Nine nights ago my wife Amelie and I talked over what she would do if she was in the boat and a pirate were to climb aboard. Turns out she did something a lot different than we thought.
It started ten days ago, about nine at night, while we were watching the end of The Hobbit. We were sitting in the cockpit, under the stars, watching our movie, neatly anchored in Golfito, Costa Rica. When the movie ended we looked out the back of the boat to find Ti Goose, our dinghy, a long ways off. Normally on a 15' leash, she was a good 30 feet out. She was floating at a weird angle with the bow all pointing up outta the water. Then, when I pulled the painter (that rope that keeps a dinghy from floating away) it came up out of the water and I stood there staring at the end. It had been untied. I looked back up at Ti Goose and noticed that some fucker was in Ti Goose, rowing her away.
That's our lifeline to land, I thought, our baby boat, our car, our truck, our recreational vehicle that we'd hitch-hiked down the Baja with. I must confess I was inspired by Gandalf and “You Shall Not Pass” sort of came to mind. So I stood there for a moment wondering what to take with me. Pocket knife? No, nothing within arm's reach to cut. Rope? No, trying to throw or whip a rope when you're in the water is like trying to throw a dart with your foot. I took the gaff hook. The gaff hook could be used to pull the back of the dinghy towards me, I could kick it forward then with my foot, unseat Jojo and. . . something . . . that would have made it damn hard for him to whack me with the oar, and definitely put him off balance if not pitch him outta the boat. Anyway the gaff is a long-handled heavy hook that's good for everything from pulling in fish to, evidently, Gandalf-Pirate-Karate.
So, luckily, again thanks to Gandalf, I was wide awake, gunned up and ready for action. I grabbed the gaff-hook, dropped my shorts (so I could swim faster), and jumped in the water on the opposite side of the Blue Goose, and dove underneath her, so as not to be noticed.
As I swam up to the guy I noticed he was paddling. The dinghy is designed for rowing (as in the Winkelvoss twins), not paddling (as in Huck Finn). He was going side to side instead of using the oarlocks, so the dinghy wagging about more than moving forward.
The warm water was reassuring, but the phosphorescence lit everything up with a blacklight green and all JoJo had to do was look back and he'd see I was right behind him. I tried not to make noise but still swim quickly.
As I got within melee range Amelie yelled, "¡Sale la barca, file de puta!" which means “Get out 'the boat ya son of a whore!” which had a nice ring to it, so I yelled it, too. I think I was just going to go whack him, try to kick his ass, I dont know what I was going to do, specifically, but Amelie has that affect on me, causing me to be a nice, talkative guy, and all. Anyway, I yelled it a couple more times, and I like to think I sounded pretty tough, but when he didn't get out (instead saying he was saving my boat which had broken free (which he wasn't, because he was rowing in the wrong goddam direction)), I whacked the boat's transom with the gaff hook and he got the message and jumped out.
Anyway with him in the water I then climbed in, rowed back to Blue Goose, got my shorts and a headlamp, and rowed back over to get a good look at him and give him a piece of my mind. If I wasn't going to beat JoJo up at least I could at least give him a verbal drubbing. I was still pretty pissed off. I found him swimming in the water, paddled up, told him he should learn to swim better if he's going to be a pirate, and got a good look at his face in my headlamp. Short hair, square jaw, 25, big ears, flat nose.
Well, that was when things got interesting because another boat came zooming up from my portside. I figured it was his buddies and I started to get pretty excited because then I was really going to need the Gandalf Chi to beat all of 'em off, but it was only another set of sailors coming up to see what all the hubbub was about. They were eating in a restaurant nearby, heard me hollering, and when they came up I explained, pointing to JoJo in the water between our two dinghies what had happened. They zoomed off to check their boat to make sure nothing had been stolen. I rowed in to the dock to wait. Jojo hit the beach running. I let him go assuming all was cool.
Turns out it wasn't. The other boat then put up the alarm because there were 2 computers, 2 VHFs, 2 cameras and a pile of other chuff missing. "someone" had forced the lock and walked around with wet feet on the floor, then fled with the goods. They yelled that to me and I took off chasing after JoJo a second time. I follwed him across some rocks, up a park, down a pavement and by then four or five people pointed where to run and I ran right past the cops at some point and caught him at the gas station. Unfortunately he was my size, only a bit younger, leaner, and darker, but fortunately he was surrounded by 3 people at the gas station who all sort of suspected something when a wet guy ran up to the pumps and stopped, breathing hard. Eventually the police did come, we filled out a report, and the night droned on as I smoked cigarettes and listened to Led Zeppelin play in the back of my skull. I got back home and drank up most of the rum to cool my nerves.
