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Adin – The Mennonite Buccaneer

An
aside… at the beginning. For some years, my father was the personnel
director for a relief agency, which placed volunteers in 3rd world
disaster areas. Of all the people he recruited, he said, the Mennonites – a
religious farming community like the Amish – worked out the best because they
combined idealism with hands-on practicality and a work ethic that just
wouldn’t quit. Mostly located in the Mid-West, you don’t see many
of them out on the high seas sailing island to island in a cockleshell – and
for sure you don’t see them defying police in a high speed sea chase. But
Adin, Mennonite buccaneer, defies expectations.

Back in
’85, the French had a bad year or two and the Franc dropped to half of
its normal value. It didn’t take long to figure out that the French
islands just across the Anegada Passage from us were selling perfectly good
French wine for, effectively, half price. Accordingly, I made several trips to
the “caves” of St. Barths and St. Martin.
If the weather was right, i.e. calm, we would stop at Saba,
an island that is part Shangri-La, part Bali Hai,
where smiling children pelted passersby with flowers.

Whenever
it came out that we were from St. John,
the Sabans would ask eagerly, “Do you know Adin?” Then they’d tell stories about Adin, who, it appeared, could fix anything and was always
ready to lend a hand getting a stubborn transmission into the island’s
only ambulance or adjusting the timing on the fork lift at the dock so that
cargo could be unloaded, or helping an old couple start their car. One Saban, with tears in his eyes, related how Adin went from his bed after midnight to fix something at
the little mountaintop airstrip so that an emergency medical flight could
evacuate an appendicitis case to the hospital in St. Maarten. Adin denies it, but he’s not one to blow his own
horn. My informant may have been under the influence, actually he was drunk,
but the kinds of stories told about Adin say
something about the man.

After the
reminiscences, there was always a hesitation, a guilty pause. Adin had applied for a work permit and had been turned down
by remote authorities in St. Maarten who knew nothing of him and nobody on
Saba really went to bat for him, assuming that someone
else would do it. Adin, more prone to do favors than
ask for them, sailed off with his wife and family in his fast trimaran, west towards the US Virgins, where he could work
legally, while the people on Saba kicked
themselves.

Saba’s loss was St.
John’s gain. He and Suzy settled in
Coral Bay,
St. John and went to
work. So far as I could tell, he never had a real job. Instead, he turned his
hand to what lay around him. He fished on the sea, took tourists sailing in
Manta
, the lightweight go fast tri he
had built in Saba, he started his house, he salvaged a long abandoned eyesore
of a bull dozer and did earth moving jobs, he built two power boats, lived
frugally, helped Suzy home school their son and daughter, and most notably grew
tomatoes.

Adin and Suzy produced the freshest, reddest, juiciest
tomatoes available in the islands, his only competition being the boutique
tomatoes still on the vine, gift wrapped in gauzy tissue, like a bottle of fine
Armagnac, retailing for three times what Adin and Suzy charged.

In recent
years, with the house built, Adin pursued commercial
fishing, catching tuna, wahoo and dorado
(also known as Mahi-mahi in the Pacific) for the hotels and villas on
St. John. He used the 32
ft catamaran he had built himself, and powered it with a 70 hp outboard he had
found at the dumpster abandoned by someone with more money than brains (as my
good friend John Costanzo would say, “Common
sense ain’t that common!”). Adin got it purring and it provided plenty of power for the
easily driven, low drag catamaran hulls.

Adin is a peaceable law-abiding citizen – but not all laws.
Certainly not laws that declare prime fishing waters to be
off limits to Americans who don’t buy a permit to fish there for the day.
Notwithstanding that every other nation with a coastline would disagree with
him, Adin believes that fish are in the sea for whomever can catch them. They might be in BVI waters one day
and in USVI waters the next. Who’s to say where they were spawned,
whether they were born here or born there?

A license to go fishenin’?
Says who? Did God strike it onto the stone tablets that Moses carried down the
mountain? The eleventh commandment…“Thou shalt
not go fishenin’ in BVI waters without a
license?!” The divine canon was unequivocally laid down about theft,
murder, falsehood and adultery, even asses – “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s ass, nor thy
neighbor’s wife’s ass neither”, but fishenin? That was the work of mere men, who promulgated
that law out of sheer, naked national self interest. Men like you and me can
choose to obey such laws, or ignore them. Of course, as we shall see, if the
men promulgating the law have a bigger gun and a faster boat than the ones
ignoring the law, their interpretation may, at the end of the day, rule the day.
And the BVI has some very fast boats indeed.

A few
months ago, Adin left Coral
Bay with Kevin, Al and Ralph, avid
sailors and fishermen and long time residents of
St. John. They were aboard the 32 foot
catamaran with the rescued 70 hp outboard purring as they headed around East
End, left Flanagan I to starboard and made a course for the gap between Peter
and Norman
Islands. It was a rough day blowing 15
to 20 knots, but in the lee of the Francis Drake Channel the boat handled it
well, slicing over the water leaving a satisfying wake behind.

