I was stupefied, and my hair stood on end, and my voice stuck to my throat.
A description of the physical effects of fear, from Virgil's Aeneid; with an equivalent meaning of, "I was scared stiff."
To the Editor of the Honduras Gazette... also, "Response to a Bayman by Birth"
Reverend Bill, the boat captain, was not a reverend and his name was not Bill; also, he was not really a boat captain. Reverend Bill had colored himself with stories of adventures in the North Sea where he lived most of his life although he had never been there. Feverishly he followed in periodicals, sailboat construction and designs. Regularly he revolted against new techniques and materials. One season he continuously discredited fiberglass, “If God had wanted man to have fiberglass boats, he would have made fiberglass trees,” he would say. The next season it was fuels, “Gasoline is foolish and smart captains should use diesel.” Finally he gave up construction and design entirely.
He was Reverend Bill, the boat captain, because what he once was had become unimaginable to him. It was not known whether Bill was a good captain or not, for his days were spent on a stool at the Holiday Bar where he had thrown himself so violently into the sea he had very little time left for sailing of any kind.
For sport, Bill was an active member of the chicken drop. San Pedro did not have a symphony, a movie house or even a miniature golf course. San Pedro had the chicken drop. Every community needs a social event to gather together and satisfy its need to gossip, brag, argue and court. The chicken drop was this for San Pedro.
Every Wednesday night Celi would hire a band and conduct a large beach barbecue where fresh Chicken with beans and rice were sold cheap enough for everyone to afford.
In the middle of this grand event was a large checkered floor surrounded by a low chicken wire fence. Each square was numbered. There were one hundred squares and one hundred chances to win.
Bill sold chances by allowing participants to reach into a large pickle jar and draw from 100 numbered poker chips. Each chip cost one Belize dollar and represented one square on the game floor inside the chicken wire.
Chico and Bill worked the event with the skills of a good bartender. Chico served a few beers and Bill sold a few chips. A few beers and a few chips - by the time the last number went out everyone was well served and anxiously awaiting the arrival of the chicken.
A procession lead by Chico holding a large covered basket would then march outside to the squares. Bill, the master of ceremonies, would then remove the chicken from the basket, hold it over his head, blow on its tail and toss it into the numbered arena. Theory was that the surprised chicken drawn from the dark basket, feeling an abrupt cool wind on its ass and jolted as it hit the floor in the middle of thirty cheering drunks would cause it to immediately soil the number on which it landed providing its owner with $100 cash prize,…… But that never seemed to be the case.
The dazed chicken would dance around from number to number causing waves of cheering and hooting from the crowd screaming. “¡Caga Pollo Caga!” There seem to be only one rule governing the conduct of the gallery imposed by Celi: “Thou shall not throw beer bottles at the pollo!”
Eventually the chicken rewarded its audience with a small gift atop a lucky number, and the cycle began again with more beer, poker chips and a fresh chicken. By the end of the evening everyone was well fed, drunk, grandly entertained and socially exorcised.
One Wednesday evening Reverend Bill laid his eyes on a short Guatemalan Indian woman. Through his veil of rum he might not have noticed or cared about her large hooked and broken nose or the extent of rot in her teeth from years of chewing sugar cane. She won him with a look in her eye when she uttered, “ayy papa gallo!”.
It might not have mattered to him her rotundness and inability to speak or understand a word of English. Even so, he fell in love with this beautiful woman God had sent him in his time of need. Ignoring the chicken festivities, they sat at the bar as he told her of his whaling adventures in the Atlantic and sailing around The Horn in a typhoon. She held his hand and looked into his eyes smiling as he spoke. From her look you would have thought she understood every word.
Tequila Steve, usually immune to activities around him, was peering over his paperback and was witnessing this miracle in the making. He started buying rounds of tequila in celebration of Bill’s new found love. Everyone was feeling very well.
During the course of the evening, unnoticed by the chicken drop enthusiasts, Bill and his new love walked arm and arm from the bar onto the pier where Bill was suddenly struck with one of his greater ideas. Tied to the dock before him was Tito’s small skiff and outboard.
He could borrow the boat, motor off shore just a little and have some private moments under the stars with his little angel. Without hesitation they hopped in the boat and he motored towards the reef.
San Pedrano men love and care for their boats and even though no one would ever dream of stealing from them, it was a common practice to take your gas tank and anchor home with you in the evening. A clean, tuned 30 horsepower Yamaha will run three or four minutes on just the little bit of fuel in its lines and filter housing.
Bill only noticed they were far enough off shore for the right amount of privacy required for the affair when the engine stopped. He did not investigate as to why. The heat of this magic moment was rising fast.
When the cool breeze began to blow Bill probably thought it was another present from God to cool him and his sweaty little maiden.
