"We finally cleared customs in the D.R., thanks to a local who spoke some English. "Eddie" became a good friend, helping us constantly and including us in his family."
Another shakedown. I was sick of it happening at every anchorage, but Cap remained rational and engaging while sidestepping questions with his broken Spanglish. The contingent from the day before returned with the Customs official, and they didn't seem to be in any rush. Eddie translated for their leader, who tried to make sense of Ruff Life's Oregon registration. It was unlike the documentation cruisers typically provided, because as I once mentioned we decided to forgo the money for the U.S. Coast Guard Documentation and register Ruff Life in Salem for 56 bucks.
I stood at my post in the galley, watching and praying they didn't search the boat and find our hidden arsenal down in the bedroom. The remainder looked around in silence so I smiled, held up a glass and offered drinks (they enthusiastically nodded).
Despite our good intentions to learn Spanish, Cap and I were too lazy to practice. Most of the people who dealt with cruisers spoke some English, and the rest used sign language and facial expressions to get their general point across. I usually remained silent when Cap or others attempted to converse in this machismo society, but Cap kept ending words with an "o", which was embarrassing.
Czar's size, we'd learned while cruising, made many islanders nervous, including a couple of our guests; but after the rough time he'd had since we arrived in port the day before, he ignored them all. Cap handed over the 20 pesos and we received a pink octagon paper tag with their official stamp. We'd have to pay more when it came time to leave, as you needed to sign in and out of places while cruising or face fines.
The harbor was full of boats passing through on their way to and from the West Indies and Venezuela; and the separate, outer anchorage (with a better breeze) was packed with long term live-aboards. Happy Hour was any time, and enterprising First Mates would earn a few extra bucks cutting hair or selling crafts. I desperately wanted a haircut but didn't want to spend the money, although my long hair was driving me crazy in the heat of the tropics.
Eddie, in the dark shirt, was a likeable young man, and a bit of a hustler. He was trying to start his own business shuttling diesel to visiting cruisers, and entered our lives as a much-needed translator
Most of us weren't on any schedule and we'd all learned, after stretches of time at sea, how nice it was to be with other people for awhile. Cap, on the left, worried less about what the attack of Bells Palsy had done to the right side of his face, because we were seeing slight signs of improvement; but still he received odd looks at his half-paralyzed face, like from Eddie's older brother on the right. Some people bluntly asked whether Cap looked that way when we met.
February 22, 1998 - Luperon
"Our first night we ran into Tim at the dinghy dock, who escorted us to Kiwi John's. John has been here twenty-odd years and his place has a book exchange, interesting decor, and pizza. He exchanged some money for us and we had dinner; and on the way home stopped in some bar for a couple beers with Jack, Tim's sailing buddy."
It was nice to see Tim, who we'd gotten to know in the Abacos after he dropped off that thank-you lobster. We often hung out with Tim and Dave; but unfortunately I continued to over-imbibe. Sound travels well across water, and I cringe to recollect our frequent arguments, audible to everyone in the enclosed anchorage. Most of us were stuck there for a couple of weeks because of the weather, but thankfully, no one in the anchorage acted as if they'd heard a thing.
"The central town seems to have no zoning, so the welder is next to a home, next to a store. We stopped in the central plaza, which all towns seem to have, then explored. It's full of gift shops with jewelry of amber and larimar, a beautiful blue stone. There's a storefront with a public phone, and where you can exchange money. Garbage is everywhere."
I'd never seen a Third World country, not like this. I’d visited the Far East on business, but only observed the depressed social conditions from the comfort provided by my hosts. The area close to the docks relied on income from traveling boaters, and for the first time I faced abject poverty on such an extremely personal level I simply couldn’t relate. Not unlike others, I had an unfounded fear of the mysterious, impoverished culture beyond the dinghy dock. This was different from the Bahamas, where white, sandy beaches and palm trees better hid the truth.
Cap, on the other hand, was fearless, especially when he wanted a joint; and his passion for pool had us hitting the less-frequented establishments in town. As usual, he made friends wherever he went. I still tried playing along but did prefer playing Doubles with a different partner, who wouldn't be as frustrated if I missed.
Everyone in town seemed to be trying to make a buck, nothing wrong with that; but it was assumed we were wealthy like most cruisers appeared to be, and I wanted to scream in Español, but we're not! No need, for all anyone had to do was take a close look at Ruff Life.
