International Writers Magazine:Distress Story
wasnt what Tony expected to happen on this trip; as a matter
of fact it happened without any warning at all; really odd. He
had made this ocean voyage many times before delivering boats
to and from the islands but nothing quite this weird had happened
It was very early
on a calm, breezy morning. He had been at sea for about five days nearing
the Turk Islands when it happened. The sea was calm despite the early
morning freshening wind. Slow, long rolling waves moved the boat along
at a comfortable steady speed. The weather was wonderful and the sails
were trimmed perfectly.
As always, though, Tony had learned to expect the unexpected and he
was prepared for almost anything each time he set sails for such trips.
Each brought new adventures; not always pleasant but always a challenge.
Todays event would be more than he could have ever anticipated
or been prepared for.
The ketch was well built but not strong enough to withstand such a collision.
Once the emergency signal was activated, he gathered up a five gallon
jug of water, flare gun, flashlight, rope, knife, fishing gear, clothes
for foul weather and threw it all into a small self inflating rubber
dinghy carried on board for such emergencies. Then the boat disappeared
below the waves in less than an hour leaving only a trail of bubbles
Tony was an excellent sailor and at seventy six he prided himself in
his youthful stamina and sailing skills. His purchase of the fifty-five
foot ketch was his latest in a lifetime of buying, fixing up and selling
sailing yachts. This time, however, he decided to keep the boat despite
friendly warnings from friends and fellow sailors that new the previous
owner. The boat was in need of a lot of work; more work than he anticipated.
Tony bought the ketch rigged Suddenlee anyway. Retired Admiral Ruben
Wagstaff, who was docked in St. Thomas, was anxious to sell the Gardner
designed ketch after a near disastrous trip from Coos Bay, Oregon. Once
in port his wife and daughters returned to Florida telling Ruben that
once the boat was sold he could come home. Then Tony bumped into the
Admiral at the dockside bar and struck up a deal too good to pass up.
The admiral, Tony discovered, had devoted little time making repairs
and maintaining the yacht. In the following months, Tony produced a
novel-length list of repairs and adding new equipment that seemed more
like a marine equipment catalogue than a repair list. But Tony ignored
the costs and stubbornly worked on. He was determined to sail to Nassau
and begin a charter business with the Suddenlee no matter the cost.
Once in his rubber dingy and safely away from the sinking yacht, Tony
began searching for what he had smashed into. A few hundred yards from
where the boat disappeared was a large blue and rust colored box.
Tony rowed over and tied the dingy to one of the large rings welded
on the corner. It was much larger than he expected and when he realized
it was an abandoned container from a passing cargo ship, his heart raced
with anticipation. He would claim recovery rights. After all, it was
abandoned which gave him the right to claim salvage rights. (These containers
are often jettisoned in rough weather if they threaten the ship because
of the stacked high shipping boxes). Perhaps he could buy a new boat
with the sale of its unknown contents. All he needed was a tow to shore;
maybe a days sail away to reach Grand Turk Island.
Before the day ended a small coastal freighter, on the way to the Islands,
spotted Tony. After some negotiations, they agreed to tow him ashore
with his prize but for a small percentage of the anticipated profits.
If the contents were damaged or ruined at least the shipping container
had some value. His heart raced with hope.
With the local officials and the freighters crew looking on, the
container was lifted out of the water and placed on the dock. The locks
were cut off with a cutting torch and the large doors opened. Everyone
gasped at the unexpected contents; stared in disbelief.
Five refugee Russian girls, who were being smuggled into the country,
were rushed to the local hospital. Fortunately they had not been at
sea long. With limited freedom on board, they were forced to live in
the container only at night or when being boarded by port security.
From all indications they were nearly out of breathable air but sea
sickness, brought on by the erratic movement of their air tight boat,
caused serious dehydration from lack of water.
To say the least, Tony and official onlookers were shocked. He followed
the ambulances to the hospital with the officials in pursuit. But the
freighter crew left, not seeing any immediate benefit to claiming their
share of the cargo, while Tony paced the floor desperate for a plan.
After all he did claim salvage and by Bahamian law he was not only responsible
for disposing of the container, he was also responsible for the five
Russian immigrant girls to boot. Selling the container was no problem;
drug smugglers would be eager to pay good money for such a box. The
girls? He was now responsible for them but being a step-father was not
part of his plan. They were rather cute, though; maybe in their early
twentys and spoke very little English. Hed work out something.
When I last saw Tony he had decided not to sell the large shipping box
but instead executed some well thought out alterations. It was no longer
a faded blue and rust color but now a well lit, bright pink and red,
well run house of delight providing work for his newly acquired five
girls. Business had been better than he expected and he was able to
buy himself a newer and larger sailing yacht. The charter business was
good and Tony was celebrating his 78th birthday with his girls.
Corwin October 11th 2006
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