The Boatnazi and his Sinking Ship

We were moored up to the end of the dock in Port Antonio. Sitting on the pier, connecting with friends and family through the wifi, the whole crew of the 53 feet steel ketch “Fairwinds” was waiting. Officials from the medical department and the customs had to arrive and give us clearance for Jamaica. Nobody was allowed to pass the metall gate to reach the land yet.
Suddenly a tall, black guy walked of his boat with a bright smile on his face. “How’s it going man?”, he introduced himself, “I am Rockne, like a rock in my knee”, he laughed. We started talking and he tells me about his idea to sail to Panama, single handed. My ears tips lifted up. Listening closely it sounded like he might need a crew for sailing and working on his boat. So I asked him if he needs a helping hand. Seemingly happy he does not hesitate to say: “Sure, you are very welcome!” “And you can come too”, he invited Ina (28) who had listened to the conversation with much interest. She is from Germany and also travelled on the S/Y Fairwinds before. Five minutes later we all sit in the high cockpit of his Endeavour 43 and draft our plan. Rockne (60) keeps on making funny jokes and gives us the impression to be a very sympatic, open minded and relaxed captain.
The inside of his boat called “Our Joy” looked like a mess. He’s been living alone since his girlfriend left him and just started fixing up the damage caused by pirates who tryed to steal his sailing home.
Some guys in the Domenican Republic invited him to a domino match to keep him busy. Meanwhile others lifted the anchors and tried to pull the ship into the mangroves. Luckily they couldn’t manage to maneuver it without the steering wheel which Rockne had taken off. Returning to the harbour he found his dream banging onto the pier. People came from all over and helped to secure the drifting vessel. All the thieves took was the outboard engine for the dinghy.

Looking forward to help repairing and getting the boat back in shape we started to work right after we came back from a hiking trip in the blue mountains. Many problems had to be fixed to make the boat seaworthy and the stuff needed to be stored propperly before we could hit the sea. Ina (28), Genevieve (34), Alan (30) the boatbuilder, Terry (19) and I helped Rockne with this major task. We worked more than one week, every day repairing, tidying and cleaning up in- and outside of his boat.

Terry is a boy from Jamaica whom Rockne enployed to help him with any kind of job he needs done. Most of the time he spent cleaning the two scooters, climbing up in the mast or running down town to get chicken. Rockne treated Terry in a very patronizing manner and always tried to teach him propper behaviour. In the beginning the way Rockne talked to him seemed to have a positive impact on Terry, but soon he kinda crossed the border with really high exspectations. All the time he had to say “Yes sir”, ” No sir” and had to review his own behaviour at the end of every day.

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Terry holding a land crab which the Italian sailors had caught

A local fisherman came with us to Jamaicas capital Kingston to buy a new outboard motor for the dinghy tax free. In the well organised chandlery “Durae’s Boat Sales & Marine Supplies” they had all the stainless screws, bolts, steel wire, cables, and material written on our repair list.

We exchanged a chainplate, turn buckles, a ripped backstay wire, tightened the rigging, pulled up a new front sail, cut new threads in the mast to remount at least one of two winches, changed a broked cleat, pulled new cables for the running lights, set up lines to hoist flags on, retightened the life lines, fixed a broken stantion temporarily, inflated one of the total two and a half fenders, took the leaking stuffing box appart, tied his two scooters to the rails, mounted one of his five TVs and searched for a leak in the water pressure system.

Some issues would have to wait until the boat gets hauled out in Panama, so the captain called his shitp ready for the sea. It could be possible to make that passage but only under very limited conditions.

We had to pump every drop of fresh water manually because of the leak in the pressure system and connected a starter cable from under the front bearth to the batteries every time we wanted to flush the toilet. This is unpleasant to do out in the shaking sea but could be seen as “first world problems” compared to the major problems remaining in this desaster ship:  The mainsail had a rip in the bottom part, so we could use only the part up to the third reef, the mizzen sail could not be used at all because the spreader and the chainplate for the mast were broken. Our bouyancy relied on two bilge pumps working all day to keep up with the waterfall entering through the stuffing box around the shaft. This ship would literally sink if the pumps stopped working. I already saw us handing buckets to get rid of the water.

Listening closely to the tips and warnings of the professional sailing crew in the Italian ship Adriatica, Ina and l decided to stay. Being cautious about the problems that could occur the trip to Panama was definetly possible. It was a calculated risk within a limited time frame which we were willing to take.

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Group foto with the cool Italian sailors – with them and other earthlings we spent many amazing evenings together: cooking, jamming and playing domino on their huge 70 feet sailboat 🙂

Last day before leaving Rockne told us that he is scared of the ocean and expects us to be scared too. We could tell that he was getting nervous.

He got very angry at me when I just asked him if he really wanted to use the dirty Diesel funnel for pouring freshwater in the tank. We always used the tank water for cooking and as a reserve once the bottles are empty.

“I am not gonna do anything to harm anybody, its not drinking water and you should not be worried about how I handle things on this boat”, he started a long monologue insulting me as an “ignorant greenie” and accusing me of not knowing what I am talking about. That hurt! Especially after all the work I just did for him I felt very little respect and appreciation. It took me a good amount of deep breaths to figure that his reaction might dwell out of his own insecurity and desperation. But his direct and violent words had already scratched a burning wound in my selfesteem.

