Multihull Articles » Building Jim Brown's 62' Trimaran Design - Mark Hassall & THAT

Release Date: 8/19/2012

This story was originally published in 1989 and 1990 as a six part series in "MULTIHULLS" Magazine. Later it was posted on the Maya Paradise website. MDI has no copyrights to this article.

How "THAT" Came About


Part I: Beginnings

In 1973, my wife Bonnie and I arrived in the Rio Dulce, Guatemala, after a three-and-half-year sail around the world aboard a Brown Searunner 37 named Talofiafaoe. Jim Brown and I published a book about that trip called Love for Sail.

Bonnie and I found the Rio Dulce so perfect that we stayed for 13 years. I built houses, grew a few acres of pineapples, danced a lot, drank a lot and, generally, had myself a hell of a good time. For a while, I ran charters out of the Catamaran Hotel for Kevin Lucas, before I gave away my boat. Back then, there were only two places in the River for visitors to quench their thirst for a drink and conversation: the Catamaran Bar and my house, the Casa Media Luna. I remember one week when Bonnie and I had 47 visitors. I loved it. As far as I was concerned, I had the best of all possible worlds. The Rio Dulce was still undeveloped (there were no roads, no cars, no telephones, no television), and the visitors who arrived on our doorstep were interesting folk who had traveled great distances to find me. The River flowed right to my door and it was sweet.

However, everything changes sooner or later, and by 1980 theyd build a bridge across the Rio Dulce. There were cars, trucks, and buses. There were no political disasters and, after the earthquake of 76, no natural disasters to keep people away. And so, they came. Wealthy Americans and wealthy Guatemalans discovered the Rio Dulce. Big powerboats and sleek yachts shouldered the Indian in his dugout canoe to the side. Elaborate homes dotted the shore line. Rain forest was cut to make room for the cattle ranches which provided U.S. fast-food chains with cheap meat. In a few years, there was only a thin line of trees edging the River, behind that were bald hills. Erosion turned the crystal-clear river water brown.

Id made myself a promise, back in 1973, that if I ever left the River Id do it the same way I got there, in a boat. By 1980, I knew I wanted to leave, and that the time to build another boat was at hand. (I had given Talofiafaoe to my children years ago and they had in turn, sold it.)

I was going to build the boat of my dreams, a boat big enough to live on and work in, a boat with a fully-equipped wood shop on board, so that I could make my living wherever I dropped the anchor. I didnt have any money. I never had any money. I liked living close to the bone... it made life more interesting. Still, I was going to need some money and so, in the summer of 1980, I left for California to earn a few dollars. I took my longtime friend and neighbor, Concepcin (Chung) Alvarez, with me. Chung was a native whod never even been to Guatemala City, but I just couldnt pass up the chance to blow his mind in California. I should have known better. Like natives everywhere, he accepted everything from jumbo jets to potato chips without a change of expression. Only once did I see him upset.

Chung and I had worked side by side for years. We were used to getting up with the sun, and quitting when the sun set. In Guatemala, no matter the time of year, the sun always sets at 6 oclock. Even I forgot how long it takes the sun to set in these northern latitudes in July. That first day of work (we were renovating the Owl House in Sausalito), we worked until the sun went down, I was shocked, when I looked at my watch, to see that it was 9 oclock!

Know what time it is, Chung?

He looked at the sky like I knew he would, and said six oclock, Markos. Time to quit.

Its time to quit all right; but, it isnt 6, its 9.

No, he said. Its about 6; you can see for yourself where the sun is.

Yes, but we arent in Guatemala, Chung. Up here, this time of year, the sun goes down about 9 oclock.

Its not true!

Yes, it is.

He didnt argue, but he looked at the sky with such a strange expression of fear and confusion on his face, I felt ashamed. Id turned his world upside down in many ways, and hed played along with me, but some things a man has a right to be sure of, or he faces a void nobody can fill.

I completed work on the Owl House in two months, and flew back to Guatemala with $2,500. Now I had seed money for my new boat. Having that much money made me so nervous that I buried it in mason jars under my shop floor.

When his friends gathered around Chung to ask him about his trip to America, he shook his head and said, nice to visit, but I wouldnt want to live there. And, so far as I know, those were the last words he spoke on the subject for the rest of his life.

Two months later, I dug up my money and handed it over to a Belizean schoolteacher named Juan, all because a friend of mine named Sunshine wanted to learn how to sail. Shed bought herself a little Belizean 21-foot strip-planked boat that was ready for the burn pile. Several months later, she fixed it up all by herself. Even sewed some striped sails out of blue and white denim. She turned up one day on my doorstep wanting to know if Id teach her how to sail. Said she wanted to sail to Ambergris Cay, off the coast of Belize.

I said yes, and then wondered why the hell Id done that. I had plenty of other things I needed to be doing. But, when I told Bonnie what Id just agreed to, she said, You go, Mark. There must be some reason youll find out soon enough.

So, Sunshine and I sailed away. Monohulls make me nervous anyway, but I was feeling particularly edgy when she rousted me out of my bunk on the third morning and said, Mark! Come look at this sunrise. Its absolutely the most gorgeous one Ive ever seen in my life. Its blood-red!

I crawled out of the bunk to take a look. She was right; it was gorgeous and very red, and all I could think was, Ah, shit, not again.

Have you ever seen a sunrise like that? she asked all sweet and innocent.

Yeah, I answered. As a matter of fact, I have. Off the coast of New Zealand. Before the biggest cyclone in 25 years hit.

Oh, no! she breathed.

Forty-eight hours later we limped into Ambergris Cay the northernmost cay off the coast of Belize and the beginning of the worlds second largest barrier reef. Id just been through the fifth hurricane of my life. Id spilled boiling water on my foot in the middle of the fracas, and it was as tender and sore as my disposition.

Ambergris Cay was still an undeveloped tropical paradise at that time. The population was mostly black. They lived in clapboard houses with tin roofs, and ate from the sea. It was a small community of a couple of hundred families, a school, an airstrip, a few bars, and a partially completed stone church.

The usual group of ragtag, toothless old men hung around the pier jabbering in weird English.

Hey, mon, bahd webber out thar. Yooo sail that bitty boat in bahd webber!

Hey, mon, where yoo come from?

Hey, mon, nize boat. Yoo wanna sell?

We left them there, swarming like flies on warm pie, to find a quiet place to eat.

Sunshine ordered grouper; I had gin.

After the second drink took the kink out of my tongue, I told her about the money under my shop floor.

Im gonna start me a boat with that money, I said and something tells me this place might have a few things to offer in the way of sailing supplies.

Here? she asked, squeezing lime juice on her dead grouper. Nothing but poor fishermen around here.

Well, Ill tell you something about this place. Its mighty tricky business sailing in and around these reefs. Not a year goes by in which some boat doesnt stack up on the reef out there, and the local folks salvage what they can from the wreck. I have a feeling theres a lot of sailing supplies on Ambergris Cay. All we gotta do is nose around a bit.

After dinner, we wandered around the village, passing the time of day with folks and asking questions about recent shipwrecks. They told us about a sailboat named Big Trouble, said she came to grief on the reef about two years earlier, but she took a long time to sink and nearly everything had been salvaged. The word was that a schoolteacher named Juan was the man to see about Big Trouble.

We received directions to Juans house and set off. I knew wed found the place when I saw an aluminum mast lying between the house and the garage. My heart started to race.

Juan, a small, dark, uncertain man, met us at the door. After I told him what I was looking for, he took a key from behind the door and walked us to the garage. When he threw open the doors, I caught my breath, Juans garage was nothing but a sailboat waiting to happen. There were bags of sails, sheet lines all beautifully coiled, two big Lewmar winches and nine smaller ones. From floor to ceiling there were boxes, crates and cupboards full of neatly arranged hardware from the sailboat, a 39-foot Erickson that had lived up to its name.

You interested in selling any of this?, I asked.

Yes, he said, all of it.

My heart banged away like a bell clapper in a Spanish mission.

How much do you want? I asked.

He shrugged his shoulders. Make me an offer, he said.

Oh, God, I hated this part. I stalled for time, fished out a cigarette, lit it and drew a deep breath.

Im not a rich man, Juan, I said finally. Used to be a schoolteacher like you. I build things with my hands now, grow a few pineapples-enough to keep bread on the table and thats about it. But, I need to build a boat, and I finally got a little money together to get some things, and well...what I mean is...would you take $2,000 for it?

He rubbed the end of his nose and looked down at his feet.

I got a partner, he said. I gotta ask him first.

A partner? My heart sank.

Well, okay then, I said. When can you talk to him?

This afternoon, he said. I meet you tonight; 7 oclock at the bar on the waterfront.

There wasnt anything for Sunshine and me to do but wait. We took in the local sights but I couldnt see much for all the salvaged treasure sitting behind those two garage doors. By six oclock I was a wreck. Over and over, I preached to myself about keeping a positive attitude in spite of the fact that I knew I offered only a small fraction of what that stuff was really worth. But, I argued with myself, who were those guys going to sell it to if not me? Who was going to brave the currents, mudflats, reefs, and storms, to find a tiny little cay off the coast of Belize to pick up the salvaged rigging from a boat called Big Trouble? And how would they transport all that gear once they got here? That last question had me bothered too. If Juan and his partner did accept my offer, I didnt have the foggiest idea of how I was going to get it all out of Belize and into Guatemala without paying customs (which I couldnt afford) and without a boat of my own to haul it with.

Sunshine and I were in the bar early; Juan showed up late and his news was that his partner said it isnt enough money.

I felt desperation rear its ugly head.

Ill give you $2500 for it, Juan, Thats all the money I have in the world. I cant take living on land anymore. Its been eight years since I tasted saltwater or felt the waves rolling under me, and I need to get back out there. I dont have more than $2,500 or Id offer it to you. I can tell you one thing: isnt anybody alive whod appreciate that stuff more than me, or put it to better use.

Juan wiped his forehead. Okay, he said.

Its yours. But you got to get it out of here this week.

Wait a minute! You dont understand, I said feeling the sweat trickle down my back.

Im teaching Sunshine how to sail, which is how I got here in the first place. But her boat is way too small to haul anything. I have to get her and the boat back to the Rio Dulce, go to Guatemala City to get a visa, and then back to the River to pick up my money. I need at least two weeks, Juan, and even then Im gonna be bustin my ass.

Okay, he said. Two weeks. No more. Exactly two weeks. If I dont see you then, the deal is off. We forget it.

I danced and jumped and twirled and carried on all the way back to Sunshines boat. Id done it! I had the rigging! All I had to do was put a boat underneath it. Hot Damn!

Untie the lines, Sunshine; were going back. Now.

The next day, we were passing by the mouth of the Monkey River on the Belizean coast when we spotted a trimaran. A Hartley design. There was a fellow standing on deck watching us. When we got close, he waved and yelled, Hey! Arent you Mark Hassall? Were on our way to visit you.

Id never seen the guy in my life, but hed heard of me and wanted to talk. I hated to waste one precious minute of time, but I couldnt say no. We rafted alongside and introduced ourselves. He was Mike; his wife was Sally.

I know Belize real well, Mike said at the end of our visit. Ive been sailing around those reefs for years. Ill sail you back there to pick up your stuff.

You will? Thats great. Oh, God, that would be just wonderful. The thing is, I have to be back to Ambergris Cay with the money in two weeks.

Mike assured me theyd be sailing for the Rio Dulce in a couple of days time enough for Bonnie and I to get our visas and pack. I told him Id cover his expenses for the trip, and we made an agreement to meet at my place on the River just as soon as possible.

Sunshine and I got back to the house in a little less than two days, but Bonnie and I were reluctant to leave for the City to pick up our visas for fear we wouldnt get back in time to meet Mike and Sally. We decided to forget about visas and take our chances.

We waited and waited. Two days, three, five...a week and no Mike. I didnt know what to do. Should I keep waiting and hoping that he would turn up, or should I find some other way to get to Ambergris Cay? I was sure Id made myself quite clear about the time constrictions I was working under, and I couldnt imagine what had happened to him.

Then, late in the evening of the seventh day, Mike turned up. He offered no apology and no explanation.

Wed kinda like to see the Rio Dulce and Lake Izabal before we take off again, he said. Maybe do some fishing.

Wait a minute, Mike! You dont seem to understand. I only have a week left, and then I lose all that rigging. This is very important to me. Ive got to get there as soon as I can!

Well, he said, the other thing is, my motors not working.

I didnt stick around to hear any more. In half an hour I had made an outboard motor bracket for his trimaran wing, took the long-footed Mercury off Sunshines boat and stuck it onto Mikes. With that, Bonnie and I picked up our bags and walked on board. I knew by now that Mike was the kind of guy who says whatever sounds good at the time. I knew he didnt want to take me to Belize, but hed made the agreement and I was now dependent upon him. Id be damned if Id let him spoil my chances for getting my rigging.

Talk about a slow boat to China. It took five and a half hours to motor the 25 miles to Livingston with that little 4 horsepower motor of Sunshines. We checked out of Livingston, headed to sea and, immediately, found ourselves in a northeast blow, right on the nose. It was a rough beat. Halfway to Ambergris, Mike decided hed had enough. He dropped anchor in the shelter of the next reef.

For two lousy days we hung on the hook, going stir-crazy. The atmosphere on board was every bit as unfriendly as it was outside. All I could think about was the time, and how it was running out. If Id thought I had a rats chance, Id have jumped overboard and swum to Ambergris Cay. By the time we were able to sail, I had only two days left. Mike pushed hard, and on the day the contract expired we made in to Ambergris.

It was afternoon. I ran ashore, straight to the schoolhouse and burst through the door. A whole classroom of startled black faces and white eyes popped up, Juan, standing at the blackboard, looked stricken.

Juan, Im here! I cried.

Absolute silence. Not a child moved. Not an eye blinked. Juan stood bolted to the floor, his mouth open.

Oh, he said finally in a weak voice. Oh, my God, youre here.

Yeah, Im here.

He swallowed hard. You got a boat? he asked.


You can haul all that stuff?

Yes. Im on a trimaran that one right out there, I said, pointing to Mikes boat tied to the dock.

