Captain Robert Trafton  Legendary Shells & ConchKing.com

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               Lizard Carib
                                                                                                                                                  "Jake"                                                                      
Windancer
Life without adventure is not really life at all. The end question is not if I will die but if I have really lived !
I
have lived and worked all over the world. I have delivered large sail boats from Buenos Aries to Sidney and all over Europe and all of the lower Caribbean for over 25 years.
I also worked as a ships captain in the Persian Gulf for 10 years
 I was cleaning up all of the oil that was dumped by So Damn Insane. I was working 2 months on and 1 month off for 8 years. I had an apartment in Monaco
and I had my 20 meter Palmer & Johnson Sailboat to play with whenever I was free.
 I left that boat waiting for me to return to all over Europe and Scandinavia as well as the Baltic. I was also able to sail the entire Mediterranean
and North African coast too as far south as Cape Verde and around the corner to Ivory Coast and Ghana.

                                
         Robert Trafton New York City 1980
         Photos by VonVon

 While living in St Croix for over 25 years I had my tourist business to the national park on nearby Buck Island
as well as a fish freezing business with fish freezing depots on every island from Puerto Rico all the way south to Isla Margarita off Venezuela
 During that time I came to know every fishing family as well as all of the island governments on all of those islands
 As a result I have the most perfect connections for conch and other seashells of anyone in the USA
 During those years I had a virtual fleet of lovely sailboats that I was able to sail throughout the entire Caribbean !

~These conch shells are very much part of the soul of the islands and seafaring history ~
Truly Unique sailing gifts that anyone who loves the sea and boats and the Islands will treasure forever
To hold a conch is to hold the history of the sea and some of it's most ancient sounds
To "Conch" someone is to blow the conch shell horn in their memory or tribute

Handmade sailing gifts from history  not found anywhere else on earth !
Wonderful natural sailing historic trophies from the sea and it's history

     The horns and lamps are a result of many years as a fisherman captain that always had access to great shells
 The shell lamps are truly outstanding with flowers as table centerpieces
The conch, the murex and the triton shells can all hold water and flowers in the open mouth while burning

 Create Bridal centerpieces and beach theme wedding beach decorating that will be recognized as unusual as the people they represent

                   
A sailboat I delivered from Buenos Aries to Perth Australia the hard way east through the roaring 40s and then on through the Tasmanian straits to Sydney       

   My first Captains license was issued in November of 1969 out of Puerto Rico. The one above was issued in 1997 in Boston MA
Not an easy license to get

                                                                                                                                                                                     


 Piper Turbo Arrow  

Amphibious  River Jumper

My Aerostar Aircraft 

 Photo of Trafton
 during 1991 Hurricane Hugo

Tasmanian Straights  
In the end it will be those things that you did not do that you will live to regret the most !
Best Wishes Robert Trafton

 
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A Short Algerian Sea Story of1993
Capt. Robert Trafton

I was at one point taking care of a friends boat that I knew from Massachusetts as well as my own boat the 20 meter Palmer and Johnson Cutter Lizard Carib. The Lizard was safely in Gibraltar but my friends boat was in Palma Majorca in the Spanish  Balearic Islands. He wanted that boat back in Gib with my boat. So my old time friend from St Croix Charlie West and I left for Majorca to get his boat. That boat the Shamus was a Choy Lee 58'. It was in pretty good shape so after a couple of days stocking the boat and rechecking the rigging we set off south to round the south east of Spain and then west to Gib.  And as happens many times in any marina the word got around that we were leaving soon for Gibraltar. As a result we were descended upon by an assortment of different wanderlust vagabonds who wanted to get passage to Gib. And of course it is not a really bad idea to have some extra hands available on any open sea voyage. What two men would be faced with is 6 hours on and 6 hours off around the clock. Three is much better with 6 on and 12 off. And four is a cake walk. So we took on an Arab Moroccan and an English man as free crew.

It does not take allot of experience to watch the course line on the GPS tracker and listen for a radar proximity alarm for any close by vessels. Other than that myself or Charlie would wake up automatically if the weather began to change. Things were fine for a few hours but then the weather began to change for the worse. First the direction of the wind changed and then the strength increased. What was a lovely 15 MPH breeze out of the North tuned into a full force 8 to 9 on the Beaufort scale or about 50 to 60 MPS strait out of the west. If you know anything about auxiliary powered sailboats you know that the engine on those boats is for entering port in close conditions. And for maintaining the charge on you batteries and refrigerator. Those engines do not have enough power to make any headway directly into a force 8 or 9 storm. So the best we could do was to head off further towards the south under sail power.

