BITS and PIECES # 52

2

August 19, 2014 by palamow

BITS and PIECES # 52

Hello again from Luquillo,

Well, I’m back from New Hampshire, and what a nice experience it was – Pam enjoyed and profited from her master knitter symposium, I got a lot of writing done and we both enjoyed to the greatest extent the golden opportunity our travels gave us to see our children and grandchildren…

Daughter Lisa, son-in-law Yvon and grandchildren Nicole (19) and Jacob (15) welcomed us to their home in Merrimack and later to their camper in Meredith, near Lake Winnipesaukee…

Son Mike flew in from Minnesota for a few days, giving us a chance to reconnect after far too much time had passed…

Then there was the ‘Kamp Family’ experience! For the past decade, or so, Lisa, Yvon and the children have spent their summers at Harbor Hills Campground in Meredith, New Hampshire, near lake Winnipesaukee, relaxing and having fun at their seasonal camper, while gradually acquiring a ‘Kamp Family’ of like-minded folks who have their own seasonal campers nearby…

We were privileged to meet them all – Liz and Gus Whalen; Lisa and Steve Moreau; Kathy and Marc Bourbeau and Kristen and Stephen Bellemore. To my utter astonishment, both Liz and Lisa had read every one of my BITS and PIECES essays, and were able to quote (almost verbatim) from each one! Even more astounding was the fact that Lisa had only been introduced to the blog the night before I met her – she had then remained awake half the night reading all 51 entries! Both Liz and Lisa had lots of questions (I was exhausted when they finally ran out of steam). Unsurprisingly both ladies wanted to see my recently recovered, venerable Rolex watch for themselves (their curiosity was unwittingly shared by our friend and neighbor Rose Emro, who had stopped me in the condominium lobby and asked to see it before I left). Liz Whalen asked me to sign her personal copy of my book ‘The Day It Rained Frogs In The Forest’, and Lisa Moreau, who is a high school teacher, used her cell phone to record a video of me telling a story, to show to her students – very flattering…

During our camp visit, our daughter Lisa arranged lodgings for us at The Meredith Inn, a very nice bed and breakfast establishment near the campground, owned and operated by an equally nice lady named Janet Carpenter – I recommend it strongly to anyone traveling in that lovely part of our country – Ms. Carpenter’s service couldn’t have been more accommodating, her breakfasts were absolutely scrumptious and our room was exceedingly comfortable and spacious…

And so, in a nutshell, we had an enjoyable and relaxing vacation that brought us together as a family and exceeded all our expectations – but, as always, it’s good to be home once again…

Now to the story – this one’s been ‘brewing’ in the recesses of my aging brain for a long while – I’m sure one or two of you are familiar, at least with the tale’s locale, if not with the details – to work properly, and thus make more sense, I felt the narrative required some background details, so I separated it into two parts – the lead-in contained herein, and the ‘Spooky’ part, which will appear in a week or so as BITS and PIECES # 53)…

Hope you find both parts entertaining…

PARANORMAL INTERMEZZO – PART I — PROLOGUE
The circumstances that would eventually lead to my one and only paranormal experience so far, began simply enough – I found myself suddenly (albeit momentarily) unemployed on a rainy Friday afternoon in late July, 1978. The Graves family had somewhat precipitately decided to shut the doors of their legendary marine institution, Graves Yacht Yards Inc., after more than a century of boatbuilding, yacht brokerage and general marine services at the same address on the Marblehead, Massachusetts harbor-front. Their decision was not altogether unexpected; the company had been hovering on the brink of insolvency for some years, and the family was unwilling (or unable) to capitalize further. Since this posture dimmed any hopes of equipment modernization and a host of other badly needed upgrades, ‘the handwriting was on the bulkhead’, so to speak…

For two years prior to that fateful Friday, I had managed the firm’s yacht brokerage division (one of its rare profitable ventures), overseeing the activities and training of five yacht brokers, a commissioning supervisor, a secretary and a receptionist. We operated from a comfortable, wood-paneled office on the ground floor of the rambling Graves boatyard facility on Front Street, genially positioned a few doors north of ‘The Landing’, Jack Veasey’s justly famous seaside pub/restaurant, a favored watering hole of the yachting community…

I specify ‘momentarily unemployed’, since my enforced idleness was quite brief — by the following Monday I was again working, this time as a sort of ‘consultant’ to Bill Gorwood, owner/operator of the Baltic Yachts USA franchise, whose office was located a short walk down Front street, just past the town dock…

