It was 1992 and I was captain of a lovely old 110-foot power yacht named Electra. She was a creation of the 1930s, with none of the chrome and fiberglass that one sees so often today. Electra echoed the charm of a bygone era of rich teak brightwork and lovely mahogany. The interior was restored to its original grandeur, complete with grand piano, stained-glass hatches and polished brass fittings.
I had many adventures on Electra, but the following tales show how strange life is. First, let me tell you about my troubles with the owner’s wife, though it’s not what you think.
In late November of that year Electra was anchored off the beach to the north end of the island of St. Lucia. There was a big party on board one night, with lots of guests, including some of the island’s top politicians. The owner even brought in a jazz band, which played on the upper deck. Liquor flowed and tasty hors d’oeuvres were passed around. The launch crew were busy ferrying guests back and forth to the marina. The Electra looked grand indeed, festooned with lights and many people commented on how smart the crew appeared in their starched white uniforms.
I spent the evening mingling with the guests, but was happy when it was all over and the last guest was dragged out of the bar and taken ashore. The crew quickly squared away the vessel and we all turned in for the night, save the crewman on anchor watch. As is often the case, the lights of Electra attracted schools of medium-sized fish of various types and the owner’s young son had crept up on deck and was fishing on the fantail with a rod the watchman had given him. It was about two o’clock in the morning.
I was sound asleep in my cabin when the crewman on anchor duty banged on my door and shouted that I was needed on deck right away. Thinking that there was an emergency, I jumped up and came running up in my underwear.
Apparently, the owner’s son had hooked a large fish and was screaming for help. I came running up to find the owner himself on deck assisting his son. Now assisting may be the wrong word because I could see that he could hardly stand up. Obviously he had his fair share of the many cases of champagne and wine. He was falling down drunk and stark naked. He must have heard his son screaming through the champagne fog, then jumped up and stumbled on deck. He was trying to help his son, but not doing a very good job of it. As his son leaned over the rail with his rod, the owner leaned over and grabbed him by the waist. Now they were both in danger of falling overboard, and nearly did as the owner’s feet left the deck.
I decided to take the matter in hand. I grabbed the owner from behind as he teetered over the rail. At that moment the fish got away and the owner’s son started crying. Then the owner began struggling in my grasp. That’s when his wife came on deck.
You can imagine the impression she must’ve gotten. Her captain in his underpants grasping her wiggling stark naked husband from behind and her son crying while a crewmember looked on with a blank expression on his face.
She rushed over to me and smacked me on the arm.
“You put him down this instant you dirty bugger,” she screamed at me.
Thanks to the anchor watchman the whole thing was soon cleared up and all involved went to bed.
Some months later I had another experience on Electra that I still find amazing. First, it came to pass that the owners of this ship ran into financial trouble and had to put her up for sale. We had her tied up in Jolly Harbour marina in Antigua, where she was to remain until sold. I kept skeleton crew on board to keep her in shape and her machinery running.
One morning, the agents called me to say they had a prospective buyer for the yacht and asked whether I could be ready for inspection. I said that I needed an hour or two to clean up a bit and we made a date for later in the day. At the appointed time, the prospective buyer came strolling down the dock. He was in his late 50s and looked like a character straight out of a Wilbur Smith novel. Tall and sandy haired, he wore khaki shorts and a bush jacket with an Australian slouch hat turned up at the side. He spoke with a strong South African accent. His companion was a beautiful young blond woman sporting a diamond on her hand the size of a marble. After shaking hands and welcoming them aboard, I began to tell them about Electra and her equipment as I showed them around. They were impressed by the ship and her condition. This was understandable, as she was quite a gem. After the tour, I ordered coffee and we sat on the fantail and chatted while we waited for the steward.
In due course, the prospective buyer came to the matter at hand. He told me that he would like to make an offer and would I please convey this to the agent. I nodded and gave him my complete attention as he began.
“First thing I want to tell you is that I have another big yacht in Holland being rebuilt. She’s a 140-foot Camper Nicholson design and I’m having her refitted for a world cruise,” he said. He had photographs of the vessel and showed them to me. She was indeed a substantial ocean-going power yacht.
“Captain, here’s what I’d like you do with the Electra. First, I’d like to charter her for six months at the full rate, after which I will buy her at the asking price.”
I raised my eyebrows slightly, but said nothing as he continued. “You’ll then take the yacht to Venezuela and fill her up with fuel, as it is very cheap there.”
By this time, I’m sure that the furrows between my eyebrows had begun to deepen, but I continued to nod and listen attentively. “Next, you’ll take the vessel to Brazil for a week where we will join you for a brief visit.” He then asked me if I was with him so far, and I replied that I was clear so far. “Then, my good fellow, you’ll sail the ship across the South Atlantic to Walvis Bay, Namibia, where I have business interests.” Well, certainly if I got that far I was going to be a really good fellow and a damn lucky one too because the Electra’s fuel capacity certainly wasn’t going to see me across the expanse of the South Atlantic. The little alarm bells in my head had started dinging.
“What do you think of my plan so far,” he asked.
“Yes, well, it’s very interesting,” I replied.
“Well then, captain. The next part of my plan would be first, to pick up my personal belongings in Walvis Bay. Then, you can proceed to any port in the Mediterranean. At that point, I will pay you a bonus of $50,000 and then you can command whichever of my two yachts that you want.” I replied that I would certainly pass this most interesting offer to the owners of the Electra and would have a reply for him.
Needless to say, the owners saw very little merit in his offer to buy, and chose not to waste their time with any rubbish of this nature in the future. Later that evening at the bar, I spoke with a South African yachtsman. He recognized the prospective buyer’s name right away. He was a well-known jeweler and his personal belongings would most certainly have included diamonds. He also commented that those who tried to smuggle diamonds in that part of the world would often end up with very large holes in their bodies.
The next day, I told the gentleman that the owners weren’t interested and, as such, I was sorry, but we could not oblige. That was the end of it and I never saw him again.
This article originally appeared in the March 2019 issue.