Nassau Harbor, Bahamas—October, 1980
Even in this poor country where skilled workers were needed, the locals could be litigious about foreigners “taking their jobs away.” Having a Bahamian work permit in-hand was like holding a key to the islands. For Hanns, there would be no more sneaking around the docks; no more worrying about whether his clients would find it cheaper to report him to the immigration authorities than to pay him for his work.
Afternoon and evening sails aboard the Wild Cherry were a pleasant enough way to make a living. During the slower summer months, Hanns updated her rigging, changing her aging stays and shrouds one at a time and splicing up new wire-to-rope halyards. Under his tutelage, her crew brought her teak rails and hatches back up to snuff. Hanns showed them his trick of adding a pinch of gold metallic powder to the varnish to make it look thicker than it actually was and then set up a schedule for maintaining it section-by-section.
Moreover, actively working on a well-kept boat on the Nassau docks was the best advertising imaginable. Hanns had a local vendor make up a few-dozen white polo shirts with emblazoned across the backs. A second set of bright yellow polo shirts featured an image of a cherry on their pockets above the word. Rocky and the rest of Darling’s boys were happy to alternate wearing them depending on whether the ship was on or off the dock. Darling was happy to see his ship appearing tight and tidy. Hanns, looking like he had a half-dozen men in his employ, was approached almost daily by transient yachtsmen needing repairs and upgrades.
As the hot, slow days of summer yielded to the busy tourist season, the Seventh Chakra came together, too. With an ample supply of money, sailing and tourist girls, life was good, even in Nassau’s busy harbour.
By late October, winter cold fronts often made it too windy, rainy or rough to sail the Wild Cherry with tourists aboard. Hanns divided his time between his own boat and well-paying jobs on the docks.
Today’s weather was especially nasty and expected to remain so. Secure in a slip in the marina, Hanns hardly felt the storm. He used the time to run new wires from his forward cabin back to a new circuit breaker panel. New fans and stereo speakers made the forward berth that much more comfortable.
But in the big seas north of New Providence, life afloat was less appealing. Marco Jimenez and his wife, only a few days out from Florida on Fool’s Gold, their 48-foot Hatteras motor yacht, had never experienced seas like this before. This wasn’t what the Caribbean was supposed to be like. Running south from the Berry Islands to Nassau in enormous swells, Marco worked the throttle levers on his two big diesels, trying to move at the same speed as the waves so as not be overtaken or dive forward into the troughs. Heading back into port against the wind and seas wasn’t a safe option. Carmen took to her bunk barely an hour out of Chub Cay where she lay moaning, too seasick to be scared.
Marco drove towards New Providence in a pouring rain that obscured all visibility. Inexperienced and scared, he gave up on finding Nassau’s well-marked harbour and instead, drove generally south with the swells, passing across the reef line through a narrow cut between two long strips of coral under the divine protection afforded to drunks, nincompoops, inexperienced mariners and the extraordinarily lucky. Anchoring in shallow water behind a tiny, rocky islet over which the waves broke explosively, Fool’s Gold pitched and rolled through the night. Marco prayed to God, the saints, various angels and other deities contrived for the occasion that his anchors would hold.
They did, but with her engines shut down, wallowing in the seas, the yacht’s two eight-inch exhaust ports submerged repeatedly and then lifted high into the air as her bow pitched forward again. Gallons of water poured through the exhaust pipes, up into the manifolds, through the open valves and into the cylinders.
In the morning, after the front had blown through, Marco was surprised how cold it had gotten but delighted to find the seas calmed and the water cleared. Carmen’s greenish hue was fading. It should be an easy run to Nassau Harbour from here. Already, the impossible blue clarity of the Bahamian shallows was beginning to eclipse the memory of last night’s ordeal. They had made it.
Turning the two ignition keys half-way, one with each hand, Marco listened for a few seconds to the squealing of the horns that indicated the engine cylinder preheaters were working. Turning the keys all the way to the right, he engaged two high-torque starter motors which, in-turn, engaged two massive flywheels. The effect of this on the two water-filled diesels was catastrophic. With a profound clunk, valves and piston rods, unable to compress the water in the cylinders, assumed a variety of C and S-shaped configurations that rendered them instantly unfit for further service as anything other than abstract sculpture.
As the towboat approached the dock, Hanns and Marco spotted one another. It was a match made in heaven.
Hanns shook Marco’s hand. “Water in both engines, eh?”
Marco was incredulous. “Why do you think I have … ?”
“You have two engines out. You’re not wrecked out on the reef or up on the shore. I figure you anchored out in that shit we had last night, scooped up water with those big exhausts of yours, flooded your engines and then tried to start them. If I’m right, you have two engines that have to be completely rebuilt. I can do it for you, but
I have other projects going, too and we’ll need to order parts. It’s going to take four to six weeks to get them both done.”
Marco stared at his feet pensively. “The towing company wants $20,000 to send a boat big enough to tow me back to Miami. On the radio, the man at Nassau Diesel said the same thing about probably having water in the cylinders but he told me nobody on the island can do it; it requires some sort of special equipment.”
“Usually, it does,” affirmed Hanns, “but here in the islands, we improvise. To rebuild those engines, you need a lift to raise them up so you can drop the crank and pistons out the bottom. You’re right; that kind of special equipment doesn’t exist here—and Nassau Diesel has plenty of much easier jobs lined up—but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways to lift heavy objects. I can do the job for half that towing cost.”
“$10,000! What about doing only one of the engines? Then I can motor back and … ”
“You don’t really want to risk getting caught out in conditions like you saw last night with one untested engine, do you?”
Carmen threw Marco a frosty glance, effectively retiring the question.
The towboat delivered Fool’s Gold to a slip in the marina one pier over from the Seventh Chakra. Marco took up residence at the dock to supervise the repairs. Carmen flew home to Miami.