Although quite small, Marblehead’s quaint, harbor-side ‘Old Town’ sector was of course, where the boats were, either floating at their moorings, hauled-out for repair or on display at yacht brokerages. As a consequence the yacht sales community was concentrated shoulder to shoulder along the waterfront, with most everyone associated with it on a first name basis…

When I chanced to run across Bill at Mattie’s Sail Loft (another of the town’s beloved pubs) on that crucial Friday afternoon, I dolefully explained the details of my abruptly altered circumstances as we drank our beers. Grinning conspiratorially, he informed me that he just might have a solution to my difficulties – Baltic USA, it seemed, had a pressing need to retain a qualified person to explore the prospects of opening a yacht charter business in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The assignee’s responsibilities would include investigating the market potential, preparing a business plan and cost/benefit analysis. If the numbers looked promising and the project was approved, the candidate would set up and manage the St. Thomas operation – would I be interested in filling that position?

You bet I would – we shook hands on the spot, and I agreed to report on the following Monday…

Baltic was (and still is) a Finland-based corporation specializing in the manufacture of elite racing/cruising yachts. Bill Gorwood had been toying with the idea of Baltic USA’s starting a small ‘bareboat charter’ operation in the Caribbean in order to expose potential clients to the manifold technical and design advantages of the Baltic brand…

Some weeks after I became a member of the Baltic USA team (salary un-specified) I began receiving sporadic ‘paychecks’ written for varying amounts – enough to keep my head above water, so to speak…

Providentially, this vague salary arrangement was offset by some enticing fringe benefits – for example, soon after I was officially on board, Bill shouted down from his upstairs office (procedures were quite informal at Baltic USA) to enquire if I would be interested in accompanying him on a ‘quick trip’ to Larsmo, Finland; the home of parent company Baltic Yachts O/Y – if so, we could team-up to plead the case for Baltic O/Y to approve (and fund) our nascent Caribbean yacht chartering venture…

We would travel ‘Executive’ class, non-stop to Helsinki on a Finnair Boeing 747, and then on to Pietersaari/Larsmo on a local carrier…
Since the idea of traveling to Finland was very appealing, I accepted at once. After some further shouted discussion concerning logistics, I hastily exited the office and hurried the few short blocks to my rented ‘digs’ – the upper two floors of a colonial home (built in 1737) at 53 Lee street. Rummaging through my desk, I dug-out my passport, ran downstairs and jumped into my light-green Fiat coupe, which was conveniently parked at the front gate, and drove twenty miles south to downtown Boston and the Finnish consulate. I arrived just in time to request, pay the fees and obtain a commercial visa before they closed for the day…

Later that week I joined Bill at Boston’s Logan International airport, and we were soon winging our way to Helsinki…

Our ensuing Nordic venture was splendid from start to finish (pun intended); The Finnair flight, Helsinki, Pietersaari, Larsmo and the Baltic Yachts facility were all eye-opening experiences – the people we encountered were inordinately kind and accommodating – from the moment we stepped aboard our Finnair flight, pilots and cabin crew went to great lengths to ensure our comfort. When we landed in Helsinki, customs and immigration inspections were mere formalities in that fondly recalled pre-terrorist age. We were quickly examined, passed through and on our way to our connecting flight to Pietersaari/Kokkola airport, approximately 18 miles from Larsmo…

We were met at the plane by Pentti Markkanen, Baltic’s marketing vice president, a cheerful, balding, middle-aged man informally clad in a blue turtleneck sweater and khaki pants, who quickly drove us the short 18 miles to Larsmo where he had made reservations for us at a small hotel near the Baltic ‘manufactory’ (the preferred European term for factory)…

The next morning, after a hearty breakfast of cheese, pickles, thin slices of reindeer meat and lipeäkala (the local name for dried and salted whitefish), which our waitress charmingly referred to as ‘fish-meat’, we were driven to the Baltic factory…

The factory was nearly deserted – Finland’s government and businesses had shut their doors for the entire month of July, sending everyone on vacation at once so they could enjoy the pleasant summer weather. As is the case with our state of Alaska, Finland is the ‘Land of the Midnight Sun’, where bleak winters and below zero temperatures seem to last forever…

During our tour of the factory we were astonished at its cleanliness and ‘state-of-the-art’ efficiencies – for example the unfinished boat hulls were moved between fabrication stations on sled-like fixtures that rode on cushions of air, which meant that these multi-ton loads could be pushed along with the mere touch of a fingertip!

