met a cruiser named John Featherstone last February, in St Anne, Martinique.
Brought along by friends to dinner, this perfect stranger almost immediately
announced he was dying of pancreatic cancer. He probably wasn't more than
45-years-old. Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest, fastest growing and
least curable cancers.
living on borrowed time. I should be dead already and I probably will be in the
next six months," he told us, so matter-of-factly that we wondered at first
if he was telling the truth. He'd already outlived his prognosis of three to six
months by almost six.
hearing this diagnosis he had decided to cash in whatever little he had, get on
his boat, FEATHER'S TOUCH and sail away.
I'm living my dream and if I've got to die, I'll be lucky enough to die doing it
too," he'd told us.
never saw him again. But he was telling the truth. When he reached Trinidad this
past fall, he was failing and in no position to care for himself. He had no
money for a mooring, for a boatyard or for drugs, doctors or hospitals. But he
tight-knit Trinidad cruiser community swung into action, taking up a collection
for his medical care and taking over the management of his last weeks. Many
people contributed, one couple we know quite heavily. One of the boatyard owners
donated both money and haul-out space. A popular Trini taxi driver ferried
John's friends and all manner of supplies back and forth to him after he entered
the hospital. John died in November in a Seventh Day Adventist Hospital, with
supportive people caring about and for him.
his story circulates among cruisers, we've heard some grumbling that he had no
right to inflict his situation on strangers. I reckon those people got more for
their giving than they paid.
hear of similar incidences of cruiser generosity and compassionate interventions
with some regularity as we travel. I think of them now as Feathers' Touches.
Kay and Don, on KATHLEEN. When we met this couple in Porlamar, they were on
their way to the miniscule village of Puerto Real, a stop they make at least
once a year-in a real sense, to visit family. Eight years or so ago a distraught
fisherman approached their boat in his peńero, begging aspirin for his feverish
baby. Later, Kay and Don dinghied into the village to check on the baby. They
were invited in, fed dinner as thanks, and the relationship progressed from
there. Kay and Don have "adopted" the family, and enlisted their
church back in Park City for backup support. Over the years, this family has
received contributions of food, basic medicines, clothing and housewares. Kay
and Don have watched the children grow, new children appear and have been
invited to family cereomonies like baptisms and weddings. Two of the family
children are now being sponsored in colleges.
lifelines may just be an extension of the cruiser mentality. Though unsought,
sometimes there are tangible-and entirely unpredictable--rewards for giving.
Friends we met in Porlamar, Duchess and Dick on DUCHESS, wrote us about their
experience in Tortuga.
SALTWHISTLE for sundowners and dinner, they noticed some people on the beach
searching the sky anxiously-obviously looking for their pickup. They'd seen this
family deposited by helicopter earlier in the day. Now, within minutes the sun
would set, leaving six people stranded in utter blackness all night, with
nothing to eat, little more than bathing suits for cover, without any shelter
and in 20 to 25-knot winds-a fearsome prospect. Dick and Craig jumped in their
dinghies, while Duchess and Fran started stretching a four-person lobster meal
into dinner for 10. (On LULU previous lobster buys indicate no stretching would
have been required-lobster for four aboard LULU is elastic enough to serve 20.)
family boarded the strangers' dinghies somewhat apprehensively. There were three
adults, plus a 4-, 12- and 19-year-old. One spoke some broken -- but
serviceable-English. He owned the Medivac helicopter service that had brought
them to the beach. Later they would learn that the chopper had had engine
problems and, without means of contact, had turned back to Caracas.
of wine all around helped calm some nerves-they finally realized we were not
going to kidnap them and were only offering our hospitality," Duchess
wrote. "Thank goodness I had just made bread and a cherry pie..."
on SALTWHISTLE soon turned into a sort of celebratory feast, the communication
barrier pretty much dissolving with the melted butter. Four slept on DUCHESS and
two on SALTWHISTLE. Everyone was invited to SALTWHISTLE the next morning.
(Cruisers always share the work burden.)
helicopter began circling at 6:45 AM, so the pilot ended up joining the other 10
for breakfast--which included not only scrambled eggs and toast but Duchess's
homemade banana bread.
