Friday, August 21, 2009

New Orleans to Natchez III: The Stowaway

A calm day’s sail followed the detour to Montego Bay. Ricky plotted a course that would take his vessels to Trinidad before heading south then west through the Doldrums, the equatorial waters known for their lack of winds or storms. Perhaps it was a good sign, Ricky thought, to survive a storm as intense as Gilbert so early in the voyage, whatever went wrong the rest of the way, it would surely seem minor by comparison.

Then Ricky got a message from the captain of the other ship.

“Ricky, they are going to kill somebody!” the captain said.

The other boat’s crew was talking mutiny. This wasn’t the worst news. Possible cause for the discontent was that second boat had taken on a stowaway.

“You’ve got a what?” Ricky shouted into radio.

In the confusion surrounding the aftermath of the storm, a man either slipped into the hold of the second boat or bought his way on board by bribing a couple members of these mutinous merchant marines.

Ricky saw no easy solution. The stowaway put him in violation of international maritime law, and he would be in serious trouble if customs in the next port of call discovered a passenger not accounted for on their logs. The heavy fines and inevitable delays would wipe out the profits the Thibodeaux had dreamed of making on this venture.

The best Ricky could do was to tell the other boat’s captain to make the stowaway a deal. If the man kept silent and out of sight when they refueled in Barbados, they would supply him with an inflatable raft and put him to sea off the coast of Trinidad where he could make landfall without detection by the coast guard. The stowaway consented.

Ricky held his breath as they put into port in Barbados. Everything went smoothly with the inspection as the boats refueled and took on supplies for the final leg of the voyage, though there was also the problem of the mutinous crew.

Ricky had informed his father of the new troubles and the elder Thibodeaux was rounding up new sailors to be flown to Barbados. He ordered Ricky to fire the existing crew and advised his son to investigate whether a compromise might be reached with customs agents to solve their other problem.

Perhaps coaxed on by one of the soon to be fired crew, the stowaway forced the issue. He emerged from his hiding place and made a dash for the docks. He was nabbed by customs. The game was up. Ricky was fucked.

The customs officials threatened exorbitant fines for the presence of the stowaway, that in addition to the money Ricky had to pay on the spot for the man’s lodging while in detention, his court costs, and his return airfare to Jamaica.

The threatened fines would have made for a money-losing venture. They were already taking haircut on additional costs of flying in a second crew. Ricky’s only hope of salvaging the business deal was by reaching some sort of agreement with the customs chief.

But how would he manage this? Bribery involved its own set of risks, and Ricky wasn’t skilled in the arts of international diplomacy. If he was too blunt in making the bribe he could find himself in detention right alongside the jackass stowaway that put him in this predicament. He needed an angle, but he had no contacts in Barbados and was a long way from Southern Louisiana.

Then Ricky got his first break in weeks. He was escorted to the customs house to fill out paperwork on the stowaway incident. Inside, he noticed a Masonic symbol in one of the offices. Masons! Now he had his hook, and a plan tumbled into place. Before long he was able to negotiate new terms of release.

Ricky’s father was a high order Mason. Ricky set to work on finding the relevant official, then got his dad to place a phone call.

Two days later a Masonic sword arrived with the new skipper of the second boat, a token of apology for all the trouble the Thibodeaux’ ships had caused. (The sword must have been of more value to the Barbadian Masons than the bidders on Ebay.) Ricky found himself free to go after settling the detention fees for the stowaway.

With a new crew and a second fish tale in hand, Ricky sailed for the West African Coast. They crossed the Doldrums without drama. A week later Ricky set anchor off the coast of the fishing village turned port town of Tema, Ghana.

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