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Begging Sea Gypsy Style

If you are a shiftless, truth-impaired, uneducated, contemptible, lazy, jobless sea gypsy like myself—you’d better be good at something. This is the age of specialization. The ‘general practitioner’ is dead. The successful modern marine entrepreneur has to zoom-in, narrow his professional focus, and concentrate on one specific area of profitability. I know this. And I’ve followed my own advice. I’m now an expert at … begging.

I know, I know—most people would not admit such a thing. They have something called pride. But I sold my pride back in the mid 1960s … or traded it for a pound of … of … of something! I’ve got about as much pride left as memory … about zero. The bad news is: People probably tell me I’m senile every day. The good news: I don’t remember!

Where were we? Ah, yes. The Joys of Begging!

This recent incident took place during a 45 knot gust in the Greek Isles. We were just to windward of Kos, in the Dodecanese, and attempting to find a lee at Kalymnos. It was our first Meltemi, and we weren’t quite prepared for its Hellenic strength. The Aegean can be a horrible place—just ask Ulysses. Thus, instead of paying strict attention to my world-weary sails, I was down on the cockpit floor praying to Aeolus. In hindsight, I guess I should have been concentrating on my sail control lines, tweaking ’em or something. In any event, our 12 year old, 70,000-mile-tired jib finally blew itself to ribbons. Well, not ribbons exactly. More like giant sheets of fluttering Dacron being torn savagely off a 45-foot long Harken roller-furling paper towel dispenser. (Sigh.)

“God DAMN the Tea Party!” I screamed.

“…huh?” said my wife, Carolyn.

She’s slow. I mean, I love her and all—but she ain’t quick. I was already on the Big Fat Quest of a new sail—and she couldn’t even recognize my lightning-fast genius. Again: I’d already shifted gears, and she wasn’t even looking for the clutch pedal yet. Or, to put it another way, I was already establishing the correct ‘framing’ for my sad, sad, undeserved plight.

That’s right. If you’re going to cast yourself as a victim, you need an oppressor. It has to be a stark, easily understood contrast: black and white, right and wrong, rich and poor. And I didn’t have much time. I mean, I didn’t want to stop and research something ‘New Yorker’ clever. So I just picked the Tea Party out of thin air—hell, it could have been the ACLU for all it mattered.

“…Ronald Reagan, in the early 1980s, broke the back of the Air Traffic Controller’s Union,” I spouted with outrage as I weepily rolled up what was left of the flapping headsail, “and the American worker hasn’t had a square deal since!”

Yes, it is always nice to toss in an actual fact or two—it gives the do-gooders something to cling-to. “Guilt-attachment,” the shrinks call this concept. Whatever. I’m more in the ‘There’s a sucker born every minute’, school of psycho-babble.

“…what’s Ronnie Reagan got to do with…” asked my bewildered wife.

No matter. She’d come onboard when she scented the approaching prize—and be a matrimonial pit-bull in the end.

Now, you wouldn’t think this would work—that an American sailor (who hasn’t worked since, like, the JFK-era) in Greece could illicit almost instant pity—but it was easier than I imagined. The Greeks are a warm, friendly, welcoming people—and love the underdog. Plus, there’s a hint of anarchist in every one.

It was like shooting ducks in a barrel.

We pulled into Milos—why not lick our wounds in the trendiest isle of the Cyclades, right?—and I immediately rowed over to the Halberg Rassy 46 anchored next to us, and asked the cockpit full of locals, “Do you know the central platform plank—the true political aim—of the American Tea Party? I mean … besides world-domination!” When they admitted that they did not … I spat, “The Outlawing of Ouzo!”

I knew by their howl of outrage that I’d struck a deep cord in their national psyche.

“…what can we do to stop those bastards,” asked the skipper.

“…and, are they in cahoots with the Turks again,” asked his wife, obviously the traditionalist in the family.

