Monthly Archives: March 2017

A Passing

A very good friend of mine from way back in college days in the mid 60s died yesterday. He was, rightfully quite famous as an artist and one of those people who can honestly be said to have been world famous.
 
 
My heart is heavy. There are a lot of people whose hearts are broken today, and they should feel that way. He is truly a great loss to all of us who knew him and for thousands of those who only knew him through his art.
 
Now, I’ll probably take some shit for this, but as I was sitting out on my front porch trying to catch what ever wisp of errant breeze would drift my way in the hot Panamanian afternoon I looked at the huge mango and avocado trees interspersed with palms on the other side of the vacant lot opposite my house and realized that through our pain and grief the sun came up in the east as it has done for hundreds of million years before now and it will set in the west for hundreds of millions more, and the world will not notice our arrival or departure. It happens to each one of us. It is the price we pay for spending a speck of time here.
 
After visiting an aging former captain he’d served under Joseph Conrad wrote in his autobiography, The Mirror of the Sea “. . .and I observed his weary eyes gaze steadily ahead, as if there had been nothing between him and the straight line of sea and sky, where whatever a seaman is looking for is bound to appear. . .Was he looking for a strange Landfall, or taking with an untroubled mind the bearings for his last Departure.
It is hard to say; for in that voyage from which no man returns Landfall and Departure are instantaneous, merging together into one moment of supreme and final attention.” —
And finally, Skip…
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Two Panama Bus Stories

Why Panama Is Saner Than The U.S.

This morning I boarded the bus to go pay my February electric bill ($15.73 by the way). These aren’t “chicken buses,” either. They’re nice, air-conditioned 32-seat Toyota Coaster, like this:

I happened to get the last empty seat.

Across the aisle from me was a very attractive 20-something yacking away with her seat mate while unselfconsciously breast feeding her young infant. NO ONE was upset by this or paying the least attention.  Unlike in the States where you get headlines like: “Video of Man Harassing Breast-feeding Mother at Target Goes Viral…”  or: “Breastfeeding Mom Claims An Officer Threatened To Arrest Her…”

How to deal with uptight America…

breast feed

There Are Assholes In Every Country

After going over to Bugaba to pay my light bill and pick up a couple of things I’d forgotten in yesterday’s marketing foray, I hoped on a bus from Frontera to get home. As we were getting close to El Cruce, where I get off to take another bus three kilometers up the hill to my house I gave the guy at the door a one Balboa coin… (These were originally called “Martinellis” after President Ricardo Martinelli who introduced the coins. He is now on the run and living in Miami due to corruption charges against him. Several of his cabinet members are sitting in prison as I write this, awaiting trial. Most people no longer call the coins “Martinellis” but instead refer to them as “Fugitivos.” You don’t even need to speak Spanish to figure out what THAT means.)

The “Pavo” it literally means “turkey” but that’s what the guys manning the door and taking care of the fares are called, gave me 35¢ in change. I said, “The fare is 50¢.”

“¿Que?” (What?)

English translation: “The fare from Bugaba to El Cruce with the jubilado discount is 50¢, not 65¢”

“Mumble, mumble, ¡Americano!” as he swapped out the dime with a quarter.

By now people around me were looking at us and I said, “Yes, I’m a gringo, but I’m also a resident in Panama. Would you like to see my cédula?” (A cédula is the national identification card all Panamanians an permanent resident aliens are issued.)

He declined, but as I was passing him as I got off the bus he muttered the word “Gringo.”

I said, “Hasta luego, pendejo.” (Pendejo literally means pubic hair but it’s the Spanish equivalent of “asshole.”

I’ve been in the country for over seven years and he’s only the fourth Panamanian in all that time I don’t like.

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…By Any Other Name Would Smell As Sweet….

