Love Me Tender: Reflections of the Caribbean

Robin & Jenny Martin
Fri 28 Jan 2011 11:59

First of all, I have to thank Jenny and Robin for the most marvellous time in the Caribbean. They were wonderful hosts and showed us around some amazing places, providing us with a great holiday home, terrific food and entertaining company. Debs and I had a great time, enjoyed brilliant weather and experienced a totally relaxing break. Thanks Jen and Rob – it was superb!

It has become a bit of a tradition during our last couple of winter holidays that I keep a journal of our travels and observations to help remember the events, experiences and people along the way. My lovely daughter had provided a fine leather bound journal to record this holiday. As guest blogger, I thought the journal too long to post in entirety - so here is the first of a few extracts and highlights.

Thanks to everyone mentioned – and I hope you will all excuse me if I have a bit of fun at your expense and maybe the odd tiny 


5th Jan 2011 - Love Me Tender (The story of the new RIB)

Robin has an appointment with Francis the boat dealer at 1.00pm on the fish dock, Vieux Fort. I naively assume the guy will bring down the RIB, Robin will look, question, test, decide and the whole thing will be done in an hour or so. How wrong can I be!

We are there at 1.00, shuffle around, cook on the quayside for an hour in the intense heat, creating mild interest and curiosity amongst the locals whilst trying not to buy their home made jewellery or fresh caught fish. We do not give in to sob stories, nor do we part with cigarettes or cash to feed their 7 children and three wives. We avoid the squelching noises and underwater disturbances in the drainage channels because we do not want to know what is down there. We swelter a bit more, then hear from Jen on the VHF that Francis is having lunch at the moment in the hotel on the hill, but not to worry, he will send down his driver and we are expected for a beer. This sounds better.

We meet on the terrace restaurant and introductions are made. Francis is an unusual sort, more like a character from a John le Carre novel. English; late sixties; portly; perspiring profusely; dirty white shirt (top two buttons undone); balding with greasy lank grey hair plastered over the top; large protruding belly tucked periodically into the belt of his empire builder shorts. Joe - the assistant; neat; local; quiet. We make smalltalk whilst their food and our beers arrive. Joe closes his eyes, mumbles a silent grace with hands together under the table before they tuck in. Its interesting food – seems to be 5 different ways of cooking potatoes with fish and chicken. A parade of colourful characters passes through the bar to a background of noise from an American kick boxing film on TV. Francis is telling us that it’s been a bad year because of the recession. He has only sold 2 dinghies in December instead of his usual 10 and has cut his overheads by $40k US to appease the bank. Robin thinks he will get a good deal because they are desperate for a sale. 

The meal is over and the bill paid. We are a bit surprised to find we are now off to the warehouse to see the RIB. It’s not far – at the airport. We set of in their battered pickup, Holy Joe driving, Francis in the passenger seat and the clients sitting in a battered RIB on the back, enjoying the cool open air drive. With only a couple of detours, we enter the airport warehouse complex waking up the security guards at the barrier. The place is practically deserted and not a lot is happening in the way of trade. Theft is obviously a problem here because the warehouse is locked up like Fort Knox, but once undone we can see their vast stock of inflatables – all three of them, plus two outboards, all still packed in cardboard boxes. Francis is explaining the problems of getting hold of stock as Holy Joe sets about unpacking the first outboard. It comes out easily enough, but its too big says Robin (and too expensive no doubt) so there is a bit of a pantomime getting it back into the packaging. The next box is a 12ft inflatable and the boys get it unpacked, blown up and the floor inserted with a great deal of huffing, straining and the aid of a compressor. Too big and I really want a rigid floor says Robin after all the trouble. Holy Joe is in his element and not deterred – he wants a sale. Francis is taking calls on the mobile from other customers and fobbing them off. It’s getting hot in the warehouse. Robin is paying more attention to the repair of his broken flip flop but the boys are opening the next pack and out comes a 9ft RIB. More calls to Francis – this time from his agent about the missing delivery from Colombia. Robin is back with it now, having completed the shoe repair using bits of cord cut from the backpack and is clearly interested. Just as the deal is going down, Francis gets interrupted by the customs people at the door and a delivery of one of the lost Colombian boats. There are papers to sign, rubber stamps to be flourished. The delivery is unloaded onto the old RIB in the back of the pickup, then its back to negotiations.

Robin recovers his composure after hearing the best price and doing the mental arithmetic on exchange rates. He is keen to buy but clearly worried about explaining it to Jen. No more haggling – it’s done and both parties shake hands on the deal. Robin makes payment with a plastic card and the new purchase is loaded onto the pickup on top of the other two boats and a boxed outboard.

But where are the clients going to sit? Surely not on top? No problem man – you can squeeze inside! We stuff ourselves into the space behind the pickup seats looking like a couple of chickens in a cage, then set off hoping for cool beers and a swim back at VF. But there is no chance. We have calculated without customs, security and officialdom in the Caribbean!

We have a 20 minute wait at the ‘Free Zone’ office around the corner, for the customs man to return from another highly official duty, to complete the rubber stamping and signatures. Holy Joe has started my conversion to Christianity as a captive audience. His dire warnings of Satan’s involvement with the St Lucia Government and the corruption of the younger generation are illustrated by memorised passages from the scriptures. Thankfully I am saved by the return of the customs man and we finally get our rubber stamps for the rubber boat. We head for the gate, where we wake up the security men again and have to convince them we have not stolen the goods in the back of the pickup. They are unsure and the problem is compounded by Francis having lost the gate pass, even though ours is the only vehicle that has been through today. Even Holy Joe is showing signs of frustration as Robin is asked to unfold himself from the chicken coop, prove he is the owner of the new purchase by producing the boat registration documents, passport and the Free Zone paperwork with rubber stamps and customs signatures.

Finally they are convinced and we set off back to Vieux Fort, although for some reason we have to get more rubber stamping at the port customs office in the freight dock. This sounds ominous. As we approach the customs post, three officials are loitering outside wearing expressions of complete disinterest. Its past five o’clock and they seem reluctant to help. Francis approaches, leaving the chickens penned in the pickup, beats about the bush for a while and getting no response, calls for the Captain. Robin takes over the explanation. Blank looks from the officials and mutterings between each other. Holy Joe starts on my conversion again in the pickup, quoting chapter and verse but I am too hot and folded up to be receptive. Finally the officials decide that rubber stamping must be postponed until tomorrow morning after 08.00 am. We all want to go now so head for the fish dock. Our arrival provokes much interest and several helpers appear to assist us unload and launch the new RIB. Che Guevara is the most enthusiastic and cannot be put off. He is ready to chuck the new boat off the 

quay and cannot be restrained. With difficulty I stop it going completely into the mire of floating debris, fish guts and oily water, whilst Robin and Holy Joe get the lines, motor and paddles transferred from the old tender.

Finally we are off. Robin flashes up the outboard and we make our escape just before sunset, waving a fond farewell to our new friends on the dock. What a great day’s entertainment and isn’t it marvellous to see island life at its true best. I am only sorry a failed to take my camera.

There is still some unfinished business of course …… but that’s another story!

Photo; the author at work on Maymio.

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