Saturday, May 21, 2011

Venezula

If a five thousand boats launch into the lake on the same day, does the water level rise?  So far at Hartwell Lake we've been at full pond. It's measured by sea level. Full pond is about 660 feet above sea level. 


By 9am this morning it was already 68F degrees, we are supposed to have a hot summery weekend. I've given up on storing my little pile of winter clothes. I'm afraid the dog and I might need them and can't get to them. We both get cold easily, though I think I am improving. My teeth no longer chatter at 60F degrees.  But even this morning, with it in the mild 60's, my feet are cold unless I wear my thick warm house shoes. Several mornings this week, temperatures were down to the 40's, and I'm talking Fahrenheit, not Celsius. 


I've heard  this same story from several people who live somewhere around or near Hartwell Lake. It's about my workamping predecessor. I haven't been able to officially confirm the story or not. But with so many people mentioning it to me, it's either true or an awfully good  tale. 


Ever since I've been here, I've had that odd impression that something untoward had happened to my predecessor.  It's reminded me of the time I was hired in Fort Lauderdale, Florida,  to go join a large yacht in Venezuela.




The engineer and I flew down with the Venezuelan owners.  During the flight, Senora gave me numerous instructions.  One, that at the time, made me feel fairly special, was that she was adament I interview taxi drivers, in advance,  for one that spoke fluent English as well as Spanish. She knew my Spanish was dismal.  


Since I was expected to shop for exotic foods and boat supplies, she wanted to make sure I could get around OK.  She repeated, I should try to get references and to not settle for anyone that made me feel the least bit uncomfortable. Then once I settled on a driver, to engage him with boat funds, to take care of me and the crew, for whatever errands we needed to run.  She insisted that once we found a good driver, to keep him and never use anyone else. Pay him extra.  Make sure he was true to us. 


She also explained to me about the daily bribe of the security guards that worked at the marina where the boat was docked. I was to offer them each one cold drink per man per shift. No more, no less. It didn't matter if it was soda or cerveza (beer). 


I settled into life in Venezuela aboard a grogeous large ketch that was custom built, right down to the teak hand carved dolphins on the rails and the incredible handcarved mermaid on the bowsprit. 


I loved working on this yacht. It was a pain in the tush to maintain, but she was the most beautiful yacht I ever had the chance to be employed upon. What's so funny, is that I took the position, sight unseen, agreeing to fly overseas to join her. The job had come from a reputable crew placement agency. I met the owners in Florida for an interview. I was chosen above numerous applicants. 


They were looking to hire a couple only, but had found none that met their eclectic requirements. When the agency suggested I go on the interview alone while they searched for an engineer with a captain's license, I immediately  invited a sailing friend of mine from Czechoslovakia who was an excellent engineer, to go on the interview with me. He was living on his sailboat in Florida, working a job he was ready to quit in favor of the high seas.  I was given a date, time and  address to a swanky high-rise condo in Fort Lauderdale. 


On a funny note, the crew agency told us we made a terrific first impression on the owners, because we had kicked off our shoes at the entrance to their condo, entering their living room barefoot. 


If you aren't a sailor, this may sound rather peculiar. Professional sailors  in the Caribbean and other warm areas, are accustomed to removing their shoes before boarding a yacht, so that "street dirt" is not tracked all over the boat. So without giving it any thought, we removed our shoes before the door was answered. We had dug up our cleanest white clothes to wear to the interview. We had also made sure we arrived exactly at the appointed time. We had no idea that the owners were clean freaks until we met them. 


Their entire living room was done in shades of white, decorated  with priceless colorful paintings and sculptures.  They refused to tell us what the crew positions paid, so we gave them an outrageous price for our services. Later, when the crew agency complained to me, saying the couple really wanted to hire both of us, but we seemed way overpriced, she demanded to know why I gave them such an outrageous salary request.


I said "Well, we can always lower our price, but once we name a figure, we can't suddenly raise it."  Turns out the positions paid half of what we had optimistically asked for. We gladly took it, as it was indeed very nice pay. 


After I settled into working in Venezuela aboard the yacht, I found a wonderful driver named Clunker. Actually, Clunker was a renegade. He didn't even have a taxi license. But he came highly recommended.  I interviewed him choosing him above all others, in spite of the fact he drove a beat up old station wagon with an illegal VHF radio in the glove compartment. He was quite a character, but I felt very comfortable with him. We became great friends.  I could tell you some tall tales about him too. I'll save that for another day. 


Initially I paid him double plus tipped him 50%.  Naturally, Clunker would drop whatever he was doing, to run to my service. The yacht owners sometimes had some interesting requests.  I would be dispatched immediately in search of whatever they desired next. At the time, we mostly just did short overnight cruises around the area, returning back to our berth at the marina. 


As we began to get to know some of the other yacht owners and crew, the coconut telegraph began perking up. We heard the same gruesome story over and over. It seemed everyone in the marina wanted us to know. 


The crew member I was replacing, had left to go shopping in the morning. She never returned. Late that night, she was found on the side of a remote road, brutally assaulted and left for dead, presumably, by her taxi driver.  But no one knew who she left with, as she had taken a bus, then a gypsy taxi. Tragically, she died shortly after arrival at the hospital.  The perpetrator was never identified. Her husband, the engineer, went crazy.  A third crew member, who had been on board over two decades, jumped ship as well. I would eventually meet him. (Another story, another day.)



My friend and I were the replacements. Now we knew. 


Next time Clunker took me shopping for the yacht, I doubled his pay and added a 200% tip. The owners never once questioned my taxi expense and I never told them I knew about my predecessor. When Clunker first protested, I was paying too much, seemingly embarrassed by the jump in pay, I laughed and said "Hey, you brought me back alive!  Save it up for a new car!"   


I also made sure all the marina security guards got their drinks each and every shift. This was pretty easy, because they loitered about our dock,  day and night. 


Oh and about my predecessor here, he wasn't murdered.  I haven't been able to confirm the story yet, but several have told me near identical tales. That's for another day too.



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