Sailing Solo – Capt’n Miguel

On a balmy spring day in 1986 the trade winds blew strong carrying a salty seaman and his dog into the Panamanian port of Colon. Also on board Solan Goose was over a ton of health foods for Schooner Anne, the boat I was crewing on. Miguel was a lanky skanky pirate from New Jersey who earned his anchors in the heyday of sailboats delivering bales of contraband ganga to the eastern US seaboard. Solan Goose was a 35′ wooden double ender with a cutter rig built by Hillyard in southern England in 1950. Miguel had bought it with profits from his shrewd investments in the stock market. He worked all of 6 months constructing the first East Coast casino in Atlantic City as a Liaison Engineer and retired at the ripe young age of 25 !

Our schooner crew was happy with Miguels new stories and a good supply of Jamaican hashish to occupy our evenings. He and I became friends fast and had a few excursions around the canal together. One was to ancient Portabello, from where the Spanish armadas shipped gold stolen from south and central America to Europe.  Some of this treasure ended up in shipwrecks in the Florida keys and in the 1990’s Capt’n Miguel was one of Mel Fisher’s dive crew who famously salvaged $450 million gold and silver bullion from the galleon Atocha. His pay included a few silver pieces of eight and four which he made into some fancy looking pirate necklaces.

Three days after tying alongside us on the busy blustering Colon dockside, a very distraught Miguel announced that Primo – his Labrador crew/companion – had disappeared. We sent out search parties and returned empty handed. Primo was gone. More than a week later David, one of our crew, was rowing by a Colombian coastal trading boat when he heard barking and looked up to see Miguel’s best friend on the freighter’s deck. The amazing reunion brought us all some relief from Miguel’s depression and we learned that Primo had hitched a ride, joining them on their weekly trip to San Andreas Island. Lucky they didn’t eat him.

Miguel and Primo were destined for more sailing adventures together. They traversed the Panama canal and sailed 42 days nonstop to Nuka Hiva in French Polynesia. For three weeks he had very little wind and a terrible staff infection so bad he couldn’t walk to the bow of the boat. He was so happy to see Schooner Anne when he arrived in Nuka Hiva, when he saw Reid he shed tears. Miguel and Primo cruised on visiting  Pacific ocean islands and surviving storms and rough seas together.  Tragically, on Bora-Bora, Primo was hit by a local dump truck and the Captain permanently lost his most loyal crew mate.

Miguel continued alone sailing single handed for thousands more miles visiting exotic and remote islands. He came to Hawaii in the early ‘90’s, learned to juggle and lived in our jugglers jungle community.  He did most of our primitive plumbing – a skill he learned from his dad – and volunteered to haul unbelievable heaps of gear to our festivals precariously strapped onto my big blue truck – in true sailor style.  

Tom and I joined Miguel for a cruise on Solan Goose in 1990. Flying from Hawaii to meet him the plane stopped in the Marshall Islands. Dropping into the island chains of 30 atolls and 1,152 islands was a beautiful sight but they have a tragic history. Among them are Bikini and Enewetak islands which are former US nuclear test sites and the Marshall Islands Republic has now become a sad and decrepit puppet state of the United States of Imperialism.

The captain met us on Pohnpei, in the Federated States of Micronesia, in the western Pacific Ocean. It’s an island with endless reefs, a mountainous, jungle-covered interior, ancient basalt temples and burial vaults. After all his bachelor cruising the Cap’t’s boat was ill prepared for guests. Finding a clear space to sleep would have been easier in an overstuffed highschool locker. Miguel was a hoarder of all things nautical that could possibly be needed on a three year circumnavigation.  Some of them stunk so bad that Tom spent his whole trip overdosing on antihistamines.   

The Goose and fair winds took us to Ant Atoll, a small atoll lying off the west coast of Pohnpei. It’s now a UNESCO World Biosphere Preserve and privately owned by the Rohsa (traditional Leader/king) who is a conservation leader and visionary. He lives in a native shack on the narrow reef  preventing the Atoll from being developed by large resort companies because he wants to preserve the natural beauty and landscape. His family shares his vision and is willing to trade-off material riches for the “natural riches”. 