Ambergris became a different place when a northerner blew. It placed San Pedro in the lee silencing the roar of the reef. The giant Cypress Trees permanently bent by the relentless trade winds whistled as this cool air traveled through them from this unusual direction. A peaceful air covered the island that seemed to calm not just the sea but its people.
Early Thursday morning while Chico swept the peanut shells and chicken feathers from the veranda of the Holiday Bar he glanced out at the pier and noticed Tito’s skiff missing. Lobster season was on and it was not too unusual for fishermen to take their boats out before dawn. So he continued collecting dirty drink glasses and picking up empty beer bottles, thinking little else about it.
By midday Tito was at the police station lamenting his missing skiff in front of constable Orio’s desk. Shortly after, two and two began to add up for Chico when he noticed Reverend Bill’s bar stool vacant after 12:00 for the first time in years. During the day after, Tequila Steve and Scary Sherrie made some wild suppositions about Bill eloping with the Guatemalan woman. Chico turned to Lovely Rita and said, “You know, Bill disappeared at the same time Tito’s skiff turned up missing and this northerner started to blow!”
The Caribbean sun had just begun to warm the surface of the rolling sea. The slow rising and falling had been like the rocking of a cradle for him during the night, but now they had drifted from the protection of Ambergris lee, the pitch had quickened and white caps replaced the calm. It could have been the waves or possibly the pounding in his head that woke him. The rum had done its job of making him forget his past and sometimes even the present. He slowly opened his eyes. At first he didn’t remember anything of the evening or how he came to be adrift in this small boat with by far the ugliest woman he had laid eyes on. Little by little, like small flashes in his brain, his memory started coming back. He began to assess his predicament. Slowly with collective realizations the picture sharpened.
Suddenly sleeping beauty came alive with a very loud, “¿Quien demonios eres tu?, y ¿Que diablos hacemos aqui?” This painful noise gave Reverend Bill’s headache fuel. He squinted with a wrinkled forehead and said, “Do you speak English? Habla English?”
As if speaking to the tiny vanishing island on the horizon she said, “Chingus su madre!! ¿Como llegamos aqui y mas aun quien eres tu? ¿Que es lo que esta pasando?”
Realizing his English would be falling on deaf ears Bills sighed with, “Oh my God your an ugly bitch!”
Unaffected by Bill’s obvious lack of understanding she looked at him with fire in her eyes and said, “ Dime idiota como p**** se te occurrio hacer algo asi sin tener ni una simple migaja de comida o agua.”
Bill understood the look and tone but was trying to ignore the shouting and concentrate on the dilemma at hand.
There seemed to be no anchor, no oars, only a little rope and a fuel line to nowhere. The northern breeze had just pushed them out of sight of land and moving at a steady pace to the south east.
There is no hope of explaining a series of misfortunes like this to someone who does not speak your language. His black haired lover had become a beast in the light of day and his concern was only to blot out the painful noises she was making so he could think.
“¡Además de idiota eres una mula. La poca gasolina que tenemos no será suficiente ni para llegar a visitar a tu madre!”
Making a zipper motion with his fingers across his lips Bill said, “Please shut up”.
With no decrease in volume she continued with, “Y fue…dime dime - Hijo de p***, qué hacemos ahora. Te tiras en el aqua y nos regresas o nos damos aquí come acabados!”
Bill’s hopes were sinking as they seemed to drift further and further to sea. His luck turned when she lunged to the side to vomit. The sounds of her heaving and regurgitation seemed far more pleasant than her screaming vile Spanish at him.
The sea sickness had weakened her and she raised few objections to giving up her skirt to the sail Bill was making. He fashioned a sea anchor from one of the seats and the stern line. He enjoyed a few sips of water from floating coconuts they gathered. The little chunks of coconut meat worked well as bait on the hand line he found in the bow. He fashioned a rudder from the remaining seat using a piece of bamboo they passed as a tiller. By night fall he had caught three small mackerels.
Bill now seemed in control of his little ship and unwilling crew. A swell of pride took him over. An old familiar courage had reentered his veins and for the first time in a long while he was in touch with reality. This was in fact his only experience at sea and he would not only survive it but was again in command.
Bill and his dehydrated green honey were picked up by a fishing smack on the Turneffe Atoll on his fourth day at sea and returned to San Pedro with Tito’s skiff in tow. Upon docking his first mate disappeared never to be seen or heard from again. Having no one around to dispute his heroics, The Captain Reverend Bill’s epic adventure grew and grew through the years as he told it proudly from atop his roost overlooking the Caribbean at the Holiday Hotel Bar.
He was Captain of the Reefroamer when it earned the moto of 'Dive With The Boat That Dives With You'...but thats another story!