A Tender Moment in a house of Ill Repute: Successful cruising is a matter of continual awareness
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We’ve made it across the Atlantic to Barbados, arriving just in time for celebrating New Year’s Eve. Two weeks later, Den (my Dutch friend) and I are still hard at it, every day, in a Bridgetown brothel. There’s not much privacy either, we work at the rear of the establishment, in an open shed, exposed to the derisive laughter and unasked for advice from the local Cajuns.
“Hey mon, wat cha doo-in?”
“Well g’day, we’re makin’ a little dinghy.” Our lay back accents are almost vying for the horizontal.
“Oh, you makin’ a little boat for the big boat, dat’s good, hey mon, you gonna fiba glas dat ding?”
This is the basic conversation, repeated on the hour with each new smiling face.
As our cupboard-bred collection of materials begrudgingly transforms into an object of nautical symmetry, the laughter increases. What I looked upon as fine lines, the locals viewed as a receptacle for ice and cold beer. If only we would “fiba glas dat ding mon.”
The head honcho of the ‘establishment’ is very accommodating, has made us feel welcome and seems to run the joint at the command of the ‘boss lady’. Mr Honcho stands 190cm (6ft 3 in the old money) is solid and has a flashy smile that should be fronting a toothpaste advert. Dripping gold from his wrists, neck, ears and even his mouth, I swear he’s a walking dubloon. He makes me squint, and when he starts laughing, I slip on the sunnies. The red bandana on his cannonball head, the vivid shirt and baggy trousers, neatly round off the whole ‘Pirates of Penzance’ performance.
As he swaggers over he whispers, “You don wanna laugh with dem Cajun’s mon, all dey wanna do is steal yo’ tools, rape yaw wife and den kill you!” As he is Cajun himself, I return to work wondering whether to laugh or take note.
“We’re ‘aving a party this Sat’day”, our host continues, “celebrating a return to work for dis joint, we‘ve been closed a year since dat murder dat night, you guys be finished by den, wontcha?”
At this point, I decided to take note.
“No worries” I reply, gazing at our two made-up frames and sheets of furniture-grade ply. “We’ll be out of ‘ere Friday arvo.”
Deciding to build a replacement for our smashed dinghy ‘Penguin Jack’, sourcing materials and finding a building site, took a week. A week of bus rides complete with Bob Marley blasting through the speakers, pounding our ears. The driver danced in his seat, chatting with his mates, while scattering pedestrians, all with his right foot firmly on the peddle. It took a week of relying on our good friends, Den and ‘Tash from the mighty ‘Frodo’ to be our taxi to and fro shore several times a day. It was ‘Tash, who bravely asked the woman, behind the three-metre corrugated iron fence and barbed wire, whether we could use the shed ‘out back’. Mrs Barkly was most accommodating, letting us leave our tools locked in her hallway. Mrs Barkly, as we soon found out is ‘the Madam’.
For three days we cut out frames, trying to bend Honduras Pine stringers into something resembling a boat frame. Honduras Pine looks like Radiata Pine without the knots, it has greater density and therefore more weight. Its oily feel, I thought, indicated longevity and resistance to rot. What I failed to notice, until much later, was its natural abhorrence to being bent.
On entering the yard one morning, I found one of ‘the girls’ all 15 stone of her, sitting stark naked on a stool, all limbs akimbo and being hosed down by another woman, similarly clad. Not knowing where to look, I thought I would stare at one of the stencilled signs indicating that no credit is given and that guns are forbidden.
It was now Tuesday. Crossing the Atlantic only two weeks ago, I had images of coral sands, palm trees, scantily clad women and Pina Coladas. The images proved correct, except that instead of a deckchair and a cool drink, I have a workbench and a screwdriver. Cruising reality is a hot tin roof, sawdust, tramping miles carrying or looking for supplies and a shimmering crime-lord as custodian to all my worldly tools of trade. What went wrong?
We almost stayed onboard that night, as the swell was swallowing the concrete jetty each time we tried to land. We were about to return for a rave-up on Mariah II, i.e. a tinned meal and our favourite book, when our American friends, Roy and Chris from their catamaran, ‘Solmates’, suggested we tie up to their dinghy. “It’s anchored off as well as tied, so it’ll be fine” they called. Their four-metre, hard-bottomed ‘run-about’ appeared to be sitting as comfortably as Mariah II out on anchor, so, ‘what could go wrong?’
‘Successful cruising is a matter of continual awareness’. This adage was not followed. Sitting at a beach bar, boasting about crossing oceans to the only people who care to listen, other cruisers, is not awareness. With my back firmly placed to the worrying scene of two dinghies porpoising in their attempts to ride the increasing swell, I figured the ‘Ostrich Theory’ would work. Could we not relax now, tonight of all nights, after all we have just crossed the Atlantic? We deserve a break, do we not? The result answers the questions. The concrete wharf rips the large, sturdy rib to shreds as if it is paper thin, its’ 15 hp outboard drags what remains of the planning hull into the depths of swelling sands and coral sea. Our beloved servant from Aussie, ‘Penguin Jack’ aka ‘PJ’ is shattered, the remnants float off in the moonlight.
We stood on the jetty and with moist eyes wished each other an ironic “Happy New Year”. We piled in our Dutch friends’ dinghy, headed for ‘Solmates’ and dutifully awaited midnight. We soberly repeat our “Happy New Years’’ and “Goodnights”. Then I remember, PJ’s gone, this begins the first of many pleas, “Give us a lift, mate?”
Two weeks later on the promised “Friday arvo”, we launch ‘PJ II’ as the sun sets. It has been a frantic, albeit interesting time. ‘PJ II’ has been prime coated but is barely dry. The next morning, our home, “Mariah II” turns into a work-shop. Jackie, my hard-working wife and I finish the work on ‘PJ II’.
“PJII”, built in Barbados, in a brothel, by an Aussie and a Dutchman, is unique. As we putter along, people point, stare and the odd snort of laughter can be heard. We hear children say “I want one”, I think it’s the green fenders that are cunningly made from swimming floats that turn their eye.
But, we have the last laugh. Each year many shiny, new dinghies are stolen in the Caribbean, which causes heartache and drama that we know too well. Providing the glue holds and the timber stays in one piece, PJ will see us home.
New, local fibreglass dinghy – from $1000
New inflatable dinghy – from $2000
Penguin Jack II – $200 and a bouquet of flowers for Madam Barkly.
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