Monday, August 4, 2008

The Sea Wolf Part II

I woke to the smell of diesel fuel and the sound of fishing boats motoring out of the marina. I was still on board the Sea Wolf. I opened my eyes and looked around. The main salon was like an upscale living room, with richly upholstered couches, chairs, and settees, and a round table for dining or playing cards, a far cry from my cramped, slightly soggy v-berth aboard Bill’s trimaran, the Search.

On one side was a fancy wet bar, opposite that a door led to a bathroom with a regular flush toilet, not the hand-operated "head" usually found on smaller yachts. The water system was not working, and the smell from the unflushed toilet blended with the diesel fumes from the departing craft. I quickly shut the door. Forward were two carpeted staircases, one leading up to the bridge, the other leading below.

On the bridge were the ship’s wheel and controls, all sort of navigation and communication gear. I took a quick look at the ship’s log. She had been heading south and ran into some kind of mechanical problem during a storm. They had put into Corn Island, which was off the coast of Nicaragua, and then returned to Cozumel with two Corn Islanders as additional crew members. There they had run into trouble with the Mexican authorities. I was beginning to understand part of the picture.

Going below, I saw the galley, a complete kitchen with walk-in cooler and freezer. Both were empty. There were several large staterooms, beds fitted with expensive linens with flowery prints, and a master stateroom with a king-size bed. Forward were rooms for the captain, engineer, and first mate, and a bunk room for the crew. A companionway led down to the engine room, which was dimly lit by a couple of portholes.

Going back to the main deck, I made a sandwich from the food I’d brought from the Search, and looked around at the situation. It slowly dawned on me that I was a prisoner in a somewhat defiled gilded cage. I had taken on an obligation which kept me a virtual prisoner on board the boat. The "watchers’ were still on the hill above. There now seemed to be two separate groups of them. As luxurious as the yacht was when it was up and running, unless I broke my promise to keep an eye on things, I was stuck there, like a ship becalmed at sea. Or was it in the eye of the storm?

The visitors began arriving. First to show up was a big guy named Antonio. He was all business in the beginning, but seemed mollified when I told him that Lefferdink told me to expect him, and to tell him that he would be coming back in a few days, and had left me to watch the boat. I got the feeling that Antonio had come directly from the airport. If he’d been on the island, he would have known that Lefferdink had flown out the day before. Cozumel was not a big place in those days. I noticed him giving money later to one of the watchers up on the hill. So some of them were his people.

After Antonio there was a steady stream of gawkers. Most of them seemed to be tourists from other parts of Mexico. A young guy who looked more like an American came by on a bicycle. He spoke unaccented English, but was from Mexico City, on vacation with his family. His name was Jaime.

The next "player" who arrived was the second one I had been told to expect, Roberto, who showed up with a couple of goofy American college girls in tow. He seemed a lot more aggressive that Antonio, and told me that the Sea Wolf had violated Mexican immigration law. (The entry in the log about the Corn Islanders began to make sense.) A group of local entrepreneurs had fronted money to pay the fine, and had a lien on the boat. They were planning on seizing it and turning it into an offshore gambling casino. The plot was thickening.

In the afternoon a well-dressed man with two kids came by. I invited them on board, and took the kids up on the bridge, and let them play with the wheel and pretend to steer the boat. He wrote down his name for me, Major Buenfils, head of the Air Force squadron there on the island. As he left, he invited me in broken English to come to the airport the next morning to go flying. I didn’t see how I could leave the boat, but couldn’t explain that to him anyway, so just smiled and nodded.

Jaime came back with his parents and sister, to get the "grand tour" of the yacht as well. We were definitely a tourist attraction. Jaime stayed around for a while after his parents left, and was there when the port captain showed up, the first of several visits. The port captain was an older man, and always had a couple of lieutenants with him, something I noticed was de rigeur in the Third World. He seemed relatively agreeable, something I hadn’t expected, after what I had heard from Roberto. I had the feeling that Lefferdink had made some kind of financial arrangement with him, before he left. He didn’t speak English, but seemed to hit it off with Jaime. I had no idea what they were talking about. Jaime told me later he was pretty sure the old man was soused all the time. Maybe that’s why he needed the two lieutenants on each side of him, to hold him up in case he fell down drunk.

By nightfall I had run out of food. It had been a busy day. The watchers were still on the hill. I secured the boat, and fell asleep on the settee. The next morning was the same scenario with the boats going out early and the smell of diesel, but the watchers on the hill were gone! I figured it was safe enough to leave the boat for a short time, even though I felt vaguely uneasy about it. I needed to get some supplies, and, hey, I had been invited to the airport at six o’clock. So I left.

Before I left, I looked up the words "I am looking for" in my Spanish book. So when I got to the airport, I went up to the first uniformed man I saw and told him I was looking for the Major. Within a few minutes I was standing with him in a military formation, looking like a fool in flip-flops and Florida bonefish guide hat, as they played the Mexican anthem and saluted the flag. Within a few minutes someone strapped a parachute on my back, and led me into an old T-28, a prop-driven trainer. We flew in formation with four other planes. They didn’t have radios, but communicated by hand signals. The view over the Yucatan Channel was magnificent.

Since the major was the best pilot, he had taken the worst plane. In order to get the landing gear to go down, he had to wave the other planes off, then go into a dive and pull up abruptly. The g-force would push the wheels down, and then he could lock them in place. We tried twice, but each time a buzzer went off, indicating that the wheels weren’t locked. After the second time, I realized that a lever was hitting me on the leg. I shifted over, and the third time the lever went down all the way, the buzzing stopped, and the wheels locked.

The major signaled the other planes to get back in formation, and they all landed together. After we landed, men came out to refuel the planes, and the major and the other pilots met under some trees to discuss the flight and to have some cold horchata, a drink made out of rice and sugar. They were surprised that I had never heard of it. After hanging around for a while, I thanked them heartily and made my exit. I had to get back to the marina. Something was bothering me.

Just before we started the landing process, the major had shouted something and pointed down. We were over the marina. There was the Sea Wolf, along with an ominous surprise. Before my friends had left on their fishing trip, I had told them what I little knew about the Sea Wolf. As I explained the situation, I noticed something vaguely disturbing in the back of their eyes. I now realized what it was–dollar signs. They’d come back early. The trimaran was tied up alongside the Sea Wolf, and they were on board her.

Next: Like an archer who wounds at random
is he who hires a fool or any passer-by.
Proverbs 26:10

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