"The locals use beat up boats, many without motors, to dinghy around. Back and forth, back and forth. Don't know what they do or where they're going. Cap's lent our motor (and/or dinghy) to Eddie several times to haul diesel, water or the immigration guy (To give him a sense of dignity, he says)."I had mixed feelings about that, but who hasn't finagled now and then, I asked myself. Eddie and his pals were frequent visitors, helping Cap find parts locally, including a place to make a replacement davit. In-between visits, other Skippers dropped by to help solve our never-ending engine problems. I like company but not every day, and was particularly tired of diesel being pushed on us.
"I told Cap I didn't want anybody on the boat, and if someone mentions "diesel" to gag me. So what happens? First thing this morning, Eddie shows up, pushing the fricking diesel, but he also invited us to dinner at his Mom's. Said yes to be polite, but I'm looking forward to it like the plague. I want to stay on the boat and avoid all the ugliness, but I have to go to town for cigarettes while Cap is below, trying to put this piece of shit boat together (batteries again, fuel filters, and whatever else). If I keep my sanity for just a bit longer..."
"Well, I did drive the 'car' back and forth, and returned to watch Cap run around the engine compartment, getting doused with diesel, battery acid, etc, etc. Poor guy. The second filter on the motor had a piece stripped, which put him in a major funk and had me wondering if this was the end of the road. Ronnie, Eddie's brother, came over, took the part, and returned it later after some Geppetto worked on it.
"Went into town for dinner at Eddie's - neither of us wanted to (for different reasons), but I told Cap we were going to be chipper if it killed us. Expected another long dinner, but it wound up being very pleasant (she served spaghetti). Brought a bottle of wine (no flower shops here) and we all sat around a dining table in the front room of the house, still under construction. There's no front door or windows; just openings. We went to a local pool joint after with Eddie and Ronnie. Had a great time (but too much to drink). This morning Ronnie came to help Cap - guess the part worked because he left the motor running, took Czar and went to have coffee. The place is a wreck, but if the boat's OK that's what matters. Eddie's Mom gave Cap some big nut to put in his mouth - supposed to help his face."Alone on Ruff Life, I'd putter while listening to the rum-rum-rum of the diesel engine under the floor as it charged the generator and/or batteries for hours, checking gauges and leaning over to make sure water was spitting out of the exhaust. I still didn't understand what I could and couldn't use without draining the batteries, but at least I was feeling more comfortable living on the boat.
"We had to buy water to balance this tug, and rented another bike to go to a bank in Puerto Plata for cash. Going around a corner, someone opened his van door and Cap had to swerve. Unfortunately there was a big ditch and in we went, spilling the bike and us. No harm, and Cap said I rolled well."Cruisers would hang out at Kiwi John's and this small bar (r) on the dock near the permanent liveaboard's anchorage; a little haven for ex-pats. There was always someone there, and we got to know a couple our age who traveled from Quebec with their small dog on a 27-foot sailboat, Destiny Calls. They had to move items from their bed to their salon and back again every day, and I suddenly felt Ruff Life had all the room in the world. Don always made us laugh, and his favorite line during mishap-telling time was,
"Boating is fun. Tell your friends."Friday, February 27, "Carnival"
"This is a hard time to put down into words. We've had a very difficult time with the boat, which has transferred over to our nerves. Last night, Cap had what I can only describe as a nervous breakdown, and I am mostly responsible. He's done his best to keep the boat running - tore the fuel system apart, cut a hole in the floor in the cabinet, only to discover we were out of fuel. He's sucked diesel 'til he burps it up, and then there have been other little things going wrong."Other little things. This was, by far, the worst trouble we had with Ruff Life. The motor kept shutting off, and Cap went through every inch the fuel could travel. Could it be bad diesel? That was certainly a concern with cruisers, but unlike most of them we had no sail, and Ruff Life was a single-screw (one engine). We were going through money trying different fixes, and each time he did something or other, Cap would suck the end of the fuel line to get it going (like siphoning gas out of a car). He tried, of course, to spit it all out, but naturally some diesel went into his system, which we all believed contributed, in large part, to his collapse.
