Friday, July 08, 2005

One of my boat stories

Bouncing around yesterday I was reading Rob’s site and he linked to a story about boats by Ana of Little Red Boat (see Rob’s site for the link to the story) where she talks about how her site got the name. I asked Rob for his boat story, meaning (I thought) for him to explain his site name and origins. Instead he told a delightful tale about boating around the canals, which I found to be just as nice a story as Ana’s. His response was to ask for my boat story. This sounds like a nice path, so I invite all of you to come up with boat stories (boy, lots of “stories” in this paragraph) of your own.

I’ve got a ton of boat tales to tell. I spent four years in the Navy, and a lot of that was floating around. I was raised in New Jersey, and my father and uncle loved to go fishing. My uncle owned an outboard motor and we would periodically pile in the car (the three of us) and drive out to the tip of Long Island. They would rent a boat, install the motor, and we would float around for the day. I would get dreadfully seasick. I hated fish (eat it now) and would never eat what we caught. I just remember the sun on the water and the sad stomach.

Anyway, this is leading up to a Navy tale, and that one will come later. For now let’s move on to my worst time on a boat – my daughter’s wedding.

My daughter is a little strong minded (little?). She usually tries to rebel against anything ‘standard’. Wanting to get married (which sounds pretty normal in itself) she did not want a big wedding or any type of party. She was living here in Las Vegas, and we were living in San Diego, about a six hour drive south. I offered to pay for the ceremony, as long as there was an Elvis around. Being Vegas there are always Elvi (Elvises?) around someplace. Many wedding chapels offer Elvis weddings, either with Elvis driving his pink Cadillac to pick you up or singing or even as the minister. I figured anything Elvis would be cheaper than a big formal affair, and her being her she would probably not take me up on it, saving me even more money. But she decided on something even more far out. She wanted to be married on a boat.

Now, I understand ship captains can marry people, this being included in many a movie, but didn’t quite know how she could plan this. But she found something so far out that she figured nobody would attend, thus providing a simple ceremony. She picked a tall ship Windjammer cruise in the Caribbean as her location of choice. After hearing this, I told my wife I would be quite happy to send her off to it, not wanting to go anywhere near a boat that size. But after months of “but you can’t miss your only daughter’s only wedding” I was forced into agreeing to go.

She picked a cruise that went out over Christmas, a week floating around and visiting smaller islands. We were to board the ship at St. Martin and she would be married at a later stop, Nevis. The minister would come out to the ship, and perform the ceremony off shore. This is a special wedding package offered by Windjammer Cruises. We would come on the cruise, along with the groom’s parents, coming from Hamilton, Canada (near Buffalo NY).

One of my major complaints, besides the floating around stuff, was that it was so expensive that her brothers would be unable to attend. Not only because of the cruise and flight costs, but the time off from their jobs as well.

After agreeing to go I started investigating the cruise. It sounded worse than I originally thought. A small boat (my US Navy time was spend on aircraft carriers, the smallest boat I felt comfortable with. Over 300 meters long, 120 airplanes and a crew of 5,000) in my estimation, only 80 passengers and a crew of 12. Tall masts, a week floating around. Help!

Plus my daughter picked Christmas week. The winter is prime time for Caribbean vacations. Rates double after hurricane season (which has started already) through the Spring. But the double again over the Christmas holidays. So this event would cost us four times as much as an off season cruise.

One of the places I loved to visit was France. The atmosphere was great (I liked London too) but the food was tremendous! (England, food not the best) St. Martin was a good starting place – half the island Dutch and half was French! So we (OK, I) decided to go a week early and stay in France. The Grand Case Beach Club was chosen, after may hours on the Internet. A little expensive, but right on the water, a short walk from a small town full of famous French restaurants. A nice way to calm down an start preparing for the boat. My wife and I even decided to get scuba lessons and try some diving, but that’s another story on it’s own.

We flew down, another adventure – LA to Atlanta to Puerto Rico to St. Martin. St. Martin airport is right off the beach, there are some famous photos of people laying in the sand looking up at big airliners flying just over their heads about to land (I’ll look for some and link later). The flights were ok, just long waits in airports for connections. San Diego fogged in and having to drive to LA for the first leg, almost missing that one which would have messed up the rest of the connections royally.

Really enjoyed St. Martin – warm water, beaches, and the food was even better than I imagined. I do plan on going there again. We had five days, then the about to be in-laws showed up. We had a day with them, then off to the boat.

Brought our stuff on board in the evening, planned on spending the last night at the Grand Case. Our daughter flew in and was spending the night in port on the boat. It sails early, so you have to come in the day before. Putting our stuff in the cabin was worse that even I dreamed it could be. Picture an old iron fishing boat, converted to tiny cabins for cruising. They put a few cabins up on top, with windows, but those were all booked years in advance. The rest are down below, no windows, little tiny metal boxes. Bunk beds, welded to the wall, room in front for only one person at a time to stand. But at least each cabin had a ‘head’ – toilet and shower. So one person could stand in the bathroom and one in front of the beds. I took the top bunk. Ceiling not high enough to let me sit up. Head and feet touching both walls. If I forgot and sat up quickly my forehead would hit the ceiling. It was covered in a roll-on fireproofing stuff that was worse than sandpaper. I think I still have scars on my forehead from that stuff. Metal walls, noisy, and cold.

