Friday, May 23, 2008

The Sloop John B

I should have known there would be trouble when I opened that birthday card from my grandfather. It had a picture of a sailboat on the front and inside were two round-trip tickets to the Bahamas. Nassau, to be exact.

“That’s right, boy. We’re going sailing. Just you and me.”

“Wow, Gramps, this is really a…surprise.”

He took a swig of his Michelob, which dripped down the gray stubble of his chin onto the front of his stained Hawaiian shirt.

“You’re twenty-one years old and it’s time to party! And what better place to raise hell?”

When we got to Nassau, we didn’t stay in a hotel. Gramps had chartered a sailboat called the Sloop John B. I was surprised to see that the crew were not native islanders, but Americans. Weird hippie-types in their 60s, like Gramps. In fact, Gramps told me they were buddies of his from “back in the day.” These guys lived in the Bahamas and made their living taking tourists on sightseeing trips around the islands.

I have to admit, those dudes looked scary. They all wore stained Hawaiian shirts like Gramps and spent most of the day passed out on the deck or walking around in a drunken stupor. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear I was in a Dennis Hopper version of “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

The first night we made port on one of the islands and went to a local tavern. I had more than a few beers and started feeling loopy, but Gramps and the crew were drinking tequila. The next thing I knew, some humongous dude with a skull-and-crossbones tattoo started arguing with Cheech, the first mate. Soon everybody in the place was fighting, just like in the movies. I ducked as a bottle of beer barely missed my head. This was not my idea of a fun vacation.

The only guy I got along with was the cook. They called him the Egg Man. His specialty was corn and grits, which weren’t bad. But one day he sort of went crazy. I was eating breakfast and suddenly he grabbed my plate and dumped the grits into the garbage. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he ate all of my corn. I couldn’t believe it.

“Egg Man, what are you doing?”

He ignored me and stumbled over to the side of the boat where he barfed into the ocean. That’s it. I was ready to go home.

I found Gramps playing poker with some of the crew.

“Gramps, I’d really like to go home now.”

“Sure thing,” he slurred. “But we have a little problem. Sheriff John Stone took Cheech to the jailhouse.”

“What happened?”

“He broke into the captain’s trunk and stole his tiki doll.”

Cheech was released the next day and we set sail back to Nassau. I was so glad when Gramps and I finally got on the plane for home. This was the worst trip I’d ever been on.


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