Normally I would never leave port without checking the ships weather fax for a weather forecast for a few days to make the trip. This time I was fooled by the lovely weather we had been having for almost a month. And it was only a few days trip. I was late to return back to my job in the Persian Gulf as well so I just left town. As soon as the wind started up I did make a print out on our weather fax. The isobars reported were so close together that they looked like someone's fingerprint. This was not good but I have been caught before in much worse conditions in ocean crossings that I was not concerned for our safety.  I took another boat from Portugal North one time in November all the way through the North Sea to the north end of Denmark and on into the Kattegat Sea with a force 9 to 10 out of the south all of the way. We where dragging so much junk behind that boat to keep it from broaching when racing down the front side of huge following seas that it was surprising how fast we kept going. We were using only the smallest storm jib we could find onboard as our only sail.

Anyway our British crew Roy was ok for awhile but soon joined our Moroccan friend below retching and weeping. Charlie was checking on them often and reported to me that he had fashioned a loop of line around the Moroccan fellows neck to a bucket after a number of direct misses at the cabin floor bucket. It seemed by the print out that the weather could abate by morning so we kept on further south towards the coast of Algeria.

In the morning the weather was the same. I began to joke with our crew that is was sunny this time of year in Algeria. Only to hear a litany of protest from our Moroccan Guest about how he could not possibly enter Algeria because Moroccan and Algerian relations were in a terrible state of affairs and he was sure he would be jailed upon arrival. In fact at that time Algeria was at the very top of the US State Department do not visit list for years previous to this date. There had been and was a country wide civil war raging in Algeria for many years already. And this was not making their neighbors happy at all. We could of course began tacking in a westerly direction and try to stay close hauled but with two sick passengers Charlie and I were seriously considering an Algerian layover at the Capital itself Algiers. I felt our chances of a friendly visit would be best at the capital than at some backwater village anywhere else on the very long Mediterranean coast of Algeria.

By around 4:00 am the next morning we were seeing the first lights of the African coast. By GPS we had an easy dead lay for the Algiers Harbor entrance. So we continued on our way. Normally I would have expected a gun boat reception but there was none. No Gun boat is normally a precursor to a third world visit. We rounded a large point as the wind subsided by it's lee and we all felt much more comfortable  as we ripped through the very large mostly commercial port. Algeria was a communist country for many years under the Party Communist Algerian so it never developed any sort of tourist trade at all. Especially any kind of facilities for visiting yachts.

There were no signs of official presents anywhere it seemed as we past endless docks full of every description of ramshackle vessels. Then I did see an Algerian flag flying over a small building on a broken down concrete dockside. I made a pass in close and did not see any activity at all. So I dropped our fenders and laid in along side. There were only a couple of small boats alongside at the time. I had already told everyone on board to gather their passports and be ready to clear whatever customs requirements there might be. I told everyone to stay on the boat until I made some kind of contact. About then Mohamed our Moroccan crew began bellowing that he would never go ashore in Algeria. I told him as a matter of fact that he would do whatever the Algerians wanted him to do ! This caused him to laps into a chorus of Arab language protest. I was surprised to see him so lively after two full days of seasickness and not eating anything.

I went ashore and entered the office to find a group of three men all dressed in military gear sitting at a small desk in the middle of the room. Their eyes all turned toward me and their conversation ceased. One of the men got up and pulled his pistol out of his holster and pointed it in my general direction. I did not act alarmed and continued towards the desk with my passports in hand and laid them on the desk. When they saw the US passports they all stood up and began talking all at once in Arabic. Even though I had been working for years in Kuwait I was very rarely ashore and knew very little of the Arab language. I asked if they spoke any English and then they started talking to each other once again and ignoring me totally. One of them picked up a phone while one went outside to see how I arrived I suspected. Soon the man who walked out to he dock came back in and whistled loudly towards the back of the office. Very quickly several soldiers came running out of the back rooms half dressed but carrying what looked like AK 47s.The new troops raced out the door to the dock behind the man who had whistled.  I saw an unoccupied chair and sat down. The men remaining at the desk seemed to feel better as I sat down and returned their weapons to their holsters.

