Paco and I just returned from our annual sailing trip with our dear friends the Queens, visiting various exotic locales in search of the perfect wind, the perfect Pain Killer and the perfect holiday. We found something close to all three but hopefully perfection will continue to allude us, making it imperative that we continue to return year after year to resume our odyssey.
Meanwhile, we had many adventures, encounters and happy days plying the deep blue waters of the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, getting up close and personal with a whale, flying fish and sting rays, giant turtles and uber friendly dolphin. We also had a close encounter with a very distinguished-looking member of the Nevis Port Authority who reminded us that there are an infinite number of ways to shake down the tourists, even as you are professing to protect them from terrorists.
One afternoon Paco and I decided to take the little yellow dinghy that ferried us all between the boat and shore and do some sight-seeing. Because dinghys and their outboard motors are much-sought after by thieves, it has been drilled into us that you never, ever leave your dinghy unlocked and unattended lest it be made off with by the local bad guys. At around $4,ooo or so to replace, we take this business very seriously. So imagine our surprise and horror when, as we were tying up at the Dinghy Dock, we were stopped and told by none other than Officer Prentice of the Nevis Port Authority that we were not to lock our dinghy or else be subject to a stiff fine. The reasoning here, apparently, is that should Al Qaeda decide to launch an attack on the local Nevis population the Port Authority would need to immediately have the dock cleared of all water craft. No amount of reasoning, arguing, cajoling or shameless flirting would make Officer Prentice budge, so finally, reluctantly, we decided the only thing we could do was to carefully examine his laminated I.D. badge for signs of forgery, threaten to come after him if he allowed our dinghy to be stolen and then proceed with our sight-seeing. This decided, we started down the dock when Officer Prentice suddenly stopped us with one more piece of important business. It seemed that he was the founder, president and Chief Fund Raiser for a local organization that he had created to keep the teenage boys on the island from getting into mischief and presumably grow up to extort money from tourists. What a relief to know there was someone doing something about this alarming problem! Officer Prentice had taken on this personal, selfless and no-doubt onerous task in spite of the fact that it might, to some at least, appear to be a shameless effort to trade ‘favors’ like not having our dinghy stolen, for some good old fashioned cash. Of course, we were all ears hearing about his “charity” and asked him where on the island the charity’s headquarters were located so we could pop in to make a donation. It turned out that to save money on overhead Officer Prentice does all his business right there on the dinghy dock and is the only person authorized to take donations. At this point Paco and I sensed that making a donation to this worthy cause might ensure the safety of our dinghy, but there was no way to be sure and who wants to be shaken down anyway? At this juncture I decided to call his bluff but at the same time praise his efforts in the event that his authority on the dock was much more onerous than we were led to believe.
Me: “You know, Officer Prentice, that is such a wonderful thing you are doing for the boys here on the island. Obviously you devote all of your free time to helping keep them on the straight and narrow. Paco and I donate to several similar causes in the United States so we can surely relate to the importance of these kinds of programs. You are a wonderful role model and we thank you for your efforts. Have a wonderful day and thank you for looking after our dinghy. We know we are in good hands.”
Officer P: (looking extremely crestfallen and confused) “Madame, you are too kind and my efforts are but a tiny drop in the bucket of despair that threatens to deluge our tiny island here. Are you sure you won’t change your mind and make whatever contribution to my cause you feel comfortable with?”
Me: “We’re sure but thanks so much for asking. Have a wonderful day.”
Preparing ourselves for the worst yet not wanting to be shaken down by the local authorities in exchange for not having our dinghy ‘confiscated’ we reluctantly walked down the dock and headed towards town, convinced we would soon be out $4,000. As we turned the corner we spotted the Office of Tourism and decided to see if they had maps of town. On a hunch, I asked the clerk about Officer Prentice and his ‘charity’ and told him we were concerned about our dinghy. Picking up the office telephone, the clerk made a call to someone and after 5 minutes of hand waving and whispers, he announced that Officer Prentice was on the straight and narrow, at least as far as the safety of our dinghy. He could not vouch for the boy’s town aspect of the officer’s presentation but he felt sure we would not be robbed in lieu of making a donation. Somewhat pacified, we continued on our way and sure enough, several hours later when we returned to the dock there was our dinghy, safe and sound. It was by this time pouring down rain and Officer Prentice was no where to be found, no doubt looking out after his flock and doing other good deeds. As we were starting the outboard, however, he suddenly appeared, looking smart in his bright yellow rain slicker.
Officer P: “See, I told you your boat would be safe here.”
Paco: “Well, frankly I’m completely surprised that it is still here. I have to admit I was afraid it would be stolen.”
Officer P: “Sir, Nevis is the Island of Love. Have a nice day and we will see you next time.”
"How odd", Paco said as I turned the dinghy back out into the harbor, “The Island of Love? Officer P went from ominous and threatening to all warm and fuzzy in the space of a few hours. What happened? I was sure we would never see the dinghy again."
Perhaps, I mused, the fact that we treated him with respect even in the face of being shaken down struck a chord in him and he decided to leave our boat alone. He may not be the most trustworthy person on Nevis and Lord only knows if his charity really exists or not but in a strange way he renewed my faith in the basic goodness of people. Or maybe we did that in him because we gave him the benefit of the doubt. No need to tell him we still checked out his story at the Office of Tourism.