By Doug Oudin

Chapter I

Kurt watched appreciatively as his girlfriend Madison walked across the patio bricks, involuntarily twitching his eyebrows at the motion of her hips under the short restaurant skirt. Madison had an unusual method of movement, almost manly in nature, but somehow always sensual. Kurt turned back to his workbench, and placed his tools in the center of the table. He had hoped to finish the job he was working on by nightfall, but a cold beer sounded really good. Maybe he would go back out after dinner and complete the project. He rolled down the garage door and went into the house. 

Madison waited for him in the kitchen, popped open two Pacifico’s and grabbed his hand in an effort to lead him into the living room.

“Hang on a minute,” he said, “let me wash up.” He scrubbed-up quickly and joined her.

Seated together on the small, front-room sofa, Kurt turned to Madison and gave her a brief kiss on the lips. She grinned. He loved her lips. They were soft, and the upper lip was nearly as full as the lower—one of the many things about her that he adored.

Kurt had noticed the unusual fullness of her upper lip one evening a couple of years before, when she was lying on her back on the kitchen table drying her hair. She liked to let her thick tresses hang down nearly to the floor while drying. Lying on the table, she would run her fingers through the long golden locks, spreading them outward and let air between the strands to help them dry. On that particular evening, he was struck by the beauty of her heart shaped face in the upside-down position. With a cat-like slant to her eyes and a narrow bridge across her nose, her face appeared even more intriguing and lovely than when right side-up. That memory made him grin.

He stood and walked behind the couch, and leaned over to kiss her from that upside-down angle. She responded coquettishly, and smiled happily at his seemingly childlike captivation. “Oh Kurt,” she whispered, “Sometimes you are so silly.”

Both of them jumped in surprise when the phone rang. “Darn,” said Kurt.
“Let it go,” said Madison.
He shrugged and told her, “I’m expecting a call from work that I need to take.”
It was a phone call that would change their lives.

Kurt picked up the telephone. “Hello?” He was expecting a call from his boss, but instead it was his brother Larry.
“Hey Kurt,” Larry asked, “want to go to Jamaica with me and Marcos?”
It was so typical of him to get right to the point.
“What?” Kurt replied, frowning because his brother had once again managed to disrupt his usually imperturbable state of mind. “What are you talking about?”
“We found a luxury yacht selling a five-week, all-inclusive cruise to Jamaica, and we’re leaving in ten days. Want to go? It’s only five hundred dollars per person, and they still have space available.”

Kurt’s immediate reaction was one of slight annoyance, partly because Larry had interrupted his dalliance with Madison, and partly because he would not have answered the phone if he had not been expecting an important call. Pausing for a moment before responding, Kurt tried to focus. ‘A five-week cruise to Jamaica for five hundred dollars?’ It was a little too much to wrap his thoughts around.    

“Larry,” Kurt responded slowly, “I’m kind of in the middle of something right now. Besides, I can’t just stop my life to take off on a five-week cruise.”
“Okay, not a problem. I just thought I would ask. Go ahead and get back to what you were doing and I’ll talk to you later.” With that, Larry hung up.
Madison sat with a puzzled expression. “What was that all about?”
“Oh, you know Larry. Apparently he and Marcos found a five-week cruise to Jamaica for five hundred dollars and he called to ask us if we wanted to go.”

Madison looked at him for a long moment, then asked, “Can we?”

Madison rarely strayed beyond her comfort zone. She grew up in the tiny desert community of Barstow, California. She had lived there for the first eighteen years of her life, never venturing out of the State, much less the country. Her life was basically predictable and routine. For her to express even a faint interest in taking off on the spur of the moment on a potentially life-changing excursion seemed well outside of her conservative nature. But as Kurt searched her face, an expression of quizzical interest was evident.

“Seriously?” You are actually contemplating an adventure like that?” Kurt asked.

Madison paused for a moment before answering, “Why not? After all, what do we really have going here? I don’t like my job very much. I’ve never had the opportunity to visit other parts of the world. Both of us are more or less just living day by day without any real goals, plans, or serious ambitions. Why couldn’t we just drop everything and take off on a cruise?”

Kurt did not expect her reaction. Her eagerness intrigued him, but he needed a little time to try and digest the direction this was beginning to take. Like most men, he tended to categorize everything in his daily life into neat little compartments that could be opened, reacted to, and closed in systematic order. To have something like this pop up out of the blue caused him some serious consternation. He stared at Madison for a long moment before answering, “Okay, if you like, I’ll call Larry back in a little while and ask him for more details about the cruise.”

“That would be great.” Madison whispered as she stood and moved toward him, wrapped her hands behind his neck and stretched her five foot-three inch frame onto her tiptoes to brush his lips. “Now can we get back to where we were before the phone rang?”