It would be impossible to try and remember the names of all the boats I’ve run. The first boat I had was an 8-foot pram my dad built in the basement of our house in Watertown, Mass., when I was about 8 years old. Every summer until I was 12 we spent the entire summer at Nickerson State Park in Brewster, Mass., way out at the forearm of Cape Cod, and I spent as much time as I could in that boat. Franny Cullum was a couple of camp sites away and he had a 10-foot plywood skiff. We shared our adventures which consisted primarily of catching yellow perch and diving after sun turtles in Flax pond with Tony Taylor who, our moms figured out, were born about an hour or so apart on either coast of the U.S.

That pram didn’t have a name. It was simply “The Boat.”

The first boat I worked on was a 125-foot dinner cruise boat in Fort Lauderdale named “Le Bateau” and supposedly patterned after Les Bateaux Mouche that ply the Seine in Paris.

While I wasn’t the captain of this boat I DID get to sail on it for the first and second Fort Lauderdale to Key West Races in the middle ‘70s., It was  the “Rainbow,” a 65-foot, semi-custom Choey Lee ketch, owned by Charles Scripps who, at the time, owned UPI and Scripps-Howard newspapers, radio and television stations. That boat played an important role in my early development as a professional seaman as well as wrapping up that part of my life 16 years later. Interestingly enough, back then Mr. Scripps owned the “Hollywood Sun-Tattler” newspaper in Hollywood, Florida. A few years before sailing on “Rainbow” I was offered a position as a general assignment reporter on the paper but turned it down to go work as the assistant public relations director at Holy Cross Hospital, the largest private hospital in Broward County.

The biggest boat in the photo is “Rainbow” tied up in Key West after the very first Fort Lauderdale to Key West Race…

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My very first captain’s job was on a 43-foot Hatteras Tri-cabin in Chicago back in 1974. It was named “Kadico” which was short for Kadison Company. The owner of the boat and company, which made chemical food products, was Sylvan Kadison. He and his wife were HORRIBLE people. I couldn’t stand either one of them, but the job held out the promise of taking the boat from Chicago to Fort Lauderdale at the end of the summer season. Fortunately the owners were only on the boat from Chicago to Mackinaw Island and then for the Erie Canal portion of the trip. They were on board from Buffalo, New York to Stamford, Conn., where one of their daughters lived. My deck hand had to bail out in Norfolk, Virginia and I did the entire Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway from there to Fort Lauderdale ALONE! The boat was an absolute SLUG. Probably only did about 12 knots wide open with it’s GM 653s.

This is what a 43-foot Hatteras Tri-cabin  looks like…

tri-cabin

While that was my first “command” I didn’t get my U.S. Coast Guard license until June of 1975 and then I ran the 75-foot, double-decked 300-passenger sightseeing boat “Marlyn” doing half-hour harbor cruises in Chicago for two summers. Talk about a boring job! It was SO BAD that I made a tape recording of the cruise lecture. We’d leave the dock and then I’d hit the “Play” button on the tape deck….”Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls….” Yuck!

The Marlyn

marlyn-copy

In early ’77 I moved to New Orleans and after working for a short while on a 176-foot oil rig supply boat as an ordinary seaman I got a job as captain of a 47-foot inland crewboat operating in the Kerr-McGee oil and gas production field in Breton Sound. The first boat I ran out there was called the “Capt. Shane.” It was a deep vee Breax Craft aluminum boat with a pair of 871s. There were two other Crewboats Incorporated boats there with me: “Lake Runner” and “Wave Runner.” They flattened out underwater unlike the Shane and outran my boat like crazy. BUT I learned a lot running the Capt. Shane, especially during the winter when it was necessary to put men on and off of high-pressure gas wells in 8 to 10 foot seas. During good weather all the guys wanted to get on the Runners because they were faster, but when the weather turned to shit they fought to get on the Shane because it had a better ride in rough seas.  I ran several other boats for Crewboats, Inc., but can’t remember their names. Oddly enough, in 2005 while my family was gathered at a restaurant at the marina in Venice, Florida inlet prior to scattering some of my dad’s ashes in the Gulf a green and white, 47-foot crewboat pulled up to the fuel dock. I went to take a look at it and couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the name of the boat…It was the “Lake Runner!”  Is that’ Pat Pescay’s boat, I asked the young skipper?” I

“It is,” he replied. “How’d you know that?”