Oh, said Juan, Again. I didnt like the way he said it, and his eyes refused to meet mine.

I have to talk to my partner, he said.

Listen, Juan, I said, You and I made a deal, the terms were clear. Ive got the money, Ive got the boat, and I made it here in two weeks.

I have to check with Bill, he said stubbornly. He looked miserable. Under other circumstances, Id have felt sorry for him.

Come by the school tomorrow morning, said Juan. Seven oclock.

Ill be here, I replied. Dont you worry. Ill be here.

I slunk back to the boat, plumb worn out from this ordeal, and it didnt help my spirits any when I heard the sound of a motorcycle running down the beach later that night. Out of the dark came an angry American voice.

You stupid sonofabitch! You know as well as I do that stuff is worth $50,000 anyway, and you told him youd sell it to him for $2,500? You idiot! You stupid, f-----idiot!

Then I heard Juans voice. How was I supposed to know hed come back? Nobody ever has before, and they all said they would. Five times it happens, but this guys different. Besides, I gave him my word.

Well, I dunno what were going to do about that, Bill growled.

I heard no more. I went to bed not knowing what was going to happen. For the time being, the fate of my future boat lay in the hand of a Belizian school teacher and a gringo biker.

The next morning Bonnie and I went together to the meeting with Juan. His eyes looked as sleepless as mine. He didnt say a word, just motioned for us to follow. He took us to his garage, inserted the key, took off the padlock and said in a grim voice get it out of here.

Its mine?

He nodded.

All of it?

He nodded.

Oh, Juan, thank you! I pumped his hand up and down, again and again. My eyes filled with tears. Youre a good man, Juan. The best!

You pay at noon, he said grimly. We meet here.

Bonnie and I rounded up couple of native helpers and, for the next eight hours, carted what was left of Big Trouble from Juans garage to Mikes boat. By evening, the garage was empty and the trimaran was sitting low in the water. Mike and Sally were keeping to themselves. Bonnie and I had dinner ashore.

Next day, at noon, I paid off Juan and his partner. The not-too-silent partner in this deal turned out to be a big, Nordic type with huge paw-like hands that opened and closed continually as if they wanted a neck to wring. I knew Id been damned lucky to get that stuff by him for $2,500. And he knew that I knew. We said quick good-byes.

Bonnie and I ran back to Mikes boat just in time to see it pull away from the pier. It took a few seconds for my brain to convince my eyes they were seeing right. But, after several minutes of hard staring, there could be no doubt about the obvious. Mike was sailing off with my rigging. Then I remembered, Mike wanted to build a boat, too. Hed talked about it when Sunshine and I first met him at Monkey River; that was part of the reason he wanted to meet me - because he knew Id built three trimarans already.

The boat continued to head out to sea. There wasnt a thing I could do if he decided to keep the rigging for himself, except start over again. No point going to the Belizean police; I was in the country illegally.

Bonnie and I stared at each other, speechless. In the cockpit of their boat, it looked as if Mike and Sally were having a heated discussion. I was too stunned to be angry, yet. I couldnt believe what was happening right in front of my eyes. It was absurd. Something welled up in my chest but I didnt know if I was about to laugh or cry. All I knew was that a plug had just been pulled, and I felt like I was swirling down the drain, butt over brains, into a black hole.

Finally, I turned to walk back to the bar. If it was going to happen, so be it; but I didnt have to watch. I started slowly up the pier. Bonnie caught my sleeve.

Mark, she almost whispered. I think hes turning back.

On second thought, maybe I should watch.

Yes, he was coming back. The weighted-down tri moved like a heavy old turtle in the water. My mast stuck out beyond the deck some 20 feet fore and aft, and the decks were piled with boxes and bags of my gear. It certainly did look to me as though Sallys conscience couldnt quite pull it off, and Mike was headed back to the pier. He ran her close alongside, and Bonnie and I jumped aboard. Nobody said a word. Bonnie and I sat on the foredeck and watched Ambergris Cay grow small and dim.

At long last Mike hollered at me from the cockpit. I aint talking this shit to Guatemala. Too risky. Im dropping it off a helluva lot sooner than that you just tell me where.

I considered our situation. As far as I could see, we had only one option: Hard Luck Charlie. Charlie lived in a house made of driftwood, broken bottles, cement and rock on the Belize coast (about 16 miles north of Punta Gorda) with his wife, five kids, a small zoo of animals and, usually, a couple of down-and-outers who figured life with Charlie was better than nothing. A boatload of sailing gear hadnt ought to disrupt their lives all that much. They might not even notice. In fact, Id offer Charlie the wind generator hed been wanting to get off me for years, in exchange for watching my stuff.

It would work. I knew it. And after the dust had settled, I would make plans for bringing the rigging all the way back to my house.

I leaned back against an ice chest and thought of my Australian friend, Thurston, from Rabaul, New Guinea, who used to say, Itll awl ba awl raht in the end, youll find, mite.

Part II: The Design, the Materials , No Money

There was no question in my mind about who was going to design my big work-boat. Id built Jim Browns off soundings, and Talofiafaoe had been a 37-foot Searunner.

Jim Brown was definitely the man to put my dream on paper. So, in the summer of 1981, on my way from Guatemala to New York (I had agreed to sail with a fellow on his 29-foot trimaran from New York to Guatemala that summer, just for the hell of it and hell it was), I stopped in North, Virginia to talk to Jim. We hadnt seen each other for quite a while, and I could hardly wait to lay my dreams before him and let the big man work his magic.

I flew into Richmond late one July night. Jim was there to meet me. It was a long drive to North, and we covered a lot of ground in those hours: news about families and friends, trimarans wed known and loved, the future and the past. I told him about my plans to build a big tri, the masterpiece of my building career. I told him I wanted it to have a complete wood-working shop on board, and I wanted it to be comfortable because Bonnie and I were going to live on it for the rest of our lives.

But Mark, he said, do you have any idea what it costs to build a boat like that these days? It isnt like it used to be back in the 60's; the price of materials has skyrocketed. Even if you do manage to build it, the cost of maintaining a boat that size would keep you a slave forever. Youre talking about a big boat.

I know.

Have you come into some money, or what?

Nope. Ive got $135 and a few cents. Woulda had more, but somebody broke into my motel room in Livingston the night before last, and cleaned out my wallet.

And where do you plan to build this boat? he asked.

Next to the house.

In Guatemala?

Sure, why not?

Neither of us spoke for some moments as the reasons of why not ran through his head and out of mine with the night breeze.

Im going to build that boat, Jim.

He chuckled and drew a deep breath. I know, he said.

Ive already got the rigging, I smiled at him.

You do?

Yup. Got it from a 39-foot Erickson that sank off the coast of Belize. All you have to do is design a boat to go with it.

Let me get this straight: Im going to put a 62 trimaran under a 39 Erickson rig?

Sure. Why not?

He chuckled again.

As it happened, Chris White launched his 52-foot constant camber trimaran, Juniper, the week I was at Jims house. Jim and I were invited on her maiden sail. We spent the better part of the day trying to find wind. Late in the afternoon, it found us. The free-standing masts suddenly bent at an alarming angle and then quickly twanged upright again. Juniper shot forward at such an incredible speed that we all grabbed at whatever was handy to keep from falling overboard.

17 knots! yelled Chris. My God, she went from 0 to 17 in a couple of seconds! Have I got a boat or have I got a boat?

Its no boat, I yelled. Its a goddamned slingshot!

Sleep was a long time coming to me that night. I kept feeling that sudden burst of speed, the stomach-squeezing rush that ripples through your guts when you skim over the awesome power of the ocean like a breath of air. Id been on land too long. However, one thing I now knew for certain: my boat would be constant camber, too. Both Chris and Jim believed it was the strongest construction method available to a builder, and neither of them saw any real problems with building a constant camber boat in the tropics, other than the obvious nuisance of having to import the resin and the fiberglass, cut down the trees, make my own plywood, my own sawmill, my own power plant, and scrounge the rest of the materials to out fit a 62-foot boat. It wasnt going to be easy. But, it was not impossible.

Sleep came to me, finally, and all night long I dreamed I sailed my big boat. She surfed over great cresting waves with breathtaking speed and grace. Her double masts pointed to infinity against the moons pale light, and beneath my feet she rode strong and steady a magic carpet upon which I could live out my days.

My bed was in Jims study, and as I awakened the next morning, I gradually became aware of Jim sitting hunched over his drafting table, in deep concentration. The early morning light reddened his hair to a bright henna, and the high-intensity lamp revealed lines in his face which Id never noticed before. He is my age, but it came as a sudden shock to think of Jim as fifty. Somehow, twenty years had gone by since the day I first met him on the dock at Monterey, California; and here we were a couple of middle-aged boys still playing boat.

I got out of bed, tip-toed to his desk and peeked over his shoulder.

Your new vessel, he said without looking around. Ive been at it for three hours. Hows she look?

Great, wow God, shes gonna be something.

What are you going to name her, anyway?



Not What, That.


Yeah. Whats wrong with That?

Let me get this straight. Youre going to name this boat That?

Thats right.

Thats the worst name I ever heard. He shook his head. Whatever made you decide on that...I mean That?

Well, way back in `72, Bonnie and I sailed into Capetown, South Africa. Wed just tied up to the pier at the yacht club when some starched white fellow comes marching up to the boat with a big sneer on his face, and says, Whered you come from in that?

Southern California, I say, strutting my stuff.

Youre a goddamn liar, he says, turns on his heel, marches back to the clubhouse and slams the door.

I promised myself then that the next boat I would build, I was gonna name it That in honor the sonofabitch.

When I returned to the Rio Dulce, after my visit with Jim and the delivery sail from New York, I was faced with the fact that I needed money if That was ever going to be more than a joke. I needed to buy one hell of a lot of wood and resin. I broadcast the word among family and friends in the States that I wanted work up there, and then let circumstances take care of themselves.

The Mitchell Brothers came to my rescue. They said they had a 36-foot fiberglass trawler that needed a cabin, and I was hired if I wanted the job. Boy, did I want the job! I flew to the States as fast as I could. It was October 1981.

Art and Jim Mitchell own and operate the OFarrell Theater in San Francisco, one of the worlds most famous erotic theaters. Art was also my son-in law. He and my daughter, Karen, met me at the airport in their mouse-grey Mercedes Benz limo.

It was a rare autumn day in the Bay area; the air was clear and crisp, and Art opened the sun roof. I stood up through the hole, and waved to everybody. Hello, America, how are you? Whos in the White House, and who won the Oscar, or isnt there any difference any more? Hows your cholesterol level, and your GNP? Are your teeth flossed and your hands soft? Whats on TV tonight? Is your seat belt fastened and the phone bill paid? Are you winning? Are you losing? Or isnt there any difference any more?

I had my own parade through downtown San Francisco. The prodigal son returns. People stared. People waved. People smiled. And, they all wondered who the devil I was, carrying on like I just won the World Series or walked on the moon.

Art had made arrangements for me to work on the fishing boat in the OFarrell Theater parking lot across the street from the theater itself. First, he took me around and introduced me to the staff. In the office there was Vince, the accountant; and Barbara, the secretary; and Jack, the maintenance man. In the dressing rooms there were naked girls. Art flung each door open and announced, Girls, like you to meet my father-in-law, Mark Hassall. Hes gonna be working on our boat across the street in the parking lot. They smiled, shook my hand, welcomed me to the family and said that if I needed anything, to be sure to let them know. I said I would and, then, thank God, somebody shut the door. Dont get me wrong; I like naked girls. I mean, I dont mind if theyre naked. I take a liberal view of most things. Naked girls are people. Fine people. It takes a minute to get used to fine people sometimes, thats all.

It took me two months to finish the Brothers fishing boat. The day I was done, they loaded a briefcase with three hundred and fifty 20 dollar bills; then the three of us (Art, Jim and I) drove to System Three (then in Richmond). I handed the money (which was more than Id ever seen in one place in my life) to Tom Freeman, and Tom shipped six 65-gallon drums of resin to Miami, Florida by truck. From there, it would be taken on board a container ship to Puerto Santo Tomas, Guatemala. I figured in a month or maybe two the barrels would be sitting in my shed at the Rio Dulce.

Back in Guatemala, I turned my attention to the other major component of my boat: wood. A friend of mine by the name of Guillermo Pira owned a sawmill not too far from the Rio Dulce, at a place called Rio Hondo on the Atlantic Highway. Guillermo was a tall, handsome fellow about 40 years old. He was upper class Guatemala; well-educated and articulate. His family owned an even larger sawmill on the south coast. Guillermo and his girlfriend, Vicki, came to the River often. We were old Catamaran Bar buddies from way back. Guillermo led a commuters life, constantly on the move between his apartment in the city, his business in Rio Hondo, and the mountain southwest of Lake Izabal where is trees grew. He was an intense man, driven by family expectations and his own need to succeed; he was also a good man, and I liked him very much.

He thought my boat project was pretty exciting stuff. He liked a good challenge himself, and he enjoyed watching somebodys fire burn bright, too. Anyway, when I returned to the River and seriously started considering where and how I was going to get wood for the boat, it was only natural to turn to Guillermo for help.

Tell you what, he said over drinks at the Catamaran Bar. Im going up to the lumber camp this afternoon. If you want to come along, you can take a look at the standing wood, and I can tell you what I know about different varieties.

The lumber camp was some 2,000 feet up Guillermos mountain, and we arrived there by skidder, an amazing articulated machine with eight-foot diameter wheels that rolled easily over fallen trees, streams, boulders, whatever. Guillermo acted as though he was driving a tricycle down a sidewalk, but it made me plenty nervous. The incline became so steep, I didnt see how any machine could stay upright.

My God, man, I wailed. Take it easy!

He laughed.

I never saw anything like it; that silly machine seemed to defy the law of gravity, and no matter how precipitous the angle, we stayed upright. Finally, we reached the area where the men were felling trees. It was noon and they were sitting on a log in a cleared area, eating their tortillas and beans.

