Posted: July 1, 2018

I was at a pretty low point when I first bumped into Jim at the hospital in the fall of 2013. I had just learned of this problem I, well we, have and was not looking forward to going back to more of my life in Europe scraping by. So I stayed with Jim and Janice for a bit and got re-energized. I had to go through a series of MRI’s cat scans, bloodwork etc. so it worked out pretty well.

During that time Jim and I got caught up and I got to know Janice. I get why he turned his life around with her.  So after a while, it became clear that Janice was pretty frustrated with my agonizing over my bad life and not doing anything about it. She pointed out the obvious to me – “you have this fabulous boat, and you just rent it out as a Bed and Breakfast? You need to hire a captain and take people out for day trips at least, if not two or three-night excursions and charge accordingly”. So yes this is self-evident but I guess I had needed this observation made by someone real to hit home. Jim and I spent some time on what he called a rudimentary business plan – something new for me. It was really just setting out how I could book things, track them, cost them, etc. We decided the best way for me to manage this would be to make the captain participate in the profits to really get him or her engaged in the process and to not have to pay for a captain when we didn’t have bookings.

When I went back to Croatia where En Plein Air was sitting I had new energy and a new focus. I would find a local captain who would be up for the exercise and cut him or her into the deal. After spending a week chatting with various people I knew it was clear that there were two that I would love to work with, but one would not be available for many months each year based on other commitments   and the other who was keen to join me in this venture could only do so in a few months. She was Irish and I will tell you more about her in a future post. We entered into a deal and I set out to find someone to fill in for the intervening few months.

Who I found was Kyle. He was an American who had flunked out of art school in Lacoste  France. The Savannah School of Art and Design has a program there and he was more interested it seems in the art of French life – food, wine, sex and not nearly as much in the techniques of visual art. So he had bummed around Southern France for a while and eventually made it across Italy and down to where I was. He was making his living doing occasional captains work on local yachts as he had been a competitive sailor when growing up in South Carolina. He had also been a competitive bodybuilder so he and I looked like the “before” and “after” shots from a gym, and also from life.

The good news was that all he wanted was a berth, and to be fed and would be the personality and the captain so we could take groups out for day trips or two to three-day local excursions. At that point, we were based in Cavtat, just south of Dubrovnik so the usual thing was to just take tourists out to either see Dubrovnik at night or to do a few day cruise south to some secluded beaches in Albania, but more often around the islands just north of Dubrovnik and back.

A big challenge for me then, and now was not being able to really advertise and promote as I needed to, and still need to, fly below the radar. The boat I don’t own, so I can’t register it, so I cant get a valid operating license for a business. I am caught in this messy world where I don’t pay tax, don’t pay licensing and registration fees but cant plan anything very far out on the calendar as I may have to move locations. Even my boat insurance is a bit peculiar as there are only a few companies that will give me liability insurance and to keep the costs down I have a big deductible, and no insurance for the boat itself.

Jim is a pretty straight arrow when it comes to taxes and regulations etc. and in a future post, I will tell you how he has me staying “ethically straight” while not paying licensing fees and income taxes.

For the most part, the arrangement with Kyle worked well in the beginning. He was a very personable young guy and when not focused on getting us to where we were going would help out a lot with getting drinks and setting out food etc.

But captain Kyle was nothing like the disciplined Captain Sven I was used to. Kyle drank all the time and would cut his lines through the small islands desperately close to the shoals. Captain Sven used to say that as he grew older he had a healthy respect for “how shoals would grow from when he had seen them last”.  Captain Kyle had no such respect.

And then there were the guests. Yikes. He was a good looking kid and didn’t like wearing a shirt and for the older women on board he was a bit of a novelty, but whenever we took out a group of young women who were on a bachelorette party before a wedding he was in his glory. One at a time to all at once. And then go again. I remember the 70’s and it was much more like serial monogamy than this. And these young women – crazy. They had their own version of the “me too” movement. We had at least three trips out with groups like that. I would come back exhausted and was not even a  participant!

But during that time we started to make some money. For the first time in a long time, I could think about what needed to be repaired or replaced on the boat or buy a new shirt. It was only a few months from learning of my condition and meeting Jim again and now things were looking up.

If Kyle didn’t crash En Plein Air into some shoals and we continued to have bookings then things would really start to work out for me.

P.S. I have put in a few pictures of Cavtat which is just a little port town to the south of Dubrovnik. It has a nice promenade to walk, up above the rocky shore. There are tourists of course but it’s not overrun with them and while the marina has a lot of tourist boats in all the time it is not where the Johnny Depp’s come to hang out. The size of the public marina and the small number of places to stay in town means that it is for the most part just a nice little seaside town.