"The batteries are cooked, the generator's not working well and our alternator seems to go on and on. We had a terrible row last night - I told him to get a crew; he said he'd had it with me; and I left to have dinner at Dave's boat. Of course I realized while there I didn't want to go anywhere without Cap. When I got back we talked - had to - and I realized my 'running' days must stop. I've been a bitch and said if he was smart he'd leave. He said he loved me, otherwise he'd have left ages ago; and at least he doesn't threaten to leave. As he said, we made our bed in poison ivy."Ouch, this is embarrassing. I beat myself up some more, but am only comfortable revealing so many excerpts at once.
"We went to bed, and a short time later I awoke to Cap rocking back and forth in the salon, curled up with his head hidden. I tried to comfort him, then quickly realized he wasn't acting normal. Tried to get him up and out of it - slapped his face twice - no good. I was scared and couldn't do anything. He had cracked. All this time, while I've been merrily having my histrionics he's kept it together, but the events of the past few days, culminating in last night's argument, brought him to the breaking point. I thought I'd have to send him to a hospital. Eventually he came out of it, but it took a long time. Got him back to bed where he's been sleeping ever since.
"My God, what's happened to us? I said this was a learning experience - I think I know what I have to fix (easier said than done), and perhaps he has his own demons to contend with. It's going to take more than love to help us now. Wisdom, perseverance - who knows what else. We've got to keep going - can't let it fall apart at this stage."
"We discussed cutting the fridge off. It's killing our batteries, and there's not much in there anyway, condiments mostly. We'll do daily shopping if need be, cooking the bacon and packaging it, and at least we can store stuff in there. The ice-maker can work for some things, and we can get bags of ice like other people have to do. Survival is the name of the game now. Fuck the fridge - it's given us nothing but grief, and causing us to run the generator too much to keep the batteries going.
"Cap got his custom-davit back, which doesn't look exactly like the other: it's not the same material and we need cable things, but he can probably make it work. I don't want to pay the RD$2200 (app. US$275). It was RD$2800; I think RD$1500 is enough, but I'll either have to bite the bullet or play the raving bitch with the welder. I'll let Cap decide. That's the first thing he said in his 'trance' - using the last of our money for a davit. Funny, when Cap was ill it didn't make a lick of difference about the money. I'll go into hock up to my eyeballs (wouldn't be the first time) and we can pay it off later, but right now we've got to get to either Puerto Rico or the Virgins, otherwise all this will be moot. God help us."Saturday, February 28th
"Cap had a day of rest yesterday, but it took Dave and Tim and me to talk him into taking a break. He was so-so: sometimes fine with conversation, sometimes off in the distance. He said it felt like being in a tunnel. We think the diesel really affected his health, so I'm going to fight tooth and nail with him to let me suck the diesel next. Not that I particularly want to, but it will do us no good if one of us is a vegetable.
"Went to 'carnival' last night - a couple of pickups in a parade, one of which had men in drag. Dinner with Dave, Tim and Jack, which was delicious. I had a T-bone, Cap had 3 pieces of filet mignon, and including drinks the bill came to about US $20. We kicked ourselves for not eating out sooner.
"Cooked up the bacon and turned the fridge off. Felt like throwing a party. Our batteries are finally keeping their charge, so that's a relief.
"Haggled with the davit guy yesterday. Didn't do as well as I'd hoped, but we settled on RD $2000 ($250) for the stupid thing. That'll teach us to agree on the price up front. I can think of countless times I've thrown money away, especially on clothes, so what's done is done and it's behind us.
"Me, I'm better than I've been in awhile. It's too bad it takes a major confrontation with Cap to smack some sense into me. Cap is depressed and hates this place - our attitudes have reversed, but with him I believe it's a temporary thing. I'm so concerned about his physical and mental health that nothing else seems important. Priorities.
"We said our goodbyes to Eddie and family, who gave us a couple T-shirts with our names written on the back. We shot some photos and gave him one of our VHF's that Dave fixed, and I was surprised at the almost-tearful goodbye on Eddie's part."Post Script: less than 2 years later, news from a passing cruiser:
Sadly, Eddie had an appendicitis attack, but it took hours for the ambulance to arrive and by then it was too late. I cried into his tee-shirt going-away gift when I heard, remembering the best spaghetti dinner with his family, in the grey concrete house with no windows.
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To read from Chapter 1: A Rough Start