BREAD...HOMEMADE BANANA BREAD... CHERRY PIE? On LULU, the bread and dessert
course would have been Ritz Crackers and, well, Ritz Crackers. Though I
could--thanks to many of our guests who have carted down Stew Leonard's
meat--have broken out 2" thick prime steaks to round out either the lobster
dinner or the egg breakfast. LULU is more of an Atkins boat.)
sooner were the breakfast dishes done than the grateful family began
reciprocating. First they treated the cruisers to helicopter rides--aerial
photos of sailboats included-followed by a fresh lobster lunch on the beach.
(Duchess doesn't mention it but doubtless she whipped up a chocolate mousse for
heartfelt thanks and some tears, the Venezuelans boarded their Sunday flight
home, insisting that next summer the cruisers be their guests at their home in
Caracas as well as their vacation home in Caranero, where DUCHESS and
SALTWHISTLE will be safely berthed in the local yacht club so the entire group
can tour inland Venezuela.
was more. The family returned the next weekend on a nifty, brand new Italian
motor yacht, repaying the kindness by restocking both cruiser larders with
cartons of food, fruits and wines. Over that weekend, Duchess writes "we
were invited back again and again, till we were literally numb from hospitality
the likes of which we have never experienced.
the family had sought help from two other Venezuelan power boats and had been
refused before we showed up to help...It is when we take advantage of
opportunities to help others that the experiences become unforgettable."
there are our friends Susan and Russ, on DELIVERANCE. I had assumed the Newmans
chose their boat name as a sort of comment on the fact that it would deliver
them from one place to another and out of their former working lives. But the
name gathers another dimension, since they seem to have taken on the job of
delivering various Caribbean locals--mostly Rastafarians-from economic calamity.
I've nicknamed their project Operation Bootstrap. Despite the fact that they're
often floating non-paying loans, Susan and Russ are involved with the folks who
actually call these islands home.
first investment was in Vision. For most cruisers that would mean inexpensive
Venezuelan ($500) laser surgery to correct nearsightedness, but for Russ and
Susan it translated into a $500 prepayment to a Rasta named Vision.
is a lively guy who's got the regulation long, fuzzy dreadlocks stuffed into the
official red, green and black Rasta babushka; decorative, oversized caps of all
sorts function as opaque hairnets because covering dreadlocks is considered an
appropriate form of modesty. Many Rastas will only uncover their hair among
other Rastas. Dreadlocks symbolize not only the Rasta's roots in Africa, but
also strength, as Rastas trace their origins back to Samson. For the
social-protest Rastafarian element, dreadlocks also make an anti-establishment,
anti-straight white-man hair statement.
Judeo-Christian splinter sect whose holy book is the Old Testament, Rastafarians
believe the deceased black Eithiopian emperor, Haile Selassie (whose birth name
was Ras Tafari) was the Second Messiah and that black enslavement was God's
punishment for inadequate or lax worship.
seem to come in two kinds: true and false. The false espouse the religion to
lend legitimacy to their drug use, or they are actually involved in drug
trafficking and other criminal activity. True Rastas are gentle, sincere and
live a healthy life-with the possible exception of the prodigious weed they
smoke. Most Rastas choose the wilderness, where they grow their own food and
live off the land.
Rasta adopts a moniker -- Vision, Friend, Nature, African Pride - by which all
his friends instantly call him and which appears on his business card. The
business card helps lend legitimacy to the assiduousness with which the Rasta
works, because looking at one, and having some vague notion that they're
marijuana addicts, you'd never think he'd get anything done.
a case in point, has a bopper, dragster-speed line of "can-do" patter.
