By Diana Olmstead
This is Part 2 of my coverage of the incredible High Seas Rally. The first half of this article ran in last month’s December issue of Quick Throttle Magazine. If you didn’t catch it you can still read it here – High Seas Rally Part 1.
Part 1 ended with our Day 4 activities and fun at our stop in St Thomas. So, now we begin with:
I awoke bright and early to my husband saying, “It’s time to wake up, we’re in St Maarten. It’s going to be another great day honey!” We quickly got ourselves ready as were eagerly looking forward to checking out the Dutch side of the island.
After departing the ship everyone made their way to several busses that were on standby to take rally goers to our first HSR Party at the Sunset Beach Bar & Grill. This bar is famous as it sits along a gorgeous white sandy beach and right at the end of the Princess Juliana International Airport. We climbed off the bus and bombarded the outdoor bar staff with orders for buckets filled with ice cold beers and a variety of fruity tropical drinks… my favorite was the Bahama Mama. Yum! Half of the crowd hung out at the bar and the other half wandered to the beach to frolic in the waves. A few people on the beach were caught off guard by the high tide and powerful sneaker waves that hit the shore. We saw many people being tossed around and drug across the beach like rag dolls. The waves came in so high that many people lost their flip flops and more than a few beach bags and cameras were completely soaked. I cautiously walked onto the beach to try to capture a few snapshots of the planes that were landing at the airport. They were so low that you felt like you could reach up and touch them.
There was a lot more to do and see so a group of us hopped into a taxi that took us to our 2nd HSR Party at the Blue Bitch Bar & Grill in downtown Philipsburg, which wasn’t far from where our ship was docked. The bar is a located along a busy boardwalk bordering the beach. The bars name is a result of the islands history – the blue Bitch Rock is a shiny rock that is native to the shores of the island. The rocks used to be sold and used as gravel for mixing cement. Nonetheless, because of the name the bar sells a ton of t-shirts. It was a sweltering day and everyone had a different method for cooling off or soaking in the sunshine – some headed to the beach and went for a swim or kicked back in lawn chairs tucked underneath beach umbrellas, while some stayed at the bar and continued to suck down cold beverages, and many decided to go check out the shopping district in the heart of this quaint, bustling little city. We decided to go check out the shops and street vendors. My hubby who has a long goatee was immediately approached by a couple of ladies wanting to braid his beard. Why not, we’re on vacation? Besides the next night of the rally was ‘Pirate Night’… so this could work out pretty well we thought. After his beard was braided we inadvertently (yeah right!) walked into one of the many jewelry shops in town… twenty minutes later I walked out with a stunning new pair of diamond earrings! My friends had told us that there are some great deals on jewelry in St Maarten and boy were they right!
After wandering around town it was time to head back to the ship. When we returned there was another cruise ship docked directly across from us; as we all stood on our balcony’s we were looking directly at the people on that ships balconies. This is where the fun really began; imagine our ship, packed with 1,800 drunken and/or spirited bikers acting like pirates shouting “aaaaargh!” from their balconies adorned with huge pirate flags. We were definitely the rebels in port that day! The passengers on the other cruise ship all ran out onto their balconies to check out what the commotion was, and most of them got a real kick out of watching us have so much fun!
At 6:30, and just as the ship was leaving the island, we all congregated in the Arcadia Theatre for another high-spirited HSR Giveaway Show! At the beginning of every show, Dean, along with his son Cody and Dean’s adorable grandson Riley, tossed out tons of freebies to the crowd; without a doubt, little Riley won of everyone’s hearts. The show officially opened with a poignant flag presentation by members of the U.S. Military and the Canadian Military. After the flag ceremony had commenced a couple of HSR kidney dialysis patients took the stage to express their gratitude to all of the rally goers for taking an interest in their plight, for educating others about dialysis and for giving them the opportunity to enjoy this amazing all-expense paid vacation. Dean, Roy and HSR Crewmember Roger, gave away several thousands of dollars’ worth of cool motorcycle merchandise or gift certificates to several lucky raffle winners. The nightly 50/50 jackpot was an enormous stack of cash and the lady that won was ecstatic at her good fortune! The final drawings were for the cabin tickets in which the winners receive a free cabin for next year’s 2014 HSR Rally! Your odds of winning are quite good – By selling 200 raffle tickets for $20 each, $1,500.00 per raffled cabin goes into the Debbie’s Dialysis Fund and someone gets a “1-in-200” chance to win a free cabin! Over the course of this year’s High Seas Rally forty-five fired up fortuitous people won free cabins!
