THE QUEEN THINKS I AM JESUS CHRIST
Antigua was great but there was no day-work for visitors, it all went to the locals. The island and people were lovely but I only stayed for three weeks then the boat was being chartered so I borrowed $200 from my sister and flew up to Miami. From the airport I caught a cab to Fort Lauderdale, to a youth hostel where Danny, a guy I had met on the island was going to be.
I had twenty dollars left in my pocket and a phone number. The phone name was for a guy named Martin who may have work for me, I was told by the friend of Jane’s who gave me the number. So I called him from a phone booth that night and so luckily he told me he did have work I could start in the morning. He gave me an address of a boatyard and I bought a ten speed bicycle from a scots lad who lived in a motel near the hostel. That night Danny, myself and a South African backpacker named Yviva got pissed on bacardi and coke.
Martin was good for ten days work. I met Piet, another South African who was working for Martin and together we set about sanding and painting the hull of a 75 foot Sparkman and Stevens sloop. I was good work, using a pneumatic sander to sand the epoxy that had been used to coat the vessel to protect it, then Pete came in with some fine brush work and by the end it was looking a beaute.
In the meantime I typed out a sailing CV and circulated it amongst the four or five crewing agencies I could find and every day or so I would circulate on my ride home, making friends and making my face known.
On the tenth day, when I was cycling back to the youth hostel, I stopped by an agency. I was covered in red anti-fouling paint having been sanding down a first coat. Imagine my excitement when I was told that there was a vessel in Marina de la Mar looking for crew! I was told to get down there as soon as possible and I did, not bothering to go home to shower first.
The “Evening Star” was an 85 foot ketch, a Palmer-Johnson. It’s main mast was far higher tha n those of the surrounding vessels and I approached it eager and nervous. It’s home was “Arkansas”, a land locked state, which I thought was odd.
“Hello the boat!” I called from the quai side and the skipper, a silver haired gentleman whose name I cannot recall, popped his head out of the charthouse.
Pretty soon we got talking, and he hired me straight away as mate for a voyage down to St Croix in the US Virgin Islands. He offered me some daywork too, cleaning the yacht, and of course I accepted. I went back to the hostel to tell Danny and Yael the news.
This is where I got a bit crazy. Yviva was envious of my luck and I thought, why not? And I asked her if she wanted to come along. I said I would say she was my girlfriend newly arrived and ask if she could come along, understanding that we would have to share a cabin like a couple. Danny, an Israelli navy lieutenant on holiday, was smiling.
The skipper was taking on two crew and he hired another, Peter Muller, a solicitor from Melbourne I remember with a skipper’s ticket but short on sea miles, as a deckhand.
We sailed a course through the Bahaman Islands and discovered that the skippers wife was a gin-soaked shrew who fed us on Hungry Jack tv dinners from the freezer. By now it was nearing Christmas and on Christmas Eve we dropped anchor in the lee of Mayaguana Island and took a break from the weather which had been on the nose since we began.
Pete, Yviva and I asked and the skipper called up the island on the short-wave, requesting a water taxi and an hour later we heard the sound of an outboard. As it turned out there was only fuel for part the way home as we were father than the driver had thought and the engine puttered into silence half way back so we edged into the shore and we all climbed out. We were in a turquoise lagoon and its beach was strewn with broken conch shells cast up by Hurricane Hugo.
They had to open the only bar in town for us and they did, generously serving us a dinner of tinned turkey and cranberry sauce and some red stripe beer. We got a ride back to the quai in a rusty pick-up and the taxi back to the “Evening Star”, replete.
When we reached St Croix we could see the damage from Hurricane Hugo. Yachts had been lifted up from their mooring and cast into the main street of the town and the builders were in town, reconstructing the destroyed housing. We met one of them and after being paid off by the skipper, he offered us a night on his floor.
The next day, I left Peter and Yael and flew back to Fort Lauderdale. Yael has the photos.
I managed to find a few days varnish work but other than that, the deliveries had dried up for the season. Soon the money had drained and with not enough to catch a flight, I caught a greyhound bus across America to San Diego and my aunt Ena and uncle Rob.
The bus ride was uneventful except I was kicked off before Tallahasee for smoking a cigarette on the bus. The driver cancelled my ticket to that point, took off my bag, and told me to wait for the next bus to come through. Then the fascist drove off, leaving me at a tiny roadside hamlet with a single all night diver where I bought a bottomless cup of coffee and read a copy of Biko that I had picked up in the hostel. The early morning hunters with their pick-up trucks and dogs and plaid shirts piled in at four thirty in the morning. Eventually another bus arrived and I continued the journey on Route 66.
Galveston, Waco, Dallas and Phoenix passed by. When I arrived in San Diego uncle Bob picked me up from the terminus and took me home to their trailer park where they had a camp bed in their porch ready for me.
Bless them, Rob and Ina had been in the Peace Corp. Rob was an engineer who had flown hurricanes and they had moved to Canada first after the war before settling in San Diego with their son Tony who worked at a yacht chandlery in Mission Bay.
It was Ina who gave me a copy of “My Traitor’s Heart” by Riaan Malan to read. In it he says he wrote graffitti as a rebellious youngster and I thought “What the fuck? Bullshit!”
Tony got me a job doing daywork on another Sparkman and Stevens up on stilts and I met Pete, another dayworker with a Beamer who got me some choice Californian weed. I went to an anti-war protest at the University. When that work dried up I bought a bus ticket to San Francisco via LA, intending to head up the coast to Vancouver and then Alaska. The terminus in LA was in the south of the city and bestrewn with the mentally ill, what with the cutbacks of the Reagan administration.
San Franciso, however, was beautiful. I went to Haight Ashbury and the waterfront but ran out of impetus and money there. So I phoned home and borrowed four hundred dollars from my mother. I bought a ticket to London via Minneapolis. In Minneapolis I had head phones in my ears and missed the announcement of the connection. I ended up spending twenty-four hours in the airport with twenty-pounds in my pocket and a the only other traveller there, a British guy on his way to Canada shared his sandwiched with me. Again, the bottomless cup of coffee from the all night coffee stand stood me in good stead.
COPYRIGHT BRUCE E SAUNDERS 2019