“Because, believe it or not, I used to run THAT BOAT out at Breton Island!!”

It had been sold and he was delivering it to the Keys where it was going to be used as a dive boat.

This is what those inland crewboats looked like…

crewboat-underway1

Not wanting to spend another winter on the water putting guys on and off of gas and oil wells in nasty weather, I left the crewboats and taught a course in “Nautical Science” for a year at West Jefferson High School.

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The only job I ever had worse than that was the few weeks I worked as an ordinary seaman in the Great Lakes aboard the self-unloading ship “Consumer’s Power” where I shoveled coal and rock salt for 12 hours a day and roomed with Abdul from Yemen.

The worst job of my life was on this tub…

consumers-power

Teaching wasn’t for me so after the school year was up I took the captain’s job on the “Lady Ann,” a 58-foot (65-foot overall) Hatteras motor yacht with New Orleans Tours. All in all it was a decent job though it should have paid better than it did. The “Lady Ann” was the second biggest yacht out at West End. We used to do cocktail and dinner charters, and the great Cajun chef Paul Prudhomme used to charter us a couple of times a year to throw dinner parties for his suppliers. FANTASTIC cook, but I have to say, the best thing I ever put in my mouth on that boat was Ann Reuther’s crawfish bisque. I also made several trips from New Orleans to Destin, Florida with the boat. The owners loved to have the boat sitting at the dock outside their condominiums there to show off how much money they had.

Second largest yacht at West End Marina…

lady-ann-hatteras-58-copy

When I finally got tired of ferrying drunks around…the paying kind, the owners were NOT into drunken debauchery…I went to work on crewboats again, this time for Ronco Barge and Crewboat Rentals out of New Iberia, Louisiana. That’s where the offices were, but on crew change days I’d drive to Bayou Blue, that’s right, where the song came from, and leave my van there for the week I was out working. We ran to drilling rigs in the bayous of south western Louisiana and up into the  deep cypress of Atchafalaya BasinI ran several boats for them but can only remember the name of one…”Capt. Leonard.” It was a strange craft in that it had TWO RIGHT HAND TURNING ENGINES. Normally twin engine boats have their engine’s rotation turning in opposite directions, but not the “Capt. Leonard.” Backing her down had a learning curve to it.

I worked for Ronco for nearly three years, but the oil exploration business was hitting a rough patch and after having taken two deep pay cuts in order to keep working I just wouldn’t take the third which would have had me working for less than I’d started at three years earlier.

A few years later, after working in a boat yard as a rigger and paint prep dude I left Louisiana. I went to visit family on Cape Cod and landed the job of running and restoring a fine old classic yacht named “Christiana” after the owner’s daughter. She, the boat, not the daughter, was made by Grebe’s yard in Chicago. The aforementioned “Marlyn” used to winter at Grebe’s yard so I was familiar with what fine boats they were. I got the boat in Falmouth, Mass., and took it down to Ft. Lauderdale where I worked on it all winter replacing part of the transom, remounting the swim platform and laying on coat after coat of varnish on the brightwork.

In the spring I managed to take on two Irish girls from the Old Sod, Gerry from Kerry and Anne from Limerick, to take the boat up to Provincetown. It was, hands down, the best trip I ever made, EVER. They were such good girls and surprisingly we had a lot in common. We were each one of seven siblings. Anne was born in June, I was born in July and Gerry was a Leo born in August. Anne was actually an American citizen. Her parents were the Irish Consuls in New Orleans, where I’d lived for 10 years, and Gerry had a brother who lived out in the western suburb of Metairie and she’d stayed with him for a couple of years. When I went to pick them up and bring them to the boat I discovered that they were living in the building next to where my ex wife and I had lived for three years!

