Characters in the Wild
We have met some interesting personalities along the way. Here are a few sketches:
Nicolas, Technical Director, Grenada Marine
I first met Nicolas in February when we came to Grenada for a whirlwind boat inspection and test sail trip. I had a few questions about doing some repairs that were needed and everyone said the same thing, "Talk to Nicolas." That proved a complicated undertaking. He was tough to find and even harder to pin down. I caught sightings at first before I realized that the only way to catch him was to walk with him from one point to another, keeping up with his dizzying pace.
During our first three-minute conversation, his cell phone rang twice which he answered in mid-sentence only to finish his thought with me after hanging up. He knows a lot about boats, how they are built, how they break and the best ways to fix them and, for that knowledge, he leads a heckled existence.
His ball cap had a visible sweat line around the brim and some rusty finger smudges on the bill. His crocs housed a pair of well-worn barefeet with crooked toes. He walked quickly, incessantly, half marching, from one end of the yard to the other, slightly stooped. He always appeared to be deep in thought, talking on the phone or directing someone to do this or that; never an idle moment.
We had been working on the boat for several weeks before I realized that at 5:00pm nobody went home, they just went to the bar. Since I was always catching a ride back to the hotel and the family about this time, I had missed out on this entire side of yard life.
It was Thanksgiving and, to celebrate, we had hamburgers and french fries at the bar/restaurant. And, there they all were, including Nicolas and his family who had evidently come to collect him. His wife wore a dower expression clearly prodding him to leave. The kids vied for attention in demanding tones. He finished his beer in a resigned gesture and shuffled off with the gang.
The yard housed many interesting boats in various stages of disrepair. One caught everyone's attention: Jambalaya was an old wooden boat with all the fixins from a bygone era. She had just received a fabulous, detailed new paint job and the crowning touch was a brand new wooden mast that had taken 7 weeks of continuous work by the owner and Fred, the master wood worker, to create. A crowd gathered to watch it being stepped (set on the boat).
Jambalya splashed the day before we did. When our turn came, she was tied on the outside of the finger pier on which the travel lift runs. I arrived at the boat yard early the morning after and Jambalaya's crew were up and just about to cast off. They asked if I could help and, as I headed that way, I was surprised to see Nicolas materialize and offer to help as well. How did he find the time?
We casted off and the owner expertly backed her out and began to run up the numerous sails. The process took several minutes as she had a schooner rig. I was off on my own projects and thoughts when, a few minutes later, I noticed a lone figure at the end of the pier.
It was Nicolas standing, unhurried, unheckled, watching as the classic craft cut a fine arc towards the distant horizon of tropical blue. I blinked a couple of times. Was this the same guy who didn't have time to stand still while talking?
Intrigued at the unexpected behavior, I watched for a long time. When Jambalaya was nearly out of sight, he turned, lost in thought, and began meandering slowly back to the din of the waking yard and the glare of a rising sun. I wondered how it felt to work year-in, year-out making other people's dreams come true only to watch them sail away.
Amid the grind of machinery, the dust, the undoneness and the demands, I realized that Nicolas, too, harbored a dream.
Jambalaya under full sail.