Today we are at sea but there is plenty to do… or not do, it’s all up to you. The trade show was open and the vendors were busy all day long answering questions about their products and making sales. At 1:30 just about everyone headed to Deck 11 for the famous HSR Belly Smacker Contest! The winners belly was covered in what looked like painful red welts… that he may or may not have yet felt depending on his choice of beverage that afternoon. After the contest Derek and I spent a few hours with Carolyn Conway, one of the kidney dialysis patients, and her husband David Cawthon. We had met Carolyn and David when we landed in Orlando and we all boarded the same shuttle bus to our hotel.
Later in the afternoon we went back to our cabin to put on our pirate costumes to get ready for the night festivities. With Derek’s beard now in several small braids people were on the ship were walking up to him making comments like “Dude, you look legit” and “Wow man, you look like something right out of Pirates of the Caribbean”. Keep in mind that not every passenger on the ship is taking part in the High Seas Rally they are simply on a family or couple’s vacation.
At 6pm it was time to head to Deck 3 for Biker Pirate Bingo! What a wild sight it was when I walk into this huge studio packed to the brim with bikers in pirate costumes! After playing several amusing games of bingo it was time to get ready for dinner. Of course our dress code was Mutiny Night Pirate Attire!
The highlight of evening was Debbie’s Pirate Party on the main pool deck. The party started at 10:30 with a moving video tribute of Debbie’s life. As the video was playing a huge storm rolled in. A little rain was not going to slow this party down though! If anything it became even livelier with a bunch of wet drunken biker pirates toasting, laughing and dancing with each other in the rain! Trust me; it’s really quite funny to experience the silly camaraderie that happens when a huge group of bikers are away from home and on a ship together!
We enjoyed a relaxing morning and then we headed off to watch the Topless Man Contest at 11am on the main pool deck. The judges and contestants are randomly drawn from a ballot box. The men are naked from the waist up, and the female judges are blindfolded with their hands dripping in baby oil so they can properly feel the contestants’ chests. The Top 3 contestants split a cash prize and the winner received a HSR Gold Medal to place around his neck!
After the contest we had a little down time, so we went up to a restaurant on one of the top decks and enjoyed a tasty lunch while taking in the view of the gorgeous Caribbean Sea.
At 6:30 Derek and I made our way to the Grand Finale Giveaway Show! The show started off with Comedian Roy Riley who had the crowd in stitches with his silly, off the cuff humor. Next up was the announcement of the HSR Photo Bike Show winners. The Bike Show was sponsored by Quick Throttle Magazine. Congrats to Dean Sallenback – 2013 People’s Choice winner, Jerry Langerman – Touring, Keith Freeman – Custom, Larra Koiner – Sportster, Bubba Bishop – Softail, Dan Huxoll – Metric, Dean Sallenbach – Vintage, Richard Sweet – Trike, Maggie Murray – FXR/Dyna/V-Rod, Sherri Cundiff – Other, QT Best In Show – Herb Wolfe. 90 bikes were registered. All a participant had to do to enter was purchase 2 cabin raffle tickets. Because there were 90 entrants, each entrant had a 1 in 45 chance of winning a free $2,500 cabin credit for next year’s HSR Rally! The lucky winner was Daniel Widener from New Jersey!
After the Bike Show announcement I ducked out to spend some time with Carolyn who was on the 1st floor of the ship undergoing kidney dialysis. (I’ll get back to that part of this incredible journey in a minute.) Derek stayed and covered the rest of the Grand Finale Giveaway Show. I’ll let him take it from here…
The Bike Show was followed by more vendor giveaways and cabin raffles. Over the 7 days at sea – a total of $106,418 in vendor prize giveaways were handed out; 45 cabin raffles totaling $112,500 had been awarded; and Dean, whose arm had to have been aching by now, had given away $70,532 in prizes. As there was no giveaway show on Friday night, you can imagine how anxious everyone was for the next item, the 50/50 cash giveaway. The 50/50 cash winner this evening walked away with over $11,000 making a total of $145,260 won in cash during the Rally! All together $434,710 was won in cash and prizes!
