January 9, 2009

Guardian Angels -1:

Posted in Environment, Philosophy, Religion tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 1:33 am by randallbutisingh

Guardian Angels -1:

This is the first of four “Guardian Angels” experiences that I – Patanjali Ramlall – encountered in life’s journey. Call it what you will, but I cannot change the facts.

Patanjali Ramlall -author of "Guardian Angels"

Patanjali Ramlall - author of "Guardian Angels", at 19, on one of his favourite boats "Katie S"

THE PERFECT STORM is the perfect terrifying tale of an ill-fated crew.

December 1967: The late Gauldbert Reis, (Gally, as he was known) from Guyana was Captain of the “Cayenne Bonanza”, a fishing trawler off the port of Cayenne, French Guiana. He wanted the Christmas season off and recommended a just-turned nineteen years old lad to skipper the vessel temporarily, while he vacationed. I was that lucky pick. Captain Gene Webster was the Dock Master and he gave me his blessings. It was difficult to get a crew together since Christmas was two or three days away. Anyway, I sailed out of Port Cayenne the following day, with another young man from Guyana whom I only knew as Brown, (my chief mate,) Gally’s brother, Ivan Garraway, and a Brazilian whose name got lost with the passage of forty-one years.

Between mid December and mid March the seas off the Cayenne River can be much rougher than the mouth of the Amazon River, mostly caused by the sand bar, an accumulation of silt from inland, and the underwater rocks along the immediate coastal belt of French Guiana. Our passage out of the Cayenne River was smooth and easy. In about four and a half hours sailing west, we reached the fishing grounds off-shore of  Devil’s Island and dropped the nets. Caught less than two hundred pounds of shrimp that night, and the following day we developed mechanical problems with the vessel. We headed to Devil’s Island to pick up some freight from two other boats, worked the whole night moving the freight over to our boat and headed for the docks by mid morning.

An hour east of Devil’s Island we started encountering stormy seas and it soon became evident that we were in for a treat. Our boat was equipped with Automatic Pilot and steering was easy. About an hour away from the port of entry the seas were relentless, hitting us from the stern, and steering had to be controlled manually or the boat would have been driven in circles and eventually hit rocks or capsize. I took control of the helm and tried to hold the vessel in accordance with the direction of the floating guiding posts commonly known as buoys. In those conditions we refer to waves as the seas. Some of the seas were as tall as the height of the vessel’s cabin – from water level, fifteen to eighteen feet.

Try as I could, the seas were so powerful that at times I was almost pushed off course at about a seventy five degree angle, but I always managed to right the steering again and again, and again, with my heart in my hands. I was young, strong, and extremely powerful in my arms, used to win the arm wrestling contests, or at worst draw on a few right handed guys, but never lost a left handed bet.

A seas suddenly hit us full force in the stern, lifted it completely out of the water and started tilting the boat over on its port side, close enough to a one-eighty degree angle, – keel out of the water, no control available. It appeared to be tilting slowly, going, going,  going, but was an actual violent movement. So violent that Ivan was thrown out of his bunk and hurled against the cabin wall as if by a giant hand. We hoped for redemption. Brown was in the galley with a cup of coffee. The Brazilian was standing next to me, his eyes as big as golf balls, and ready to pop out of his head. Ivan running up to the wheel house, with a look of impending death, and Brown completely terrified, and so was yours, truly.

Nature in its full fury was trying my youth, my faith, my soul, my heart, my resolve, my brains and my refusal to give up. I held on to the wheel, or so I thought. I had three other souls besides myself to save and couldn’t give up. They asked, WHAT HAPPENED, WHAT HAPPENED, WHAT HAPPENED? At that point only a miracle could have saved us. No time for answers, I never let go of my grasp of the steering wheel, and after what seemed to be an eternity, the “Cayenne Bonanza” regained its equilibrium and we eventually made it home safe.

In retrospect, something planted my feet firmly in the wheel house and glued my arms on the wheel, that’s the way I could have gone down if The Man from Nazareth was not with us that day. You see, I made some foolish statements about religion a few hours earlier at Devil’s Island, and he was reassuring me that I was still in his flock, him being the Good Shepherd. A few seamen have tales of terror that can hardly be recounted, and some can never be told, for they never lived to tell.

Brown still lives in French Guiana, I owe him for loyalty, and he loved me. Ivan is in Brooklyn, New York. Never saw the Brazilian after that episode.

Epilogue

I finally realized that I was never in charge, not quite much of a hero, but only an Instrument in HIS HANDS.

Patanjali Ramlall – is a former pupil of Headmasters C.G.H. Bryan and Randall Butisingh, and teacher Cyril Bryan at Lusignan Anglican School which later became Lusignan Government School.

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