Moments later a younger casually dressed man walked into the office through a door I think that opened to the street. All conversation stopped. He glanced at the soldiers and walked directly over to me and extended his hand and greeted me to Algeria in perfect Queens English. I realized he was as in many countries a part of the well educated upper echelon or more commonly known as the secret police. He was jovial to the amazement of the soldiers present. He told me of his years of education in the USA at UCLA. He had many immediate questions and displayed a genuine smile on his face. Why was I in Algeria ? But before I could answer we all heard a loud honking outside. Everyone moved quickly to the dock windows to see who was on the wharf side  honking. My new “friend” Sammir also walked to the window and then turned back to me and gestured for me to come to the window. He pointed and said it is a limousine from your consulate.  And yes I could see the dark long embassy like vehicle with no markings at all. One man came out of the passenger back seat door and headed towards the office we were all in. He was abrupt like many Americans are abroad. No introductions or greetings just a cursory in Arabic where is the captain I was told after by Sammir. The US person turned in the direction of a pointed finger and walked directly towards me. Just then another large troop truck arrived on the dock with about 20 full combat dressed soldiers aboard.

This was now fastly becoming real theater. The US counsel did not say hello or any  greeting at all he only began shouting about who had entered Algeria with an American Flag flying on the boat. Sammir was amused I could tell. I asked the counsel what flag he would prefer I should have used since it was an American Registered vessel. There is international protocol concerning misrepresentation of nationality I explained. He said he did not care but that I must take that flag down now like right now. 

And went on to say Algeria was in a full state of civil war and I was taking a very big chance by displaying that flag. Sammir offered to help me remove the flag  and went towards the door motioning for me to follow. The American counsel disappeared as quickly as he had appeared. By now the military was all over our boat pulling everything up on deck. As usual after any ruff water voyage my boats always arrive in port looking like vandals had just been aboard anyway. Sammir waved some of the soldiers off of the boat as we approached. My old friend Charlie and the British fellow Roy were both sitting on the dockside under guard. There was no sign of Mohamed however. The removal of the flag had an almost magical effect on the military present. With Sammir helping me it almost seemed like the military there really thought it was no longer an American vessel at all ?? Or perhaps they thought it had been on a secret mission of some sort in behalf of Algeria ??? At any rate the attitude of the soldieries began to melt into almost disbelief as Sammir acted more and more like our friend.

Sammir then went below and I followed. He then motioned for the troops to leave. Something they did not question at all. Sammir understood that we had made port in Algeria because of the weather but was full of warnings. Like if we had any drugs on board. He said we could very likely remain in Algeria for he rest of our lives if anything was found. Or if we had any intentions of buying drugs while we were there. I assured him I was very aware of those  potentials and swore to him that we did not nor would have anything to do with drugs.

He quickly moved on to the subject of alcohol on board. I told him we had in stores only 36 cases of San Miguel beer from Spain. He explained that there were very strict Islamic laws in Algeria about the possession of alcohol. He thought for a long moment and then said that the beer was permitted as long as it stayed on the boat. He seemed more concerned about any hard liquor saying that there could not be any at all aboard the vessel. Most Muslim countries have very strict laws about consuming alcohol since it is strictly forbidden in the Koran. Then Weapons became the next bone of contention. He only wanted to see what we had. At that point he asked if he could sample one of our beers. So of course I gladly offered him a cold one out of the fridge. This seemed to be the end of our entry into Algeria process. He called off the troops and then sat down to have another beer and I guess wanted to talk awhile. So we did and he did drink about six beers before staggering off of the boat.

We then moved the boat to a suggested dockside not far away. There was never any discussion about dock fees since it seemed as if we were personal guests of Sammir. However the beer party was not over it seemed. Sammir returned that evening with two other men that turned out to be members of the same not so secret police organization. They introduced themselves and of course asked for some beer. Other than cleaning up the boat and repairing some things I really did not have any pressing responsibilities so I was interested to have the opportunity to talk with these men from a very different cultural background than mine with the rare opportunity to have a well versed interpreter. Even if their only real interest with us was the beer it seemed. Although I had very clearly listed the four of us as the only crew aboard the Shamus no one had asked anything about our forth member of our crew the Moroccan. It seems that the beer was a perfect offering that smoothed out any Algerian customs inconsistencies very nicely. He had managed to stay well out of the path of the military and now the secret police so far as well.

