Stormy weather

Virgins sacrificed at sea

Port Canaveral, Fla., Nov. 2–9—Ahoy maties, from the Mariner of the Seas with the Hogs on the High Seas Western Caribbean cruise. This seven-day journey took us to four destinations deep in the heart of pirate country. Buccaneers roamed freely throughout the Caribbean during the 1600s, while thumbing their noses at authority. And it seemed appropriate for 1,600 independent-minded bikers to board ship and wreck havoc on the same territory 400 years later.

We touched down Friday afternoon in Cape Canaveral and found the pre-cruise party at the Radisson in full swing. From all accounts, this was just a continuation of Thursday’s party. We pulled out Sunday afternoon and by that evening, during the welcome ceremony in the Savoy Theater, you could tell we were headed into seas a lot less smooth than when we left the harbor. We could hear the waves slapping the hull, and the stage backdrop was swaying enough to give landlubbers pause. Not to be overshadowed by the listing ship, our hosts and HOHS promoters, Dean and Debbie Anderson, handed out the first night’s 50/50 winnings (over $5,200) to a lucky winner. The money raised during 50/50 ticket sales and Biker Bingo goes directly to the Dialysis Fund that provides on-board medical care for 16 dialysis patients, along with their airfare, cabin and several hundred dollars in spending money.

To be considered, vendors on the HOHS trips must each commit to giving at least $5,000 worth of merchandise away during the trip. Most of them increase that amount throughout the week. Companies such as Küryakyn, Condor, Seigal Fine Arts and HeliBars among others were asked to exhibit. As a crew member, your name is automatically entered into the prize drawings as well as the bike giveaway. This year’s merchandise totaled almost $100,000.

On Monday the seas were 10–12 feet with the wind howling on the port side like a banshee. Those six big-ass 17,000 hp engines were pushing us along at about 18 knots with periodic showers cutting visibility dramatically at times. The first day at sea saw the vendor area stampeded with potential customers to see the giveaway bike and the great products presented by the various manufacturers. The weather also ensured that indoor activities were the preferred choice of entertainment with the bars filling early. But I also noticed that the crowd in the gym was much larger than on the previous cruise. Whether it was because we were an older and wiser crowd (average age 52) or just trying to sweat out the adult beverage residue from the previous night, it was a good sign that we may live to fight another day. Even the high flying heavyweights in the belly smacker contest were grounded and the event rescheduled for Thursday due to the weather.

On Captain’s Night, the number one boat driver holds court at a table of honor along with several passengers who are invited to share the meal with him. This occasion usually calls for formal attire but during the HOHS cruise bikers are allowed (actually encouraged) to wear leather. It is always entertaining to watch the nonbiking passengers in their tuxedos and evening gowns react to our version of formal dress. Before dinner, photographers are stationed at the entrance to the main dining room to take individual and group photos for you in front of the HOHS banner for posterity or just to have some evidence that at one time you were sober long enough to stand up to take a picture.

Captain Per Kristoffersen promised us smooth seas on Tuesday. He kept his promise but failed to mention to the virgins (new HOHS cruisers) we would be in port at Labadee all day. I don’t think this omission made the slightest bit of difference to those suffering from seasickness due to the rocking and rolling we had experienced the past 24 hours. For some of us the gentle rocking was like lying in a hammock on a breezy beach. For others it was a treacherous journey to the porcelain altar. Arrgghhh.

Labadee, Haiti, is a spit of sand owned by the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line and is tailored specifically for them. That’s where Dean and Debbie orchestrate the world’s largest T-shirt swap immediately after hitting the island. Otherwise trying to pull a T-shirt over your head may require more dexterity than most are capable of mustering after a long day in the sun consuming frozen Labadoozies. Local entertainment and trinket shopping can be found within the compound or you can get your hair braided and beads added to your beard. Lunch buffets are served on each end of the property and booze hawkers were roaming the area with the local frozen specialty drink, water and beer. Several new buildings were under construction and others were under repair. Our favorite bar at Dragons Breath was closed for repair and the only real bar open was Nellie’s at the embarkation point. However, there were several beer and soft drink stands scattered around the beaches. One of the options available at Labadee is the zip line that parallels the beach so everyone can hear you scream like a girl as you descend from the mountaintop.

Wednesday’s port of call was Ocho Rios, Jamaica, where Margaritaville is the party place for the HOHS group. The bartenders work their butts off to see that you have all the liquid fun you can stand. The frivolity started early at this oasis and by noon things were becoming more and more adult-oriented, with the swim-up bar and the water slide providing the catalyst for clothing-optional fun—no clothes, no problem mon. But whether you return to the ship in a wheelchair, wheelbarrow or under your own power, you must suit up to play on the big boat.

