—  Ken and Vesta  —

Wedding and Portrait Photography

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Shortly after I started college, my parents packed up their things and moved to Newport, Rhode Island, where they bought a boat and moved aboard. I felt abandoned. Grandma and Grandpa moved up to Isla Vista, a small hip town by Santa Barbara, about a block from the dorms where I lived, because they were tired of the hustle and bustle of San Diego, they said. They wanted a quieter life, but they didn’t fool me. The thing of it is, they didn’t have to. I was glad they were close.

For awhile we burned up the long distance telephone wires, me and Mama, but as time moved on, the calls became more and more infrequent, till it was birthdays and Christmas. I was growing up, I suppose, and I didn’t like it.

My folks came back for my wedding and they came out when my son Jack (named after my father) was born and when the twins, Sandy and Amber were born, too, but other than that, we had different lives now.

hen one day in 1980, the phone jarred me away from the television. I was watching the ex-governor of California. He was running for president. Being a Democrat, I wanted to return the peanut farmer to the white house, even though I thought he was a little wishy-washy.

“Hello.” I recognized my Dad’s voice.

“Your mother and I are doing a delivery. Beautiful sailboat, to Mallorca from New York. We want you to come and we leave next week.”

“Dad, I can’t, the kids.”

“Already talked to Gran. It’s all arranged.”

“What about Dub?”

“He knows, gotta go.” And he hung up. I’d been ambushed. Everybody was in on it except me. I’d been planning on getting a job, the kids were old enough for Grandma to watch. We didn’t need the money, really, but I was tired of being a stay at home mom.

Four days later I was aboard La Paloma, a sleek, new Jongert sixty foot steel ketch that this Spanish guy had brought over from Europe. Apparently he didn’t like the crossing, because he took his family back on the silver bird and paid us and Dad cut me in for a third and to help take his boat home.

I got there just in time for the argument. My parents seldom did that, argue, but they did over chili. They’d done deliveries before and what they liked to do was to cook up a pot of chili before they left, then add to it on the way, by the time they got where they were going, what was in the pot bore no resemblance to what was in it when they’d set out. The problem was that they had vastly different ideas about what should be in it when they started.

My Dad won that round and we left on the first Tuesday in November as America was going about the business of voting a movie actor into the White House with Dad’s version of Atlantic Crossing Chili steaming in the galley.

Captain Katie’s Dad’s Atlantic Crossing Chili

5 pounds beef brisket cut into one inch cubes

2 pounds lean ground pork

2 large finely chopped onions

4 tablespoons vegetable oil salt and pepper to taste

6 cloves minced garlic

4 tablespoons diced green chilies

16 ounces tomato sauce 2 beef bouillon cubes

2 bottles Corona Beer (it’s okay to use Carib Beer)

3 cups water

7 tablespoons chili powder

4 tablespoons ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon dried mustard

1/4 teaspoon brown sugar

1 pinch oregano

In a large pot brown the beef, pork and onions in hot oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add the remaining ingredients. Stir well. Cover and simmer 3 to 4 hours until meat is tender and chili is thick and bubbly. Stir occasionally.

Serves about Eight, but it grows.

That’s one half of my Dad’s recipe book. He’s what you might call a two recipe man, but the two he has are good ones, good go to sea ones. Mama’s version of Atlantic Crossing Chili differs substantially and I offer it below.

Captain Katie’s Mama’s Atlantic Crossing Chili

4 pounds chicken breasts cut in bite sized chunks

2 tablespoons peanut oil

4 ancho peppers

2 chipotle peppers or another smoked chile pepper if you can’t get chipotle

2 cups beef broth

4 onions

6 cloves minced garlic

4 teaspoons ground cumin seeds

2 teaspoons oregano

2 teaspoons thyme

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 bottles Corona Beer (Mama says you can’t use any other brand)

