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Jailed in Costa Rica

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As told by Mikie Deighan

Find out why the entire crew of the Madam and Hooker ended up in a Costa Rican jail cell.

Costa Rican jail

This was back in 1995, I had been working on the Madam and Hooker, that’s a pretty famous mothership and fishing boat, and we were off of Cocos Island 300 miles from Costa Rica. We had just come off of almost 100 days in a row of fishing out there, making the 300-mile run back to the mainland to pick people up and bring them out there. The distance was crazy but the fishing was just as insane so it was worth it. 

That year the engineer on the mothership was retiring to Flamingo, Costa Rica. So when we got done with our last trip, we went to Panama to reprovision the mothership. And the engineer had also had his stuff shipped in from Florida for the move, since with the canal and all it was much easier to ship stuff to Panama than Costa Rica. So he had something like 87 boxes—china and tools and everything else you accumulate over a life. We’ve got the boxes on deck with tarps over them and we didn’t think anything of it. So we’re in Panama for ten days and then we head off for Flamingo. And we pull into that port around 3:30 in the afternoon, and by the time we get the mothership anchored and the little boat all set it’s the evening. And you have to remember we had no time off for almost 100 days. So I’m looking to whoop it up! Flamingo was one of the first recreational ports in Costa Rica, and they had a little casino, and a bar, and whatever else. But none of the other guys were up for it. Everybody was too tired. I was like, Screw that, and went into town by myself. Man, I got hammered. Don’t judge, I hadn’t spoken to anyone but my coworkers for 100 days—you’d want to get drunk too!

Now normally the mates on the boat live on the dinghy, which was a 40-foot G&S, and that’s where I slept that night. The next morning somebody’s banging on the door so loud, and I’m a little fuzzy, and it’s my day off so I also don’t care, except that I want them to stop banging so I can go back to sleep. But then I hear all this hollering in Spanish—something about a big problem. And I hear one of the Panamanian mates shouting to me, “You gotta get up! You gotta get up! You gotta get up!” And I’m yelling at him to handle it himself, and he’s saying back, “I can’t!” 

So I get out of bed and open the door and there’s three Costa Rican military-looking guys pointing M-16s at me. And I’m like “Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!” with my hands up. And again this is nine in the morning after a big night out, my head was swimming. I had zero idea what was going on. 

So they take us upstairs on the main deck of the mothership. And they’re yelling at us about clearing customs and why didn’t we do that. And we were trying to tell them that we did clear customs and did everything by the book. And by now they’ve got the whole crew rounded up with the guns and everything. They take our passports and leave for four hours. They also arrested the engineer and took him with them. Finally they moved the rest of us to the beach and we were basically sitting there waiting for a paddy wagon. But then the cops left us alone, like waiting to see if we were going to run or not. It was screwy. But they told us to stand right there so we did. I mean hell, we didn’t do anything, why would we run?

After a little bit they come back and put us in one little shed that had a chain link fence with some barbed wire around it. Least secure jail I’ve ever seen. If you wanted to you could just climb the fence and leave.

So right away when we go in the cell, there’s this mutt dog in there growling at us. She was some mangy little mean-looking thing, a female dog that had obviously recently had a litter. Man she was ugly. And she goes after one of the Panamanian mates. And he picks up a piece of wood and takes a swing at her to protect himself. And just then we hear this Spanish voice come growling out of another cell. No molesto el perro! That is, “Don’t bother the dog!” And we’re new in town you know. We don’t know how many guys are in that other cell. We don’t know shit. We just know that now we’ve pissed off all the inmates. And I think we all had this bad movie playing in our head like nine hardened criminals are going to come piling out of the jail cell like a clown car and we’re all about to get our asses kicked in a Costa Rican jail.

Luckily that didn’t happen, but we did spend the night. The next day they’re asking us again why we didn’t clear customs. But by now the owner of the boat knew what was going on and he’s got lawyers working on it. I mean all they had to do was look at the passport, you can’t unstamp a passport man! We were there all legal. But anyway, there was a lot of back and forth. And eventually they start asking us about the drugs. And we were like, What drugs? And they told us they had received a call that we had been unloading drugs from the boat onto the land in large boxes. And that’s when we put it together. Unbeknownst to me, while I had been in town doing my thing, the engineer had began unpacking all his crap off the boat. And somebody called it in thinking it was a drug drop-off. And that’s how we ended up doing 36 hours in a makeshift jail in Costa Rica. It was all so dumb. I did learn one important thing though: If at all possible, leave the damn dog alone.

Mikie Deighan, 52, of Stuart, Florida, is a professional fisherman. He’ll do some gardening if you twist his arm, but really and truly, he’d rather be fishing.

This article originally appeared in the October 2015 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.