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nonFICTION: Barnacles and Bedlam, Part 28

Our New York office personnel must have read the recent statistics on the number of ships sunk in the Caribbean during the past two weeks and jumped to the conclusion that we had been attacked and thus needed repairs.

Actually, it was more likely that upon spotting our ship a German submarine commander would have decided that she would sink on her own, so why waste a torpedo on her.

"Won't they be surprised to learn that we're all still among the living, Captain?"

"I wired them that we were not hit but came in here for work on our condensers."

He pulled a tobacco pouch from his shirt pocket, stomped his pipe full, lit it, then took another sip of his drink.

Then ship's business was put aside while the skipper filled me in on his experience as salvage master with Myron, Chapman and Scott on Pacific Coast jobs.

What you've missed: During World War II, I, Paul, whose limited business experience is strictly land-based, sign on as third officer of a salvage vessel, manned by a similarly motley crew, sent to North Africa, on a priority mission, to clear a port of vessels sunk by the retreating Italian navy.

Margo explained that the songs were initiated by the early slaves during the time they were allowed to relax. They improvised words and music, usually mimicking known individuals. When the tempo rose, everyone shouted in approval, "carrizo", which in Spanish means reed or cane. Eventually, somehow, carrizo became calypso.
As he drank, he overcame his reticence about discussing his early years and reminisced about his first trip, as a cabin boy at the age of nine, on an eight masted schooner out of Germany, hauling grain to America.

"The skipper of that ship was the most disagreeable man I ever sailed with. Nothing pleased him. He kept me running all day long."

Margo planted her ample body on the chair next to the captain. "Don't see many merchant sailors in here these days, maybe 'cause the Germans are sinking most ships headed this way."

Putting her hand on the skipper's arm, she asked, "Did your ship bring in any food supplies? A supply ship got sunk near here a couple of days ago, so our stores have no flour, meat, or canned goods to sell."

"No, ours isn't a merchant ship." responded the captain. "I guess the war's changed your life a lot."

"It used to be carefree. Now with the military base, we're always upset. For my business it's good, but not for my people." She spoke with a clipped English accent, acquired during years of occupation by the British.

"You speak English well." I observed, admiring her diction.

"I taught here for many years."

"There are a lot of local boys lounging around town. Isn't there any work for them?" the skipper asked.

"There's plenty of work out in the sugar fields, but most boys now have a little education and don't want to do that kind of labor."

She jumped up and asked, "What about some calypso music?"

She put a record on the phonograph, and the cabaret reverberated to a calypso ballad, set to rhythm similar to that of the Brazilian samba. The beat of the music was exciting. Margo explained that the songs were initiated by the early slaves during the time they were allowed to relax.They improvised words and music, usually mimicking known individuals. When the tempo rose, everyone shouted in approval, "carrizo", which in Spanish means reed or cane. Eventually, somehow, carrizo became calypso.

Margo left to serve another patron.

We finished our drinks and after Hansen emptied his pipe in the ashtray, he turned to me. "Now, Paul, before you make out the shore passes for the crew, check with the mate and the chief for the names of those who spent time in sick bay claiming to be seasick. Don't give them any passes."

We returned to the dock about noon and watched our ship being moved from anchor in the middle of the bay to a location alongside a British freighter at the pier. We had to climb aboard the freighter en route to the Chamberlain.

"Give the men their passes and their draw, but remember, only to those who deserve them." the captain ordered. This proved to be the magic cure. After St. Lucia, seasick sailors avoided the sick bay.

I distributed local currency equivalent to ten American dollars to each crew member and shore passes to the deserving ones, who lost no time scrambling over the British freighter on their way to the nearest bistro.

On a walk around the city I found the cobblestone streets surprisingly clean, but the wood-constructed buildings were in dire need of repairs.

BARNACLES AND BEDLAM
by Paul B. Behm
Part 28

Chapter 9
St. Lucia Haven

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