That afternoon, we were driven to the nearby Pietersaari waterfront where “Bullet” a Baltic 43dp racer/cruiser was in the final stages of commissioning. Bill Gorwood had personally managed the long-distance transaction from Marblehead, planning the exacting rigging and outfitting specifications of the yacht, working directly with Baltic’s engineers and the client, a wealthy Houston, Texas urologist, who had flown to Finland a few days before us to take delivery of his expensive new ‘toy’…

Thus we were included in the yacht’s subsequent launching activities and went along on her initial ‘sea trials’ over the next few days, and then, remained aboard as the owner and his delivery crew sailed the boat south, down the Gulf of Bothnia, on the first leg of her trans-ocean voyage to Newport, Rhode Island, her ultimate homeport…

We planned an important intermediate stopover at Rauma, the home of Holming O/Y, the parent company of Baltic Yachts, some 150 nautical miles south of Pietersaari. We arrived at Rauma after 30 hours of excellent sailing conditions, under cloudless skies with fair winds propelling us along at around 12 knots. Bullet’s new owner, a proud Texan, outfitted us all with jaunty Stetson cowboy hats he had brought along for us to wear during the boat’s debut in Rauma. The local newspaper took photos of our arrival, and we were suddenly celebrities; the caption under the photo on the front page of Länsi Suomi, Rauma’s sole newspaper, highlighted our prominent ‘Coboy Hattu’ headgear…

That afternoon we were taken on a tour of the vast and impressive Holming shipyard, where several large, ocean-going ships were positioned on the ways, awaiting the return of workers from their summer holidays. That evening we were invited to dinner at the home of Vilho Holming, the founder and CEO of Holming O/Y and his charming wife Marta, an eminent Finnish sculptor…

The Holmings welcomed us to their beautiful home overlooking Rauma’s harbor – after a sumptuous dinner, featuring more reindeer meat and lipeäkala as expected, as well as a cornucopia of more conventional delicacies, we adjoined to Mr. Holming’s spacious playroom, where he kept his fascinating hobby collection; a seemingly endless assemblage of intricate mechanical toys which we were encouraged to explore while we joined him in knocking-back iced tumblers of Finnish vodka — curiously, Mr. Holming eschewed the popular national brand ‘Finlandia’, pronouncing it far inferior to his ‘private stock’ which he brought out for us to sample. Each ceramic jar was a slightly different shape and every jar was flamboyantly hand painted with local scenes. When I commented on their beauty, he graciously gave me one to take with me (sans vodka, of course). His lovely blond-haired wife Marta advised us to “Imbibe it slowly in small quantities” as it was quite potent and could “Slyly sneak up upon one”…

The next morning Bill Gorwood, Pentti Markkanen and I sat down with Mr. Holming and a few of his staff in his richly-appointed office to discuss the prospects of the sailboat charter business. Surprisingly, we learned from him that ours would not be Baltic’s first foray into this field. A few years earlier, Baltic’s management, with Holming O/Y’s financial blessing, had made an exploratory venture into the business, sending three newly-minted Baltic 39s to St. Lucia in the Caribbean Windward Islands. The experiment had turned out badly; the operation had been badly managed from the start, the boats poorly looked after by an inexperienced (and as it turned-out, somewhat ‘shady’) island lawyer…

One boat had disappeared without a trace; some years later, it was reported by Interpol to have been hijacked, sailed to Hispaniola and subsequently abandoned in an isolated lagoon near Luperon, west of Puerto Plata on the north coast of the Dominican Republic. The local police had since turned her over to the owner of a nearby casino to satisfy the hijacker’s impressive gambling debt…

The second of the three boats had been hired by a French couple some months earlier for a ‘two week cruise’. They sailed her to the nearby island of Martinique and hadn’t been heard from since…

The third boat was reported to be anchored unattended at secluded Marigot Bay on St. Lucia’s west coast…

At our meeting that morning, it was swiftly decided that something should be done about the ‘unsustainable St. Lucia situation’. All eyes fell upon me and I suddenly found myself unanimously elected to be the someone to ‘do something about the St. Lucia situation’. The assembled group agreed that I must fly to St Lucia posthaste, survey the situation and make appropriate decisions. That afternoon, to aid in this endeavor, I was provided with an official looking document that gave me authority to take charge of all Baltic’s assets in St. Lucia. Later that same afternoon I was presented with a zippered leather bank bag containing US $5,000 for ‘expenses’, patted on the back by Mr. Holming and the others, wished good luck, and promptly dispatched to St. Lucia…

Actually, I opted to stick with Bullet when she departed the next morning, sailing with her for a few more days until we reached Copenhagen, Denmark, where I ‘jumped ship’, flew back to Boston, and then on to St. Lucia, with a brief stop in Marblehead to pick-up some marine supply items and pack some shorts and other items more suitable for wear in a tropical climate…