I know this because I happened on him at the cash register in a St Lucia
chandlery where, entirely unprovoked, he launched into the astonishing depth and
number of boat maintenance chores he could be performing on my boat: rubbing,
scrubbing, compounding, waxing, polishing, scraping, sanding, varnishing,
rigging and any number of engine or generator fixes. (The rule of thumb, we've
learned by now, is to discount any Caribbean boat worker's proclaimed field of
expertise by about 90%. After receiving his card, you need to find out his real
specialty-generally by asking other cruisers nearby. If he cleans, then let him
clean, but don't hire him to take apart your winches, unless you're starting a
spring, Russ and Susan, who cruise six months and return to the States for six
months, hired Vision and a friend named Bash to prepare DELIVERANCE for summer
storage. Curious about Rastafarianism and how local people actually live, they
asked if Vision would teach them. Knowing Susan and Russ, in exchange for the
lessons they upped his hourly rate by some hefty percentage.
flattered that customers should be interested in his life, toured them through
areas cruisers don't usually get to see, took them home to his small shack,
cooked dinner for them and introduced them to his parents, some of his sisters
and a 13-year-old nephew. They all live in the "family compound,"
except for Vision's child and his woman, a white Australian he met several years
ago on a boat, who live in England to take advantage of the far superior
educational system. Vision's dream was to build a little house in St Lucia and
bring his family home.
the summer, in Vermont, the Newmans got a call from the nephew. Vision had
gotten himself into some trouble: it seems a cruiser customer made a mistake in
writing a check -- paid him something like 7,000 ECs (about $2,800) instead of
700 ECs for services rendered. Vision cashed it and sent 4,000 ECs back to
England. (What he did with the rest remains a mystery.) When the cruiser
realized his mistake he returned to reclaim his money and, of course, it was
gone. Vision claimed he thought it was a tip.
actually is a very charming guy," Russ writes. (And I can vouch for that in
my two minutes' experience of him. Construing this situation in the most
favorable light possible, I guess he just has an over-inflated view of what his
services are worth.)
was put in jail for several days. Meanwhile, the family rallied-that's just the
way families still are in most of these Caribbean islands. They'd scraped up
$1,000 US; one of the things that had to go by the wayside was the kids'
back-to-school clothing. The family asked the Newmans for help. Russ and Susan
agreed to put up $500 on Vision's behalf-as repayment he'd ready DELIVERANCE
ready for their December return. Problem was the marina revoked his work
privileges and the boat was as they'd left her. They hired Bash to do the job.
had fled, no one was exactly sure exactly where, but eventually turned up in
Antigua, where he could find work. His woman and his child are with him. He's
called the Newmans several times promising to do the work he owes them as soon
as he returns.
going to quote liberally from Russ's last few emails, which track some of their
other "investments," deliver glimpses of life among the locals and
eloquently illustrate the rewards of unselfish generosity, the collateral
compensations for loaning without collateral and having a boat that's in
we returned to St Lucia," Russ writes, "I got the flu, when Bash and
Ras Ambassador took us to the jungle to meet the Elder Rasta. [Apparently] when
I crossed the river the cold water made the flu enter my body right 'frew my
feets.' We also got to meet Bash's mom, stepfather, daughter, girlfriend and his
great-grandmother, who is also the grandmother of Ras Ambassador. Although
Granny spoke only patois, she absolutely loved me and made her amorous feelings
is very quiet and spiritual, a true Rasta. He's an extremely loveable guy. He
has one child. He currently lives with his family--his woman and child live with
her family. His dream is to build a small house so 'de free of dem' can be
together. He's got as far as pouring the foundation for this house. It's in
Marigot village with a magnificent view of Marigot Bay. (As an aside, Bash's
woman's mother is 45 and is hospitalized with uterine cancer. She needs
chemotherapy that is not available on St Lucia. She wants to go the hospital in
Martinique. Only problem is that it will be private pay and will cost $20,000
and of course she doesn't have any money.)
Elder Rasta was cool. He was 50 and looked 35. He and three young guys lived in
a lean-to deep in the jungle. They grew all their own food including the ganja.