We then re-instated a house rule we'd let lapse: Each night, before bed, we haul Ti Goose up out of the water with one of the genoa working lines, and store her out of the water. She rests easy during the night hanging off the port of Blue Goose.
A few days later in a bar, Raymond, our good buddy (from Dolphin Quest that raises ayahuasca in his backyard and has a fifteen-foot pet crocodile named Dennis for a pet), asked us what had happened.
“You get a name?”
“Tortuga,” I said. “He was already on a first-name basis with the cops.”
“They called him Tor-tooo-gah?” Raymond asked doubting the name the cops used.
“Yeah,” I looked at Amelie, who nodded her head, “That's it.”
Raymond pulled out his cellphone, dialed a number, and while it rang, whispered and pointed to his phone, “My friend knows all the bad boys. We'll get to the bottom of this.”
We waited and Raymond took a sip of his watermelon batido.
“Hey, I'm down here at Somoa South,” he said, “You got a minute to talk?”
And before Raymond could finish his drink a car drove up and Raymond stepped out to have a talk with the driver.
Two minuts later Raymond sat back down at the table.
“We'll find your stuff if there's anything to be found. Meanwhile Tortuga's going to have some trouble around here because he fucked with friends of mine.”
That was awfully sweet of him, but more importantly Raymond knows how small towns function; on reputation first, law second.
Unfortunately, it wouldn't save us for what was to come.
After three years in Mexico and two in Nicaragua, it seems to me that Costa Rica's adopted a culture of thievery. There are too many eco-tourists coming in, publicly spending gobs of hard-earned and long-saved vacation money, and leaving. The locals and campesinos feel like they're not getting a slice of that fat, white bacon and so when there's a chance to grab a slice, they do. I can hardly blame them. If rich tourists kept coming into my neighborhood and spending wads of cash, even walking around in clothes that would cost me a full year's salary to make, I don't think I'd feel too bad if I had kids I needed to feed. I think the thievery's a symptom of the tourism.
I've visited Costa Rica four times and each time I've had some action. In '98 it was my wallet, in 2000 it was a surfboard bag, in 2011 it was Amelie's travel bag and last night it was the worst.
Last night, on 22 March, 2013, I had been watching O Brother, Where Art Thou, drinking beer, eating chips, and went to bed around eleven o'clock. I fell into a deep sleep and George Clooney did not have the same effect Gandalf had so off to sleep I drifted, Amelie next to me in the v-berth, Zephyr in his cuña, a kind of hammock-crib, and the boat quietly drifting in a slight breeze. It was a half moon. The evening was cool and calm. The sleep felt fine.
Without waking I heard a weird slap of a splash. Was it a fish? Zephyr? Mouth taste like beer. Amelie jumping up outta bed and I jumping up and walking behind her and my hand on the rough ropes wrapped around the mast, all night, then a light in front of illuminating her naked silhouette then her yelling, loud, YAAAARGH! and I grab the gaff hook and I'm in the cockpit next to Amelie and two guys are swimming from the boat and get into the fishing boat RIGHT next to us and the motor starts and I'm trying to calculate the time to drop Ti Goose in the water and row after them and then I look at Amelie and finally wake up.
I looked around the cockpit and on the deck. No one was on the boat. Nothing was missing.
“Bastard!” Amelie yelled, “Bastard.” She was trembling. The boat, a grey, messy old fishing boat, motored fast up towards Golfito. It had a shitty sound to the motor, a rattly cough. I could hear men's voices talking rapidly. What to do? Take a molotov cocktail and try to catch up? I couldnt light the molotovs, they were probably old anyway. Chase them and get on board? I doubted I could drop Ti Goose into the water and catch up to them. And there'd be three of them on their boat.
I let it drop and turned to my wife, who had just done a magnificent job of defending our boat, house, and baby. Fortunately, there was a shot of rum left for her, this time.
In between her trembling we laughed about her pirate-like “Arr” shout.
When we spoke about it, after our first incident ten days ago, Amelie said that if a pirate were to climb aboard that she'd try to get out of the boat. She said she was better at evasion than confrontation, and she said she didn't have the guts to face someone directly.
But Zephyr was on board when this happened and a Mama Shark is first a Mama, and Amelie showed the fast response, the courage, and the mental tenacity that I've fallen in love with over the years. She's the best sailor I've ever sailed with and she writes about it often. We've delivered boats, been knocked down, raised repaired sails, fixed motors, broken anchors, and successfully even reproduced offspring. She's the most flexible, most feminine and gentlest person I've ever met so this kind of piratical behavior surprised us both.
It takes a pirate spirit to get a pirate out of your boat, Salty Gandalf Chi, and in the last ten days we've both kept the boogeymen at bay.
Ay, a pirate's wife is the wife for me.
Next: Gold Miners and Eco-Tourists (in which Raymundo makes another appearance) and onwards to Panama.