Of all the non-profit organizations we work for, the Bonaire Animal Shelter takes first place in showing gratitude toward its volunteers. Hettie has worked there for over four years and I do a bit now and then for them. Last year, they showed their appreciation by renting the Party Bus (Wheels of Love, Island Notes 91). This year the wheels stayed ashore as this wild bunch of animal lovers took to the sea for a two-hour voyage aboard the Good Return Bonaire.
The GRB, affectionately known locally as Bootjes Biertje (the little beer boat), is actually 50-foot long and bills its cruises as “a cruise beyond paradise”. Ours certainly was. The Animal Shelter hosted about 50 people on board and soon the rum and quiche were flowing, so to speak. I took my Cuba Libre to the pilothouse to talk with captain and owner, Gerrie F. He was my on-the-water neighbor when I had my sailboat, Kontentu, out on a mooring in the bay.
“I bought Good Return about two years ago on a trip to Maine. She’s what they call a scalloper, a Maine fishing boat that was crafted from local oak in 1963. But Good Return never worked as fishing boat. As you can see, the cabin slants forward. It’s designed that way so that when the boat is loaded with catch, it levels out and the captain can still easily see ahead.”
“How did you get the boat to Bonaire?”
“A friend and I took her 3500 miles from Maine to here. We traveled down the US east coast, across the Bahamas to the Dominican Republic and then south to Bonaire. It took a month.”
“Any adventures along the way?”
“Oh, yeah. As we neared DR, we were adrift due to dirty diesel that I had bought in Nassau. The engine wouldn’t run anymore. We called in a may day. The US Coast Guard responded and towed us into Porto Plata in the Dominican Republic. That’s when the real trouble began.”
“We were towed to the commercial dock. It was full of bad ass people, thieves and dock rats. They were planning to come aboard in mass to steal as much as they could. That’s when I got the riot gun.”
“The riot gun?”
“Yeah. It’s like a shotgun but looks very intimidating. I cocked the breach and the pirates froze in their tracks. I told them in my terrible Spanish that if they stepped aboard, I was going to blow them away. I ended up sleeping on deck with the riot gun, lock and loaded, pointed toward the shore. Nobody came aboard, but it was a long night.”
“What happened then?”
“We finally got the fuel situation taken care of but had to stop at several more ports along the south coast of DR due to bad weather. But in every port you had to pay bribes. The last stop, I ended up paying $2200 to get an exit stamp. It was unbelievable. I wanted to leave early in the morning to avoid a big storm that was on the way. They wouldn’t release us until late morning. That delay costs us big time.”
“Oh, yeah. It hit us about noon. It was a brutal 14 hours, a bad start for the last 400 miles of our journey. I was so glad to finally see Brandaris (Boanire’s highest peak). I kissed the dock when we finally landed.”
These days Good Return leads a much gentler life. She mostly plies the bay or shuttles people to the off-shore islet of Klein Bonaire. On those excursions, Captain Gerrie pulls out his surf kite and carves up the waves while his passengers snorkel. Not a bad life for either the boat or the captain.