He was called Ahab and was the captain of a Chinese junk in the bay below, looking for crew to sail north through the islands to Miami.
It must have been the romantic appeal of sailing in a junk that made us lose all reason and prevented us from noticing the legions of cockroaches crawling over the galley and the rust devouring the hull before paying $600 for the passage.
Within two days, I had become First Mate, Gourmet Chef and Chief Recruiter of Tourists on the misnamed Nuttin' Wong.
The Chief Recruiter set about his task of converting tourists into passengers with the zeal of an early Desert Father. He soon picked up four enthusiastic and unsuspecting Germans for a passage to Port of Spain. The Nuttin' Wong was set to sail for Trinidad at first light.
Halcyon days in the making, one would think. However, the junk turned out to be exactly that: junk. The Brazilian cabin-boy was on strike, so when the bilge pump gave up the ghost, the captain - a character distilled from the bottom of a rum bottle - barked "I need some help over here!" to the "crew", the four very earnest young German professionals, who jumped to startled attention.
"Vas is der problem?"
"I need an engineer!"
"But ve are on holiday..."
"All hands in the fumigator!"
Having established the upper hand, Ahab instructed the Gourmet Chef to prepare a meal from a gulag recipe for bully beef and root vegetables.
Later, the Gourmet Chef put on his First Mate's cap, took the wheel in a moderate wind and nearly succeeded in capsizing the rustbucket, with cries from his Swedish helper of: "Look what you're doing!" The deck took on the appearance of a bungey-jump target. Things were resolved as Ahab took charge.
Not only were the Germans being slowly poisoned, they had narrowly escaped being drowned. The Gourmet Chef scurried back to the galley to prepare yet another brig masterpiece.
As sunset approached, increasing mutters of dissent were heard from the German camp. But as we neared the harbour, there was frantic bag- packing and excitement at the thought of the comfort of a porcelain toilet. It was not to be.
The engine was cut to quarter revs. This had the same effect as Andy Warhol's film of the Empire State Building. One take: 24 hours. After an eternity, the anchor was dropped by the "crew". But it just slid around without getting a grip.
After another eternity, the anchor was to be hauled. The windlass now decided it was close to retirement age and whined to a halt every two seconds. The paying guests had no option but to grab the rusty linked snake and help it back on to the spasmodically revolving drum with much Bavarian blaspheming.
As midnight approached the captain, mumbling about mutinous dogs, ended the cabin-boy's strike. This had a cathartic effect. He was able to find the anchor a home at last.
Meanwhile, at the stern the catwalk model extinguished her 37th Camel of the tedious evening and the German crew clambered into an overladen dingy to be carried off to a Trinidadian Valhalla.
Ahab came astern and dismissed it all with a shrug: "Worse things happen at sea, man." Sometimes, for example, whole crews jump ship at the first port of call instead of going all the way to Miami. Fortunately, Ahab was good enough to give us back our money.
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