The next day, Hanns appeared with a pier cart loaded down with two-by-four boards. He stacked them neatly on Marco’s deck.
A second cartload contained four small, hydraulic automotive jacks.
Unbolting the port engine from its mounts, he disconnected the exhaust system, then jacked one side just high enough to insert a piece of lumber under the block. Repeating the process with the other side, board-by-board, he was able to slowly raise the diesel up off its bed a few feet; high enough to drop the oil pan, access the inside of the engine and with some uncomfortable contortions, work beneath it for short intervals.
The jacking-up process took two days, after which good weather made afternoon and evening sails aboard the Wild Cherry Hanns’s priority.
Marco ordered parts from the States and waited for a piston kit and a gasket kit. After they arrived, he placed an additional order for gaskets that weren’t included with the gasket kit, tools and manuals. Each shipment took over a week to arrive. Import duties nearly doubled the costs. After three weeks, he grew impatient.
James Darling came down the pier to the Wild Cherry and put an arm around Hanns’s shoulder. “How you doin’, my boy? How are things going with that big diesel job?”
Hanns laughed. “Marco came up to me this morning all full of smiles, telling me the ëgood news;’ he’s going to get me some ëhelp.’”
“That boy’s cheap as they come. Watch yourself with him.”
“I have his number. I just smile and play his game,” Hanns assured. “I’m better at the game than he is. He just doesn’t know it.”
Miguel was a friend of Carmen’s brother. Though he lacked experience working on diesels, he’d been a service station mechanic for years. He knew what to do with a ratchet wrench. A paid trip to stay on a yacht in the Bahamas sounded like the opportunity of a lifetime. He’d accrued some vacation days and readily took Marco up on his offer. Miguel’s first mistake was arriving in Nassau airport with a blue mechanic’s shirt on and a heavy bag of tools. His second mistake was explaining to the customs agent that the purpose of his visit was to work on a boat in the marina.
The customs agent grinned, promptly confiscated his tools, shook his head and promised he could pick them up on his way back out of the country.
Relegated to light duty as Hanns’s assistant, Miguel spent workdays handing wrenches and screwdrivers and parts to Hanns under the engine. “You realize,” explained Hanns to Marco, “I can’t guarantee the work if someone else does it. It’s better this way.”
On days when the Wild Cherry demanded Hanns’s attention, Marco begged Miguel to borrow Hanns’s tools but as a mechanic himself, he knew better than to ask. Marco almost came to blows with him over his refusal to. Miguel spent his idle days exploring Fort Charlotte, the Straw Market and the Queen’s Staircase. After a week, he flew home, his contrived excuse to Marco being that customs had only granted him a seven-day stay. Miguel had accomplished little on the engines; he found a ërenegotiated’ fee in his envelope when he returned to the Florida.
After five weeks, Hanns finished removing the boards and bolting the first engine back down onto its original bed. After reconnecting the exhaust, fuel system and electrical components, he turned the key. The diesel turned over a few times and sprang to life. He let it come to temperature, listening carefully and making adjustments.
“How far behind is Marco in paying you?” asked Darling. “He owes the marina a month’s rent.”
“He’s into me about three thousand dollars.”
Darling looked concerned, “That boy’s gonna run out on you, now he got a workin’ engine. You just watch.”
Hanns smiled and flashed his eyebrows. “I warned him I still had critical adjustments to make. He promised me he wouldn’t run the engine under any circumstances.”
“You think he’s gonna listen?”
“That’ll be his problem.”
Another cold front blew through and continued south, bringing cool temperatures and light wind in its wake. Hanns had the Seventh Chakra’s hatches shut tight to keep warm below. He slept under two extra blankets. But even with his boat closed up tight, he clearly heard a diesel start up at two in the morning. It revved higher and higher, accelerating out of control. Without opening his eyes, he counted forty-seven seconds before the runaway engine, spinning much faster than it was ever designed to, stopped abruptly with an oddly musical, bell-like clang that hung over the still, crisp air of the otherwise quiet harbour.
Inhaling deeply, Hanns sighed, adjusted his blankets and drifted back to sleep.
It was especially cold in the morning; nearly 50˚F. There was no reason to venture outside until well after sunup and a mug of steaming hot tea. After sleeping in, Hanns put his sea jacket on over a wool sweater and ventured out. He met Marco carrying a duffel bag down the pier in the other direction.
“Laundry?” asked Hanns, looking at Marco’s bag cynically.
“Some mechanic you are. I … ”
“You tried to run the engine, didn’t you, Marco?”
“I just wanted to test it. It was so good to hear it running yesterday and I … ”
“Didn’t I make you promise not to touch it until it was ready?”
“Yeah, but all I did was … ”
“All you did was blow up a perfectly good engine. If you hadn’t fucked around with it, everything would have been fine. You tried to run off on me last night. Call a tugboat if you want your engines fixed. I’m done with you … and I want to be paid for the last three weeks of lying on my back in your goddamned bilge with a wrench in my hand.”
Marco looked around as if some avenue for escape might somehow present itself on the long, narrow pier where Hanns stood between him and the gate. “Look. I’m sorry. I’ll have the money next week. I’m just waiting on a check and I’ll … ”
Hanns stood his ground.
When Marco finally got to the gate, he had parted with his gold Rolex watch, his two gold rings and his heavy gold chain.
Six weeks later, a representative from an American bank arrived to assess the condition of Fool’s Gold and to pay off the lien put on her by the marina.
The towboat arrived a week later.
“I told you Marco was gonna run off on you, Hanns,” admonished Darling.
“And I told you it would be his problem if he did.” Hanns reached into his pocket, extracted a small metal object and pressed it into Darling’s palm. It was the fuel governor pin from Marco’s diesel.