Afterward, they dressed and went back into the kitchen to prepare some food. Kurt caught a couple of decent size surfperch the evening before, and he prepped the filets while Madison fixed a salad. Casually, they talked about their day, Kurt told her about the excellent body surfing he enjoyed that morning and Madison filled him in on some of the current gossip going around the restaurant.

Seated at the dining room table and eating their food, both of them were quiet. Kurt’s thoughts lingered on Madison’s reaction to the cruise conversation. Madison’s face exuded a rare mix of pensiveness and restrained energy or enthusiasm. Her cheeks were slightly flushed, while her eyes sparkled as if they were lost in some far away Shangri-La. He wasn’t sure what to make of her mood. He believed that she was truly engrossed and captivated with the thought of taking off on the cruise. At the same time, he was reluctant to bring up the conversation, simply because he was still trying to come to terms with even considering such a bold and outlandish move. They finished their meal in silence and cleaned up the mess.

Then Madison asked, “Are you going to call Larry and find out more details about the trip to Jamaica?” There it was. Obviously, she was serious, and evidently she was anxious to pursue the possibility.

“Sure, but I’m going to make my work call first, then I’ll call Larry.”

Kurt and his boss spoke briefly about everyday things, and he assured his boss that he could have everything wrapped up by the following afternoon.

After hanging up, he asked, “Are you sure this is something you want to do?” He had pondered the matter enough to become more curious and was beginning to warm to the subject.

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure,” Madison replied, “but there are a lot of things we’ll need to know before we can really consider it completely.”

Kurt nodded. “Yes, there is a lot to consider, but things like this don’t come up very often in one’s life; and hey, what’s life without a little adventure?”

They smiled at each other for a long moment, and then Kurt picked up the phone and dialed Larry. “Hey Larry, what’s this thing about Jamaica?”

“Like I told you earlier, Marcos and I found an ad in the local paper, advertising a five-week cruise to Jamaica for five hundred dollars, and we booked passage. The cruise is due to depart in ten days. We’re going to downtown L.A. tomorrow to get our passports and our shots.” He paused for a minute, and Kurt interrupted.

“So, what kind of a boat is it? Do your really think it’s legitimate? That seems like a really cheap ticket for a luxury cruise ship.”

Larry said, “Well, it’s not a real cruise ship, more of a yacht. It’s about one hundred-fifty foot long; and they’re selling passage for thirty-five people. I think they are just trying to cover some of their expenses to get the boat delivered to Jamaica. It’s scheduled to go into service as an inter-island excursion boat between Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. I spoke with the captain of the boat yesterday, and it all sounds legitimate to me. The captain said we could have our money back when we arrive at the boat if we are not satisfied with what they have to offer.” He paused for a breath, “So, do you really think you and Madison might want to go? They told us at the Passport Office that if we got applications in by tomorrow, we should receive them back by the first of next week. That gives us about a five-day leeway. As for shots, I think we need malaria, typhoid, and maybe hepatitis. There is a travel vaccination office near the passport office we are using, and they will know what we need.”

Kurt asked, “Okay, do you have a number to call where we can find out a few more things?’

“Sure, I’ll give you the number, and I’ll also give you the number for the captain. He said that anyone interested could call him for details. Give me just a second.” A moment later, Larry read off two phone numbers.
“This is great!” Larry exclaimed, “I really hope you guys decide to go.”

“Yeah,” said Kurt, “it does sound pretty exciting.”

“Great. Give me a call and let me know, and say hi to Madison.”

After hanging up, Kurt filled Madison in on all the details. Rubbing the scar on his cheek—a habit of his whenever his thoughts are fraught with anything he is unsure of—Kurt grinned a sheepish smile and nodded at Madison. “Okay kiddo, I guess we’ve got a lot to do if we’re going to try and make this happen.”

For the remainder of the evening, Kurt spent a lot of time on the phone. He contacted the gal in charge of booking the cruise, finding out the details for payment, anticipated departure time, a basic itinerary of ports and stops along the way, and information about meals, sleeping accommodations and other amenities. Most of it sounded good, although there was some vagueness about the sleeping arrangements on board.

Kurt took notes of all the details, with Madison looking over his shoulder as he wrote. She questioned him about the sleeping quarters, and he told her that he would discuss that more with the captain. When he called the captain’s number, there was no answer. He told her he would try again later.

He reached over and pulled Madison to his side. “If we’re really going to make this happen, I think we had better try and get to the Passport Office tomorrow. My passport expired about two years ago, and I know you’ve never had one. If we get that done, and the shots, at least we’ve got those steps out of the way.” Reflexively, he rubbed the scar on his cheek and continued, “Financially, I’m not really sure we’re prepared for an adventure like this. We have plenty to cover the basic passage, but I think we will need quite a bit more for other things. Also, we will need to fly back from Jamaica at our own expense. Right now, I think we have about twenty-eight hundred put away. I’ll bet we need considerably more than that. How is your own personal stash?”

