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Caribbean Friends and Small World

I can’t decide which I enjoy more: making new friends or rediscovering old ones. Recently we had the pleasure of stumbling into two Caribbean characters, one in Fiji and the other in Vanuatu.

Rikki Grober-Dunsmore, who we first met on St. John, USVI, when she was working with the National Park Service, just happened to be Fiji doing a fish/reef study. Since we vaguely keep in touch via email, she knew we were cruising the area and thus we were able to hook up in Lautoka, Viti Levu.

Now Rikki is a woman I both admire and owe.

I admire her on a number of fronts.

First off, as a single mother. She has done a fine, fine job of raising her son Thatcher Kai.

Secondly, as an environmentalist. Rikki is a classic tree-hugger… well, coral-and-fish-hugger… and we need such people. We simply can’t go on poisoning our environment if we plan on staying aboard this fragile life-raft-of-a-planet——and I can’t think of a better or more effective spokesperson to sound the alarm than Rikki.

Thirdly, as a student of life.

I believe in “…learning like you’ll live forever and living like you’ll die tomorrow,” and so does Rikki. She just got her doctorate——not an easy task while putting food on the table as single mother, I’m sure.

Fourth, for retaining a sense of Sanuk.

Sanuk is a Thai concept of fun and joy. It means that everything in life——even its most difficult moments——should have such elements intertwined. Rikki is a fun gal to be around: interesting, interested and passionate.

And, thus, we come to the subject of my indebtedness.

Rikki lives in Santa Cruz, California. So does my blind 87 year old mother. Thus Rikki and Thatcher Kai visit Nana Ree (my mother) often… taking her out for coffee at Peets, reading to her, and just easing her solitary life with friendship.

Anyway, we took Rikki and Thatcher Kai sailing on Wild Card in Fiji. Thatcher Kai was interested in every single aspect of the boat and was as nicely behaved a child as we’ve ever had aboard.

It was great to relive old times and to plan new adventures together. And we even learned a few new things about Rikki: that she was good friends with both Flaka (Denise Holmberg, Peter’s wife) and Harold Neels of the schooner Cassiopeia.

Harold of Cassi is notorious throughout the Caribbean and Pacific ocean as ‘schooner trash!’

He is, and he’s proud of it.

Yeah… he had a job back in the 1960s… but, no, it didn’t pan out.

…and he ain’t making that mistake again!

He’s an artful dodger, roving rogue and notorious hedonist… completely unabashed.

And he has the perfect boat for it.

Cassiopeia is a 65 foot wood/ferro-cement gaff-rigged schooner built in 1978 to a Howard Chapelle design.

Her decks are usually awash with naked ladies, girls, and, well… tramps!

Oh, yes, Harold is firmly heterosexual and utterly tireless… and not about to grow up anytime soon.

Yeah, I like him.

Oh, sure, he’s got some rough edges. Most sea gypsies do. But Harold is the real-deal… the last of the sailing cowboys… one of the few Coral Bay schoonermen who managed to break away from Skinny’s and wander into a whole new world of adventure upon the wide, rollicking Pacific.

He’s currently in Port Villa, Efate, Vanuatu, panting after a French chick (surprise!) and planning his next scam/adventure/business move.

…somehow or another, he won a bar.

The bar has no cus tomers. It is far away from the waterfront, far out of town, far off the main road… hell, the bar is so off-the-beaten track that the taxi driver born next door can’t find it.

Wait, it gets weirder.

The bar is, well, in a barn. A horse barn. With lots of S&M gear hanging from the rafters. (Harold swears ‘they’re horsey-stuff, Fatty, NOT S&M thingies’ but I am not convinced).

Did I mention there were no cus tomers?

Zero? Zilch? Nada?

To further discourage even potential cus tomers, Harold’s bar is commonly referred to in Vanuatu as the Devil’s Bar… in a country where voodoo is only a spooky drum beat away.

“This whole ‘earning your living’ thing can get VERY strange,” admits Harold. “I’m not sure I’m ready for… well, staying in one place. Life seems a tad simpler if you just… leave every so often. You see, I’d like to import Cassi into Vanuatu so I can charter her… but I’d have to pay duty… but if I didn’t have to pay duty on her… yeah, if I could sort-of slip her in as business capital… well, that would be perfect, wouldn’t it? So, yeah, if they allow me to work legally, don’t charge me duty and allow me generous tax credits… why I might just stick around for… well, at least until the weekend!”

Oh, yes! Harold always has such a disjointed-yet-fascinating story. It is non-stop action with Harold. He’s a man of his word… in a strange, post-1960s way.

“I’m going out to bomb my boat,” said Harold a few years back, waving two large canisters of insecticide around Skinny’s bar in Coral Bay, St. John, USVI.

Five minutes later Cassi did, indeed, blow up. Parts of her, both big and small, rained down in the harbor. (A refrigerator pilot light had set off the insect bombs——which were more accurately named than Harold imagined).

Harold was, luckily, in the center of the massive explosion and thus only dazed… well, only dazed slightly more than normal. Yes, he looked like one of those coyote cartoons (with his singed hair and blackened face) as he calmly rowed around the harbor picking up pieces of his beloved vessel.

No, his hearing didn’t come back for several days.

But Harold takes such things in stride. He figures that, hey, people blow up their yachts all the time… the trick is to just deal with it.

So Harold hammered most of the pieces back into place with large galvy nails… after generously slopping them up with roofing tar.

It worked. Sort of. In any event, Cassi is still floating, still sailing, still ‘party-central’ wherever she resides.

Yes, Cassi is a lucky boat with a kind, fun-loving, lustful spirit. Even the race comedy at the Antigua Classics realized this and awarded her the prestigious ‘spirit of the regatta’ award… which made a number of stuffy Euro-billionaires scratch their bald heads and sniff haughtily, “No, the Caribbean isn’t Sardinia, is it dear boy?”

Harold is a great story-teller. My current three favorites are: the Counterfeiter from India, the Bail Jumper from Fiji and the Big Kewl Kiwi Storm… but the classic ‘Aggravating Aggressive Aussies’ is always good for laugh… right up to where Harold gets the black eye.

The fact of the matter is Harold is the very definition of irrepressible. The man completely refuses to accept logic, reality and/or commonsense——and just keeps having pure, unadulterated fun. Everywhere. All the time.

Rikki and Harold are, in many ways, polar opposites. But they are both living their dreams every single day of their extraordinary, action-packed lives——and keep’n in cyber-touch with the crew of Wild Card as they do.

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