADF commandos appeared a few moments later, with profound apologies for the disturbance, and the offer to purchase a round of beer “to promote peace and tranquility between his troops and the cruising yacht community.”

We returned to our boats to resumed the daily drudgery of our chores an hour or so later – the Scots, Gwendolyn and MacTavish launched their yawl later that afternoon, proceeding slowly up the channel, accompanied by good natured cheers and hat-waving from the assembled multitude…

And so, as calm and order was restored once again to Crabb’s Marina & Dockyard, I pinched myself to prove that the preposterous events of that morning had not been just a deliciously daffy Caribbean dream…

© 2011 – Alan Mowbray Jr.

 

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One thought on “BITS and PIECES # 25

  1. Patricia Foley says:

    Alan, I am Jack O’Connell’s sister. My husband and I have been sailors for over 45 years, spending many hours in boatyards. We have seen and heard many boatyard stories but this one wins the prize. Many thanks for sharing Pat foley

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