They tried to recruit us. Susan was considering joining, but somehow I think
it's too late for me. They were very polite though. They weren't even offended
when we repeatedly declined their offer to join them in smoking a gigantic splif.
my brother and sister-in-law Doug and Suzanne came to St Lucia for a week. We
had a great time. Suzanne got her hair braided the day that Bash took us to the
market in Castries. Bash introduced us to all the old ladies in the market and
Susan loved learning about the different foods that grow in St Lucia. The only
problem we had was the fight at the Rasta restaurant in which we had lunch. Bash
is so proud of Rasta food and the owner seemed delighted that we came to his
two-table shack. He was so happy to see us that he asked the Rasta guys sitting
at the two tables to take their food outside. That's when the fight started. We
knew they were mad but couldn't understand what they were saying because the
fight was in patois. The only words we recognized were the words "white
people," which were loudly repeated several times. In the end we think
logic prevailed and most of the people apologized to us for the rudeness of the
did an overnighter to the Pitons with them and Suzanne was sick all the way. She
was a very good sport and stuck it out. Doug told her it would calm down when we
got moored. Well, we got moored and not only did the flush handle come off the
head but the anchorage was rolly. Suzanne finally lost her cookies. I'm not sure
if was the roll or the sight of me with the head in little pieces on the salon
floor. We evacuated them around 9:00 pm to the Hilton. They loved it. Guess they
are just hotel people.
we left St Lucia we stopped in Wallilabou, St Vincent. Last year we loaned Nada
$400 to buy the rowboat he uses in his boat-boy business. As soon as he saw us
enter the harbor he rushed over to the boat and started babbling about
something. We finally figured out that he is a little concerned that he won't be
able to make his first payment. It seems that since 9/11 the boat boy business
has been bad. Then there was the armed break-in of a yacht that got publicized
all over the cruiser nets on the short wave radio and in the marine newspaper.
Seems people are
to stop now. Then there was the problem he had with the police. He was accused
of doing the break-in. He got a lawyer and was acquitted at his trial. Only
trouble was, he used the money he had been saving to make his boat payment to
pay the lawyer. Then he had the problem that someone burned up his backpack. He
kept all his legal documents in the
including his identity papers, his copy of our note, and our boat card. He had
intended to send us an email explaining his problems but the guy at the Internet
café charged for use of the computers and he didn't have any money. Then he
said, "Of course I couldn't email you anyway because your boat card with
the email address on it got burned up in the backpack." He did assure us
that the bad guys were identified and arrested and that there is no reason of us
to be concerned about our safety. Just in case, Susan slept that night with her
trusty dinghy oar.
finally understanding this sad tale, we felt it was completely understandable
that he was having trouble with the payment. We agreed to lengthen the payment
schedule. I would hate to take advantage of the fellow when he is down.
I mention that his 16 year-old girlfriend is expecting a baby the first of
April? Does this guy have bad luck
we pulled into Bequia two days ago. As we approached the harbor a boat boy
offered to take us to a mooring. We told him we wanted to go to one of African's
moorings. We dealt with African last year and he was great. The boat boy
promised to take us to African's mooring but somehow we didn't believe him. We
got on the VHF and called for African Pride. Sure enough, another guy answered
and promised to take us to one of African's moorings. About 2 hours after we got
all settled at the mooring we had a knock on the hull. It was African. He said,
'How come you didn't tie up at one of my moorings?' It then dawned on us that
these boat boys are not the most honest businessmen in the world. Seems like
they finally figured out the American Way."
Why not give?
laughs alone might outweigh the Newman's losses. But Russ and Susan are more
than just soft touches and -- since we tend to tease each other a lot - I'll let
Russ, getting serious, set the ledger straight:
truth is that as American WASPs of British ancestry, we feel our people have
benefited tremendously over the
last 400 years from the exploitation of people of color. We are
and ashamed of the brutality with which our ancestors treated these people. We
feel that overpaying a little or making a questionable loan or two is the least
we can do. The thing that has amazed us the most is that many of them have
completely forgiven and moved on. As an 11-year-old boy in St Vincent said to me
"Mr., the slavery stuff happened a long time ago. It's time for us all to
the Vision thing, Russ had this to say: "So what's the truth in all this?
Who knows--who cares? The money went to the family and did relieve a little of
the stress Vision placed on them. It certainly wasn't [their] fault that Vision
screwed up. It is interesting that Vision called us three times. He did go where
he could find work; he was with his family.
we don't want you to think that the West Indian people are the only interesting
ones we're met down here. We also meet a couple of nutty Jews from The City --
but that's another story..."
