A Final Mate's Tale

So, everything is happy and hunky finding Dory now right?  We just had an amazing day of hopping around islands, toasting with friends and fun strangers alike, and had a day full of delicious drinks and savory treats.  Our job as a mate is going well, and our life is looking quite marvelous.  Just like anywhere there are good days, and there are bad days, then something awful happens and makes life a real challenge.  This is a scenario that you can't plan for, that happens to some but not most, and makes you question everything from your job, to where you are living, and it forces a choice.  This was me at the end of the day after that wonderful day off.

Happy, content, and honestly in total disbelief of how amazing things were.  This was the happiest I would be living on the islands, overnight something happened.  For starters it was now the off-season, we didn't have boats going out as often, and we had to pull rough shifts in what we called "The Boneyard."  The Boneyard was the place where our boats would go to be renovated and fixed, it was a place full of loud noises, cranes, paint, grinders, and all the things that are needed to redo an entire charter boat.  It was not a fun place, in fact it was one of the worst places to be on island.  It was always super hot without a breeze, and you are doing hardcore manual labor getting covered in metal shavings and lord knows what else.  It.was.hell.

This was one of the only times that we are required by law to wear shoes, and for a good reason.  Please don't ask about the nail polish, that is a really long story and I caught enough heat from my bosses and Captains on it already.  Our boats do get routine maintenance, but once every now and then we need a complete overhaul.  We strip the sails, lines, and masts off and basically start from the bare bones.  We have to make sure the thickness of the haul is still intact, and sometimes have to cut out holes and patch them up.  This was however a good way to maintain a living during a time when most people are sitting on their hands, or back home visiting family and not making money. You do what you have to do, and when the boats aren't going out during hurricane season and the start of school, you work in the boneyard to pay the rent.  Remember that nice happy guy on the boat you saw above?  Well this is him now.

"Stay in school kids" was my headline after posting this.  Luckily we had a really great team, and we all worked incredibly well together.  You learned how to do a lot of things on the fly, lots of people didn't have any experience in boat renovations.  I had experience as an electrician and demo tech, but not specifically in this field, so I learned a lot too, but I was also able to adapt quickly since I was used to the rough dirty working conditions and the work itself.  Now, things get worse for me, and I'm getting there, but I'm going to go through this type of work first.  It's something you need to know before going into this profession.  We were all expected to be in the boneyard, and do whatever was asked of us.  Sanding, painting, grinding, hammering, climbing, wiring, welding, nothing easy, but all necessary.

That was one of our most successful boats, and the original one the company started with.  We had to strip it down and basically build it all over again.  I won't lie, it was kind of fun watching it take shape piece by piece, but it took a long time and was not easy work.  The finished product was refreshing to see however, and that first ride on a freshly painted and redone boat was indescribable, it was such a ear to ear smiling moment for all of us.  So, that was the before, and this was the after!

No guests were there for the inaugural sail, no bosses were on board either, it was the Captain that was set to take over the boat permanently (or the one that had been driving it a while) and a couple of us mates that worked on it.  We toasted some beers on the mast and gave it a good test run, amazing.  You can't see it but there is a smear of paint on that flag back there that will always belong to yours truly (Total accident in the wind, but nobody noticed so I remained silent).  So, there were some rewards to the rough work, and this was one of them.

We also celebrated in the boss's hot tub.  Luckily we had a really cool owner who would have all of us over to his amazing place, grill us steaks, offer us free wine and drinks, and show his appreciation for us.  It kept up moral, brought us closer together, and made those tough days worth while.  I loved wearing that shirt, I still wear it all the time, but I miss wearing it with a dozen of my mates together.  We would walk into a bar and take the place over, customers would look at us with envy because of how close we were, and how much fun we were having.  It was something I will probably never have to that level again, unless I join or start a similar outfit.  These were some of the most incredible people I have ever associated with, and I would have done anything for each and every one of them.

Now to go back a couple of steps, I said that I was going to go over the rough job and then get to what the worst part of it all was, the thing that forced a choice and made my life miserable.  Well, read the above.  The one fear of living in a tropical paradise is the insects, and the possible diseases they carry.  I had both of the ones listed above, at different times, and had different reactions to them.  The first one was Dengue, this you might have heard of and is absolutely awful and painful.  The only good thing about it is that it is gone in a week, no matter what.  I worked a couple of days with it, but was unable to work entirely for about five days.  That was the easy one.  Chikungunya is the one you probably have not heard of (unless you knew me then and heard me talk about it).  It is also supposed to last a week, but there is a small percentage that lasts longer, and that's what I got.  Mine lasted for nine months!  The fever, rash, and flu-like symptoms lasted for a week as usual, but I had this awful persistent joint pain that just would not go away.  This was at the same time I was in the boneyard, so I'm doing hardcore manual labor with joint pain as bad a osteoporosis.  I couldn't even open a beer, tragic.

Yeah, even rum didn't work!  The worst part was that there is no cure or treatment.  NIH has been conducting studies for years, and they have nothing.  It ultimately ended my career and life down on the islands, but I had a VERY rare strain that less than 2% of the people that contract it get.  It did go away one day randomly nine months later after I had moved back home.

This was one of my last days on island, reflecting and deciding.  My hands were virtually useless, I couldn't man the lines, steer a boat, or do anything relative to my work, so I had to make the hard decision to leave and go home to recuperate.  Here I am, sitting on a beautiful beach, my apartment a hundred feet behind me, the turquoise waters in front of me, and I can't do what I have loved to do.  I had an awesome tan, glorious beard, and thought I had everything figured out.  In life sometimes you get curve balls, you get impossible tasks to overcome, and you get a bad hand dealt to you, it's how you respond. My point with all of this negative info I'm throwing at you is respond positively.   I was lucky that I had a caring set of parents waiting for me with a place to stay, and a mother willing to help me get through everything.  I was very sad to leave the life, my job, and my incredible friends.  Now that I'm healed and better, and have had more experience I can always move back, and I may one day.  I hope that my writings have been informative, and my experiences interesting.  Even after all the rough things I went through down there, I would still move in a heartbeat, and I still love the experiences I had down there.  I miss it all the time, and I'm so excited each and every day to come home and write about such an amazing and incredible time.  If any of you ever have any questions, or I can help at all please find me on the "Contact" page and reach out! Thank you so much for reading, and I hope you will join me on my next adventure!