Why would anyone pay $50-odd thousand to deliver a beater powerboat valued at, maybe, $20,000 from Florida to Uruguay? (The bill eventually grew to about $100,000 and the boat never arrived… as you’ll eventually see.)
Why wouldn’t you simply import $10-20,000 of used engines and systems and have local craftsmen build you a stunning, unique vessel from local hardwoods?
Those questions had me examining every square inch of ‘Happy Daze,’ searching for the diamonds, the ingots, the contraband that might make sense of this delivery. If I was going to end up rotting in a South American jail, I wanted at least to know why.
I found all the evidence of a fire below decks, corroded electrics and a sadly cared-for boat… but nothing else – and tonight I'm transferring diesel from cockpit drums to side tanks in 4-8 foot seas. It’s slimy work and will engender a hatred of that fuel’s smell and texture (though the smell at least is infinitely preferable to gasoline). World War II submariners wrote and spoke of the ever-present stink of diesel, how it permeated their skin, their clothes and their lives. Only now can I imagine how that felt – but just that aspect of their otherwise impossibly heroic lives.
The fuel transfers, and the need to check the engine and transmission fluids every few hours, crouched in a rolling, roiling engine room inferno, struck Amerigo down with as bad a dose of sea-sickness as I have ever seen. The autopilot is equally sick (but, unlike Amerigo, will never recover) so Skip and I handle the wheel 2 hours on, 2 hours off, for most of the 30 hour passage Tobago-Guyana.
And if you want to know why we’re undertaking this long-range journey in a boat that can barely cover 200 miles without refueling, the answer has to do with corroded tanks that would cost more than the boat’s value to replace...
‘Clearer’ is relative. No buoys anywhere in sight. Just GPS coordinates which one might reasonably doubt – and hundreds of sticks projecting out of the calm waters, marking shoals. Or are they? The guide, again, is more or less useless. No tide information. No worthwhile comments on fuel or provisions but a lot of smug promotion of friends’ eco-tours and lodges. And nothing about the mysterious multiple sticks.
Despite an accurate ETA, the drama isn’t quite over. The river is in full tidal flow when we tie up to Roeden Rust marina’s pier in a sudden squall. If ever he needed to, Captain Skip proves his boat handling skills in these hairy moments. Anyone with even marginally less cool or a heavier hand would have added Happy Daze to the collection of dead and dying boats scattered up and down the Parika/Esquibo shores.
Ironically, we have, later, to unhitch from the pier and anchor out. The tide would have put us on the beach.
Behind a small and beat-up desk in a small and chaotic office, Mr Silver is the proprietor of Roeden Rust, grey-haired and bespectacled, a man who has sailed from Jacksonville to the Falklands and every port in between during his career as a shrimp boat captain. When we ask about a shower, Mr. Silver directs us to his own home, the laundry area, I suppose; shows us the buckets and bowls to use. 300 tough miles transform these facilities into the Ritz but Mr. Silver isn’t finished. He reaches into a drawer of that battered desk and extracts a great wad of Guyana dollars which he hands to us to pay for everything we need until we can get to a bank the next day.
Parika is dirt poor, but blessed with race-driven cabs which sprint from speed bump to speed bump, smoke their brakes, and barely avoid the oncoming. They do, however, slow (or at least honk) for the little pi-dogs that can’t cross a narrow road without stopping for a flea scratch.
At 8 PM, the beauty shops are doing big business. Easter Sunday tomorrow and everyone must look her or his best. That’s an assumption.
Colin’s never going to make it as a restaurant guide. His only choices seem to be bad Chinese. Regardless of quality, the food and service are dispensed from behind iron bars. Hard to believe anyone would smash-and-grab these dishes; must the scant money in the till that’s at risk. In Colin’s choice restaurant, the music is numbingly loud and the conversation between the patrons, all at least a 6-pack high, is at full yell. At any moment, this one looks as if he’s going to bottle that one, but it’s all apparently in good spirits. I had forgotten that not every culture smiles easily and that it’s too simple to assume unfriendliness. The smile only comes in direct conversation, so that what might appear intimidating here is a misapprehension.
The fuel dock, everyone forewarned by the influential Mr. Silver, is nothing more than a giant floating diesel tank with a rudder. It’s tied to a trawler dock constructed of telegraph-pole-sized pilings with fraying diesel-soaked rope. There’s no access ladder from the trawler dock to the floating fuel tank, just a more or less precarious passage by crosswise plank, climb down and jump. God knows how many people must have fallen and, perhaps, injured themselves quite badly but still no ladder. I cannot think of any reasonable explanation. It's a Personal Injury Attorney's heaven - or would be in the US.
Fuelled and ready to move, Skip goes back to Mr. Silver to repay his last night’s loan and settle up. No charge. For anything. Just a smile and a handshake. And when we go to pay Colin for his friendly attention, he's surprised. He explained – patois sometimes difficult to understand – that he only wanted us back – to explore further; that this was a poor place and a poor people; that he loved his country, Guyana. We exchanged phone numbers. If anyone wants to visit, Colin and Mr. Silver can make it so.
I would go back in a heartbeat.