From up there the view was spectacular. Off to the north, Lake Izabal glittered like a chunk of aquamarine, and to the south lay, the Motagua River Valley. The Motagua Valley was once part of the rain forest but had long since been turned to cacti and barren rock by mans insatiable appetite for wood. I only wanted a few trees worth, but it made me feel guilty just the same to contribute to the deforestation.

Guillermo and I left the skidder at the camp and continued on foot. I told him I was looking for a wood which was lightweight, strong yet flexible, and capable of being impregnated with resin.

We walked the mountainside all afternoon, taking samples of wood to test and weigh. I would decide which wood was the best on the basis of those samples. We agreed that I could use his sawmill to cut the wood, and that Chung and I would do the work ourselves, thereby saving a great deal of money. I agreed to supply the carbide blades to fit the gangsaw. Guillermo gave me a quote of $7,000 for 14,000 board feet of lumber. We shook hands on the deal, and went back to the Catamaran Hotel to seal it with a few drinks.

The only problem with the arrangement was that I didnt have $7,000. Fact is, I didnt have much of anything when it came right down to it. The rigging was stowed in Belize; the resin was somewhere between San Francisco, Miami and Guatemala, and the wood wouldnt materialize until more money did. It was now the spring of 1982 Id been working on the boat for two full years and, so far, had absolutely nothing to show for it. It was enough to discourage a man.

Bonnie and I talked it over, and it seemed clear that I was going to have to earn some more money in the States. Once more I put the word out that I needed work and, then, waited to see what fell out of the bushes.

Again, Art and Karen came to my rescue. Karen wanted a greenhouse built onto their large country farmhouse. I agreed. Two months later I was back in the Rio Dulce with the title to a piece of land in my bay that I had talked Karen into buying a couple of years ago. She gave it to me in payment for the greenhouse. In turn, I sold it for exactly the price of the wood - $7,000.

I had expected to find the resin shipment waiting when I returned. After all, it was over six months ago that Tom had shipped it out, but nobody at the port of Santo Tomas had seen such a shipment. There was no phone system in the Rio Dulce, so I made a special trip to Bananera, 30 miles away, to call Tom Freeman in Richmond, California. He assured me the resin had been shipped to Miami, but where it had gone from there, if not to Guatemala, he had no idea.

I havent even received a bill of lading yet, Tom, I said. Even if the resin turns up, I cant claim it without the bill of lading.

I sent it months ago! he informed me.

Well, it never got here, either. Send me another one, would you?

Sure, he said. No problem. Ill put it in the mail tomorrow.

I had no choice but to keep waiting.

In the meantime, I went to Rio Hondo to see Guillermo, and to tell him that Chung and I could start cutting wood any time.

I hopped on a chicken bus (for those of you who dont know, a chicken bus is a beat-up old school bus from some place like Peoria, Illinois, which hauls the vast majority of Guatemalas population and their chickens, pigs, goats, and produce from one place to another) and jumped off at the dusty little village of Rio Hondo. I walked to the sawmill.

However, the strangest sight met me there. The place was deserted. There wasnt a soul anywhere, and a chain and padlock prevented me from going inside. Was this Sunday? No, it was the middle of the afternoon and Wednesday. Maybe it was a holiday of some sort. I couldnt imagine what holiday, but I never paid much attention to some of the lesser known Church and State holidays anyway. If it was a government holiday, that would account for the mill being closed. Damn, that meant Guillermo was in the city, and I made the three-hour trip here for nothing.

I walked back to the village, and stopped in a bar for a drink.

Is this a holiday? I asked the old man sitting on a three-legged stool over in the corner. He was listening to a battered radio and drinking Gallo (Guatemala beer). He owned the place.

No, seor, no holiday.

Hmmm you dont, by any chance, happen to know why the sawmill is closed, do you?

Si, seor, he said. He had two teeth in his mouth and a couple of missing fingers. Bar business must be kind of rough in this town.

Why? I asked with all due patience.

Seor Pira is dead.

What? Guillermo?

Si, seor. Guillermo Pira.

What happened?

He took a long gulp of beer and lit a cigarette with shaky hands, enjoying the drama on this otherwise dull, hot, boring day.

Finally he spoke. Seor Pira was riding that machine of his up the mountainside, and the thing fell over on him. Crushed him to death. They had to...

I held up my hand. Thanks, I said. Ill just pay for my drink here, and be on my way.

I stepped into the street feeling like Id been hit between the eyes with a sledgehammer.

I was a bit sorrier for Guillermo than I was for myself, but not much. It was a major setback and, furthermore, I was going to miss Guillermo. I had no idea where I was going to get wood for my new boat. I headed back home, depressed and thoroughly discouraged. Maybe my big boat just wasnt meant to be. Perhaps it was all there was to it. A whole string of days went by long, black days, and I did nothing but wait while I piddled at odd jobs and mourned the loss of my friend.

But my boat dream would not die, and it wasnt long before I found myself asking around about wood and sawmills. Two things I learned, the more I talked to people: Spanish cedar is an excellent wood for boat building, and there was a mill in San Andreas, near Flores, where I could get Spanish cedar. But San Andreas was far away, and there was certainly no guarantee theyd give me a deal I could afford on 14,000 board feet of lumber.

Then, one day, a large brown envelope arrived in the mail and turned my world right-side-up and shiny. It was from Jim Brown.

I tore open the envelope, and pulled out six pieces of blueprint. Two sheets for the boat itself, three sheets for the sail plan, and one for the mold and resin-applicator tray. She was 62 feet long and 40 feet wide. Her mid-section was a full wood-working shop (16x19); her cockpit was aft with a spacious sterncastle under the doghouse; and forward of the shop was a cabin with two bunks and two closets. She had a mini keel, and she was rigged as a staysail schooner.

I ran screaming and hollering to Bonnie, lifted her off her feet, kissed her, hugged the dog and danced all over the house, before I grabbed a bucket and a shovel. I walked to the end of our property where the oil pipeline ran. I knew a spot back there where the clay was green and good for making things; my mother had told me so. She was a potter and knew things like that. I scraped a huge wad of the stuff and took it back to the house. I filled a small box with clay, cut out a piece of cardboard to the curve that the plans specified, and skreeted the clay out with it. I laid in a couple layers of fiberglass matr and resined it.

Fifteen minutes later, after it had hardened, I lifted out the mold I needed to build the model. It was necessary to build a model, for the constant camber concept isnt based on a table of offsets but rather on a uniform curvature which is tortured slightly into the proper shape.

In other words, unlike traditional methods of boat-building that begin with full-size drawings from which the dimensions are taken (known as a table of offsets), I would be projecting the drawings on a compound curved panel. So, I took one of my new constant camber fiberglass panels (3/8-1), laid it on the blueprint as though it were the side of the boat and projected Jims lines onto it. A pair of scissors, a 1/32 shaved here and there, a strip of Scotch tape down the keel, and I had my main hull. Two floats, a couple of sticks for crossarms, the decking, and I had the boat in miniature. Now it was just a matter of making it 32 times bigger.

By the time the parrots were heading home to roost that night, I had the model of my big boat built and sitting on the table. My, but she was a looker. I had to see what she looked like in the water, so I plopped her into the River and snapped a picture. Jim always said that I was the fastest boat builder he had ever met. In the morning, Id mail the picture to him with a note that said, received the plans this morning, built the boat this afternoon, and launched it before dinner. Thanks. Mark.

I retired to my chair that night with an extra large olivo in my glass. The sun was going down in a glorious splash of orange and purple, and life seemed so full of promise, it was almost more than I could bear.

I leaned back into the richness of it all, cradled Bonnies hand in my own, and promised my wife the world again.

Wouldnt that be something honey? Think what it could be like to go around the world again and visit some of the places we did thirteen years ago!

She smiled, squeezed my hand and got up to stir the rice while I watched a fluttering white line of cattle egrets skim the rivers surface on their way home to roost, and wondered what the hell had happened to my six barrels of epoxy resin.

Part III: Work, More Wood, Marquito

Nothing comes easy in a country like Guatemala except sunshine and rain. Anything else requires hard work. Thats why I like it there. It always seemed to me that the civilized world misses the point. There, the fruits of labor are highly valued but not the labor, and every man is made poor by that notion. From that standpoint, I was a rich man, and nothing made me richer than the struggle to acquire materials for my my six barrels of epoxy resin.

I made several trips to Puerto Barrios (a two-hour ride on a chicken bus) to check with the shipping agent, only to be told the resin wasnt there. It was now nearly eight months since it had been shipped from the States, and I was worried. Here, let me explain that Latin bureaucrats are tricky customers for us gringos. An American makes assumptions based on his own notion of rational behavior and clear communication. For the Latin, none of that matters. What is, is; the rest is just so much horse puckey.

The fact that the shipping agent in Puerto Barrios said my resin was not there did not mean that it hadnt been there and, after posing the right question, I was able to discover that they had mistakenly shipped it through to Guatemala city weeks ago. In a panic, I caught the next bus to the City. Unclaimed goods were usually auctioned off within a few weeks.

I contacted the head of the shipping company immediately and asked if he could see to it that the barrels be sent back to Puerto Barrios.

Sure, he said. You pay shipping costs and well send them back.

I cant afford to do that, and besides, it isnt my fault that the stuff got shipped here.

He turned a deaf ear. I knew him slightly. Hed always considered me part of the hippie garbage that spilled out of the U.S. in the70s and would just as soon I fell off the face of the earth anyway.

It took three separate trips to the shipping company before I located the right guy. Funny how theres always one somewhere in the woodpile the guy with a heart, the guy whos willing to do you a favor. I learned later that he got into big trouble with the boss over me, and for that I was sorry.

Extricating goods from the arms of the government has given birth to a whole class of professionals in Guatemala: the tramitadores. There are hundreds of them, with offices clustered around bureaucratic installations. Many have no office at all but simply a card table, with a manual typewriter on it, sitting in the middle of a busy sidewalk. I located a good tramitador who discovered the resin was sitting in a storage warehouse on the other side of the city. It took him four days and 15 pages of paperwork to break it loose. He kept the matter hush-hush (lest the resin be confiscated by someone else) and worked with the determination of a rat chewing through floorboards. When the paperwork was in order (the purpose of which is to make sure nobody can figure out what the hell happened), I hired a truck to move the resin back to the shipping companys dock that night. I called my inside man at the company from a phone booth.

The resin is now at your dock, I said.

Bueno, he whispered. Ill get it on a truck soon as possible.

Thanks, I said, I dont know what I would have done without your help.

Neither do I, he replied.

When the resin finally arrived at the River, Chung and I were ready with a plan to get it across to our bay. We had tied three canoes together and laid boards across the whole works to make a platform. We dropped each 600-pound barrel from the truck onto a big tractor tire, rolled it to the rivers edge and up onto the boards. With my little 4-horse outboard, we pushed a ton and a half of resin across the Rio Dulce and into our bay. We picked four of the strongest men in the village to push the barrels off the barge, up the hill, and into our new shed.

Chung and I had built the shed a few weeks earlier. We built it up on the hill, behind my house, where the land levels off. It was 70 feet long, 43 feet wide, with 16-foot ceiling joists. There were no walls, but neither was there a roof, and a roof I needed very much in order to keep the wood that I still didnt have dry. My son-in-law, Art Mitchell, was visiting at the time. He overheard Chung and me discussing the number of palm leaves we were going to have to cut in order to thatch the shed.

Ah, hell, Mark, said Art, fishing in his pocket, Forget thatch. Go buy yourself some corrugated iron, and he shoved $2,000 into my hand.

So, now I had a shed big enough to build a locomotive in, and more epoxy resin than anyone else in Central America, and not one scrap of wood. Itd taken me three full years to get this far.

There is a mill in San Andres (near Flores) about 250 km of bad roads north of the Rio Dulce, in the Peten. It was one of the biggest mills in Guatemala, and I arrived there one day to see what they had to offer a poor gringo boat-builder. After I talked to the manager and told him what I wanted, he took me to see the Spanish cedar which they were currently under contract to sell to boat builders in New Orleans. It was gorgeous stuff, and I could see why boat builders value it. It was clear, straightgrained, strong and relatively lightweight. It was sawn to 2x12x20 lengths, and was selling for $1.25 per board foot.

I had no idea it would be so expensive, but there was no question but that I had to have it. I sat the manager down and told him about the boat I was going to build, and within an hour he was offering to sell the wood to me for 70 cents per board foot. I bought 10,000 bd. ft., and we made a little side agreement too. For an extra 500 bd. ft., Id give him one of my little high-speed shoe boats. Since not one board foot of lumber is allowed to leave any mill in Guatemala without the government first getting its share of the money, I had to write a check before I left. The wood, they promised, would be on the road within a week. Not trusting the mail system, the manager and I went to the local airport to find somebody who would be willing to hand-deliver the check to the proper authorities. Eventually, a lady turned up whom the manager knew, and she promised very prettily to be our courier.

I went back to the Rio Dulce to wait. And wait. And wait. Three weeks went by, and there was no sign of the lumber. By now, the wet season was upon us, and it was raining every day, all day, in heavy, warm avalanches of water.

Bonnie and I decided to take the bus into the City (six hours of rough jostling on a chicken bus), fly from the City to Flores and walk the rest of the way to San Andres, if we had to, in order to find out what had happened to the lumber. We waited two days to get seats on the plane.

Eventually, we stood face to face with the mill manager who told us that the lady who promised to deliver our check had left the envelope in the back seat of a taxi in Guatemala City. A search for the check had been made, but the authorities, and everybody else involved, gave up within a day because nobody had the slightest hope of ever finding it anyway.

Ten days after the check was left in his taxi, the driver walked into the central lumber office in the City and handed over the envelope and all its contents. That, plus the deplorable condition of the roads, was the reason my lumber was still stacked at the mill in San Andres. Back to Square One.

One thing was for sure: I hadnt spent three miserable days travelling to San Andres just to go back empty-handed, nor was I about to wait six months for the rain to stop before I got my lumber. I went in search of a truck driver.

It wasnt that easy. Every man I approached, if they bothered to reason with me at all, told me I was crazy. The roads were impassable. Period. No puede. By late afternoon, I needed a little nip of gin to shore up my resolve. I slipped into a bar and downed three of em. No puede, my ass.