They were
bound for a good day’s fishing, or at least for a good day, fish or no
fish. After all, they had an ice chest full of beer, they were all good
friends, and they were out on the water in the famously beautiful Virgin
archipelago, riding amidst the sweep of the green and quiet islands.

Adin kept an eye out as they sped along. Word had come
through the grapevine that he was on the BVI Customs hit list, since Adin regularly took this flagrant shortcut through BVI
waters, not with the intention of passing through en route to some port but
with the intent, brazen and premeditated, of fishenin’
at his favorite spot in Her Majesty’s waters. That was the drop-off a
mile south of Norman Island where the soundings go over a cliff and plummet a
couple of miles down to the abyssal sea floor “like half the Grand
Canyon!” as Adin said.

All
seemed quiet. They left Norman Is close to starboard to avoid Caret Shoal and
departed the shelter of the Drake’s channel. The seas were rough, seven
and eight footers made toppling and steep by the rebound off the island chain.

They
cruised by a flock of terns, hovering like a cloud of animated cotton and
flying fish that bigger fish – they looked like jack crevaille
– forced to the surface and then into the air.

Just as
they reached the drop-off, a skipjack tuna struck at a lure and in the
excitement they almost failed to notice the airplane overhead – the one with
BVI Police written in large letters along its fuselage. When it circled them,
flying low, then flew off, the friends from Coral Bay continued fishing, the drop-off with the help of the brand
new chart plotter, heading westerly just in case.

A little
while later the plane reappeared, flew overhead and started circling them. Adin and the guys agreed this was not a propitious sign and
they picked up the pace towards home when they spotted a big likely looking
floater. A floater is a matted collection of seaweed and flotsam that has
clumped together and serves as home to baby lobsters, small fish, variegated marine growth. It is also a favorite place for dorado to congregate in the shade. Boobies were wheeling
over it, a good sign.

Being the
crazy fishermen they are they altered course and began trolling around the
floater. They almost forgot about the police until Al spoke up.

“I
see what looks like a bow wave…moving fast…looks like it’s
coming our way!” Sure enough, through the binoculars they could make out
a dark bow flanked by explosions of white at either side.

“That’s the police boat, for sure!”

“Haul in your lines boys, we’re going to run for it,”
said Adin as he throttled up and the boat leaped
forward. He headed it for the shortest distance to the
US line and let
her rip. The cat made a hair raising 20 knots up the backs of the seas then
rushed down from the crest into the trough. But the police boat was an awesome vessel,
built for nothing but speed, a stiletto with three 250 horsepower Yamahas
pushing it. When it comes to enforcement in their waters, the BVI doesn’t
fool around. That boat, and others like it in their fleet, can go 60 knots, in
calm weather. Luckily for Adin and
company the seas were too rough for the police boat to go full speed, but it
was going fast enough already. Soon they could hear the thumps of its hull as
it went almost airborne, leaping from sea to sea, the foam
erupting from its bow, sometimes totally obscuring the boat itself in great
gouts of spray .

“It’s going to be a dead heat,” Adin
said judging the distance on the chart plotter and the approach of the boat.
Closer…closer…the men on the police boat, little figures in blue
uniforms with contrasting red life jackets, grew steadily larger, holding on to
the console to either side of the driver as they stood up with eyes fixed on
their prey. As they caught up with Adin they sounded
a siren. With his eyes on the chart plotter he could see they were almost to
the line. He held up the microphone to the VHF and called the police boat, eyes
glued to the chart plotter…they were a hundred yards away, closing with
the boundary line at 20 knots, Adin raising the
police boat on channel 16.

“This is the BVI police boat. You are ordered to stop your vessel
immediately!”

“Pick a working channel….I’m switching to channel ten,
repeat channel 10, one zero, diez.” He changed
to channel ten and saw his boat go over the boundary line. He throttled back
enough to show some semblance of compliance but still kept substantial speed,
only slowing down to trolling speed as the police insisted that he stop.

“Prepare to be boarded captain! Stop your vessel.”

“Uh… I’m very sorry but I can’t do that because
we are in US waters. With all due respect, you have no jurisdiction here. My
chart plotter shows we are well within US waters. What does yours read?”

There was
a long pause as the interloping fishermen wondered if the police were going to
fire a shot across their bows but instead they saw the unmistakable flash of
white teeth in a dark face.

“They’re laughing!” said Kevin, relieved and amazed.
The police boat put the hammer down and roared off back into BVI waters. Adin and his crew finished the day with the skipjack tuna a
couple of dorado and a small wahoo—and
a great story.

“All in all they were pretty decent about it,” said Adin. “If they had pulled out a .45 and fired a shot
over the bow, I would have stopped cold.”

These
days Adin still goes fishenin’,
with friends or tourists who charter him for the day, but he stays well within
US waters. Tortola has got his number, and Adin has got the message.

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