Dancing the Cha Cha
The night after we hit our boat neighbors during a thunder cell experience, we met Rich, of Cha Cha, a boat that's hard to miss. Aside from patched up paint, peeling decks and damaged rigging, it bears a watermelon size dent in the side. It was the dent, ironically, that first clued me in to the fact that it was a metal boat, despite it's beautifully curved lines.
Rich, the owner, paddled over in the morning light to introduce himself and find out what happened the night before. He was sporting a nice 5-day stubble flecked with gray, his long hair kept just under control by a tightly fitting ball cap advertising a Caribbean beer flavor that now escapes me.
"Is that a metal boat, she has a really nice line?", I asked.
"Yes sir", he replied with emphasis, "The guy who designed and built that boat knew everything there was to know about sailing." He pointed out several novel, ingenious features that are simply cost prohibitive on anything but a no-budget custom build. "And, I am a big believer in steel boats, myself. See that dent in the side?", motioning towards the bare metal crunch zone.
Who could miss it, I thought?
Cha seen as we depart. The dent is on the opposite side.
"That", he continued, "is where the tow boat's autopilot malfunctioned. It flipped a u-turn and rammed right into me at full speed. He paused a bit, clearly replaying the terrifying, defining moment in his mind.
"Things happen so fast" he continued, "One minute the guy is helping you out, the next your are T-boned." I thought of some insurance agents I had known.
"If this boat was glass, it would be on the bottom, and I might be with it." he finished, after another hazy stare towards the horizon.
We talked more boat stuff for a few minutes and then I asked when he had purchased Cha Cha. There was yet another pregnant pause.
"Well....I inherited it, in a way" he replied slowly.
It sounded like there was a story there, so pushed a little harder, "'Inherited it?" I probed. Yes, sort of. He told me this story.
There once was a South African business man who was well known and had been very successful. He built a boat. It turns out that this was a common way of getting money out of South Africa in the 80s and early 90s. With the world sanctioning South Africa for apartheid, it was nearly impossible to transfer wealth out of the country. But nothing was stopping a person building a really expensive boat and sailing it away.
This businessman spared no expense building the ultimate world cruiser. Rolled steel, sculpted and shaped into a beautiful forms, hand-laid teak decks and an incredible wood interior executed with skill and refinement. Then he sailed away. One thing led to another and two older ladies ended up buying it. But they had a problem. They didn't know how to sail or care for a boat.
They found Rich and he took them where they wanted to go, the tropics, perhaps beyond, until their money ran out. At this point they hadn't been able to pay his captain's wages for "a long time", which I took to mean months, perhaps a year or more. But since Rich liked them and they liked him, they made a deal. 'Stick with us a little longer, and when we go home, the boat is yours.'
"I had my doubts", Rich admitted. "But, ya know, but I just kind of took a step of faith and went for it."
The day came and now Rich, an average guy, owns a boat that a millionare couldn't afford to build today. "My problem", he confessed, "is not only could I never afford the boat, I can't even manage to keep it up properly."
Rich sailed around awhile until there was a "shipwreck" incident in Bermuda and the T-boning tow boat and he managed to get it back to Newport, Rhode Island by hook or by crook. "It's going to take me a few years of savings just to get her back into sailing shape." he confessed.
"Well", I countered, searching for something positive to say about a boat that looked like it needed more tender loving care than most victims of Apartheid, "she's got a beautiful soul. What a gift."
"She's a God boat, there's no doubt about that," he offered starting to paddle back, "only one of the lesser gifts God has given me." He took a few more strokes and finished his thought, "she's a spiritual boat."
The thought that the guy might be smoking something flickered through my mind. But as he climbed aboard a boat that was once a built as a parachute sewn of hard cash, I thought better of the suspicion. Rich might be onto something.
He's the one living on a free boat.