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Day 201

By Brian Hancock

Happy Easter everybody especially those that celebrate. It’s a wonderful weekend even if you are at spending it at the “Tiltin’ Hilton” a long way from land. At least you are with friends and your families back home have you in their thoughts.

Because it’s a holiday weekend I am going to take a break from the OGR and tell a story (big surprise). I left South Africa in 1978 to race across the South Atlantic to Uruguay. We had no money but who cares? We knew that we would make it safe and sound. Word on the docks was that whiskey was cheap in South Africa and very expensive in Uruguay so we stocked up. It was a magical passage; 28 days with full spinnaker flying. Somewhere around my 20th birthday we shredded our biggest green and white spinnaker, and me being the sailmaker on board, I was charged with fixing it. I pulled out our old Singer hand-crank sewing machine and set about things. I was so much in the moment stuffing nylon under the needle that the middle finger on my left hand managed to take a neat stitch. It went through the nail and came out leaving a nice stitch. Luckily my reflexes were not that great and I didnt rip my hand away. That could have been a mess but instead I got some tweezers and pulled the stitch out. It just so happened to be my 21st birthday.

We arrived in Punte del Este to find that we could get five times the price for a bottle of whiskey than we had paid for it in Cape Town. We were rich. Now Uruguay at the time had very intricate hammocks and so we spent our profits on hammocks and sold them in Bermuda, at a handsome profit I might add. A hammock on a pink Bermuda beach was just what they wanted. We made more money. We were pirates plying the open ocean making trades.

I don’t think that we bought anything in Bermuda but when we arrived in the Azores we were flush with cash. Now the Azores is where I am going to retire. They are a stunning chain of islands but back in ‘80 they were rudimentary; caught in a timewarp if you will. They were still allowed to hunt for whales in long boats and we would watch as the fishermen went out each morning to do battle. Sometimes they got lucky. Most of the time not but when the long boats arrived back in port of and one of them had a whale in tow they would slaughter it on the beach. I can assure you that a whale has a lot of blood in it and the harbour ran red for days, but the meat was valuable and so was the scrimshaw; whale teeth.

There is a famous sailors bar in Horta on the island of Faial. It’s called Pete’s Cafe Sport and all sailors that pass through make a pilgrimage to visit Cafe Sport. The owner had a small museum upstairs above the pub and was happy to show us around. He also sold unfinished whale teeth. We bought what we could afford knowing that our next stop would be London. Back then there was just an old seawall. Now there is a modern marina and every inch of the seawall and docks are covered with paintings of all the boats that have passed through. It’s a patchwork of peoples dreams and adventures. There is hardly an inch left for another painting. We left Horta; next stop London. One of our crew had done some research and knew of a place in London that bought uncut whale teeth. It was all hush hush because while whaling was legal in the Azores, it was not legal in England.

We managed to offload our haul after dark and once again we were rich; relatively speaking. Luckily, soon thereafter I got a berth on a boat called Battlecry, A Swan 57 and we did the ill fated Fastnet Race, the one where all those people died. I then hitched a ride on another Swan, one of the older versions like Translated 9 and we raced it from England to Australia. (we won the race – it was called the Parmelia Race.) My smuggling days were over. I was a sailor for hire and the rest is history.

Enjoy the rest of the weekend great sailors of the OGR. You have earned a slice of ham or two. Happy Easter everyone – I hope that you liked my story. No bunnies were hurt in this story.

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