Now, you remember all those cabin raffle tickets that weren’t chosen in the nightly drawings, they all went into a bag and for a chance at winning a new 2013 Harley-Davidson Road King Custom – and custom it was! Dean loaded the bike with just about every bell and whistle he could find. That winning ticket belonged to Russell Werle! Russell and his wife were glued to the seat of the bike as we moved into the Grand Finale… the High Seas Rally Bike Giveaway! This year’s bike was a custom painted 2013 Victory Cross Country. Every member of the rally received one entry ticket with their registration packets when they first boarded the ship; they all had a one in 1800 chance of winning. Talk about great odds! Behind the stage curtain you could hear the rumbling of a bike and suddenly the Victory appeared with the ship’s Captain riding passenger onto the stage! The Captain joined Dean and Roger at the ticket barrel, the Captain reached in and pulled the winning ticket out. This year’s winner was Lawrence Wells from Sun City West, AZ!
In the end, a total (and it’s still growing) of $286,340 was raised for Debbie’s Dialysis Fund in 7 wild, fun filled days! Now, I’ll hand the article back over to Diana…
The main reason that Dean, Roger, Wanda and the entire HSR Crew put this event together year after year is because they understand what kidney dialysis patients go through on a daily basis. As I mentioned before, we met a couple of dialysis patients on our shuttle bus after arriving in Florida. We immediately bonded with a lady named Carolyn and her husband David. They were truly one of the sweetest, funniest, and kindest couples we have ever met. When I first laid eyes on this couple they were quite a sight – She had a huge smile on her face and her arm was set in a temporary cast due to a broken wrist from a fall she took the night before. Her husband David was on oxygen because he has difficulty breathing caused by pulmonary fibrosis. Both were having a bit of struggle getting into the shuttle bus. I immediately stood and helped them get settled. On the ride to our hotel they had us cracking up laughing. They handled their health situations with humor, grace and love. I learned that they had been married for 35 years and their son Denny is a biker. But it was their niece’s family, Jean and Tracy Dula, who submitted their names for a chance to go on the all-expense paid cruise. Carolyn and David were shocked that they had been chosen. Nothing was going to stop them from attending either, not even a broken bone!
On the last day of the cruise Carolyn had another dialysis appointment and she said I could visit with her while she underwent treatment. So I took the elevator to the 1st floor medical facility and asked where I could find the dialysis patients. They led me to a small room with two hospital beds and there was Carolyn and another patient named Patricia. As I looked down at these two lovely ladies I was overcome with emotion that I tried to quickly swallow and tears that I discreetly wiped away. In that moment ‘kidney dialysis’ was not simply just a word that I’d read or heard spoken, it was real. I saw these amazing women hooked up to machines that drained and filtered every ounce of their blood and then returned it to their bodies. I learned they had to undergo 3 ½ to 4 hour treatments every other day of their lives. Afterwards they were usually exhausted and weak. The next day was usually better but then the following day the entire process would start all over again. I learned that no matter how hot it is or how thirsty they feel, they are limited to drinking a very, very small amount of fluids. They both said that the biggest drawback to being a dialysis patient is the inability to travel due to their treatment schedule.
As I sat with the ladies I asked Carolyn “What does the High Seas Rally Eastern Caribbean Cruise mean to you?” She replied, “It means everything to me. This is the first place that people truly understand what I and other dialysis patients go through. I’ve been on dialysis for over 4 years and we haven’t been able to travel since I began treatment. I cannot thank everyone enough; this vacation is a dream come true.”
It’s difficult enough when a family member is on dialysis but when their spouse or partner has health issues the situation becomes even more difficult for both of them. I can honestly say that this experience was so much more than a vacation in the Caribbean. The High Seas Rally crewmembers, our fellow rally goers and the patients that I met had a life changing profound effect on me. After spending quality time with Carolyn I came home a better, stronger woman. I am truly inspired by her grace and cheerful attitude. I truly hope to see her and Davis again. There is an enormous need for kidney donors, please think about becoming one and improving and saving a life.