CERTAINLY MAKE the most noise. There are certain people I'd be loathe to be stuck on an open boat with: Janet Street-Porter, John McCrirrick, Dennis Nilsen, Jack Johnson (especially with guitar) and Alan Yentob are certainly up there. And after 3 days on a small craft out of Caye Caulker, I'm adding Captain Jerry to that list. First sight of an aggressive shark and I'd have thrown myself overboard, smothered in ketchup.
Kneehead fancied a boat trip and, as I'd had him hanging around a few days while I dived the cenotes, I agreed. Besides, it looked pretty good value, and was a good way to head South and avoid Belize City. Apparently the capital is full of black dudes with guns, out of their minds on crack cocaine; after a few years of living in East London I didn't need to see any more of that, thanks. So we signed up for a trip with Raggamuffin Tours. Peaceful sailing, and fresh lobster dinners were promised, though we got neither.
The Bognors were to join us, after ducking the previous trip due to too many travellers being of the Marks & Spencer's-sandals-wearing variety. Ours was to be a pretty young crowd, myself and Kneehead aside. There was an Aussie couple, an older one from the States who were fairly straight, an English pair and two young Americans, one of whom looked like Ben Stiller, and whose girlfriend had the most annoying laugh known to man; it was setting my teeth on edge as we disembarked, and piped up at every inane comment from Stiller. Captain Jerry was shouting out the rules of the boat as we left the harbour. When I say shouted, it soon became apparent that this was how Jerry spoke all the time: very loudly, and in an overly-heavy patois (due to his alluded-to contacts with Jamaican drug gangs in the area). "He certainly loves the sound of his own voice. Could be a long trip, this" I said to Kneehead. I could see he was thinking likewise.
The other crewman was Jahlee, a likeable rasta. Constantly stoned, he didn't seem too pleased when I put paid to the endless reggae with my iPod. But it was our trip, not theirs, and we were getting thoroughly sick of it. We stopped to snorkel and swim, and a few of the lads went off spear-fishing. Ben Stiller was bragging about his prowess, but his cheers were silenced when he came back with an inedible and rare fish on his barb. Clown. The rest of us on deck were treated to more of Bigmouth Jerry's endless yaggetmebludd monologue. If it seemed no-one was paying him enough attention ("Wow, Jerry...you're so coooool...") then he just got louder. And louder. While sailing the boat, he decided to whistle or sing with his iPod on, as some sort of protest at us customers actually wanting to play our own music. Jahlee picked up on our exasperated exchanged glances, and told him to shut up on Day Two. He did. For about twenty minutes.
First stop was Rendezvous Caye, a tiny speck of land with a jetty and a few palm trees. It was to be our home for the night, and the crew broke out the tents. Tents being a vague description of the soggy bags of canvas and rope we were each given. As night quickly fell, we'd managed to make a shelter from the mismatched pieces of tent, our flysheet covering at least half of the construction. Bigmouth and Jahlee cooked dinner and prepared the rum punch. The trip was billed as all-you-can-drink: no expense spared. Remember those jars of clear liquid in Grandad's shed, the ones he used to leave paintbrushes in? Well stick some orange juice in that, and let's get the party started.
A fire was built, the Squares went to bed, joints were rolled, and the Aussie-Baiting commenced. We had the cricket and rugby, he had the weather and was trying to claim drinking prowess to go with it. Oh dear. No-one out-drinks the Kneehead. The paint-stripper cocktail was revolting, but started working immediately. Fast forward several hours: the Aussie was semi-conscious and rambling on the sand; Kneehead standing above him in a Beckham-esque sarong triumphantly shouting/ singing "I am the champion...I AM THE CHAMPION!" like some demented Freddie Mercury, the wind whirling about him; Bognor Kim alternated between hysterics and yukele-playing; I was stoned and sitting in sticky wet shorts, after the other English lad had sat down and kicked his drink into my lap. It was quite a good night. I drifted off to sleep later, serenaded with the sound of the Englishman puking inside his tent. Letting the side down.
The howling wind and rain awoke me in the dead of night. The staccato flap of canvas right next to my head was not conducive to a relaxing Forty Winks, and water was coming in. We'd had the sense to move our scrappy home under the only shelter on the island, and I felt relatively well-off as I heard others scrambling to escape the downpour. Morning saw a scene of devastation, and ashen-faced survivors. The Aussie lad was in a bad way, sprawled out on the beach. Bognor Kim had had an attack of the runs in the first light of morning and had legged it, stark-bollock-naked, into the sea before his bowels did him (and Nicola) a disservice. It was only once he was in, feeding the fish via his rectum, that he saw The Squares emerging from their tent for an early snorkel. Sterling effort.
Another day, another litany of musings, songs and whistling from Bigmouth. We didn't actually do any sailing on the whole trip, but the noise of the engine was a silver-lining, as it turned out. I'd have happily stood next to an idling jet engine by the end of the trip. Our next port was Tobacco Caye, a pleasant little place with a tiny population. As we disembarked, a drunken member of Raggamuffin's staff was on the dock, a wizened black fellow of around 60. On seeing the Chinese half of the English couple jump off the boat, he shouted "Look, it's Jackie Chan." She impressively chose to ignore the comment, whereas I'd have pushed him off the dock to sober up.
There was a large catamaran moored on the other side of the pier. I spotted dive gear, and got chatting to the four Yanks aboard about their diving trip. They invited me to have a look around, and poured me a large (decent) rum and coke. The boat was beautiful, and should have been, considering they were paying $3000 each for a week on it. One told me it didn't matter, as they all earned huge salaries. Five dives a day had been planned, but they said it was down to two after the first day, as they were too busy getting pissed. What a waste of time and money. The lads were trying to get everyone on board for a party later, particularly the hot American dive instructor, who was all long blonde hair and bright teeth. Most people preferred hanging around our boat, smoking dope and listening to decent tunes. Except her, who seemed dazzled by the flashy boat and tales of wealth on the catamaran. Ah well, I won't go and live on Tobacco Caye, then? Their boat disappeared later, only to be forced to return shortly later when it was discovered Kneehead was on board, depleting their rum supplies.
The last morning saw the weather worsen as we rushed to depart before it closed in on the island, trapping us. Dark clouds chased us across the ocean, as the swells increased and threw the boat about. We hung on, some of us sheltering in the cabin as the rain lashed down. Further out to sea, other boats were suffering more in rougher seas. Kneehead, as a poor swimmer, looked nervous when I pointed out that Bigmouth and Jahlee seemed concerned at the limited visibilty and waves hitting the boat. The Chinese girl, being a non-swimmer, appeared slightly more concerned. The crew were busy navigating and, despite getting a bit wet, I was quite happy because it seemed Jerry couldn't engage his brain and his mouth at the same time.
Several hours behind schedule, we wearily arrived at Placencia. Relief was palpable. Though I don't know which I felt more for: being back on terra firma, or being able to put more than 20 feet between my ears and Jerry's mouth for the first time in three days.