Thats when I found Roberto. I was wandering down a side street in town when I happened on a fellow with his head buried deep in the engine of an old flatbed Bedford.

Excuse me, I said. does this thing run?


Well, Im looking for somebody to haul a load of lumber. You be interested? (using their lingo).

Haul to where?

The Rio Dulce.

The Rio Dulce?


Shit, man, youre crazy.

Desperate is more like it. I said. I turned to walk away.

How much you pay?

Three hundred quetzales. I knew thatd nail him.

Sure! I haul for you.

Great. Lets go load er up.

He was right, the thing ran. It just didnt have a starter. So, I pushed and got it rolling while he clutched it into gear.

Early the next morning, when the cocks were still crowing, the three of us Bonnie, Roberto and I climbed into the front seat of the truck and started off for the Rio Dulce. We made good progress, 150km to Los Angeles by 4 oclock that afternoon. We were in good spirits, laughing, singing, telling stories. Roberto was making an easy 300 quetzales (1 quetzal = 20 cents of a dollar), and I was just a few short hours away from having a shed full of lumber. But, we certainly werent going to be able to get to the River before dark, and none of us wanted to spend the entire night together in the truck cab, so Bonnie and I decided to catch a bus back to the River. That way wed be ready with our canoe barge for unloading when Roberto arrived the next morning.

However, a few miles outside Los Angeles, the road disintegrated and the bus got stuck. The ruts were four feet deep and getting deeper by the minute. By then, it was dark. The bus was full of crying children and squawking chickens. We knew that if we didnt keep going we might easily be stuck for longer than any of us cared to think about. Every able-bodied man got out and pushed. The rain drenched us to the bone within seconds, but we kept going. Occasionally, the road was solid enough for us to climb back on board. Wet as we were, the air inside grew steamy and rank with the smell of baby piss, chicken poop, sweat and stale tortillas. At three oclock in the morning, we pulled into the Rio Dulce, tired, sore, and cranky, but thankful to have arrived at all. We heard stories about people who were trapped in a 3-day, 3-night bus ride from Flores to Guatemala City, a distance of only 446 km.

Roberto did not arrive the next day. Nor the next. By the third day, when there was still no sign of him, I was plenty worried. I couldnt wait any longer, and I announced to Bonnie that I was setting out on foot to find Roberto and my lumber. There wasnt any point in trying to stay dry so I wore nothing but a T-shirt, jeans and a pair of flipflops. I was on the road about an hour when a truck happened along and gave me a 40 km, lift. At the end of that 40 km, I came upon the biggest mess I had ever seen in my life. There must have been 100 trucks going north, 100 going south, and nobody was going anywhere. The road was no longer a road but a mud lake full of partially submerged vehicles, some laying completely on their sides with their contents floating in the goo.There were food trucks, beer trucks, diesel trucks, kerosene trucks, and several trucks carrying a dismantled oil rig. There were livestock trucks, full of cattle, lying in a massive heap in one corner of the tilted truck, bawling like a herd from hell. Loose chickens, goats, pigs, children, Indian women in their bright costumes ran hither and thither, all covered with mud. There were trucks full of spilled candy, soda and plastic toys. One hundred-pound sacks of rice, corn, and beans, were stacked on plastic sheets on higher ground some split open, leaking rivers of color through the mud.

It looked as though it would take an act of God to clear up a mess of that magnitude. Instead, there was one man with a big tractor doing his best to get the wheels of commerce moving again, but even he spent most of his time trying to get unstuck.

The Indian women, bless their resourceful souls, had taken their meager food supplies and firewood to higher ground where they made ground tortilla coffee, tortillas and beans, for anyone who needed food and drink. The men were busy running cables between trucks, digging out buried axles, some with shovels, some with their hands, and hauling sacks of produce to higher ground. The cooperation was wonderful, and all this while the rain fell so heavily that it was like moving around underwater.

My flip-flops were worse than useless; the mud sucked them off every time I took a step, so I let the mud eat em, and I continued on, barefoot. I had a feeling Roberto was in this godawful mess somewhere, but so far I hadnt spotted him. I hoped like hell wed lashed on the lumber well enough, but what if we hadnt?

I slogged past the northbound trucks, sinking nearly to my knees with every step. Finally, I reached the southbound trucks and, there, 15th in line, sat my lumber and Roberto. I scraped off as much mud as I could and climbed in beside him. He was grateful for the company. In two days and two nights hed made a little less than 4 km. I stayed with him all day; we made little progress, but the fact that we made any was just short of a miracle.

I left him again at sundown since there wasnt room for two of us to sleep in the cab. I hiked to the end of the line, thinking I would get a ride with the first truck to break loose, but none did.

There wasnt much else I could do except keep walking. All night, I walked barefoot through the pitch-black jungle and the pouring rain. Sometimes, unable to see, I got down on my hands and knees and crawled to keep from breaking my leg in a bottomless rut. There were other four-legged night critters out there too. I heard them in the bushes and sometimes saw a pair of iridescent eyes trained on me but, by then, I looked like the Creature from the Black Lagoon and whatever they were, they kept their distance.

Now and again I stopped to rest, remembering the days long ago (in California) when I used to drive to a lumberyard after breakfast, and before lunch, the boards were stacked in my back yard. It may have been easier I thought, wiping my hands on the bark of a tree so I could unzip, but not half the fun. After all, what can you say about a trip to the lumberyard except that prices had gone up? You sure couldnt sit your grandchildren down on your knee some day and tell em how you crawled through the jungle with your mouth full of mud on a dark and stormy night. To my way of thinking, thatd be real poverty.

Sometime in the wee hours of the morning, when I had made it past the worst, a van came by, and I was able to ride the rest of the way to the River.

It was another two days before Roberto turned up. A more patient, long-suffering soul there never was. Chung and I had brought our 3-canoe raft to Fronteras, and Roberto helped us unload 10,500 board feet of lumber. It took us five trips back and forth (a distance of 3 miles one way) to complete the job. I paid Roberto, fed him dinner, and wished him Godspeed.

That evening, Chung brought some of his homemade pineapple hooch to the shed, and we sat in the gathering dark listening to the rain pelt onto the corrugated iron roof. On one side of the shed stood six 55-gallon drums of resin, on the other stood a tower of air-stacked Spanish cedar, and in the middle was a huge empty space for one hell of a boat.

It was then he told me about the baby.

Marta, she getting big, he said, grinning and holding up his glass.

Big? Seemed to me Marta was skinny as a rail and getting skinnier, what with the three little girls to tend to.

Si. Baby coming.

Ill be damned. When?




Well, heres to a boy, I said, holding up a shaky glass.

He grinned and poured.

One night in early May, Bonnie and I put on our best costumes for the yearly festival at Fronteras. As usual, there was to be a talent show, and they had asked me to dance. Everybody came, all decked out and drunk as skunks. I danced with every woman in the place, and when there werent any of the left, I did a Russian folk dance by myself. It was an annual tradition. Everybody stayed into the wee hours of the morning to watch Don Markos dance, and I gave them a show theyd talk about until next years festival.

It must have been close to 4 oclock when Bonnie led me to the canoe, settled me in a corner, and started the outboard for home. Wed no sooner tied up to the house when Chung appeared, looking like hed put in one stinker of a night. While we were out dancing, he'd delivered a baby.

Its a boy, he announced proudly.


A boy! I hollered, grabbed his arms and danced him all around the deck. He laughed and kicked up his heels with me. We fell in a heap by the front door. He removed himself from my arms and said solemnly We name him for you, Don Markos. We call him Markos Cruz Alvarez.

Ah, Chung, I cried, grabbing him to me, tears running down my cheeks, thats the greatest honor Ive ever had.

You come see, he said.


Si. Now.

I walked up the hill propped between Bonnie and Chung. Down the part, through the lemon and banana trees, over the sleeping pigs and chickens to his home, a large round cane house thatched with manaca. It was by far the nicest house in the village. He opened the door. Inside it was dark but for a single burning stick of incense, and silent. The babies were sleeping. On the dirt floor, directly in front of the burning stick of incense sat Marta, cross-legged, as all Indian women did after birth. She would sit like that for three days while her organs resumed their natural place. The baby lay beside her.

She unwrapped the babys rag bindings for us to see him. She had tied a bright colored piece of cloth around the umbilical cord. He was incredibly tiny, as most Indian babies are, but his color was good.

We were offered seats. Chung shooed a sleeping chicken out of an old wooden chair for Bonnie, and I got the hammock. Bonnie and I longed for nothing more than bed, but this was a sacred time for Chung and his wife, and we knew it. Chung had bought real beer for the occasion. It was absolutely the last thing either of us needed or wanted, but it wouldnt do to refuse. He popped the top, a noise which made the girl babies, sleeping in their bunks behind a partition, stir in their sleep. We drank our beer in silence, watching the still figure of Marta in the dim light. She looked like a goddess sitting there so straight, black hair braided down her back, her bright woven shawl gathered around her shoulders, staring intently at the burning incense with her newly born babe tucked beside her. Chung stood behind her, the man of the house, and drank quietly to his new son.

It was noon the next day before Bonnie and I could bear to face sunshine. Bonnie had just put on the coffee water when Chung appeared at the door. His face was drawn and pale.

Marta is feeling bad, he said.

A little later in the day, he appeared again, His eyes were big with fear. Marta is in pain, he said. Not like the other times. This time is different.

He was right. This time was different. Marta was clearly very ill. There was no question that she needed immediate medical attention. She was burning with fever, her pulse was rapid, and she looked like hell. I jumped into my launch and sped across the River to El Relleno, the little community at the south end of the Rio Dulce bridge, and begged to borrow the old VW from the wife of the road construction overseer who was one of the few people around with an automobile. Meanwhile, Chung took his four babies to Martas mother who lived a few houses away from them.

We wrapped Marta in blankets, gently lowered her into the launch, sped to El Relleno, laid her as comfortably as we could into the back seat of the VW, and took off for Puerto Barrios and the nearest county hospital. Two hours later, in the hospital waiting room, we were told that the doctor would see her shortly and that there was nothing for us to do. We might as well go home. We left, assured that all would be well, and that we could pick her up in a couple of days.

Early next morning, Chung was eating breakfast, listening to the Puerto Barrios radio station as most people did because messages were sent to individuals over that station, there being no phone system. He hoped to hear that Marta Alvarez was ready to go home but, instead, they announced that if Concepcion Alvarez was listening, he should come to pick up the body of his deceased wife.

We borrowed the old VW again; Chung, his wifes brother Mateo, and I. At the county hospital, they opened a drawer in the morgue and showed us Marta. We were told she must be removed immediately, but that we couldnt move her unless we had a coffin. I had brought 50 quetzales with me, but the cheapest coffin we could find in town was 150 quetzales. We went back to the morgue. I told them the situation and promised that by tomorrow this time we would be back with a suitable coffin. They agreed to wait.

It was dark by the time we got back to the River. I started the generator and gathered material for the coffin. Within half an hour the entire village, most of whom were related to Marta, had gathered in the shed, each carrying a candle in her memory. They stood silently and watched for the next few hours while I built the coffin. At the break of day, Chung took the coffin and two men in a borrowed pick-up to Puerto Barrios. By late afternoon, they were back with the body.

According to custom, the village gathered in Chungs house. Someone had constructed an altar of palm fronds, with a faded picture of Jesus and one of Marta, on the limestone hearth. The villagers had brought candles to hold, and we sat on the dirt floor, silently. Chung sat with his little girls on his lap, and stared at the limestone stove which Marta had made with her own hands, and where she had stood every day of their married life, slapping out tortillas and stirring a pot of black beans. His baby, Marquito, was in the arms of a skinny, greasy-haired, gap-toothed woman who had milk in her breasts because she, too, had given birth not long ago. Looking at her, I couldnt help but wonder about the quality of Marquitos nutrition. Everybody in the village knew she was a drinker.

Two days after the wake, Chung went to the womans house to check on his baby. He found her drunk on the floor, the two babies wailing at the top of their lungs, lying in their accumulated urine and feces on a dirty bed...

Chung came to us in desperation. His baby would die if he didnt get help. He knew nothing about caring for a baby and, besides, where would he get milk? He could not afford cows milk and, even if he could, who would look after the baby? His little girls were no more than babies themselves. We promised to find help as quickly as we could.

Bonnie and I sat quietly across the table from each other after Chung left. We were both afraid to say a word, and yet the words hung heavily in the air as if someone had strung a flashing neon sign between us.

I was 51 years old. I had a boat to build. It had been almost 30 years since thered been a baby in my life. What could I possibly need a baby for?

Bonnie was 42 and had never had a baby. Shed made that decision years ago.

How was it possible that we could suddenly be faced with having a baby? Who had the right to ask such a thing of us? Chung hadnt. And, yet, there it was. Clear as day.

I took swig of strong coffee and cleared my throat. Bonnie looked up. For a minute she simply stared into my eyes. Finally I said the words... Maybe wed better take the baby. At least until a permanent home can be found, or until Chung remarries.

Slowly, her mouth broke into a smile. She got up from the table, found her purse and took out some money.

Ill need diapers, she said, and bottles and a basket for his crib, until we can get something better... and mosquito netting... and formula and powder...

While Bonnie threw herself into mothenbood, heart and soul, I pressed on with the boat. Months ago, I had made a trip to Poptun, 110km northwest of the Rio Dulce, to visit my dear friends Mike and Carol Devine. They owned and operated Finca Ixobel, a wonderful hostel up in pine-tree country. Mike was a man after my own heart. He could make a house out of twigs and feathers if he had to, and would consider it a fine challenge. Naturally, he was fascinated with my boat project.

Just what are you going to do for a sawmill? he asked. Buy one?

Hell, no. But Ive been trying to figure something out. I need a set-up big enough to run 10,000 board feet of lumber through. Been thinking that maybe Id get me an old car or truck and power a saw with that.

Mikes face brightened. Damn right. Why not? Fact is, I got an old Ford pickup parked in town behind the restaurant. Its been years since I fired her up. Body aint for shit. Got no brakes, battery or radiator, but its yours if you want it. Wanta see it?