There were many contests on board including the Treasured Chest where buxom wenches entice the crowd to fill their “coffers” with currency. The one who raises the most cash wins. The Best Chest has 10 shirtless men rubbed down by 10 blindfolded ladies, some showing an abundance of enthusiasm. Julie Guza smacked the boys this year by winning the Belly Smacker Contest. She was the resounding favorite of the observers. A poker walk was held each weekday whether we were at sea or on shore. The 50/50 and poker games helped contribute more than $120,000 to the Dialysis Fund.

HOHS always pauses during the week to honor our veterans. This is always a touching and sentimental moment not only for the vets but those who have lost loved ones during times of conflict. During this time Paul and Aubrey Ribarich gave the Dialysis Fund a very generous check for $10,000 courtesy of the Ethel J. Ribarich Family Fund.

Captain Per paid the bikers a visit one night to greet us and pass along the weather forecast after the TV weather channel had mentioned a tropical storm was brewing. The captain advised us that it would become a hurricane (Paloma) and pass the western tip of Cuba as we sailed to Cozumel.

On Thursday we landed in Georgetown, Grand Cayman. This island with over 600 financial institutions is the fifth largest banking center in the world, and is renowned for its high-end jewelry and diamond shopping. Although Grand Cayman is a bit more pricey than our other destinations, it still has some great seaside restaurants and shops that cater to the cruise boat crowds. The focus of the HOHS partiers was once again the local Margaritaville and once again they served the best mudslide available anywhere. Grand Cayman also offers some of the best scuba diving in the world. A short boat ride will get you to great medium dives in the 50’–60′ depths. For the more experienced, a plunge over the North Wall will snag you the thrill of a lifetime—an undersea shelf at 80, with an abyss below that reaches to 6,000. After your trip over the wall, you can come back near shore and feed the rays at Sting Ray City.

I met dialysis patient Melanie and her husband Chris one morning at breakfast. She told me that she has been dealing with medical problems for more that 20 years. She was the recipient of a transplanted kidney from her father that lasted for 11 years but is now back on dialysis. They live in Pennsylvania but she is receiving medical treatment at Columbia School of Medicine in New York and has been back on the transplant list for four years. They learned of HOHS by chance when Chris was organizing a fundraiser for Melanie and stopped into one of his local bike shops. At first they thought this couldn’t be true but after some investigation, HOHS HQ assured them that a vacation complete with medical care was possible. Two more very grateful virgins were added to the long list of previous patients and when I saw them in downtown Georgetown, they had just returned from a visit to Sting Ray City.

On Friday we landed in Cozumel, Mexico, and stormed the beaches. Most were headed to world-infamous Carlos & Charlie’s or the new Margaritaville to party like sailors on their last shore leave. If your destination was Carlos & Charlie’s and you were looking for a raucous time you were not disappointed. By lunchtime there were already lost souls taking advantage of the benches in the rear of the bar for a quick siesta. Dean had admonished everyone that setting a pace was the key to surviving Cozumel and advised all that even though you might not feel the effects of the tequila while sitting at the bar, it would be wise to stand up every now and again to make sure your legs still worked. Otherwise someone was going to have to carry your big ass back to the boat and they probably weren’t in much better shape than you. If you get in a conga line and some gal is pouring shots directly down your throat from the bottle at the door, just keep going, because your time is up.

Saturday was a day at sea as we escaped Cozumel, slipping past Hurricane Paloma, which was stalled near Cuba. It was also the day to wrap up the week of festivities including the grand prize bike giveaway. A live auction is held each cruise to sell off the banners from our previous destinations and items donated by vendors, with all the cash going toward the Dialysis Fund. Captain Per mounted the giveaway bike in the hold and rode the lift to the stage, complete with fog machine effects. The fabricator of the bike, Nightmare of Nightmare Custom Cycles, proceeded to complete a successful burnout on stage with what little gas was in the tank. The $30,000 bike went to a very happy Steve Coley from Ahoskie, North Carolina.

This sixth annual HOHS Western Caribbean cruise had an international crew, with members from Austria, the United Kingdom, Russia, Germany and some 330 Canadians. Each of the United States was represented, with the exception of Mississippi.

After each of the HOHS cruises, the Royal Caribbean honchos receive a half-dozen or so complaints about all of the tattooed, leather-clad bikers on board. During the last night at sea the cabin attendant leaves a checkout package in your stateroom including an evaluation card that includes a comments section. Never one to pass up an opportunity to tweak authority, I filled out my card as follows: “Captain, those people in the tuxedos and evening gowns were very scary. And don’t even get me started on those European guys in their speedos.” Maybe next year those six complainers will just stay home.


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