Tuesday, December 2, 2008
Naming Miss Pearl!
Miss Pearl - Glen Roger
In 1978 my wife, Pam and I taught school in Inagua, the southernmost island of the Bahamian island chain. Inagua is 100 km from Cape Haitian, Haiti and about the same distance from Guantanemo Bay, Cuba. On a dark night you can climb the lighthouse at Southeast Point and see the lights of the American naval base in Cuba. Life in Inagua was surreal, too weird to describe here. There were 7 bars and 7 churches - a strategic balance. I mostly worshipped at Mrs. Pearl Ingraham's 'After Work Bar.' When I first arrived in the Bahamas I realized that, while English was the lingua franca, I couldn't understand much of that which was spoken. With the heavy Caribbean accent I could only pick up every fourth or fifth word in a sentence so mostly I would smile and nod agreeably. I'm pretty sure I was known as the expatriate idiot from some small Canadian village. Miss Pearl would take care of me, making sure my drink was full, although she was pretty stingy with the ice.
Pam and I used to spend as much time as we could in the boat basin near Freddie's Bar. The most amazing people transited through here. A 20 year old from France in a 25 foot sloop with 2 cats, a 30 year old real estate agent from Texas who made so much money in commercial real estate that he needed to get away to spend a bit of his money, an entrepreneur from Boston who was going to generate power with heat exchangers by piping cold water from the depths of the ocean near Vieques Island.
There was a rugged, bearded sailor with 3 beautiful women and a baby. Turns out, one was his wife, two were his daughters and the baby was born after they were wrecked and dismasted off the Agmolian Reef off South Africa. They had build the boat in Sault Saint Marie, made their way down the lakes, locks and canals to the Mississippi and then down the Bahamas to our island - seven years before we got there. When we met them they had sailed around the world and their arrival at Matthewtown, Inagua completed their circumnavigation. They celebrated by sharing a drink of stove fuel (rum from Haiti), having a shower at our house and then burgers at Miss Pearl's.
Another time we met an old couple, both with gnarly, arthritic fingers. They had to be in their seventies. They wandered into town looking for the Immigration Officer with a huge tuna, hoping to bribe the officer for an easy entry into the Bahamas. They had just finished the Cape Town to Rio trans Atlantic race and were cruising up to Florida.
And one day a group of regal visitors arrived at the airport and were transported to the 'Red Lion III’, which was tied up waiting for them. The young captain and crew (his wife) had been in the basin for a week on the chance that the owners would join them. For the most part they would arrive in Saint Thomas or some other port to wait for the owners and would be told that plans had changed and they were to proceed to Tierra del Fuego.
One day on the way to school we saw an 18-foot run-about tied up near the dock. When we ran into him later at Miss Pearl's he told us he was from Calgary and had purchased his boat in Florida to catch tropical fish in the British Virgin Islands to send to land-locked Albertans.
An Islander 44 named Tavaki arrived from the south in June that year with a mutinous crew. Two of them left the boat in Inagua and headed back south with an elderly, inexperienced couple that had retired, bought their retirement sailboat and took off without knowing what they were doing. Pam and I went with Tavaki as replacement crew members. Later, when we got to Long Island, Bahamas, an attractive couple left or were asked to leave Tavaki after they woke up the rest of the crew yelling through the throes of passion. But that’s another story.
That's not even getting into the constant flow of Haitian boats, full of bananas, plantains, mangos, casaba root, goats and, often, illegal immigrants - with an open pit fire on the deck, with a mast cut from a precious Haitian tree that looked a corkscrew - who navigated with the stars, the currents and by line of sight to sell their cargo in Nassau.
Every time I would learn of another adventure I would come back to “Miss Pearl's” to talk to her about the amazing people and boats and places. I swore to 'Miss Pearl' that someday I would own a boat like one of those. She would laugh, in a way that didn't hurt, and say, "Roger, man - you ain't never goin' ta own a boat like that!" After a while, I started to reply boldly, "Miss Pearl, someday I'm going to buy a boat like that - and when I do I'm going to name her after you."
And that's how Miss Pearl got her name. We came back to Canada in 1979, moved to British Columbia and when we could least afford it, we bought Miss Pearl, an Aloha 27. A beautiful picture of Miss Pearl is mounted in the cabin - smiling at the crew!