Naw. I figure its as bad as you say, but Ill take it. I cant this trip, but Ill be back one of these days for it.

About two months after Marquito joined us, I was ready to set up a sawmill, which meant a trip to Poptun to get Mikes truck. I talked Bonnie into letting friends of ours in Guatemala City take the baby for the two or three days that wed be gone. They were a childless couple who wanted a baby very much, and it seemed to me Marquito might be the baby they needed. Reluctantly, Bonnie let herself be separated from Marquito, and we took off on yet another chicken bus ride. Id scrounged up an old radiator from somewhere, which we tied to the roof of the bus, and a battery which we stuck under our feet. The trip to Poptun normally takes five hours, but the road was still in pretty bad shape from the rains, and we arrived 11 hours later.

I found the truck half hidden in the weeds behind Mikes restaurant. The tires were bald and the floorboard missing, in addition to its other problems. I fixed it up enough to run it the two and a half miles to Mikes house, but even so we had to stop and fill the radiator twice and drive at a walking pace because there were no brakes. At Mikes house, I exchanged radiators and tried fixing the brakes, but the front brakes were too far gone. I tied them off and concentrated on the rear set. Once bled, they seemed to work. The handbrake was another lost cause, and something ailed the electric system. The lights were too dim to be of any real use. That meant we had to make it back to the River before nightfall.

We started for home with our new truck as soon as there was enough light to see by, the next morning. The first part of the road out of Poptun is called the Carousel because it winds around and around the mountains. However, it is a good road of hand-laid stone and one of Guatemalas oldest. About 23km from Poptun the Carousel takes off down the mountain.

Starting down the grade, I braked three times to keep from gaining speed, but the fourth time I hit them, nothing happened. Or rather, plenty happened. There was a community at the foot of the grade, and by the time we hit town we were flying. It was still too early in the morning for people to be up and about, thank God, but we made a few chickens, a couple of pigs, and some dogs run for their lives. I was having to do some fast thinking about what I could run into to stop the truck without killings us, or anything else. Fortunately, the town had a crossroad that ran steeply up a hill. I saw it just in time to make the turn which we negotiated on two wheels and a prayer. We tore up the hill, banging and rattling and bouncing all over the place until we came to a stop.

Need a bathroom, Honey? I asked, as we both emerged shaking, from the wreck we were driving. Or is it too late for that?

The trouble was that I had tied the copper brake tubing to the axle and the tube broke. I didnt have any spare fittings either.

The town was just waking up; the cocks were crowing, smoke from cooking fires began to curl into the sky, a baby was crying somewhere. An old man, just emerging from his house for a look at the day, told me there was one mechanic in town, and he lived a mile and a half away. I walked to the mechanics house where I found him still rubbing the sleep from his eyes, but he cheerfully set about finding me a couple of flanges. I hurried back to the truck, reconnected the tubing, attached it to something other than the axle, and we were off again.

The road began to get rougher, and with such a light rear end the truck jumped around like a jack rabbit. It was a full-time job keeping it on the road, let alone on my side of it. We rattled into a stone quarry a few miles farther on and loaded up with rock. It was a big help, gave better traction, and I was able to hold the road pretty well. About mid-morning, a terrible racket commenced under the hood. This time, the water pump shaft had busted which caused the fan to fly in between the radiator and the pulley wheel. I stuck it into neutral and we rolled backward. For a mile and a half we rolled backward. And when she finally came to a nice gentle stop, we unscrewed our necks to find that we were smack dab in front of a little tienda (closet-size family store where you can get a plain meal, cigarettes, candy, soda, etc...). I removed the water pump while Bonnie got us some food.

You stay here, Honey, I said. Im gonna see about getting this fixed or replaced.

She nodded her head. She knew, without saying so, I could be gone a couple of hours or a couple of days. From the day I met her, some 17 years earlier, she let me make all the decisions. Im just along for the ride, she always said. Beyond that she never said much. Somehow though, she wasnt saying anything now either. I had the uneasy feeling that this was one ride shed just as soon have missed. And she didnt really seem to be there, as if her thoughts were elsewhere.

A trucker stopped to pick me up somewhere along the road and told me the the Highway Department had a maintenance shop about 25km south on a side road. I found the place, and they welded the shaft together in no time. I hiked back to the main road just in time to see the northbound bus rounding the bend. I hailed it down and got a ride back to Bonnie who was surprised to see me so soon. I installed the shaft, the water pump and the fan, and off we went again, belching and smoking, down the mountainside.

Near Los Angeles, the road flattened out but it was still so scarred with ditch-size ruts that it was near impossible to drive on. We got hopelessly stuck within seconds. There wasnt anything to do but sit and wait for somebody to come along and help.

Before long, the southbound chicken bus rounded the bend, swerved to avoid us, and then stopped.

Need help? hollered the driver.

Yeah, sure do.

He threw me a cable; I tied it around the axle and out we came. The whole busload cheered. I threw them a big kiss and we roared off. Not far from home, Bonnie got out the flashlight because we had no headlights. We came to the portion of the road which was being paved just as the road crew was breaking up to go home. The road was no road here, but a shallow sea of muck some three feet deep. Five or six of the crew hopped in the back as ballast and another five or six pushed. We waltzed across the mess, swinging and swaying like a broad-assed mama at a barn dance.

Thirteen hours from the time we left Mikes, we arrived at the River, every bone in our bodies jarred loose.

In the morning, Chung and I came to Fronteras with our now-famous three canoe raft, and pulled it up to the truck.with the help of a considerable crowd of onlookers. We rolled the truck on backwards, pushing the canoes out father into the water as the weight of the truck came on board. The crowd held its collective breath, but we stayed afloat with a little less than four inches of freeboard.

Going across the River was a delicate operation. The smallest wave could sink us, and we prayed that no motorboats, much less the big Coast Guard cutter, would happen along, or it would be all over...and under. Chung curled up beneath the back of the truck, bailer in hand; and I steered the little 4-horse outboard.

Truck Crossing

On shore, men, women and children lined up to watch the truck float across the water. Chung and I heaved an enormous sigh of relief as we putted into our bay. We butted up to the bank and placed a board bridge from the canoes to land. As we maneuvered the truck off, the boards flipped; the wheels slipped off, and she sank axle deep into the mud.

The hardest job was yet to come. Steady rains had softened the hillside up which we had to move the truck. We got out come-alongs, hooked cables to the orange trees, and winched the truck up the hillside. But even with the trucks horsepower and manpower to the tune of 10 natives, and the winches, it was an all-day ordeal to get it up the hill.

But once on top, our little community celebrated. There never had been a vehicle on our side of the River because there were no roads, and they couldnt have been more thrilled if I had floated a purple Porsche over. I ran the old wreck around in circles, with the back full of wide-eyed Indians who whooped, hollered, and laughed at the wonderful machine Don Markos had bought.

Part IV: The Sawmill, Vacuum Molding, the Engine

To say that I was busy over the next year and a half doesnt begin to describe the creative frenzy which overcame me. Id built plenty of houses and boats in my time, but Id never faced a challenge of this size and been so deeply excited by the certain knowledge that I could do it. Building a 62` trimaran in primitive jungle conditions, without jack-scratch for materials, except what I could scrounge or create myself, gave me a profound sense of power. I loved every minute of it. I lay in bed at night staring into the dark while my brain worked feverishly. I grew thin. My eyes took on the glaze of obsession. But, damn, I loved every minute of it.

Chung and I built the big curved mold upon which the plywood panels for the hull would be made from uniquely cured lumber. I found out from Maria Elena, the owner of Fronteras most respectable whorehouse, that there was a considerable pile of Spanish cedar drying in the attic of her establishment. I went to inspect and, sure enough, it was good straight stuff, dried to fragrant lightness by the heat of business rising from below. I stripped the lumber into small pieces and laminated them to a mold 25` long by 14` wide. It looked like a section of massive donut when I was through.

After years of planning, collecting materials, and setting up shop, the sun finally rose on the day when we were ready to build the first vacuum-mold plywood panel. Id been awake all night, mentally rehearsing each step in the process. The big question was the vacuum mold. In theory it worked, but I never believed in anything until I did it myself. I figured it would take about a week to complete one panel... assuming that all my ancient, jury-rigged equipment worked.

Chung and I were up with the roosters, guzzling coffee. Like a couple of little boys who couldnt wait to dig in the dirt together, we squirmed in our seats and poked at our food. We were too excited to eat. Soon, as the sun peeked over the trees, we high-tailed it up the hill to the shop. At the entrance, we smoked a cigarette, neither of us talking, both of us staring at the huge pile of lumber neatly stacked from floor to ceiling.

We squashed out our cigarettes on the dirt floor, pulled on our gloves, and marched to the lumber pile -- pulling about 20 boards off the big pile and re-stacking them next to the sawmill. The sawmill was a strange looking contraption, powered by the old Bedford truck which we had blocked up under one wheel. The saw arbor was mounted on a concrete pedestal. The two were connected by a 1- shaft with self-aligning bearings bolted into concrete. Id turned a 6 rosewood pulley wheel, slid a belt over it and the rear tire, then put belt dressing on the whole works. Wed hooked a 3 cable around the nearest orange tree and back to the truck with a come-along. All we had to do to tighten the belt was give the come-along a couple of jerks. Since the saw arbor was stationary, we cut slots in the table legs so it could be bolted to varying heights.

The Saw Mill

The night before, we had filled the old truck with gas and checked the oil we were about to discover that she guzzled the stuff we got 100 bd. ft. to the gallon... in fact, running across the river for gas and oil took up a major portion of Chungs life. Chung started her. She gave a shudder, blew a loud explosive fart out the back end and a blast of black smoke that moseyed off through the trees as if it were looking for a place to sit and watch. Chung put her in second gear and let the clutch out nice and easy.

The belt started moving, flopping around the pulley...fwap-fwap-fwap. On the sawmill, 52 carbide teeth screamed EEEEEEE. The truck engine sounded like it was pulling, 10 tons up a steep grade... RRRR-AWP-RRR. The Lister diesel ground out a rusty, raucous JUG JUG JUG. The compressor: CHICKITA-CHICKITA. The vacuum compressor: SPOOSHSH. Through the trees, the faces of my Kekchi neighbors appeared, wide-eyed. Up to now, the loudest element in their world had been the screams of the howler monkeys. They listened to my intolerable racket for the next year and a half, and not one soul complained. Chung and I had our ears stuffed with cotton within 15 minutes.

For eight months, Chung tailed, and I pushed. It was hard, hot, noisy work. Together, we ran 10,000 bd. ft. Of lumber through; each 2x12x20 was cut in half; then each 2x6 section was turned on edge and we ran it through a 3-blade setup which gave us four boards x 6.

Next, we took our pile of x 6x 20s and ran them through the planer for consistent thickness. The planer was a 12-inch Rockwell which had been so damaged that the store clerk in Guatemala City had handed it to me in a basket. I got it in working order and powered, it with a Briggs and Stratton engine.

The next day, I took the section of the small model we were going to make and projected it onto the large mold with a crayon. Then, we covered the big mold with strips of wood diagonally, cutting them off an inch beyond the perimeter. Altogether, 4 layers of strips were laid up and stapled at the edges, each layer marked with a different color crayon. The layers were then set aside in readiness for the next day. The resin tray was prepared, and we gassed up all the machines and checked the oil. Finally, we cut the plastic sheet which would cover the wood during the molding. We were as ready as we were ever going to be. Tomorrow was the big day... we were going to vacuum mold our first piece of plywood. I did not sleep worth a damn.

We were up at 5 oclock, checking the skies because we couldnt vacuum mold on a rainy day. It looked good in the heavens, so we went into action. I had asked Bonnie to help, and she located a neighbor to baby-sit. Id also enlisted the help of Martn, the village chief. Bonnie poured and mixed the resin and filled the applicator tray with the liquid. Chung put resin on the first layer of diagonal strips which had been placed on the mold the night before. Martn shoved pieces of the second layer through the resin tray and handed them to me. I stood on top of the mold with a staple gun, fastening the second layer to the first, as Martn handed me the pieces.

We worked like crazy people to get the pieces laid up before the resin went off. In one hour, we had 350 pieces in place. I laid a thin sheet of plastic over the four layers on the mold, inserted the vacuum tube, then the fly screen, and then the final plastic sheet. The mold was sealed (I had split a PVC pipe in half and edged the mold with it; with the plastic laid over the split PVC, I snapped a full PVC pipe into the half section, and I had a tight seal).

Then, I jumped to the iron horse. This requires some explanation... I had bought a very old 3-cylinder refrigerator compressor, months earlier, in Livingston, for 75 quetzales. It had been years since anybody had tried to operate it. I put in new piston rings, cleaned it up, and got it to run. Meanwhile, I had also purchased an old tractor at a United Fruit Company auction. It was a tiny thing an 8 hp JLO French-made machine that had been used to haul bananas through the fields. I turned the clutch housing upside down and replaced the clutch pedal with an aluminum pipe to use as a lever arm. With a shaft and two pulled wheels with belts, I attached the little antique engine to my little antique compressor. In order to start this contraption, I had to remove the hand-screw on top of the cylinder head, then insert a phosphor-coated Tampax halfway into the hand-screw. With one hand, I could just get my fingers inside to trip the fuel-injection lever. With the other hand, I wrapped a 5 belt around a small flywheel; then I put both feet against the engine, belt in both hands (I was now doubled over), straightened my body and pulled with both hands as hard as I could. If I was lucky, she kicked over, and I tightened my Tampax screw immediately. Once started, shed run all day on 1 gallons of diesel fuel, but the hellish noise from the ancient devils was enough to make a man look forward to the silence of his own grave.

The Vacuum

The compressor was hooked to a steel storage tank which was sort of on permanent loan to me from the oil pipeline people. The 200-gallon tank measured 8 long and 3 in diameter and served as my vacuum storage.

With the other three watching, I jumped onto the iron horse, threw the belt on, and prayed for it to start. It did. CHUK-CHUK-CHUK-CHUK, loud enough to make our eardrums quiver. The gauge on the tank began to rise. When it stopped, I jumped back to the mold and opened the valve.