Madison saved the majority of her tips, using them only for special occasions. She responded, “I think I have about one thousand put away. Of course, I still have an account with my mom that I can draw from if I really need to. It’s close to five thousand, so I’m not too worried about money.”

Seated together on the couch, they quietly shared their excitement and concerns about taking off and virtually disappearing for five weeks. They had no children to be concerned about, no pets, and no seriously binding ties. But there was the house, rent, and Kurt’s pickup truck that needed to be on the right side of the street every Tuesday and Thursday or it would get ticketed. They also had to consider their jobs and possible lack thereof once the trip ended. Kurt was sure that his boss would agree to let him pick up where he left off upon his return, but Madison could lose her job. She told him that it did not really matter that much, she knew it would be easy to find another job. At nearly midnight, Kurt commented that the following day would come early and be a busy one.


The first vestiges of dawn lit the window in the bedroom. Madison lay quietly with her head upon his chest as Kurt watched the arrival of ‘the gray’; that condition between darkness and daylight when time always seems to be in slow motion.

Kurt thought back to the first time they met.

It was a balmy evening in 1973. Kurt lived in a small bootlegged unit in the back of a three thousand square foot home in Pomona, California, a place that he rented from the homeowner. He worked at a Mattel Toy manufacturing plant in nearby Baldwin Park. He played pickup basketball games twice a week with a few buddies from school and from the nearby neighborhood.

 They had just finished a three-game set of hoops and were cooling off with a cold beer when a light green Volkswagen Beetle pulled to the curb with a flat tire.

            A young lady got out of the car and walked around to inspect the problem. She looked baffled. Excusing himself from his buddies, Kurt walked over to the car.

            “Hi,” He said, “It looks like you’ve got a problem.”
            She stared at him, as if trying to determine if he was a potential threat, or merely friendly and helpful.
            “Hi. Yeah, I seem to have a flat tire, and it’s not my car. It’s my brother’s.”
            “Okay,” Kurt smiled. “Do you have a jack and a spare?”
            She replied, “I know this looks like I’m a real idiot, but I have no clue.”
            “Well, do you mind if I have a look?” Kurt questioned casually.
            “I’m sorry,” she responded. “If it’s not too much trouble, I could use some assistance. I’m supposed to pick my brother up in fifteen minutes, and I really would appreciate a little help.”
            Kurt opened the hood and found both a jack and a spare tire. A few years previously, he had worked in a service station; so he was very adept at changing tires. The task was completed in less than ten minutes.
            Finished, Kurt put the jack and the flat tire into the trunk. “Okay, that’s that,” he stated, stepping back onto the sidewalk. “You’re good to go.”
            She looked slightly bewildered, blushed timidly, and stammered, “Thanks so much. I…I…can I offer you some money?”

            Gazing at her innocent, yet tantalizingly provocative face, Kurt sensed that a connection was taking place. He chuckled lightly. “Of course not, it was my pleasure to be of service. If you wouldn’t mind though, I would like your phone number.”

            She looked at him for nearly a minute before responding, “I don’t have a phone, but I work at the Bob’s Big Boy Restaurant on Ganesha Boulevard if you’d like to stop by sometime. I’ll buy you breakfast. I work mornings, every day except Tuesday and Wednesday.”

            “Deal.” said Kurt, and almost as an afterthought asked, “By the way, what’s your name?”
            “Okay, Madison, I’m Kurt.”

He walked around the car and opened the door for her. “Guess you’d better be going, it sounds like your brother may not like to wait.”  

As he watched her drive away, Kurt knew that something special had just occurred in his life. A few weeks later they were seeing each other regularly, and two months after that they packed up their things and moved into the little beach bungalow in Hermosa Beach.

Kurt snapped out of his reverie, leaned over and kissed Madison on the lips and said, “Hey doll face, I think it’s time to rise and shine. We’ve got a lot to do if we’re going to make this journey happen.”

The ensuing few days brought about a frenzy of preparation. Together they visited the Passport Office, the immunization clinic, and the local library to gather information about the countries they would be visiting. Kurt had heard rumors about the political climate in a couple of the Central American nations, and he wanted to know more about the Panama Canal and Jamaica.

It took a number of phone calls, but Kurt eventually contacted the captain of the boat to find out more information. The captain was friendly, but slightly aloof and vague about particulars aboard the ship. From their conversation, Kurt determined that the ‘luxuries’ aboard the boat were minimal, but the captain and crew would do everything possible to make everyone comfortable and ensure an enjoyable and positive experience for their guests. The captain put a lot of emphasis on the journey itself, and the opportunity to see and experience places and things that few people ever have the chance to encounter.

