The Caribbean has always attracted pirates, treasure seekers and renegades. Meeting Adrian in 1975 you would never guess he was an architect designing houses for some pretty cool mainstream folks like Henry Kissinger’s director of Protocol. He was part of the alternative ex-pat community that I joined while living in St. Lucia. We gathered bi-weekly to sing folk songs and a few pop songs collected from around the world. We partied a lot, drunk a lot of Mount Gay rum, smoked ganga, listened to Bob Marley and loved to sail.
Adrian owned Little Greek a double ender sloop which he berthed in Ganters Wharf, Castries. We sailed a bit together on weekends and after my time as a teacher ended he hired me to be his skipper for a couple of charters. One trip to Martinique on Little Greek was memorable as my first ever overnight solo sail experience.
I dropped off the charter client in Port de France, grabbed a few baguettes, chatted with a few sailing friends over coffee and headed out at dusk. I passed Diamond Rock with fair winds and easy seas and settled in a for a smooth ride. Soon in the distance I caught a glimpse of boat lights and as it came closer the lights became a village as I realised it was a cruise ship. Before I could take any evasive action the monster machine was bearing down on me at more than twenty knots. I had the rudder full over to avoid a collision and luckily only got caught in the wash. It was a bumpy ride for a bit and I was shaking all over in the knowledge that they never even knew I was there. I saw then, out in the open ocean, how thin the line is between life and death.
Adrian was also responsible for getting me hired as a charter boat captain on bigger yachts with more risks and some pretty crazy passenger problems. One trip involved a group of Belgian chefs who insisted they wanted to sail to Barbados. I’d made this passage once before but with an experienced sailor in December when the north-east trade winds died down a bit. These circumstances were different, I was a novice Capt, the trades were blowing and they hired me to take them in a 40’ sloop I’d never ever seen before. There was a quick deadline before departure so the owner gave me a very brief run through of the boat’s systems and quirks. He mentioned the compass being a little off, the halyard that often jammed, the bilge pump that sometimes worked plus a few other ‘minor malfunctions’ and then left me to figure out the rest. I should have declined but it was a favour for Adrian and I needed the money.
Barbados is only 120 miles away but it’s reputed to be hard to sail there from St. Lucia being up wind and having a highest point of a mere 1,160 feet. Sailing in the ’70’s before the ease of modern global tracking devices and without even the aid of a sextant I was reliant on dead reckoning to figure out the position of our boat. While I had a decent chart I was sadly lacking in navigation skills and having a really dodgy compass didn’t help at all.
After nearly two days and nights of tacking back and forth with no sighting of the island I decided to turn about and head home. The problem then was I didn’t know for sure where we were so deciding on a heading was based totally on guess work. The real risk of passing between islands and ending up in Venezuela a week later was sufficient to keep me alert and awake all night long peering anxiously into the darkness. All I saw were stars and white caps.
Luckily, the next morning we sighted land and had the embarrassment of approaching a native fishing boat and having to shout out to the crew, “where are we?”. It turned out to be the south west shore of Martinique which luckily put us only six hours away from Rodney Bay. Guided home by the imposing Pitons we made it back safe and sound and I slept like a baby for a really long time.
The cruise that ultimately ended my charter boat captain career was also set up by Adrian. A party of eight German men had booked two sloops for two weeks. I skippered one and a professional tug boat captain, who was part of the group, took the second one. While I had local knowledge of the islands, the tides and the weather, the older licensed captain refused to concede to the guidance of a long haired hippy kid. This got us into all kinds of trouble as we navigated through waters very different from the calm canals of Europe.
Two crews of stubborn German party animals also didn’t help. We had a hull scrape over a shallow reef, a main sail halyard jam in the mast top pulley, a drunk man overboard and an anchor dropped in 25′ of water without any cable attached. All these were problems that I managed to fix personally but they were nothing compared to the night everyone rowed ashore to go singing and drinking at the beach bar on Petit St. Vincent.
During the evening I sat onboard our boat anchored a couple hundred yards offshore enjoying a bit of peace and quite. I felt the onshore wind pick up a bit as I sat waiting for the return of my guests. In the looming darkness I first saw a dingy approaching the anchorage around a rocky headland. Over the sound of the surf I then heard the cries of Germans in distress. The waving of a single oar indicated that in a drunken stupor the oarsman had let one slip away. Powerless, the dinghy was headed towards jagged rocks.
With a safety line attached to my waist I leaped into the water, swam to the dinghy, clambered aboard and managed to haul everyone back to the yacht. I then had to row around looking for the missing oar and escort the second drunken crew back to their boat. When my rescue mission ended my reward was being kept awake all night by eight belligerent intoxicated men growling nationalist anthems in German.
On our return to St.Lucia I thanked Adrian for his generous job referrals but explained emphatically that I was not cut out for any more of this kind of renegade work. It was not the end of my sailing adventures, by any means, but it was the last time I risked my life on the high seas for the welfare of unappreciative, underpaying guests.
Adrian left the islands in 1985, first of all moving to Miami, and then on to Mississippi. He researched environments for people with disabilities and co-authored a book. He became a partner in a kitchen cabinet factory and built himself a sweet little boat but never stopped playing folk, Celtic and blues music. He now lives near Paris with his artist wife Paula and, at age 83, still performs in his local pub on guitar, blues harp and penny whistle and trains for 7K walks. Adrian qualifies as a sprightly renegade Octogenarian!
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