These English speaking Algerians had many unnerving stories to tell about their lives in such a war torn country, They really went on and on for hours into the night about family members lost and battles large and small they had all participated in.  Algeria was a central staging ground between the Axes and Allied forces all during the second world war and then came the war between Algeria and France from 1954 to 1962. That war between Algeria and France was a very uneven battle between what was a military giant in France against a very poorly trained and supplied Algeria with the outcome in a total victory and liberation for Algeria from their colonial keepers of many years. Algeria has always been in conflict and the result of that serious continued struggle has created as far as I could see some very rough and ready people that do not seem to really expect very much from life. Life expectancy there is quite low and the medical care and education opportunities are very poor. As a result these people are a remarkable lot like many poor and stress filled regions of the world  they do not need a great deal to feel elevated and happy from there normal day to day experience. I was developing a strong fondness for these people right from the start.

We made some new friends aboard a large dry storage bulk cargo ship from Holland. They were being detained in Algeria pending the resolution of an argument over the quality of a shipment of milk sugar. Since they were Dutch and I was working for a Dutch company in the Persian Gulf we had many things in common. And since the weather was predicted to continue for some several more days I took advantage of their large machine shop on board their ship to make a number of repairs for the Shamus. They also had a very large stash of Heineken beer aboard their ship that we in turn helped them drink.

We had now been in Algiers for three full days and our reputation for entertaining the Algerian police had traveled far and wide. Sammir was usually the leader of the group but one night a fully dressed military general arrived with them. So our main salon was full of guests. There was no way to refuse their company you can understand so the party continued. After some hours of loose talk about every aspect of men's lives in Algeria I excused myself and retired to the captains cabin all the way aft. There was only a thin paneled door between our guests and the head of my bed. All Arabs everywhere I have ever been speak very loudly and quickly and sound allot like barking dogs as their enthusiasm increases about any subject. And that was the case that night. I somehow was able to fall asleep after some time only to be awakened by the sound of a gun shot in the next cabin. I jumped straight  up in bed waiting for some further sign of trouble. It was very quiet for a few seconds so I slowly opened the door just a crack to see what I could. The General was lying on the floor with his gun next to him. I could not imagine what had happened. I am sure my heart skipped several beats. And then the others all started laughing together loudly. Then the General began to move as he reached for his gun Charlie reached down ahead of him and grabbed the gun first. Then I opened the door all the way only to see the others all sitting around still laughing.

What had happened was innocent enough that the general had lost his grip while waving his pistol in a gesture of some sort and had fallen to the cabin floor. For me those few seconds of silence after the shot will be frozen in time forever. I must have had a very worried look on my face as I entered the main cabin because everyone began slapping me on my back and shouting even more loudly. Charlie then put the gun in a map drawer in front of everyone without any complaint. I was then becoming it really seemed a close friend of a sort to all of the regular guests ?? They saw I really think a look on my face that night that did not reflect fear but more of look of amazement. And as I always do I had tried hard to accept these men in a real manor of acceptance and friendship that I think they saw and appreciated.

The following evening I decided to try something to end our now well known party boat reputation. When the men arrived that night I told them that I was sick and could not participate in another night of high spirits. They seemed so genuinely concerned about my well being that all were looking down towards their feet. I began to actually feel a little bad with my attempted deception. So I decided to try and give them all of the beer to take away. They all stood there looking down like I had said something so demoralizing  that they were all stricken with dismay.  They  seemed so much like children. I quickly realized that these men and I had already formed a friendship in sharing our lives and stories. They where I think actually hurt by the notion  that I did not want to continue on with them. I had experienced this  shared spirit of wonderful comradely before only in other less fortunate areas of the world where life is not really so much of an adventure as it is a day to day battle. This was a really fun time for these men. Sammir spoke for all of them and said that they had all enjoyed the boat and their other nights of revelry so much that they did not want to go anywhere else !  He then leaned over to me and whispered that in fact that they probably could not get away with drinking anywhere else anyway !

We had had fun so I took Sammir aside and asked him if he thought we had perhaps been going to far. And that for sure the word must have been getting around. He smiled broadly and then explained to me that his father was in fact the head of all of the armed forces for the entire city and area of Algiers. And he said that he had spoken to his father about us and our boat and his father had laughed aloud about the general and his gun story. He assured me that we had nothing at all to fear. In fact he said that his father had directed the local police and military to watch out for us. I did not have any further ammunition so I told everyone that I was just then feeling allot better and invited them aboard once again. At that point there seemed to be enough smiles to go around without exception.