Upon arriving at St. Lucia’s Hewanorra International airport in Vieux Fort two days later, I cleared immigration, left the terminal and flagged-down a taxi. The driver, a cheerful garrulous West Indian gentleman informed me that he was “Nelson, Mon, from Barbados’ as we began our bouncy forty five minute ride over rutted roads to Marigot Bay. As we approached our destination, I asked ‘Nelson, mon’ about conditions on the island. He replied ruefully”A lotta ‘teefin (thieving) goin on here Mon” which only served to reinforce my doubts about finding a quick and simple solution to the Baltic sailboat dilemma. When we arrived at Marigot Bay, I asked Nelson to wait while I carefully scrutinized the bay to see if I could spot the sole Baltic 39 that was said to be anchored there. When I did, I borrowed a dinghy tied to the dock, rowed out, climbed aboard and secured her companionway entrance, hatches and cockpit lockers with bronze combination locks I had bought at a marine store in Marblehead and brought along for that purpose…

I rowed back to shore and asked Nelson to drive me to Castries, the island’s capital, where I had been told the lawyer/caretaker had his office. After some searching, we found the office of Mr. Erwin Sloot, Esq., Attorney at Law. Attorney Sloot turned out to be a gaunt, sallow faced individual with shifty eyes, wearing a soiled and wrinkled tropical-weight suit. When I introduced myself and showed him my authorization paper, he began verbally unwinding a long menu of excuses and tales of unavoidable bad luck, including a fanciful account of how he had managed to ‘misplace’ two thirds of Baltic’s sailboat fleet. Interrupting his doleful ruminations, I hurriedly thumbed-through his records and copied the name of the French couple who had sailed away with boat number two. I bid the artful Mr. Sloot adieu, informing him that I would return to settle up in a day or two. Back in Nelson’s taxi, I directed him to drive me to Hewanorra airport…

Nelson wistfully shook my hand as I paid him off – the fare plus gratuity for our peripatetic island wanderings had definitely made his day. He gave me his phone number, and asked me to call him on my return…

I purchased a ticket to Martinique and was fortunate to catch an Air Martinique SE-210 Caravelle flight that was departing immediately for the half hour trip to Le Lemontine airport. Upon arrival later that afternoon, I quickly cleared immigration and was taken to the Fort de France docks in a dented Renault taxi operated by an irascible French taxi driver by the name of Armand who hailed from Marseille. After Armand questioned a dock worker, we were directed to a small wooden dock where we discovered the delinquent yacht to be tied off…

I paid Armand, and rapped on the boat’s hull. I was greeted by a middle-aged couple who greeted me courteously. The two miscreants, who had apparently decided to ‘homestead’ the yacht sans financial arrangements, seemed relieved when I told them that their unsanctioned stewardship was over. In fact they graciously agreed to help me sail the boat back to St. Lucia that afternoon, disappearing swiftly and quietly shortly after we docked the boat at Marigot Bay…

Later that evening, I moved the boat from the dock to the bay, anchoring next to her ‘sister’ and securing her with more combination locks I had brought along. The next morning I called my new friend Nelson and asked him to pick me up and drive me back to Mr. Sloot’s office in Castries. I reluctantly paid the slippery Sloot for the remaining expenses he had incurred during his aberrant caretaking career…

Nelson once again drove me back to Hewanorra airport, where I paid the fare, including gratuity and bid him goodbye, promising to call him for any transportation needs when I returned. I booked a direct flight to Boston on a United DC-9, which left later that afternoon…

My next task upon reaching home would be to secure a crew and then make plans to fly back down to St. Lucia with whatever parts and supplies we would need to sail the two remaining Baltic 39 yachts from St. Lucia to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where they would become the first of the Baltic USA charter fleet. I hoped to secure the professional services of two friends; John Scott and Peter Parker, both were accomplished ocean sailors…

So, if you’ve stuck with me thus far, I’ve reached the end of this rambling preamble. In BITS and PIECES # 53, I’ll conclude with PARANORMAL INTERMEZZO – PART II – THE LEAVING OF LIVERPOOL, which describes the eerie and unsettling events that took place as I sailed with John Scott across the eastern Caribbean from St. Lucia to the Virgin Islands…

Stay tuned to experience the ‘spooky’ part…

© 2014 Alan Mowbray Jr.

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2 thoughts on “BITS and PIECES # 52

  1. mkhulu says:

    Great to have you back. Wondering if Baltic is like the plywood at Paco’s: “Finnish”?

  2. Rose says:

    As always, your stories keep me interested. Can’t wait to read the rest of it. And, oh yes, thanks for the “shout out” about your watch!

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