After seeing the cabin I told my wife that I would stay on shore, and join them on their return. Again the line, “but your only daughter’s only wedding” came to the fore. A sleepless night ashore, dreading the next day. We took everyone out to eat. My daughter being herself refused a ‘nice’ restaurant and we ended up at some ‘charming’ local place where I didn’t eat much. I don’t like seafood but will now enjoy a good piece of fish. Of course a local place in the Caribbean would have nothing but seafood. My daughter and wife love the stuff, so that’s where we went. Couldn’t even get a decent last meal.

Off to the boat in the morning, in the dark. It was tied up at one of the big piers in St. Martin. This is a popular stop for cruise lines and there were two big ships tied up on either side. Big boats, with 1000 passengers or so. From our little tiny thing it was like looking up a big wall at people way up there waving down at us. Into the tiny cold cabin – I don’t know why, but when it gets warm people crank up the air conditioning to horrendous levels, leaving places colder during warm weather than they are during the winter. Besides being under the water level the cabin was well supplied with cold air. So the metal wall was cold, the air was cold, and quite a breeze. No blankets (it was warm season – of course no blankets on board). I lay in my top bunk, noisy water rushing by along side me, wall too cold to lay against. Metal ceiling inches above my face. Cold air blowing on me. Noisy water, noisy engines, noisy generators. Even stopped the little metal coffin was full of sounds. And I say coffin, for that is what I imagine it would be like, put under the cold ground in a little metal box. Except this one was noisy and kept rolling back and forth and bouncing up and down. If I die and go to hell I imagine mine would be that little box. I have never been in a place so horrible.

Up on deck was a little better. But it was a small boat – even with small waves it continually bounced around. Sea sickness came quickly. Lots of pills, which still leave one feeling not quite right. Rolling back and forth, front of the ship moving up and down. And being down low we were splashed often. Small ship, nothing to do. We’ve been on big cruises, where there was always amusements. This was a small boat, either sit in your cabin (well, sit on the lower bunk, lay on the upper), sit in the galley (not big enough for everyone, and closed during prep and cleaning) or sit on top. Wow. Some great time.

Now I am not knocking those of you that like sailing ships. This was a sailing ship. But there was a crew, and besides the sails the engines were always running as there was a schedule to keep and the wind is not always blowing as desired. So there were people pulling on ropes and moving things about and yelling ‘out of the way’. Of course, for amusement, the paying passengers got to pull on ropes and raise a sail once in a while. It’s why you go on this type of cruise rather than on one of those big boats where you are always served. It’s a ‘barefoot cruise’.

First stop was a tiny piece of sand a few hours off of St. Martin. Christmas day on an island that wouldn’t support Robinson Cruso. But it looked pretty.

That’s our boat with St. Martin in the distance. Now I don’t swim, and sunburn easily. So this day (probably seven hours) on this island I just sat under a tree looking for shade. Staring at St. Martin in the distance, seasick, hungry, and tired. I was ready to swim back over there, realizing I would probably drown after only a hundred yards or so. It still seemed better than a week of this. Considered bribing a crew member to take me on a launch back. But “it’s your only daughter’s only wedding”. But I was right, it would have been better swimming back.

After a week of great food we were now subjected to some of the worst stuff I have eaten, not even rivaling the week at summer camp when I was a kid. Mostly cold sandwiches, the rest usually seafood salad and stuff common to the Caribbean. I just about starved over the week. The stops were not too bad – but I like big cities, not small islands. After four days of my wife not talking to me because I was wanting to die we finally hit Nevis and the wedding.

Plastic flowers on deck, that kept blowing over in the wind. I did as I promised and showed up. And as I promised I wore a tuxedo – well, a t-shirt with a picture of a tuxedo on front. And shorts. But they matched the black tie painted on the front. And nice red buttons painted on as well.

Nevis was OK – we had a wedding banquet at the best restaurant on the island – an old sugar plantation turned into fancy resort. Up on the mountain top. Our cab did not return (only two on the island) but we bribed the one cab driver waiting to return his fare into driving us back down when it was over. We had visions of the boat leaving without us, even though they were the ones that arranged this as part of the wedding package. I remember a winding fast ride down the mountain, just making the pier to catch the small boat. Oh – our sailing ship had too deep a draft to come up to the beach, and to save money they didn’t pay docking fees in most ports but anchored off shore and used these two small open boats to ferry us back and forth. Yes, even smaller boats, bouncing in the waves. Even more sea sickness, even with pills.

Next day was at St. Kitts – the ship moved at night and spent each day at an island. This was nice – annual carnival and noisy parade. Then last day at St. Bart’s – about the most expensive island. Where all the movie stars play. Millions of dollars in yachts tied up here. We had coffee across from the place where Jimmy Buffet wrote ‘Cheeseburgers in Paradise’. Most of the passengers had to go there and have a cheeseburger. And if I wasn’t so sick, and just stayed on the island, it would have been paradise.

Then back to St. Martin. Anchoring off shore around midnight, I could not spend another night in that noisy coffin. I sat on top, looking at the lights, again almost swimming back, knowing I would drown before I got half way. But I made it to daylight, and the launch ashore with the luggage, and early to the airport. Daughter spend a few days in hotel after the event, we spent the week before.

If I had to do it all over again I wouldn’t. I would go to St. Martin. Stay there while everyone else went off on the boat. That would have been paradise. Even if I would have missed my “only daughter’s only wedding”. Let everyone be mad at me. I think of it as a week in hell. And it only cost me around $10,000 for the pleasure.

So that’s one of my boat stories – pretty long one, did you really read it all? Killed an hour here at work, and forced to remember all of that horrid stuff. Thanks’ Rob. But maybe my next boat story will be a funny one. So on to the next guy – who wants to do the next boat story? Jo? Miranda?

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