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 32ft 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.