2 tablespoons tomato paste

salt and pepper to taste

In a heavy skillet, heat the oil until barely hot. Roast the pepper in the hot oil for 1 minute or less, just until they brown lightly. Remove the peppers from the oil and cool. Let oil remain in skillet. Stem and seed the cooked peppers, break into small pieces and grind in blender or spice grinder. Bring the broth to a boil and add the ground chilies. Remove from the heat and allow to steep while you proceed with the recipe. Add the onion to the oil remaining in the skillet. Cook until lightly browned. Add the chicken and stir until the meat loses its raw look. Add the garlic, cumin, oregano, thyme and cinnamon, and stir for another 10 seconds. Add the broth chili mixture, beer and tomato paste. Bring to a boil and simmer 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Adjust seasoning and serve immediately.

Makes about eight servings and like my dad’s, this version grows, too.

As you can see Mama’s version is a white chili and neither version has beans. I guess because they wanted to cut down on the, well you know what they wanted to cut down on in the enclosed space of a sailboat. Also my Dad’s version takes a whole heck of a lot longer to cook up.

Five weeks later the wide bay of Palma spread out ahead, its rocky walls and pine-strewn hills stretched open like beckoning arms and I looked forward to meeting the aunts, uncles, cousins and kin that Mama had been telling me about since I was a little girl. The grey water turned emerald green and under a heavenly blue sky the last morning clouds evaporated. Ahead the old city took shape as the moorish structure of the great cathedral rose to welcome us.

I spent an extra month there, reveling in my history, then all too soon I had to leave, but I knew I’d be back. Over the years I did eleven more crossing with my folks before they finally decided to sell their boat, give up the sea and stay permanently on the land. Funny, they’re back in California now and I’m the one that’s out here. I guess that’s what growing up is all about.

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Here, Vesta is standing on the Bow of Great White Wonder as we’re anchored off the Trinidad Yachting Association. The building in the background is the Trinidadian helicopter port, where Donald Trump held the Miss Universe contest.

That was a big deal in Trinidad. Trump made quite a splash. They loved him then. He was gonna build a casano there, or so he said. But he never did.       

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Here is the prettiest girl in the Caribbean on her sailboat in the Trinidad and Tobago Yacht Club in Glencoe, which is about fifteen minutes by maxi taxi from Port of Spain.

We spent a year in the yacht club refitting Great White Wonder after we bought it. The manager of the club wasn’t happy when we started construction, because it was a yacht club, not a shipyard. For the first month we were there, he made noises about how some of the wealthy people who had boats in the club, didn’t appreciate the mess and noise we were making during our boat building.

But Vesta and I are friendly people and by the time that month was up, he liked us, because we’re likable people. And we made friends with Trinidad’s well healed sailboat owning people, which was really cool, because not only did they not evict us, they invited us to all their parties.

They were all so good to us, the people of Trinidad.

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One of the days when I thought I’d lost my gosh darned mind.

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I woulda changed the oil, really I would have. I wanted to even, but I just couldn’t fit into that itty bitty generator room.

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Taking it easy before we sailed away. We’d been in the yacht club for a year and now the boat is finally finished and we’re going to get our sea legs, by heading up north to the Virgin Islands.

Our friend Gary Pierre sailed up with us as did a woman named Jeannie, who we hired from America to teach us how to sail the boat.

That’s right, we’d bought a boat and spent a year fitting it out and we didn’t know how to sail it. But we learned.

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Here is our friend, Gary, who sailed up island with us and, a not very competent sailing instructor, on our first major sail. Without him, I’m sure, Vesta and I would be resting not so peacefully in Davy Jones Locker along with said sailing instructor

As for Gary, there is a reason why some call him Mr. Smooth. Can you tell why?

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Vesta took this photograph in Virgin Gorda. We’d just said goodbye to the instructor and now we were on our own, Gary, Vesta and me. We spent a week there, then we sailed to St. Martin for a month and then we sailed down island, eventually arriving alive in Trinidad.

We were sailors now, the real deal, Gary, Vesta and me.

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A Stormy Christmas, Far Away From Home. Well, maybe not so far, cuz we’re in Trinidad and in a way, that’s home for us.

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