Mouse, Country Mouse-- but above all, Water Rats
tell that story because you must be curious about who else these terrific people
are -- besides bankers and bumpkins, that is.
nicknamed them the Bumpkins and they reciprocated by calling us their CITY
friends, as in New York City, as in New Yorkers refer to THE CITY as if it's the
only city in the world. (Well, isn't it?) We
tell them the existence of Russ and Susan Newman Foundation for Rasta Disastas
is directly related to the fact that their past lives were so boring, had so few
things to spend disposable income on, that they've amassed a huge fortune. We
tell Russ his spending habits are so conservative he's going to end up dribbling
away this vast surplus on rocking chairs, hearing aids, potty chairs and
diapers--and then he's going to be forced to blow it big-time on some nursing
home where he'll get the chance to spend what's left of his pennies on fresh
crayons for the occupational therapy room.
four of us met about two years ago on FEISTY. They were brought to a sundown
cocktail party by mutual friends Walt & Chris on BLUE MOON. Both seemed very
shy, which just goes to show you the value of snap judgments.
is about 9-feet tall, with that kind of pinky, freckled redhead complexion I
usually associate with "Aw, shucks" country-boy candor and
friendliness. No one would have blinked if he'd been wearing bib-tip overalls.
So I wasn't surprised to learn they'd lived all their lives in some teeny
backwater suburb of Buffalo, New York.
is actually tall, but next to Russ could pass for a pygmy. I counted her lucky
not to have been crushed to death living with this giant for more than 35 years.
She's also a Size 4. (I know this because I've had her shorts in my washing
machine. Believe me, I've had to work hard at spending time-and tropically-clad
time, at that--with this sized woman.) Her
body, in addition to her bounty, must endear her to Rastas, who are accustomed
to bigger bosoms and much more zaftig bottoms.
Russ, is a Yiddish euphemism--there are many more--meaning fat.)
didn't at first look like this sort-or any sort - of friendship between the four
of us was the remotest possibility. They were quiet that night and left very
early-in fact it looked to us like they couldn't wait to escape us-as in
"Lord, deliver us from these louts!" Could have had to do with the
fact (an alleged fact is all I'm willing to own up to, since I don't remember
all that well) that it was one of my more raucous nights. Perhaps embarrassing
would be a better word, but-- as I said--I don't remember. Apparently I was
carrying on pretty good with Walt, who has a great sense of humor. Jackie and I
were also regaling everybody with the story of how we met. Telling a tandem
story with Jackie is always a no-holds-barred verbal tug of war, so the party
got pretty loud (doubtless the Newmans would have chosen the word
was convinced they would run from any anchorage we happened into, but then we
bumped into them in Martinique...and then again in St Lucia, where the four of
us hung out pretty much constantly for a week and we laughed almost non-stop.
Apparently they did have senses of humor, quite good ones at that, and they
either hadn't hated me (they've been very diplomatic and vague about this
earliest stage of our friendship.) or they decided with constant exposure that I
wasn't so bad. Russ really dug Gary's dry humor and his ability to fix anything
with such quiet aplomb. Russ now calls Gary his Idol.
they cruise pretty much as you would expect from bumpkins-at about horse and
buggy speed -- and since we travel like CITY people and since they're always
back in the States for six months of the year, we figured we'd never see them
again. But when we were back in New York during the summer, on their way home
after visiting their kids in Vermont they tacked down to THE CITY for an
afternoon (not exactly a route between Vermont and Buffalo that our GPS or your
onboard SUV computer would suggest.) We squired them through THE CITY's varied
neighborhoods, included a walk in THE PARK and brunch at The Stanhope. I tried,
but couldn't quite fit in the soup dumplings at Joe's Shanghai
we were sure we'd never run into them again, we diverted to St. Lucia last
January on our way back from Barbados. We spent another week together, got to
meet their daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter--two weeks younger and
currently promised to Ryan.
then this year, since they were still in St Lucia and we absolutely knew we'd
never see them again, we invited them to spend New Year's with us in Venezuela
on LULU. We had a wonderful time, but I think Russ was a little disappointed he
didn't know enough Spanish to check out the barrios and spread around some Bolívars.
that's how fast friends are made in this life in the slow lane...