Tales from Geezer Boatworks

Icing on the Cake
by Paul Browne

Well it was all worth it, Shipmates, all that wood butchery and fiberglassery and sanding and painting.

Today I was steaming up the harbour, heading for home, when I spotted a freighter rounding the bend, heading out to sea. I pulled out my binoculars. She was the “Jan Caribe”, an island trader out of St. John’s. I saw her loading containers at the Tropicale docks when I was heading out. The Jan Caribe is a cut above most Caribbean freighters. Her paint is in good shape. She’s got a fairly low superstructure, and one of those slick self-launching enclosed lifeboats on her stern. All in all she looks a well-found, neat little ship. As she started her turn towards us, she was off our port bow, but it wasn’t quite clear which side she would choose to pass on. It looked like maybe port-to-port would be it, so I cranked a little more to starboard. Now the Icebreaker Danielle doesn’t have a horn that a freighter is going to hear. So I pulled out the spotlight and gave her a single short flash. I don’t often get a response doing this. Regardless, I figure once in a while a ship might appreciate knowing what a slow boat intends to do.

Port to port it was. I set the autopilot, and headed to the sunny and sheltered aft deck for a better look as the Jan Caribe slid by. I waved to a crewman up on the bow. I guess he was keeping a lookout up close till they cleared the inner harbour. Then I heard a hail on the radio. “Danielle, Danielle. This is Jan Caribe. Over.” Ah shoot, I thought, he’s gonna give me a tune-up. What did I do wrong this time? And I answered the hail with some trepidation, because a pleasure boater never hears from a freighter in Tampa harbour. Not unless he’s been a bonehead, that is. Maybe it was that light signal he didn’t like. “Switch channel eleven Danielle.” “Roger Jan Caribe, Danielle switching eleven.”

“Danielle, this is Jan Caribe. You going up by those tugboats? See if you can get some work?” asked the captain of the Jan Caribe.

Well you could have knocked me over with a feather. Teased by a freighter! But I gathered my wits.

“Nope, I’m slipping under the bridge and heading up the mighty Palm River. That’s where I’m berthed,” I answered.

“Hey, what kind of boat is that?” the captain asked.

“She’s a lifeboat off an old freighter,” I answered.

“Well, she looks real good. You’ve done a lot of work. You oughta be proud.”

“Thanks captain,” I said, “Where’s your home port?”

“Antigua,” came the response.

“I wondered about that,” I said, “St. John’s to me meant Newfoundland.”

“Been there on another ship,” the captain noted, “But this isn’t that flag.”

“Well I wish you a pleasant voyage, Jan Caribe. Good to talk to you. Danielle out.”

“Thanks Danielle. Jan Caribe switching back to thirteen.”

Hot dog! Approval and acceptance from a salt-soaked ocean-going sea captain! If I were a swearing man, this is one time I might say damn. Pardon my lack of modesty Shipmates, but for me that little exchange held the rarest of nautical compliments. And right there is one really good reason why you should build your own boat. You just can’t buy that sort of treatment, even if you spend a half million on a gold plater. You’ve got to earn it by hand. Two years of part time effort building the first Canuck Canoe Class Icebreaker, and today it was all worthwhile. It’s the icing on my boat building cake.

Paul Browne