At this point I still defended my new captains behaviour towards my mind. He had a lot of bad luck and a rough time. On the last working day Terry stole the trottle of his scooter. It was exactly the part he had asked for several times to use it on his own moto. Disappointed and feeling betrayed Rockne informed the police.

We hoped winds would change once we are out on the water sailing. It got worse..

Finally a weather window opened. Low winds from the East and not too much swell promised a smooth ride. Around 4am, ready for the sun to rise, we left the bay of Port Antonio.

During the voyage he proved again and again that he doesnt know what he is doing and doesnt appreciate our suggestions. “I dont care what your opinion is! I dont wanna hear it!”, he clearified several times. When I expressed our wish to be treated as part of a team, “There is no wish list on this boat” was his answer. Totally shocked by his dictator attitude I had to swallow it until I could leave the boat in the next harbour. Three days out on the open sea were left.

In a quiet moment he admitted that he really needs some friends because he feels so lonely. We felt a bit sorry for him but this is surely not the way to treat friends. We executed all his orders even when they were stupid and ment to satify his feeling of superiority e.g. winch in the furling line until it rips.

The skibber job was given to “Otto”, how he calls his first mate, the auto pilot. Sailing ment pressing buttons and playing with the touchscreen. Set in “vindvane mode” he takes all the data from various instruments and supposedly adjusts the boat in a perfect angle to the wind. I did not count how many times it suddenly stopped working, turned off and we had to steer back on course manually. To set and trim the sails right there was no other way than estimating windspeed and direction by looking at the big American flag waving at the stern.

Little authority games and showing who is the boss were always important to him. He would control every step we made, complain about Ina preparing a small portion oatmeal as her snack in between meals, yell at me for not handing up plates the way he wants it and stepping out of the cockpit on the “wrong” side. He is convinced about his great “micro managing skills” because he has done that all his life as an entrepreneur. Poor employes!

Another boat of a lovely couple from Sweden and Switzerland buddy sailed with us. We got to know them as two warmhearted persons with a great sense of humour. Bertil (70) and Claudia (47) had set the waypoints for the passage and planned a stop on the Columbian island of Providencia. Rockney followed their plan. We got the order to always stay as close as possible to them so he could see what they do. If they pulled up a sail, we pulled up a sail. When they put a reef in the sail, guess what we did!

Light winds, a lot of motoring, only minor damages like two little rips in the sails and radio contact to Claudia & Bertil brought us safely to Providencià. After drifting through the anchorage for hours, the tiny anchor finally found some grip in the sandy bottom of the bay.

Finally in reach of land – the Colombian island Providencia 🙂

In the next morning Rockne wanted to talk with Ina alone. He said he could not handle her bready attitude and that she doesn’t work enough to stay. “What can you do for this boat?”,he asked.
I was listening from outside, hearing every word they said. “Good, I want to leave anyway because your boat, you as a Captain and you as a friend are a desaster.”, Ina responded, hurt by his unthankfull words.

“I m gonna beat your nasty ass!”, he screamed. I ran down immediately!
He had lost it totally! Pressuring Ina in the front cabin he leaned over her. She cryed and the shock of him strangling her was engraved in her face. He kept on shouting: “I’m gonna kill you if you ever insult me again!” ” You are not going to hurt her!”,were clear words falling out of my mouth. The raging man screams: “This is my boat and I can do what I want”, “You can not hurt anybody anywhere!” “Yes I can, leave my fuckin boat!”,he demanded, “Leave my fuxking boat, right now!” He graped Inas backpack trying to throw it outside. “She can wait in the Dinghy, I want her off the boat! Now!” “Rockne, calm down! We both want to leave your boat, we pack our stuff, you will take us to shore and everybody will go their way!”

Knowing about the fact that this insane, confused psycho had loaded weapons in his room added an even saltier taste to the whole scene.

Trying to stay diplomatical in this fucked up situation we somehow managed to calm his anger down a little bit and convinced him to drive us ashore. Once we hit the land we ran up to the harbour office to get our passports. The corrupt official understood the situation right away and helped us through imigration. We got off the desaster ship, escaped from the claws of the boatnazi captain and were finally free again!

Still overwhelmed, not believing what just happened we met our friends from the Swedish sailboat who helped us with their presence and caring support. Together we spent a joyfull evening tasting a delicious Swedish dinner and they lent me their dinghy to look for a new boat in the anchorage 🙂

Ina booked a flight to Bogota to visit her Colombian friends and I met Luigi, an Italian captain who offered me to sail to Panama with him.

Since I had to pack in such a hussle leaving the boat I forgot my precious, extremely usefull coffe mug. It was a present of my mother and ment a lot to me. When my new captain Luigi and I stopped by in the dinghy to pick up my mug, the thief didn’t give it back and yelled at us not to touch his boat.

My last spark of pity for this poor old man in his hopeless situation extinguished. I just hope that this guy finds some psychological help and doesnt abuse any crew again!

It is very sad that the whole sailing adventure took an end like this but luckily nobody got injured or seriously hurt! In this way it was a bad but interesting experience to learn from.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. johnherlig says:

    That is supposed to say “best” of luck. 🙂


  2. johnherlig says:

    Johannes, I am so sorry for you and Ina both. What a terrible experience. Your maturity and attempts to maintain a civil attitude are obvious. Eat of luck on all your future excursions! You can crew for me anytime.


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