A full moon fishing expedition on the slippery silver reef produced a parrot fish caught by hand and a big black crab trapped in a bucket. Back on the boat, before the water was boiling to cook our dinner, he escaped and three of us went scrambling through lockers and sails and assorted marine supplies to find our treacherous and tasty main course.  

We took two drift dives through the lagoon. They were the easiest and most amazing dives of my life. We just floated along with the outgoing tide between barely moving our fins. It was the clearest water possible with tropical fish including reef sharks and mantas. But the highlight was the most spectacular and the most fluorescent corals imaginable, staghorn, pillar, elkhorn – every color of the rainbow. Even Miguel said it was some of the best he’d ever seen anywhere.

After returning to Pohnpei and then sailing 460 miles to Chuuk Lagoon we did the highly recommended dive on the operation Hailstorm wrecks. At only 30 metres below the pristine water in the lagoon are  Japanese cruisers, destroyers, and auxiliaries, together with 32 merchant ships that the US navy sunk in 1944.  Miguel and I plus a dive master were the only people around for the entire day. We dove on a subchaser with sake sets still in place on a table and a cargo ship with zero fighter planes with folded wings in the ship’s hold.  It was truly a divers paradise!

The Goose and the Cap’t continued without me through more exotic islands and eventually arrived in Japan. Sailing single handed again Miguel voyaged through the turbulent Pacific to make landfall on Kauai. Arriving in Lihue harbour after 40 days alone at sea he had a most un-aloha greeting. The Coast Guard sent a boarding party on board and searched the Goose for two hours. They tore everything apart, stuck rods down fuel tank and then into water tanks, and left the interior totally un shipshape. Miguel sat roasting and totally exhausted in the cockpit but didn’t complain one bit since he had illicit cargo from Palau the ‘coasties’ never found and so he had the last laugh.

His final journey on the Goose was from Hawaii to Bainbridge island in the San Juans where he parted ways with his trusted boat after 18,000 miles of ocean travels. On his way there he popped into the inner harbour of Victoria to unknowingly crash Charlie Brown’s street show. Once docked he immediately climbed the steep wooden gangway, covered in 30 days of crusty salt, perfectly in time for Charlie Brown to invite him into the centre of his buskers crowd and introduce him as a pirate renegade sailor friend fresh in from Hawaii! At the fringe festival, later that day, he met up with Angus and Janet two other Bellyacres members. Amazing serendipitous meetings like these have been a big part of Captain Miguels life. In the ‘Small World’ bar on a remote Thailand beach he met my Canadian friend Andy who first taught me to juggle! He seems to know someone wherever he lands.

I’ve done a little solo sailing myself in the safety of the Caribbean and consider it to be one of the most adventurous and daring feats the people can engage in. My utmost respect and admiration goes out to renegades like Miguel. I’m sure they had spiritual moments that most every landlubber can only imagine happens in enlightenment books. As he said “there’s nothing else to do out in the deep blue but ponder your navel in between fighting for your life!”

Miguel returned to Hawaii many times for more landlubber adventures. He was our Mr Fixit guy at Bellyacres and also helped me at times with the HICCUP circus kids and as you can see they loved the old salty sea dog!

Miguel now enjoys frequent first class air travel around the world and when back home in Atlantic City he wipes the dust off a very classy Porsche he has owned for decades. But if you’re cruising his neighbourhood very early in the day you’re more likely to see him riding around on a $800 bike he found dumped on the city streets. The treasures Miguel finds nowadays come from super rich neighbours who throw out premium, even new stuff they don’t want anymore. No matter where he goes Captain Miguel always remains true to his renegade pirate roots.

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Published by Graham Ellis

As a child of the '60's with a wanderlust spirit I just followed my dreams and opportunities as they arose. My journey took me to some of the brightest and darkest places imaginable. I met amazing people on the way, some were famous and some are infamous. Some are just great friends with stories that blended with mine as we traveled together on land, on the sea and in the sky. We all share the renegade spirit !

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