So the party was on once again but this time I appointed Charlie as the sergeant at arms and asked him to collect all of the weapons that anyone then possessed. Charlie was diplomatic about this and opened the map drawer once again as the place he intended to put the guns. No one argued as each guest placed his weapon into the drawer. This was a wild condition we found ourselves in to say the least. From high ranking military to the secret police they all complied without reservation. These were all important people inside the Algerian Military and Police organizations.

Just as the last guest placed his weapon into the drawer I saw Mohamed peaking between the hanging curtains all the way forward between the forepeak cabins. This caused me to consider very quickly what Mohamed might have been considering at that point in time ??? 

 The Moroccan stow away !

"Governments will always do the right thing in the end but only after they have exhausted all other possibilities first !" 
 Winston Churchill
 

The weather finally did begin to abate so we started to prepare for our departure. I have learned over the years that departures can become sticky with unusual regulations surfacing suddenly. Mohammad had left the boat and gone somewhere and had not said anything to us about his plans.
Many times I had run into crazy problems when the locals realize that their guests are planning to leave. And their last opportunity to levy taxes of all sorts and require piles of paperwork to be filled out with potentially compromising questions we could not answer.
Paperwork like manifests of ships stores like how much beer was left ? And they would for sure want an updated ships company manifest of passengers now aboard and departing ?? 
At this point I did not want to list Mohammed and in any way get into his presents aboard again. Somehow he had slipped through the cracks this far and I knew very well that things could go south quickly if the wrong things happened. So I decided to slip out of town without saying anything the next night. I did not have anyway to explain how 18 cases of beer had been consumed by just the three of us in only 4 days. If the authorities were to think in any way that I might have sold the beer locally there could be some real trouble.

I only had a couple of party guests the next night. And I was able to cajole them off of the boat by about 1:00 AM. The military of the Algiers area were all having training maneuvers that night so my guest list was small. We were still berthed near the customs house. I did not want to start the engine or make any noise so I lifted only a small jib on the forestay and used the wind to warp us off of the dock and off in the other direction. It was a good night for a getaway with no moonlight at all. Algiers harbor is huge and it was about 1.5 miles to the harbor entrance. I then turned on our running lights so no one would wonder about an unmarked boat slipping quietly passed. Normally I would have been using a search light to see my way. I remembered when we entered the harbor that there were many ramshackle fishing boats, work barges and even some live aboard houseboats. I remembered one boat that had a large dog that started barking wildly when we passed in. I definitely wanted to avoid him.
Our course was going to take us near the Dutch ship that was still being detained there. I decided to call them on the VHF radio as we passed just to say goodbye. I could see lights on in their wheelhouse as I passed in closely. As I was talking with captain Eduart on the radio I noticed an arm out of one of the forward cabin portholes waving something. As we got closer I could see that it was Mohammed waving his Arafat like head scarf to get our attention through the porthole. We did not say anything  or make any noise just waving to each other. I was relieved to see he had made it to the Dutch ship. I was not sure if anyone on that ship actually knew that he was aboard?
So we were able to slip quietly out of the harbor an on our way to the west and Gibraltar. As the lights of Algeria began to fade dawn was approaching. I was careful to make a good distance off the Algerian coast so we were out of their territorial waters as soon as possible.

I was ready for some rest so I woke Roy who had been sleeping to take over while I got some sleep. It was a beautiful morning and all seemed well. Just as I dosed off Roy and Charlie stated yelling gunboat, gunboat so I jumped up and was on deck quickly to see what was happening. Yes there was a gunboat speeding in our direction. Our spirits fell quickly. With binoculars I could see they were flying an Algerian flag. There was absolutely nothing to do except reduce sail and wait for them to come along side. We were all looking at the gunboat carefully and I thought that I could see two men on the forward deck. As they got closer it was looking like Mohammed  because I could see his red gray head cloth.  And then I could also recognize the other man to be Sammir the not so secret policeman. I was then able to bring their boat up on the international channel 16 on the VHF radio. Sammir got on and said were are you going you have forgotten something. Their boat was then quite close to us and I could see Sammir and he had a broad smile on his face. Mohammed on the other hand looked very pensive. So Sammir had commandeered a gunboat just to bring Mohammed to us and to say goodbye. As Mohamed jumped off of the gunboat to our sailboat I could see that he was smiling. Sammir threw a small package to me that turned out to be his address and a picture taken one night of a group of Algerian visitors disembarking from our boat one of the nights we were having party guests. Sammir then lifted his arms up over his head and began to shout Algeria USA  Algeria USA over and over again as their boat turned back for Algeria.


Sammir on left