The moment of truth had arrived. We stood around the mold Bonnie, Chung, Martin, and I and held our breath as the vacuum sucked the air out of the wood and resin sandwich. It snapped and cracked and sucked and burbled, unleashing a stunning chain of events. None of us had appreciated the power of a vacuum mold. Resin oozed through the woods as if it were cheesecloth. In three loud, eventful minutes, it was all flatter than a pancake. We stood there with our months open, hardly able to believe what we had seen. I came to first. It worked! Good Christ, how it worked! I hollered and laughed and danced around the shop like a man possessed. Only then did I notice that a few village people had come to watch, their eyes glued to the mold. If the force of the vacuum surprised me, they were absolutely dumbfounded. It was a long time before they cast one last puzzled glance in my direction and headed back to the village.

By 9 a.m., we were scrubbing resin from our hands with industrial alcohol (burned like hell but seemed to be the only thing that worked). We retired to the house for a three-hour rest while the tractor pulled a constant vacuum on the 200-gallon storage tank. Sometime late in the afternoon, we peeled off the plastic and, for the next two hours, Chung and I took turns grinding the new plywood panel. Finally, we spread a coat of resin over the whole thing, waited for it to dry, and then applied another coat. After it dried, we flipped it off the mold onto the shop floor where we ground out the inside and applied two coats of resin. Our piece of plywood was 20` long by 14` wide, compound curved, and weighed 700 pounds. When it was finished, we slid it into the bodega (storage shed) and started on the next sheet.

We repeated this four-day process over and over again for nine months and produced 16 gigantic plywood hull panels. On the flat mold, we turned out bulkheads, doors, floors, and a gangway. I lay in bed at night creating decorative plywood designs from my jungle of exotic woods. The galley would be sunny sanjuan with special spalted sanjuan for the doors. The beams were alternating laminates of mahogany and sanjuan red-yellow-red-yellow. The headliners were rosewood of the richest grains and color variations I could find. For the forward cabin, I cut a wild pattern of ellipses out of very yellow wood called irayol, and the identical pattern out of very red mahogany, and interchanged them across the length of the flat mold. It resulted in a beautiful piece of plywood. For another bulkhead, I laid up a giant keyboard, each key a different kind of wood. Altogether, I used 25 varieties of tropical wood throughout the boat.

I was busy, absorbed, hopelessly enthralled. Somewhere deep in my soul, I felt fear. If I didnt hurry and get this boat into the water... well, I couldnt see beyond that. Whatever lurked there in the dark mists of the future was too frightening to name.

I remember little from those days except the sweet face of my new baby son, the incessant din in the shop, the fresh smell of newly planed cedar, and the ever- thickening sawdust on the shop floor. Half of the 10,000 bd. ft. Of lumber became sawdust. It wasnt long before we were working on a bottomless floor of the fluff nice to walk on, but hell when I dropped a cotter pin. Chung had a sieve he used for finding such things. He spent a lot of time with that sieve and a shovel. My five acres of pineapple, out back, were covered with sawdust, and huge piles of the stuff rotted all over my back yard and Chungs. His other main chore continued to be taking the canoe across the River for gasoline...he made hundreds of trips with our five-gallon can.

His three little girls and the children from the village loved the shop. The kids worked long, hard days tending to their chores, but when they were free, they knew where the playground was. We hung a swing for them, and they swooped from rafter to rafter, their squeals and shrieks adding to the general din. They made roads and valleys and mountains in the sawdust. They jumped in it, buried each other in it, rolled, in it, threw it, and went home to their mamas covered with it. Except Chungs girls who, of course, had no mama.

Since Martas death, they had assumed all of their mothers responsibilities even though Yolanda, the oldest, was only seven years old. Yolandas eyes had turned hard, and she never smiled. She climbed on a stool to reach the top of the limestone stove where she made the familys meals; she stood in water up to her waist to wash the familys clothes. She washed dishes at the waters edge every morning. She swept the dirt floor of Chungs house with a broom twice her size. She combed the lice-infested hair of her sisters. She did the best she could, and she never asked for help. At seven years of age, she was already a proud, resolute woman.

Work on the boat proceeded at a fast pace until the day when Sidney almost stopped it for good. Sidney was my burro. He was a damned nuisance, but then I liked his rotten attitude. I accommodated him as best I could, having a natural understanding for boneheadedness myself. He loved garbage pits. The deeper, the better. I spent many a good day winching Sidney out of deep holes. Finally, I built him a portable ramp so he could climb out himself. If he wasnt down in a hole, hed wade out into the water to cool off. Frequently, he sank in the mud, and wed have to stop our work and spend half a day hauling him out. He was a stubborn old cuss; hed pull back his lips and flatten his ears, and give me a piece of his mind when he felt like it. Ever since he swallowed the fishing line, however, hed been particularly out of sorts. Cant say I blame him. I tried pulling it out when I noticed it hanging from his behind. He didnt want any part of that, so he took off at a gallop, the fishing line reeling out of him all the while, with me holding the free end. He cut a few fancy corners around a lemon tree and a couple of palms and made it all the way to the bamboo stand when the fishhook on his end grabbed hold of something, and he stopped in a hurry.

Sidney, you dumb jackass, whadya doin running away from me when there is a 100-pound-test line hooked to something you probably cant afford to lose? Which there was. The next morning, his left testicle was as big as a cantaloupe.

He liked lying in the cool moist sawdust of the shop after that. Didnt seem to mind the kids or the noise. Only thing he minded was dogs, pretty women, and the blueprints for my boat. Dogs he kicked; women he bit if they gave him any sweet talk; and ever since the business with the fishing line, he was out to get my blueprints. Sidney hung on to his resentments through thick and thin, and hed figured out how to get back at me. So far, Id caught him in time, and there were only a few bites gone; but the last time, he had a chance to chew for a while, and by the time I pried them out of his cheek with a stick they were nothing more than a big sticky wad. That did it. I put him up for sale, and a neighbor bought him within a week. Sidney got even anyway... I missed him something terrible.

I was changing Marquitos diaper one morning when Chung came in for our usual cup of coffee before heading to the shop. Bonnie had gone to Fronteras for supplies. He played with Marquitos feet while I tried to keep from sticking the baby with a pin. Marquito was laughing and squirming. He was a cute little bugger with two daddies who adored him.

Got some news, I said to Chung. Know that big boat half sunk in the river over by La Baccadilla?


Well, I finally got the scoop on that thing. Right now, it belongs to Ana Belly (Ed. note: Guatemalas largest manufacturer of canned food). The president of the company has a vacation home right here on the River. I went to talk to him. Asked him if I could salvage the boat. He said it was nothing but a pain in the ass to him and an eyesore besides, and that I could do whatever I wanted with it. How bout that?!

Chung looked puzzled. Why we want another boat, Marcos?

Oh, Chung, I cried, disappointed in the mans lack of understanding. Think what we could use off that boat. First place, its no ordinary boat. It was built back in 1932, in Cuba, at cost of $250,000. In 1932, that was a whale of a lot of money for a 54 powerboat. Whole thing was put together with silicon bronze screws. Know how much those things cost these days? Way outta our price range. But now we got em for free! Not only that, theres miles of electrical wiring, copper tubing, and good Wilcox-Crittendon through-hull fittings and cleats.... and I dont know what all. We get it all free, Chung! Only thing we gotta do is take the boat apart.

Chung gave me a weak smile. There wasnt any doubt in his mind, who was going to take that boat apart.

Later in the week, Chung and I took the launch over to the Baccadilla and chain-sawed the boat into manageable pieces which we towed to our bay. First, we tried burning the hull and then picking up the screws, but the fire softened them to the point of being unusable. So, for the next few months, Chung removed 300 pounds of silicon bronze flathead screws by hand, one at a time. Fifty percent turned out to be okay. In any case, it was enough to put THAT together when the time came. He also took out about a half a mile of wiring, and we salvaged a lot of the interior wood which I made into furniture for Chungs house, a crib for Marquito, work benches, and a room divider.

My Indian friends, all up and down the river, began bringing me items for the boat. Most of them worked for wealthy Guatemalans, Germans, or Americans who lived elsewhere most of the time but kept their boats in the river. Somehow, my Indian friends identified with me. They knew all too well what it was like to make something out of nothing, and they wanted to help. In the evenings, it wasnt unusual for a canoe to slip quietly into our bay. An Indian would step out with something wrapped in a blanket. It might be a barometer or stainless steel porthole, or a ships clock. Whatever it was, I was always assured that Seor So-and-So didnt need it anymore.

Evenings, when I eased my aching body between the sheets, I smoked slow cigarettes, listened to the critters in the thatch, and thought about the next set of obstacles I had to overcome: The one facing me now was the engine. In the normal course of events, it was a bit soon to start thinking about an engine since we didnt have a boat yet. But, earlier in the day, I had heard an announcement over the radio about an engine for sale over in San Felipe, just up the river. Since engines didnt come up for sale very often in this part of the world, I took the launch over to San Felipe right away for a look, and found that the owner, Don Humberto, was in the United States. The engine, however, was there, half in and half out of the water, lying in a small wooden boat awash with weeds, and slime, and mud.

Looks like a pretty nice little boat, I said sadly. Humberto, he always take care of things, she said, sweeping her hand over the whole of their property, but not when his heart broke. You see, he built this little boat for our children. But they big children now. He work hard to send them to university in Florida. He build boat for when they come home on vacation. But they big, very big children. They want fiberglass speedboat, not small wood boat. Humberto, he not touch boat after that. He walk away from it two years ago. I dont want to see it anymore myself. You take it. Take it now.

But dont you think I should talk to him before I take it? How much does he want for it?

He sell cheap. Dont worry about that, she said. But you take now. I dont want it here when he comes back. The engine in Humbertos heartbreak was a 62 hp Perkins diesel. Just what I needed and, after I got her cleaned, she ran like a clock.

Part V: Latin Bureaucracy and Mayan Construction Methods

The one component that I still didnt have for my boat was fiberglass. I had ordered it during my last trip to the States and, a few weeks later, I received a notice in the mail from Aduana (Customs) telling me that it had arrived at the port of Santo Tomas. But I hadnt received an invoice from the company and, without it, I couldnt claim the fiberglass (which would be auctioned off in 30 days if I didnt pick it up before then). There wasnt any sense in calling the company because if it hadnt been sent, it wasnt going to reach me within the 30 day limit...and if it had been sent, only the gods knew when it would arrive. Mail to the Rio Dulce took any where from three weeks to nine months, and sometimes it never arrived at all.

So, I waited. It was a nerve-wracking business. If the paperwork didnt show up in time, I would lose $1,000 worth of fiberglass, not to mention the glass itself, which would mean yet another trip to the States to earn more money in order to replace it. I didnt even want to think about that.

Three days before the fiberglass was to be auctioned off, the invoice came in the mail. I grabbed our entire supply of money (275 quetzales), jumped on a bus to Santo Tomas, and ran up the steps of the Aduana building.

Expecting to pay 10% duty, I handed my invoice to the low-browed, gold-toothed Aduana official behind the counter. He disappeared into a back room to check my invoice against the bill of lading. This time, I didnt see what could possibly go wrong. I had my Q100 on the counter when the official came back with that we-got-you-by-the-balls gleam in his eyes (which I well recognized from all my previous experience with Aduana).

That will be 600 quetzales, Mr. Hassall.


Six hundred quetzales.

I heard you, but that cant be! Ten percent duty only comes to 100 quetzales. I dont even have 600.

Mr. Hassall, he began, with all the charm of a coiled snake, this is cloth youre bringing into the country. The duty on cloth is 60%.

Wait a minute. Its not cloth. I know it looks like cloth, but its not cloth. Its glass. If you had to wear a shirt made of the stuff, youd know right away that it isnt cloth.

Im sorry, sir. In my book, if it looks like cloth, then it is cloth. Same with a car. If it looks like a car, then it is a car, no matter if they tell me its a box of fruit.

But fiberglass is NOT CLOTH... I wailed. But he had gone on to another customer, and no amount of protest on my part was going to do any good at this point.

I left the building and stood on the front steps, wracking my brain. How could I convince him that fiberglass was glass, not cloth? Especially when they stood to gain nothing by changing their minds. And if I couldnt convince them, how the hell was I going to come up with 500 more quetzales?

Several minutes passed. I was lighting up a third cigarette in a row when the door opened behind me and a man brushed past.

Meet me behind the building in five minutes, he said and kept on walking.

I recognized him as a fellow whod been hanging around inside, a tramitadore, obviously one of the many who make their living squirreling around the inner sanctums of Guatemalan bureaucracy.

I finished my cigarette and ambled around to the back of the building. He was standing with his back against the eight-foot cyclone fence that surrounded the government building. A glob of overgrown hibiscus shaded his face while he worked on his fingernails.

Whats the deal? I asked.

Two hundred and fifty quetzales, and Ill get the stuff out for you, he said without looking up.

Shit, I dont owe more than 100.

They say you owe 600.

They dont know what fiberglass is, for Christs sake. Theyre trying to take me for 500 quetzales! No deal. Im not paying them or you more than I owe.

He shrugged his shoulders, and I walked off, thoroughly pissed. One thing for sure, if I ever managed to get the boat built, I was going to take great pleasure in sailing away from Latin bureaucracy. After 15 years, I had had a belly full of these officials.

I marched back inside and demanded a hearing. A meeting was called three Aduana officers and a shipping agent (who was supposed to be my impartial judge), and myself. We met in one of the offices, a cinder-block cell with a lopsided overhead fan teetering in the hot air. A box of fiberglass sat beside the door.

I stated my case; the Aduana officer stated his. The shipping agent was then called upon to give his opinion.

It is cloth, he announced. It even says cloth on the box. He took his pen and ran it along the words 5-ounce fiberglass cloth and underscored the word cloth several times.

Two of the officers nodded their heads in agreement. The third looked a bit troubled.

I dont know, he said. Fiberglass is glass. They make it look like cloth, but it isnt really cloth.

Yeah, I chimed in, surprised and grateful that I had support from anyone in the room.

You cant wear this stuff, I said. It isnt cloth in that sense. Its glass strands woven together to make it a more usable product. Its only used for building boats, cars, planes things like that.

