Captain's Log, Stardate:

3/18/02

Another Day in Paridise!

Buenos Dias Una Mas:

Quite a few readers said they enjoyed the report of a "typical day" we had while in Italy last summer so I thought I would repeat for a single day and evening we just had down here in Venezuela.

We are still anchored off the island of Margarita, one of the Venezuelan off shore islands. We had spent a busy day re-provisioning the boat and decided to go to one of the highly touted malls in town, "Centro Commercial Sambil." According to our people-watching index, there are quite a number of wealthy Venezuelans, at least here in Margarita, wandering around the mall. Then we noticed a theater so we decided to get a much-needed video fix and took in the remake of "Oceans 11." This was a multi theater complex with big screen, big sound, and big price. Oops, sorry, I forgot--not big price. We're still in Venezuela where a hit run movie at a big screen theater costs only $3 in the evening. The Spanish subtitles augmented my Spanish cassette course very nicely in that the latter completely omitted vulgar language.

It was 11:30 p.m. when we walked out to the end of the dinghy dock where we discovered, to our horror, our dinghy was gone! The stainless steel locking cable had been cut cleanly away! We went back to the coast guard station, about 200 yds away, where a uniformed man was watching color TV with his sawed off shotgun in his lap. He didn't seem very interested in going after the bad guys while the trail was hot. He had other, more important responsibilities, mainly to make sure no one stole his TV, or so it seemed. Nice young man, though.

The coast guard guy was equally unable to give us a ride back to our boat, bobbing at anchor peacefully about a half mile away. There was, however, an elderly fisherman, probably 65 at least, who was willing to take us out to the boat in his 18' Alumacraft-like boat with a 20 HP outboard. Great! What would we do without a ride back to our boat?

The fisherman asked us to proceed to the end of the dock because, we presumed, it was very shallow where his boat was tied up. So he rowed out to the meeting place, we both piled in telling him in advance how grateful we were for the ride. He rowed a little way away from the dock . . . and then kept rowing. It seemed his outboard was not operational. Good. I was happy to see those things happen to the professionals as well. "Rowing" is actually a misnomer: he really only had an aluminum paddle with a plastic spade on the end. So he kneeled in the bow and paddled 4-5 strokes on one side of the bow and then the same on the other. As we got further from shore, the wind picked up somewhat and it became more difficult for him to continue making way toward our much coveted goal.

I offered--nearly demanded--several times that I take over to give him a break but the old man steadfastly refused. Apparently, the plastic tip of the paddle would rotate on the paddle so that it became parallel with our course through the water rather than perpendicular to it because he would stop, pull the paddle out, twist the head, and put it back in the water. Mary and I wondered what our fate would be if the paddle stopped working altogether? No engine, no paddle, moonless night, no radio, 3:00 a.m., and with an offshore wind, it would be worse than being merely "up a creek."

It was, unfortunately, something of a self fulfilling prophesy because, when we were just 30 yards from the beckoning stern of Escape Cay, the plastic tip fell OFF the paddle and into the water! Mary and I instantly moved to the edge of the boat with a frantic grasp at our only lifeline to a dry bed for the night and, because the plastic floated, we succeeded! But not the old man. He also moved to the same side of the boat and, because all three of us were on the same side, the boat tipped and all three of us nearly went in the drink! As it was, only the old man fell in! It would be no problem to haul this 80 LB guy back aboard. The trouble was, he had been clutching the pole part of the paddle and let it go when he hit the water and, being aluminum, it SUNK!

In the short while all this was happening, the boat drifted another 10 yards from the safe haven of Escape Cay. I began paddling immediately to avoid losing any more hard-fought distance, using just the plastic tip and left Mary to try to get the elderly gentleman back aboard. She couldn't do it by herself and the man seemed quite panicky so I had to stop paddling and help him while we drifted another 10 yards putting us now 50 yds from safety. Even while I was paddling, I was not able to make any headway against the wind. When the old man got back aboard, he again insisted on paddling so I let him while I began to undress. When I was down to my underwear, Mary and I could see that he had lost still more ground. That clinched it so I dove in. Mary reported later the man was stunned that I would do such a thing. I really think he couldn't swim. A fisherman living on an island and couldn't swim. There have been stranger things. Or maybe at his age, he just didn't care for it so much anymore.

I quickly swam myself out and had to roll onto my back to rest but I could see that, since I was 95% immersed in the water, the 13 kts of wind had little effect on my progress. Even my head, being devoid of hair, was built for speed in such circumstances. Some 6-7 minutes later, I was back on the big boat, patting myself on the back for being so quick witted. TOO quick, as it turned out! My plan of raising someone on the ship's radio to come to the rescue was quickly dashed when I realized the keys to the boat were still in my pants, preserved nice and dry by Mary, who was now drifting out of the harbor in the middle of a dark night with a man she didn't know.

I found a hatch that wasn't locked, crawled through it, and called out on the radio, afraid I'd catch the Coast Guard guy in the middle of a good movie. But "Ashley" on the yacht "Blind Date" leaves his radio on all night and heard the call. He and Carol (who first met on what kind of date?) quickly launched their dinghy and came to the rescue. In the mean time, Mary had taken command of the aluminum boat and directed the fisherman to paddle, not toward Escape Cay--which would have been futile--but perpendicular to the wind so that the resulting course over the bottom would take them to the "tripper boat" called "Fiesta" anchored more or less downwind but to one side of Escape Cay. This was their last chance because there were no more boats anchored beyond "Fiesta."

I gave radio "vectors" to Blind Date and they found the strange couple hanging on to the anchor chain of the unoccupied "booze cruise" boat. Soon, all the parties were happily reunited. All's well that ends well, right?

Early the next morning, three fishermen approached us with our dinghy in tow . . . sans el motor. They were looking for a reward and seemed a little disappointed that I only offered them $30 US, a huge amount of money by local fisherman's standards. One of the fishermen was totally drunk at the time and I just had to wonder if the whole operation wasn't a coordinated effort. Later, we learned that three dinghies had been stolen that night. The other two were "locked" to their corresponding big boats with SS cables sliced through just as ours had been. Although we had insurance, the other two didn't. One dinghy was returned without the motor but the other guy had a very nice dinghy with a 30 HP outboard (ours was only 15) and he never saw either again.

What lesson was learned? I think I will have to re-compute the cost of rum down here after applying a rather rapid dinghy motor depreciation factor! Anyway, so ended another typical day in "paradise."

Hope all is well with you and your family!

Lee and Mary