Posted: March 26, 2017
What a letdown. My watch didn’t stop, the computers still worked and everything seemed about the same. The start of the decade was a bit of a dud after all the hype, but we did not need drama as our work was getting scarier. Amy and Justin had to lie low at many of our ports and we had to alter our usual routines and captain Sven and I started to take on various roles that were way above our pay grade.
With that said I loved being part of a team doing something meaningful. My time working on the cruise ships feeding the already overweight was a good time and had no heavy responsibilities but did little for the sense of self-worth or accomplishment. In my life on En Plein Air while I was not told any of the specifics of the “cargo” we moved I knew they were all individuals who were on the run for a variety of reasons that ranged from challenging injustice or human rights abuses, or for reporting on those kinds of issues or in a few cases simply for being gay. The last time I had felt that I was part of a team doing something that mattered was when I was 17 and in high school and one summer working for a small hospital in a small community in Eastern Ontario. I was a porter and third ambulance driver. I knew I was a very small cog in a big machine but one that relied on all its little cogs to save peoples lives or to make their lives more comfortable. If you are going to spend your day working at something its nice to work at something that matters.
But I am off on telling you about me. Let me tell you about the Janice and Jim for a bit so you can put yourselves to sleep and then I will wake you up for more about my life later.
Janice, Jim, Jade, and Jason had spent the changeover to the new millennium on a ski and snowboard holiday for about a week at Mt. Tremblant, Quebec. If you have not been there I would recommend it if you are in North America. It does not rank with Gstaad or Kitsbuhl etc. as a cute ski village but in the North American context, it is nicer than most places and not a bad spot in the summer as well. It is only a couple hours north of Montreal.
The next decade for them saw massive changes. All for the better I think. In January 2002, Jim, on his 48th birthday retired. Well, that’s how he tells it but I know there was more to it. He had a large successful operation and two operating partners and a company that was the big financial partner. Their company had been successful because of some wonderful alchemy between Jim and one of his partners, John, but there was some animosity with the other partner which eventually led to that partner making the move to buy Jim out. Jim was at a stage to try to do less but that was not in the cards and his “retirement” was actually a not very friendly parting of the ways with the one partner. Within a year the company was in bad shape and merged with a smaller competitor. I know he keeps up a great relationship with some of the old team and particularly his old partner John but I never hear of the other partner so I guess that’s a comment.
At the time with two kids in high school, Jim set out to reinvent himself. I won’t bore you with all the details but over the rest of the decade he designed, started, ran and then sold a cooking school which still runs (see links we love) invested in a record label which also still runs (see links we love), really got into cooking in a big way, and each year would buy and renovate and lease-up a storefront property in Toronto. Over the years he did fourteen of them. Once he was home with the teenagers Janice went back to art school, The Ontario College of Art, in Toronto where she pursued her passion and discovered a new one – poetry.
By the end of the decade, Janice had finished her art degree and was studying poetry while having lots of art success, both kids were off at university and Jim was up to his eyebrows in the cooking school and things were evolving just fine for them.
So back to me. After the events of September 11, 2001 things got a lot tougher for Amy, Justin, Captain Sven and I. Every port was now tougher to access and traveling by water which had always been largely ignored was now scrutinized. Everyone was a potential terrorist. We would be stopped regularly both while in port but also while in international waters and regular inspections would occur.
It was getting so something would have to change and Justin asked me to design a flag for us to fly occasionally when in port and to be used on a bag so the cargo could find us. I am not a super creative guy so I put together a flag that I thought looked pretty cool but it was soon abandoned as it looked much like the flag of a former state of the Soviet Union. Something was needed that looked familiar but was not from anywhere so I just modified the flag from where my dad and grandma are from in France – Brittany, but I needed to abandon that one eventually as well. Finally, I came up with one that passed all the tests. I used some colours I had from three t-shirts I had and sewed them together originally by hand for the first one then later had a friend in London sew up both a bag with the flag on it and a really nice large flag. I have an image below but will do some specifics on it at some point in a future post.
By 2004, the heat was really on, we were being stopped all the time. We knew it was not us alone that were being stopped, searched etc. and in all our years at it, we had never had the secret compartments found it was only a matter of time till it would happen.
I knew in June 2004 something was up. Captain had never hugged me and he gave me a big bear hug and said “friends everywhere” then left. Earlier in the day, Amy had kissed me and Justin had hugged me and shook my hand “burn the passports” was his last comment.
We were moored at that point in Helsinki and the next day it was all over the news. A recreational keelboat had exploded about a half-mile out and three people were reported dead. I knew it would be them.
Several days later I received a call from a lawyer in London asking me to visit him. I explained what had happened and he acknowledged that this was about the same thing. This boat is a big thing to move around on my own but over the next week, I managed to make it to Hamburg and then with bad weather forecast traveled by train to London.
He would not meet me at his office so we met at a small café close to his office and overlooking the Regents Canal, very close to where Amy and Justin had kept both a safe house and a barge.
He was elderly, quite nervous and talked very quickly. “So the first point is that Amy, Justin, and Sven are dead. And the second point is that the people you knew as Amy, Justin and Sven are alive.”
“How?” my face must have asked.
“They have friends everywhere.”
“The third point I need to tell you is that no one will be coming for the boat. It’s not yours but no one has entitlement to it. Keep it, use it, and when you are done, sink it. The boat, like the three people you worked with, do not exist.
It is not saleable as it is not owned. “
“What else do I need to know?” I asked
“Well, nothing really. The world is getting more complex and is increasingly in conflict with itself. You did some good work for a good cause and that is now part of your past. The ongoing existence of the boat helps keep up the deception of the boat being just a nice old yacht if you just use it and it is no longer on the radar of so many states and interests.”
I left the coffee shop in a bit of a daze. I knew we had been doing good stuff but wondered what life was to be like for Sven, Amy, and Justin. And how would I keep and maintain this boat?
When my parents died they left me a small annuity I get each month. It is for $762 per month CDN until I am 95. While working for Amy and Justin I had saved most of what I earned as well as my money from my annuity and invested and at that point had 72,000 Euros and the Canadian annuity coming in each month.
I was an orphan again but at least knew that somewhere those three people still existed.
The remaining six years of the decade were tough ones for me. After meeting with the lawyer I had to address what to do and where to take the boat. En Plein Air was moored in Hamburg but it would only be a matter of time until they wanted more details of its ownership. Captain Sven had told me about a firm of hired captains that could be trusted and the contact person to speak to. When I mentioned Sven’s name they said they would have someone come to help sail it south without charge. The guy could have been Sven’s brother. He helped me get it back to Croatia where It would be warmer year-round for me to work from. Since that time I have basically stayed largely in port, rented the boat to tourists as a place to stay as a bed and breakfast. I do my cooking, have a few local friends and my life was on the uptick until I started having strange neurological and motor skill problems.
I had mentioned that I periodically go back to Canada for several reasons. In 2014 I went back to deal with my banking and a few other things and discovered that I had an event that mimicked a stroke – similar to the ones I had before but worse. I ended up in the hospital and after the immediate shock of getting through it found myself in the waiting room to see the Neurologist at Toronto East General. And that’s where my story links up with Jim again. I have described it in the new section I have just created called ABOUT. If you see your self reading many of my posts and you haven’t read the ABOUT section, then go get yourself a coffee or a glass of wine before reading further.