What are you using it for? Asked the third Aduana officer.

Im building a boat.

It clearly states on the container that it is cloth, insisted the shipping agent a man who, apparently, had no experience in changing his mind but plenty of practice in maintaining his position.

I popped out of my chair, ran to the box of fiberglass, tore off a piece, and rubbed it vigorously on the shipping agents arm.

You think its cloth? I asked. Youll be itching for weeks on that spot, but Ill be more than happy to make a pair of undershorts out of the stuff for you. Then well talk about whether its cloth or not.

On and on the argument went. The room became hotter, the fan grew more irritating, and nobody gave an inch. Wed gone from sitting to standing positions. Fingers wagged in front of noses and poked bellies. Faces reddened.

Suddenly, the third Aduana officer staggered backward. Somebody had punched him in the face. I never knew who. The room exploded as if the tension had jumped from fuse to powder keg. Curses flew, arm flailed, papers fluttered, and the overhead fan gyrated wildly. I edged my way along the wall to the backdoor and tiptoed out.

Outside, I checked my watch. Almost noon. The office would be closed in a few minutes and not reopen until 2 oclock. In two hours they would be back to normal. But the question still remained: what was I going to do?

A plate of beans and tortillas helps an entire continent of people to solve lifes problems and what that doesnt fix, a two-hour siesta will. I ate a heaping plate of frijoles, hot tortillas and scrambled eggs. Then, over a final cup of coffee, I decided that I was better off paying the tramitadore 250 quetzales than losing the fiberglass altogether, or coughing up 600 from God knows where.

Someday, I wish somebody would tell me how those guys do it. But, I suppose some mysteries are meant to remain forever beyond the scope of explanation. However, he did it. By 4 oclock, the tramitadore had his 250 quetzales, and I was stacking boxes of fiberglass in the back seat of a taxi.

I was also battling Latin bureaucracy on another front. Bonnie and I had decided to adopt Marquito. Actually, it wasnt much of a decision; even if Chung remarried (which he showed no inclination to do and, in fact, never did), or somebody else offered to give the baby a good home, we were all past the point of being able to give him up. The usual attorneys fee for adoption was 2,000 quetzales which was just plain out of the question for us. I explained to the attorney that we could afford to pay no more than 300 quetzales, but that I was willing to do all of the footwork. He agreed, and three months, and much footwork, later, Marquito was legally ours.

While all of this was going on, Chung and I continued to build a boat. I remember the week when we put the main hull together. Like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle, we fitted all of the parts into a whole: two frames, four buttblocks, and six compound-curved panels. Now, we had a huge upside-down canoe, 10 feet across and 62-feet long. The same week, we added the 3-foot wing extensions which turned out to be rather handy as platforms. At the end of the week, we were faced with the problem of turning the hull over.

With a 5-ton winch, cable routed through the rafters to a strong tree, two come-alongs, block and tackle to trees on the other side, and six strong men with levers, we began the process of turning eight tons of hull over. She moved by inches; slowly and carefully, we proceeded, watching every cable and line to make sure that nothing snapped. As the hull rose higher and higher into the air, the tension grew. My stomach was as hard and tight as the cables. Martin, the village chief, one of the men whom I had asked to help, watched his men with the eye of a circling eagle, anxious that none of them caused the hull to crash down, and just as anxious that none of them got crushed if it did. When the minikeel was in the proper position, we put the cradle on it. For a few moments, we stared at the monster hanging in the air, and a sinking feeling crept into every stomach present. It didnt take a genius to realize that I had made a mistake. Id miscalculated the height of the roof; I hadnt taken into account the added dimension of the cradle when I had determined how high the roof needed to be in order turn the hull over.

My first thought was that I would have to tear the shed down, and my second was like hell I will; What a stupid, idiotic mistake! I couldnt believe Id made it. While I was kicking myself from here to kingdom come, Martin walked up to me, put his hand on my shoulder, and said, We dig, Don Marcos.

So, we dug. All day, and, little by little, the hull settled into the hole, and the space between the rafters and the cradle widened. The next day, we continued turning her over and, by the end of it, we had her right-side-up.

The Hull

God, but she was huge! Upside down, she looked like a big, overgrown canoe; but right side up, with the new gaping maw of her interior, she looked frighteningly immense. Cocksure as I was about most everything, I couldnt help but wonder, down in the depths of myself, if I hadnt bitten off more then I could chew.

For one thing, the enormous thing was securely bedded down on the right hand side of the shop, and we needed her in the center of it in order to have room for the wings and floats. Turning her over was one thing, but how were we going to slide her 30 feet?

Martin was a man who liked a challenge. He was short, hard-muscled, 50 or so and, sometimes, it seemed to me that the whole village operated on the strength of his energy. While most of the other men had dull eyes and a slow gait that comes from too much drink and a poor diet, Martins eyes were bright as hot coals, and intelligent. He was a canoe builder by trade and, from morning to night, the sound of Martins adz echoed through the trees. Everybody (including me) knew one thing: if you need help, if you found yourself struggling with a job that was too much, Martin was the man to call on.

I put Martin in charge and went to the house. No sense in giving a man authority if you stand there and breathe down his neck. For some reason, I didnt have the heart for this struggle myself. Back at the house, I brewed a pot of fresh coffee, played with Marquito, and tried to ignore the sounds coming from up the hill.

It wasnt possible. They were too urgently important to ignore. Even the baby listened when Martin yelled, UNO, DOS TRES! Grunts, groans, moans, and yelps came from the men. From the boat came the most horrible creaking and cracking that Id ever heard.

Then, silence. Long interminable silence that tormented me worse than anything. What was happening? Had someone been hurt? Was the boat still in one piece?

Finally, Martin again, UNO, DOS, TRES!

More torturous groans and creaks, both human and boat-like.

More silence. Very long silence.

It was more than I could stand. Leaping up, I ran, heart-in-mouth, up the hill, tripping over myself, sure that I would find some unspeakable disaster waiting for me.


The men were all lined up on one side of the boat with pillows on their shoulders and long levers. The air smelled of sweat, and the mens bodies were shiny with it.

Dont push your levers too far, cautioned Martin. We dont want to lift the goddamn thing, only nudge it. You understand? No lift, nudge.

I was surprised to see how far theyd already nudged it. She was halfway to the center and, in spite of the nerve-wracking noises, seemed to be no worse for the wear. I stood quietly by and watched, thinking that these guys were direct descendants of the Mayans who had built incredible pyramids at Tikal and Palenque. I neednt have worried.

Maybe not about that anyway, but worry ran like a subterranean river through my soul. I was covered with an itchy red rash from constant exposure to epoxy resin; the skin seemed to sink away from my ribs, and they were clearly countable. I weighed 98 pounds. Almost every night, I drank enough gin to fall into a heavy sleep. I was running out of money again, and I was running out of epoxy resin. I knew no other solution than to work faster. It seemed to me that all of my problems would dissolve on the ocean. All I needed to do was work faster so that I could get my family back to the sea back to the way it used to be.

In order to earn money, I agreed to build yet another boat for two of my very best friends, Tommie Maer and Paul Parini. They owned a chain of popular pizza parlors in Guatemala City and, when the demands of their business allowed them to, they escaped to the Rio Dulce. They wanted a fast sailboat and, as soon as they bought materials, I was to begin construction on a Brown-Marples 34 Seaclipper. I hoped that by the time the materials arrived in the River my boat would be in the water, and I could use the empty shed for the Seaclipper.

However, I ran out of resin sooner than I expected. I still had the entire interior of the boat and the decks to finish, all of which required another $7,000 worth of resin. There didnt seem to be any way around the fact that I had to go back to the U.S. I had just enough money left to buy a round-trip ticket; once there, it would be up to the fates to decide what was going to happen next.

I spent two weeks with my folks in Ventura while looking for work. Some time during the last week, I called an old friend of mine from Guatemala, Arturo Herbruger, who was now living in California. Art and I went back a long way. He and Jim Brown had met back in the 60s in Santa Cruz. In those days, Art was sailing a trimaran, too, but since then, hed married, had a family, and settled down.

Art was glad to hear from me for more than one reason. Seemed he was getting ready to send a shipment of wine to Guatemala, and it didnt take him more than a few minutes to figure out that if he bought the resin for me and sent it down with the wine, he could save on wine what he spent on resin because the import duty on wine was a whopping 700%. If he claimed that the resin weighed more than it did, and the wine weighed less than it did, the savings would be considerable.

Ive been wracking my brain for weeks, he said, trying to find something heavy to send down with the wine. Resin is perfect!

I drove up to San Francisco to meet with him and, within a week, the wine and resin were loaded onto a ship heading for El Salvador. From there, they were trucked to Guatemala City. Since the Herbruger family is a well-connected one, not a single hitch developed and, in less than three weeks, the resin was stacked at the Rivers edge waiting for Chung and I to load it onto our three canoe raft.

Progress on the boat continued. We hung the floats, completed the decking, and dropped in the engine. Visitors came from near and far to see the boat. I remember none of them; all my attention was focused on the boat. Vaguely, I was aware that something was happening. I knew that those long years of paradise I had experienced in the Rio Dulce were drawing to a close. More and more expensive homes were popping up close to the rivers edge. Even in our peaceful little bay, a yacht club now sat not more than 200 yards from our house. They threatened us with guns if we dared to trespass, trained megawatt spotlights on our house, and overturned the Indians canoes when they barreled into the bay with 800-horsepower engines.

On all fronts, it seemed that an uneasy change was in progress. For years, I had lived in Guatemala, untouched by violence but, one morning, when I pulled up to the gas dock, a big canoe was parked there. In it were six men with machine guns, and on the dock stood one of our part-time Rio Dulce residents, a general and former president of Guatemala. I stepped out to greet him.

In answer to my how are you, he shook his rugged head balefully and said, Today, I am not good. He pointed to the men in the canoe. This morning, they were forced to shoot 35 guerillas. He shook his head again and went on with the business of paying for his gasoline. While I waited, the vibrations from the canoe-full of men had a chance to envelop me. Never in my life had I felt such gruesome heaviness. Not a man moved. It seemed as though they were not breathing, so perfectly still were they, in shock from their own deed, as dead inside as their victims (whom history tells us were not guerrillas but Indians men, women, and children who refused to leave the land on which they had lived for generations, land which had been given to the general for his services to the country). I watched them leave, feeling as though I had brushed against something foul and evil and as dark as the backside of the moon.

I crawled off to bed that night, steeped in the sourness of my own darker half. I needed to get out of the Rio Dulce. It was time. Past time. I scarcely recognized my own nature anymore, let alone anything else. I fell into a troubled sleep, tossing and turning. How long I slept, I dont know, but suddenly a great crashing noise tore me out of a dream.

Bonnie screamed. The roof! she cried. Something crashed through the roof!

Whatever it was, it was thrashing wildly on the floor.

Flashlight! I hissed.

I heard her fumbling under the bed for the flashlight we always kept there. She handed it to me. I flicked it on just in time to see a huge five-foot iguana crash through the Japanese sliding door and sail 20 feet through the air into the river below.

Shaking like aspen leaves in a mountain storm, we managed to brew some tea to calm our frazzled nerves. An hour later, we crawled off to bed again. I lay for a long time, contemplating the huge hole in the thatch over my head where wisps of breeze and the bright light of the moon were now flowing in.

Its taken me time to understand it, but now I know that change sometimes comes to a man like a flying iguana through a thatched roof. The trick is to keep your eyes on the opening it makes in your roof... through it comes the fresh air and light.

Part VI: Launching, the Rigging, Epilogue

On Independence Day for Guatemala, we launched THAT.

Aside from announcing the date to friends and family, I made no other plans. The truth was, I was too exhausted to give a damn how it got into the water or who put it there. And, to some extent, I figured the gods owed me a launching since I had spent seven years of my life scrounging, sweating, and straining my mind, body, and marriage to the ultimate limit to build this boat. It turned out that Chung felt pretty much the same way, but he had a different notion about how to communicate with the powers that be. All I did was give them a date; he sweet-talked them. But, Im getting ahead of myself...

Three days before the launching date, Jim Brown arrived. He jumped right into the thick of things when he realized that the decks still werent glassed. The next thing I knew, he was on his hands and knees fiberglassing all three decks which, when viewed from that perspective, must have seemed only slightly smaller than a football field.

I hadnt heard a word from the rest of the world. For all I knew, the vast majority of my friends and relatives were sane enough to consider pushing 16 tons of boat down 200 feet of rough terrain when both temperature and humidity were well into the 90s, a bit much. I could understand.

A couple of nights before the launch, I happened to be walking through the Catamaran Hotel dining room on my way to the bar. The place was packed. Carlos, the manager, bumped into me on the run.

Place is busting at the seams, Carlos! I said. Independence Day insanity?

Independence Day, hell, he snorted. This is all on account of you.


Your family took up every room in the house.

Youre kidding.

No, Im not. Take a look at the dining room.

I just walked through the dining room.

Well, this time, look.

I looked. He was right. There sat, among others, my 81-year-old mother, my son, my nephew, my son-in-law and his entourage (which included his banker, a secretary, and an accountant).

The morning of the launch dawned bright and hot. I woke to the sound of motors. People were pulling up to the shore in a steady stream... some in big, sleek powerboats...some in aluminum launches...some in rowboats and canoes. I grabbed a cup of coffee and headed out to find Chung. Usually he was up with the sun, sharing our first cup of coffee with us but, this morning of all mornings, he was nowhere to be found. I met Yolanda coming down the trail on her way to the river with her plastic dish pan full of dirty plates and cups. She stared at me without smiling a hard, bitter glare.

Wheres your daddy? I asked.

She looked back at Chungs house, not saying a word.

