Following the trans-Gulf Regatta del Sol 2010, six experienced blue water sailors crewed up to return the 40-foot sloop Suite Jolene from Las Mujeres, Mexico, to her homeport in St. Petersburg, Florida, by way of Belize. Manuals for the Catalina Morgan 440 touted the boat as “sea-kindly and designed not to pound when going into seas.”

Even USS Abe Lincoln would have pounded against the 20-foot seas we encountered after leaving port. The crew: Tim Albin; Gregg Merrell; Morris Mauney; our token female Stephanie Hurd; Captain Darrell Moody; and myself. We watched with growing apprehension as the sea turned gray against an overcast sky and mare’s tails began kicking up. Spray washed over the decks. Mountainous rollers tossed the Catalina around like a toy sailboat in a flooded storm sewer, lifting it on liquid peaks to the teetering point before dropping it into the following troughs with a resounding crash. More mountains of water as high as two-story buildings hovered out of the depths.

Everyone except Stephanie came down in acute seasickness, with predictable results. Moving about on the boat proved all but impossible, even though you had to try to reach the railings before you blew lunch.

Morris lost his grip while fighting his way to the head below and got slammed against the corner of a bunk, sustaining a black eye and a mild concussion that left him wild-eyed and temporarily disoriented.

Returning topside, he froze in the hatchway, staring at our dingy’s outboard motor attached to the railing.

“It’s a gargoyle!” he shrieked.

It did resemble a crouching medieval gargoyle in the blackness of night with sea spray blowing around it. Only Satan rising out of the depths brandishing Neptune’s trident could have completed the scene.

Morris needed a doctor, but there was no chance of that until we reached Belize. Most of us were so sick we didn’t care if we lived or died. The boat sailed on sheer willpower; we anticipated being sent to Davy Jones’ locker sooner or later.

Captain Darrell intended putting in at Ambergris Cay off the Belize mainland in order for us to SCUBA the Blue Hole made famous by Jacques Cousteau. However, weather and shallow water made the approach suicidal. We changed course for Belize City.

Shortly after dawn, Jolene’s queasy, drenched and sea-bedraggled crew maneuvered the sloop past the protective rip-rap of the capital city and into the harbor. No one was permitted to leave the boat until we were thoroughly and expertly shook down by the authorities. Belize is one of the most corrupt governments in Central America.

Four officials wearing smiles of anticipation and determination marched in lockstep toward us, clipboards at the ready. One was skinny, one was fat, one was in-between, and the fourth was a young woman in-training. I felt like odd pig out at a luau.

They were all good at boodle, having perfected it to an art form. By the time they finished, we had shelled out a few hundred bucks America. Under the transom, so to speak, in order to “facilitate” our entry and avoid “complications.” At least the woman in-training had the decency to blush like a dark tomato.

“Welcome to Belize,” they said as they took off for the nearest pub with our money.

“There go the gargoyles,” I whispered to Morris.

 

“Evil is congregating in the Butterfield Mansion,” he said in a voice edge and so hard and sharp that it made Judy tremble. “It’s the evil behind… what’s happening all across the country. There has to be a first shot fired to let them know Americans will fight when they’re cornered. I don’t know how it’s all going to end. All I know is that if we give up now, there’s no place to escape to.” (From Charles W. Sasser’s newest thriller A Thousand Years of Darkness. Available at Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, and fine book stores nationwide.)