History Repeated: Tender Trouble Times Two
“History,” a timeworn saying briefly assures us, “repeats itself.” Unfortunately for the Zartmans, this was the case with their dinghy delimmas.
|On Isla de Roatán, Sherman Arch (left) runs a boatbuilding concern and an iguana preserve. Twice in a decade he’s welcomed Ben Zartman (right) and his family in times of need, lending a hand to offer repairs, entertainment, and food while welcoming the visitors into the full swing of island life.|
So it was with some pleasant anticipation nearly a decade later, sailing north from Cartagena on our 31-foot Cape George cutter, Ganymede, that we realized that we’d have time to swing by Roatán and drop in on our old French Cay friends. “It’ll be nice to go and see them and not be asking for anything,” Danielle said. I knew what she meant: We could return not as the nearly penniless waifs whom we’d been, needing favors that we could never repay, but as cruisers of means with no favors to beg.
But the old adage didn’t mean to let us off that easy, and it struck again with a resounding wallop when a speedboat racing at full throttle through the dark crashed into our dinghy as it quietly lay astern in Helene harbor. The blow was hard enough to splinter oars and seats and a good bit of the aft end, and it launched the dinghy onto Ganymede’s transom, where it landed festooned across the outboard engine. Instead of stopping to see if any people were hurt and to help pick up the floating thwarts and oars, the perpetrator sped off with a cry into the night. (“He were carrying somet’in’ he not want to be caught wit,” was the consensus from other islanders.)
And so we sailed the intervening 15 miles to French Harbor without stopping at all the other bays and bights that pock Roatán’s southern shore, the very ones that time had forced us to skip on the last cruise and that we’d been determined to explore on this go-round. But perhaps it was just as well. Our welcome, once we were recognized, paralleled the returning Prodigal’s, and that same day repairs were begun so the dinghy wouldn’t leak. Several days and lots of Petrona’s good food later, the tender was as good as new, and we were back in the full swing of island life. Always someone was willing to run you to the store, the new shopping mall, or just for a drive on the island’s only highway; there was plenty for the girls to do, between snorkeling on the reef, meeting other children, or playing with the iguanas, turtles, monkeys, and other wildlife that Sherman cares for in his yard. Some things have changed: The island’s cruise-ship traffic has more than quadrupled; condos and resorts have sprung up everywhere; newer and better-stocked grocery stores tempt the supply-starved cruiser. But the hearts of Roatán’s Arches and Jacksons remain the same as ever. So what if once again we arrived in need of help? There may not be a finer people anywhere from whom to seek it, or more ready to give it. As we unhurriedly waited for a weather window to get once more somewhere safe for hurricane season, I couldn’t help but feel that if history had to repeat itself, it couldn’t have picked a better way.