I rattled the cane door when I reached the house, but got no response except from a chicken, which scolded me for shoving it aside when I opened the door. No sign of Chung, but I knew he was there. I could smell the hooch. Stumbling through the dark hut, I made my way to the back behind the partition where the family slept. There he lay, mouth open, lips fluttering in the breeze of his own breath, drunk as a skunk, and sound asleep. I wasnt surprised; this was how Chung celebrated all the significant happenings in life. I could never convince him to celebrate after the event so, he was always too drunk to help with a birthday party, funeral, wedding, or whatever. But, until this moment, it never occurred to me that he would celebrate the launching beforehand. Ah well, if the truth were known, I envied him. All that kept me from doing the same was the fact that it was my boat. I looked at him, lying there in oblivion, and suddenly felt a stab of guilt. For years, hed worked hard on the boat, and what did he have to show for it? Nothing. And, before long, even I would be gone from his life, I who had been his employer and best friend for well over ten years.

I left the house and walked to the shop. A small group of bare and shiny-white torsos stood in front of the boat, eyeballing the situation.

Hope you guys are wearing a thick layer of suntan lotion, or youre going to sizzle like little white grubs in a frying pan. You been living under a rock, or what?

Something like that, my son-in-law said. You know San Francisco...smog and fog. All this clean air and sunshine is disgusting. If we dont get our daily intake of heavy metals, man, were dead ducks.

His banker, whiter than the rest but muscular from workouts in the corporate gym, took his accustomed role as boardroom director.

First thing we need to do, he said, is knock out the center post in the doorway. Might sag a bit but looks to me like itll hold. Then, we need to jack up the stern end of the boat and get some rollers underneath the cradle. What have you got for rollers? he asked, looking in my direction.

Those pipe pieces, I answered, pointing to a stack Id scrounged from somewhere.

Thats it?

Art Mitchell laughed. Youre lucky he got those.

The banker managed things very well. He gave everybody a job and, by mid-morning, the jack was in place and the center post was gone. The roof sagged 12 inches but held the boat cleared it by a fraction of an inch.

Once in position, we pulled the boat forward by means of two 1 `` lines tied to the bows. My optimism led me to believe I might need a braking system, so I tied a line from the stern to the biggest orange tree.

Uno, dos, tres, HEAVE! came the first call. The lines were well manned. Where all those people came from I had no idea, but down the hillside were two solid lines of them, 85 in all, straining until their eyes bulged. They came from everywhere the U.S, France, Germany, Canada, and, of course, Guatemala. I was struck by the diversity of the group. Next to one of my Kekchi Indian neighbors stood the banker from San Francisco, then my 81 year-old mother, then an American priest, next to him a pint-sized child from the village, then a French yachtsman, next the son of the ex-president of Guatemala, then a German pizza entrepreneur, and on and on.

Out in the bay floated Jim Brown, encircled by an inner tube, camera in hand, looking like a bespectacled sea otter.

The porch of the house, the rivers banks, and the hillsides were covered with spectators. Even the ducks were crowded out of the bay; there were so many boats and people.

Uno, dos, tres, HEAVE! Each time the call went out, a horrible, strangled groan rose from the throng as every man, woman, and child pulled on the lines with all their strength. And each time they did, the boat moved a half an inch. There were thousands of half-inches to go, and it didnt take a genius to figure out that, at this rate, we would be weeks getting her into the water.

Bow view launch day

Dyou ever consider building something smaller? grumbled the banker as he brushed by me.

It was miserable, hot work. People left the line whenever they felt the need for a drink, rest, or food. I was surprised the first time I went into the house to find the table laden with cases of cold beer and soda, resting in tubs of ice. People had come prepared, and there was plenty for everybody.

We quit at sundown, with the boat little more than out of the shed. The bay was suddenly full of splashing bodies. Cooled off, they made their way back to motel room, boat, tent, or sleeping bag and fell asleep, sore and tired.

Back they all came at sunup, gluttons for punishment, every last one of them. By midday, discouragement had wormed its way into every heart.

The banker from San Francisco didnt mince any words. Well never get this son-of-a-bitch in the water. Its not possible.

He left, heading downriver for Livingston in a tourist canoe. I knew that everyone there felt the same way as he did, and I was no exception. Hed been good help, and I thanked him. He shook my hand and gave me a smile that he probably generally reserved for simple old men and infants. Funny thing... his leaving inspired me. I respond to the words, Its not possible like a horse responds to a sharp kick in the ribs.

We put skinned logs under the boat, used more prying bars, and laid a board track all the way down the hill for the poles to roll on. By the end of the second day, we were halfway down the hill.

Expecting very few people to show up on the third day, I was surprised and touched when even more folks appeared. Evidently, they felt the same way I did... WHO SAYS ITS NOT POSSIBLE? OH, YEAH? WELL, WATCH THIS. Little by little, the boat crept towards the rivers edge. They were a determined lot, my launching crew. There wasnt a single one among them whose back, head, eyes, feet, hands, and hair didnt hurt but, by God, they were going to get that boat into the water if it killed them. The last big push came sometime in the late afternoon. We were only a couple of feet from the waters edge when we heard a voice hailing us from the hilltop.


I looked up. It was Chung, waving a bottle of wine above his head with one hand and a flaming candle in the other. After three days of bed-rest and booze, he was more than drunk, he had ascended.

Down the hill he came, stumbling and weaving, calling IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, THE SON, AND THE HOLY GHOST!

View from stern at launch

By now, everybody had stopped to watch. He approached the boat, made a deep bow to her repeating the only religious phrase he knew. IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, THE SON, AND THE HOLY GHOST! He poured a little wine onto her side, took a little nip for himself and then poured a trail of it on both tracks all the way down to the water, greasing the skids, as it were. That done, he pulled several candles from his shirt and a book of matches from his pants. He dug little holes in the ground in front of the boat, pushed a candle into each hole, and lit them. The last part was tricky business in this state, but he finally managed to light them all.

All this while, he intoned, IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, THE SON, AND HOLY GHOST! in his deepest, most religious voice. Moving back from the lit candles, he bowed again to the boat and said, I, WHO AM CONCEPCION ALVAREZ, I POUR WINE ON YOUR PATH TO MAKE THE WAY EASY, AND I LIGHT CANDLES TO MAKE THE WAY BRIGHT. With that he turned, walked back up the hill, and seated himself to watch the final push. Minutes later, the boat was floating. I looked at Chung who looked at me. We did it, he seemed pleased that it was done by a shove from our friends and a small shove from above. I resisted the urge to point out to him that it might have been the Candy Man (a great fat fellow who owned a candy factory in Guatemala City) with his 26 stink pot and 280 hp Mercury who finally pulled THAT the last few feet into the water. But, then again, who was I to say?

A great gasp passed through the crowd. They had done it! And, my God, what an enormous baby theyd delivered! She was so big, she took up a full third of the bay. I had jumped on board at the last minute so I could ride the bow into the water. Those onshore thought something awful must be happening because I was frantically leaping all over the deck. Actually, the deck was so hot that it blistered my feet. I didnt waste much time getting below; I was anxious to see if she had any leaks. I found only one, a small seepage in the forepeak around one of the underwater windows.

She floated so high in the water that the floats were a foot and a half above it. Despite her enormous size, the weight of my body tipped her way over when I stepped to one side or the other.

I started the engine and motored her to the house pier. I had always thought of my house as fairly good-sized, but the boat dwarfed it to that of a small chicken house. Even though I built THAT from the ground up, until that moment, even I had no idea how big she really was.

We broke no bottle of champagne over the bow Id never liked the violence of that particular ceremony. Itd be different, I guess, if they made thin-skinned champagne bottles, but most seemed to be thick enough to withstand a major explosion. Instead, we sat on the foredeck just our closest friends to sip champagne and watch the setting sun. It was Jim Brown who said some wonderful words in honor of the occasion and made us feel as though THAT was properly and reverently delivered into the world.

A couple of weeks after launching, we stepped the after mast from the Rio Dulce Bridge. The bridge was 96 off the water, and it was an impressive sight. A contingent from the Guatemalan Army stood by, as well as a film crew with cameras rolling. Uniformed and armed to the teeth, the soldiers gave the affair an official atmosphere. Traffic, of course, came to a standstill, and spectators lined the banks.

If the army had known how I had brought the rigging into the country, they might not have offered to officiate. I had to chuckle about that memory. The rigging had been left sitting in Belize at Hard Luck Charlies; three months afterward, I happened to be conducting a charter from the Catamaran Hotel to Livingston. On that trip my only passengers were a middle-aged American couple. After lunch in one of Livingstons best restaurants, we walked to the dock. Just as I was getting into the launch for the trip back upriver, my old pirate friend, Caracol, hailed me.

Hey, Mark! Is that rigging of yours still in Belize at Charlies?


Whadya say we go get it?

Sure. When?



Yeah, I got nothin better to do. Got a bunch of kids on board wanta go to Belize anyway.

Fine, but I have to take this couple back to the Catamaran. Ill make it fast, but I probably cant get back here until evening.

Okay. Meet ya back here 'long about 7-8 oclock.

That meant I had to cover 25 miles of river, deliver my couple, grab some clothes and money from the house, and motor another 25 miles downriver before sunset.

I gave that unfortunate couple from Cincinnati a ride they probably still have nightmares about. I floored it all the way up the river. They were soaked to the skin by the time we got to the Catamaran, and their eyes were fixed in the bright, unblinking stare of the terrified.

I pulled up to the Livingston dock at 7:08. Caracols boat, the Cool Goose, was bobbing up and down at the dockside. She was a real pirate boat: a mean-looking 45 wood-planked Belizean gaff-rigged sloop with a 10 bowsprit and so much weather helm that it needed three people at the wheel to keep her on course. Caracol himself was half American, half Guatemalan, and half nuts. There wasnt anything he wouldnt do for the hell of it. He wasnt a bad person he was just a good-time Joe with a thirst for excitement that was pretty near unquenchable.

The cargo hold of the Cool Goose was nothing but one big bed: wall-to-wall smelly mattress which had doubtless been the playpen for lots of naughty children. At the moment, it was full of French hippies, and there is nothing worse than a French hippie. A dirtier, more arrogant human being you wont find. This group ignored me completely, which was just as well. I was exhausted and wanted nothing more than sleep. I curled up as far away from them as I could and promptly fell into a deep, black slumber.

It must have been about 3 oclock in the morning when I awoke with a start. I smelled danger. Something wasnt right. I listened, every fiber of my being stretched out like an antenna. I knew from the sound of the water against the hull that we were scooting right along 7 knots maybe. And then I knew. Shallow water! Very shallow water! Clearly, whoever was at the helm was not aware of the danger. I jumped up and ran across the mattress, planting my feet onto soft-bodied French hippies all the way to the gangway. Every time I stepped on one, a noise escaped. They made musical stepping stones, burping and farting and moaning in various tempi and tones.

Caracol was at the helm.

Hey, Mark! Whats up?

Youre over shallow water, man!

You think so? he asked. He looked around, still unaware.

I know so. Get out your lead line.

He lowered it over the side and brought it up, read the evidence and gasped.

Jesus! One foot.

He slowed her down and proceeded like a cat on wet rocks. I was pretty pleased with myself: after all these years, I still had my sixth sense. When he found a little deeper spot, we anchored for the night.

The next morning, we unloaded our French cargo at Punta Negro, motored another mile to Charlies, unloaded the wind generator Charlie had earned for storing my rigging, and took on the mast and shrouds. We enjoyed a leisurely sail back, just me and Caracol, not hurrying, because we wanted to sneak into the Rio Dulce after dark in order to avoid Customs. It was a very dark night, thank goodness, and we sailed right on past Livingston without a hitch, unloaded the rigging at the house some time after midnight and, before the sun was up, Caracol was safely back at the mouth of the river where he waited until morning to sail in. Customs was there to check him in, totally unaware that he had spent the night unloading what amounted to thousands of dollars worth of taxable goods, 25 miles upriver.

We stepped the wooden forward mast from the aluminum after mast and, except for minor details, my boat was compete. I moved aboard. Bonnie did not.

Someone sent me a couple of paragraphs, written by a man named Jonathan Cape, which I have pasted into the photo album that chronicles the building of my boat.

They read:

Houses are but badly built boats so firmly aground that you cannot think of moving them. They are definitely inferior things, belonging to the vegetable not the animal world, rooted and stationary, incapable of gay transition. I admit, doubtfully, as exceptions, snail shells and caravans. The desire to build a house is the tired wish of a man content thenceforward with a single anchorage. The desire to build a boat is the desire of youth, unwilling yet to accept the idea of a final resting place.

It is for that reason, perhaps, that. When it comes, the desire to build a boat is one of those that cannot be resisted. It begins as a little cloud on the horizon. It ends by covering the whole sky, so that you can think of nothing else. You must build to regain your freedom. And always you comfort yourself with the thought that yours will be the perfect boat, the boat that you may search the harbors of the world for and not find.


It is now nearly six years since THAT was launched, six eventful years which have changed my entire life. But those are other stories.

The cast of characters deserves a curtain call...

Bonnie and Marquito now live in Kansas. Both are well and happy. Marquito, who I have recently taken on a camping trip, is a bright-eyed youngster of seven who tells me that someday hes going to build a boat, too, and sail around the world.

Macito Living the Dream

Chung continued to live in his house on the hill behind the Casa de Media Luna with his three girls until New Years Eve, 1988, when, on his way home from work in his skiff, he was hit by a powerboat and killed. His three girls live and go to school in a very nice orphanage across the river from their old home.

Caracol came up too quickly from diving for lobster several years ago and died in an airplane on the way to Panama, where the closest decompression chamber then was.

Sidney, my burrow, made one last trip into the river mud to cool off and to his death because his new owner had gone to the city for the weekend, and no one was home to rescue the darn fool.

Martin still lives in the village behind the Casa de Media Luna, earning his way in the world, as he always has, as a canoe builder.

As for me: my new wife, Ann, and I are living in the Sacramento River Delta aboard THAT. She is working on a novel about our experiences together, and she cleans houses and boats. I work in Harris Harbor Boat Yard in Pittsburg, California. Ive slowed down considerably since arriving back in the U.S., thanks to the ravages of rheumatoid arthritis. However, in early October, THAT is sailing to Australia. On board will be Ann, Anns 14 year-old son, Seth Kerlin, and me. My 87-year-old father, Walter, who emigrated from Australia in 1929, says that if we can be there by Christmas, hell meet us on the Brisbane dock.

Well be there.