Gerry on the left, Anne on the right and Christiana behind us in Hyannis at the end of our delivery…

gerrime-ann-copy

The three of us hit every happy hour from Lauderdale to Hyannis. People would hear their thick brogue accents and would end up inviting us to their homes, take us out to dinner and took up to see the best three-piece rock & roll band I’ve ever seen out on the Isle of Palms near Charleston.

I spent the summer of ’87 in Provincetown learning what it feels like to be a woman walking past a construction site. P’town has ALWAYS been a homosexual haven. When the summer was over I took the boat back down to Fort Lauderdale and spent the winter prepping and painting the hull. Job finished.

I spent a while working around Lauderdale Yacht Basin doing day work and then got a job as mate on the 176-foot “Gallant Lady” a Feadship owned by Southeast Toyota.

The” Gallant Lady”

gallant-lady

I was on her for less than a year. We were doing a Christmas party cruise in ’88 and in Port Everglades I spotted a Woods Hole research ship that was skippered by the first captain I ever worked for, Larry Bearse, on the “Le Bateau.” We got together for a quick beer after I got off work, and this is how serendipity works. Larry was flying out for Boston the next morning at 5 a.m. We had also sailed together on “Rainbow” and he told me that Tommy and Dawn were running a new boat for Mr. Scripps and that it was at the Derektor-Gunnel yard in Dania.

I called them the next day, and the day after that I went to see the 95-foot motor sailer the old man had bought. They invited me to have lunch with them the next say and who should be there but Mr. Scripps. The result of the lunch was that I landed the job as skipper of the custom-built, 85-foot motor sailer “Jolie Aire” he owned  based over in Antibes, France. I’m getting tired of writing this stuff, so suffice it to say I was there for nearly 3 years prior to moving her to Marbella, Spain, in preparation to “cross the POND” which I did in November of ’91.

While I was over in France two people effected what I was to do later on.  One was Estelle, my first French girlfriend, the other was “Cheshire” Bill, and American who was supervising the building of a 65-foot catamaran for his boss in Texas. Both has spent a lot of time in Belize and seeing their photos and videos made me want to go see the place for myself. I was determined that when I got back to the States I’d take whatever money I’d managed to save and buy a sailboat and go there myself. I didn’t much care what the boat might be as long as I could lie down in it and stay dry when it rained. Well, I lucked into A Kaiser 26, hull #24 of only 26 built.

It was named “Little Dipper.” Not bad. Certainly better than the likes of “Bull Ship” or “Blow Job.” But years before, in a dusty little used book store on Royal Street in New Orleans’s French Quarter, I’d found the most fantastic book of nautical lore ever assembled: “The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea”  (The 973-page tome is available in paperback through Amazon). It’s a one-volume encyclopedia of everything you could imagine about, well, Ships and the Sea. One of the entries was for “Nancy Dawson” which, I found out, was the tune to which the rum ration was piped in the British Navy for more than 200 years. I told myself that if I ever owned a boat worthy of the name she would carry that name on her transom.

You have no idea how much I miss my Nancy…

nancy-dawson-copy

When I return to the States I’ll be moving on to a small sailboat to explore coastal Gulf of Mexico from Florida to Brownsville, Texas, hopefully. The boat will, of course, need a name. There are some boat owners who continue a boat’s name and add I, II, III, etc. after it. There are also some owners who simply use the same name, period…Jim Moran’s boats were all named, simply, “Gallant Lady” and when I was working for him he actually had THREE at the same time with the same name! Of course I’ve thought about giving whatever new boat I buy the name “Nancy Dawson,” but after reflection I think I’m going to go with something else.

I’ve lived for nearly eight years in Chrirquí Province, Republic of Panama, and I think I’m going to name the new boat, “La Chiricana.” The women of Chrirquí are probably the prettiest in all of the country. I’d like for the boat to remind me of them.

The next boat will be named “La Chiricana”

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