Packing for the journey was a challenge. Luggage would need to be minimal. On the other hand, having the essentials for five or six weeks of travel required some definite planning. Dress codes should not demand anything special. Once they reached the tropics, shorts and swimsuits would likely be the daily attire, along with light tops. Coats and jackets would probably not be needed in the warmer climates. Still, there were the personal items that nobody wanted to be without, extra toothpaste, deodorant, and other essential toiletries. They would also need towels, books to read, a camera, snorkeling gear, and other personal comforts.

For Madison, the list was longer. There were cosmetics and other female items necessary for her. Her hair alone required special combs, brushes, and shampoos. There was also her lingerie. On this matter, Kurt tried to subtly reassure her that most of those items would be unnecessary. She settled on a few select items.

Meanwhile, they kept in close contact with Larry and Marcos, compared lists and reaffirmed the departure time from San Diego—where the boat would be docked—and discussed a multitude of other questions they all had about the pending journey. During each phone call, Larry remained philosophical about the trip, equating it with an extended campout, albeit to faraway exotic ports. His enthusiasm was infectious.

At the close of one conversation, Larry told Kurt, “I know the whole thing sounds just a bit shaky, but it also sounds like a real adventure. A journey like this could really be life altering.”
They had no idea how prophetic that comment would become.


The year was 1976, a Leap Year. America was celebrating its bicentennial—two hundred years of independence from Great Britain.

Two days before their expected departure their passports arrived. However, so did a phone call from the boat captain that left both Kurt and Madison intensely concerned.

“Due to some unexpected problems with the delivery of the boat and with U.S. Immigration,” he told them, “we have to postpone our departure date by two days and move the embarkation point to Ensenada, Mexico.”

According to the captain, the ship encountered a gale force storm off Point Conception and had to hole-up in Port San Luis for two days, delaying its arrival in San Diego. Further complicating the matter, port authorities in San Diego—for undisclosed reasons—would not approve clearance out of the U.S. for the vessel. That bit of news disturbed Kurt. The idea of having to go to Ensenada did not bode well at all.

Kurt felt troubled. They had set all the wheels in motion for the trip, including giving the assurance to their respective employers that they would be back in six weeks. The two-day delay could mean an extension of the trip, but the captain told him that the lost time could be made up along the way.

But there were other things that disturbed him as well, particularly the apparent clandestine switch of the embarkation point from San Diego to Ensenada. The switch had a certain ‘ring’ of illegal action, as if the boat was trying to evade normal channels of operation. Kurt had spent enough time in Mexico to recognize that things were often done quite differently below the border, and the reason for the boat’s change of departure to Mexico could possibly be an effort to avoid U.S. port authority scrutiny. He and Madison discussed the situation at length.
Together, they reached a conclusion that they would cancel the trip and ask for a refund. The decision was difficult, but they both agreed that it seemed prudent.

Kurt called Larry to inform him of their decision; he held the phone so they could both hear what Larry had to say.
Larry immediately began trying to persuade them to reconsider. “It’s not a big deal,” Larry reassured. “I already have a ride to Ensenada arranged, and there’s really no reason to worry about switching the point of departure.”
Kurt wasn’t convinced. “Look Larry, there’s something wrong with this whole thing. If a legitimate operation offers a trip like this, these types of issues would be arranged and taken care of well ahead of time. It looks to us like this whole trip is disorganized and not very legitimate. Neither of us wants to get involved with something that looks like it is falling apart before it even gets started.”

Larry’s response was immediate. “I understand your concerns, but think about how cool this trip will be if things work out. It’s really a great opportunity, and something you might never have a chance to do again. Besides, you’ve already committed; give it a chance. At least go with us to Ensenada, see the boat, meet the other people; and if you still don’t like how it looks, then back out. After all, what do you have to lose at this point?”

“Well, a thousand dollars, for one thing,” Kurt retorted. “To say nothing of the time and energy we have already put into this whole thing.”

“That’s my point exactly.” Larry replied. “Why give up now? If nothing else, go with us to Ensenada and check it out in person. If you’re still convinced that you’re making a mistake, take an extra day or two to enjoy Ensenada, then go back home. Look at it like a mini-vacation. But I really think you’ll decide to go if you’ll just give yourselves the chance to check it out.”

His arguments were very upbeat, perhaps a little pleading. Kurt looked at Madison with a questioning lift of his eyebrows. “What do you think?”

She shrugged. “Okay, we’ll go as far as Ensenada.”

“Great!” Larry enthused. “I know you won’t be sorry.”

Doug Oudin is a retired harbormaster from Catalina Island, California.  Married for thirty-eight years, with two sons, his life on and around the ocean has given him an insight and ability to capture the essence of a true seaman.  Having traveled extensively in Mexico, Central America, and parts of the Caribbean, his own seafaring adventures have given him the ability to capture in vivid detail the captivating lure of the tropics, the power and beauty of the sea, and the fickle, fragile, and inexplicable nuances of personal relationships and human nature.