“…I’m currently on my way back to American to single-handedly reverse the political tide—after all; I didn’t study under Abbie Hoffman for nothing!” I said. “However, due to the fact that the Bush Boys nearly eliminated taxes on the wealthy and then heaped the extra tax burden on the backs of our waitresses and cab drivers … and that US taxation fell from 20% of GDP to our current level of 15% … well, I can not afford to internationally maintain my yacht in as Bristol condition as I’d like to. Example: Food stamps aren’t redeemable at most ship’s chandleries! Ditto, sailmakers … crazy, eh? Thus, I currently have no headsail—and will have to stay here and mooch off you generous Greeks for awhile until I can procure one.”

Notice the carrot (I’ll leave immediately) and the stick (I’ll stay forever)?

Over the course of the last five decades of ocean cruising, I’ve found that nearly all Citizens of the World are much more into helping me leave than arrive—just something about human nature, I guess.

“I’ll give you an almost new headsail!” said the Greek fellow expansively, while his adoring wife and drunken friends cheered.

Immediately, I attempted to dampen his enthusiasm. “I’m afraid the luff length will be far too long,” I said, “your boat being so much bigger.”

“Ah, but my previous boat was a S&S-designed 38-footer, very similar to your Wild Card,” he said happily, flush with his philanthropic good cheer. “The sail is ashore in a storage shed. I’ll dig it out in a couple of days…”

Obvious, I had a ‘live’ one. I had to think fast, not wanting to miss any opportunity for exploitation. “…does it come with a sailbag?”

“Yes,” he said. “and it was only used once, in extremely light airs.”

“Tell-tales?” I queried. “Red ones to port and green ones to starboard?”

“Absolutely!”

“Okay,” I said begrudgingly. “I’ll inspect it—and see if it is up to Goodlander standards.”

“Great!” said my wife Carolyn when I returned. “You’re amazing, Fatty! I mean, just a few minutes ago I was all depressed and wallowing within all this poverty—and now I’m happy as a lark!”

“Not so fast,” I said. “We haven’t seen the sail yet. These Greeks are notorious for … well, let’s just say I’m not ready to call off our ‘karma-withdrawal’ campaign just yet. Let’s proceed with Plan B on the SSB as well—what can it hurt?”

The following day, at 0600 UTC on marine SSB frequency 6516khtz, I called into the Med-wide Dragnet—and dramatically demanded ‘health & welfare’ medical info on treating severe saddle sores.

“…saddle sores?” asked net control incredulously.

“Yes,” I said briskly. “Poverty and lack-of-headsail have required my long-suffering wife Carolyn to row our 19,000 pound vessel westward—the price of diesel being what it is today. This has caused her entire butt to swell up and turn, well, rather baboon-like!”

This resulted in our only ‘anonymous’ donation: a suitable roller-furling genoa and a five gallon tin of Noxema Medicated Skin Creme being dropped off in our dinghy with a brief note which read, “Use the sail to bring your poor wife back to her mother, please—and the Noxema to ease her pain!”

Since I keep up with the latest cyber trends, I didn’t neglect the emerging ‘social media’ either. I have nearly 1,500 Facebook friends—nearly all of whom are certified suckers (or, at the very least, extremely bored & lonely).

It didn’t take long to dream up a memorable ‘dunning’ post—some dribble about the Cold War, if my memory serves—and a Photo-shopped picture of a weeping-Carolyn-chained-to-the-blood-stained-rowing-thwart of Wild Card.

This caused two of our circumnavigating buddies—Jimmy and Caroline of Blue Moon—to alter course to assist. We’d came up the Red Sea together, and have stayed friends by the simple expedient of not allowing them to read my Chasing the Horizon, which utterly/savagely trashes their homeport of St. Petersburg, Florida.

“…what’s this about the Soviets sabotaging you’alls headsail?” asked Cap’n Jimmy. He’s a good-ole-boy with a mouthful of grits—and thus is susceptible to such Red-bashing.

“…can’t be sure,” I admitted. “But it was either them Iron Curtain Oily-garks or a Chinese commie, maybe …”

“We can’t have that,” said Jimmy. “No, siree! Not a good, hardworking, God-fearing, patriotic American being bested by such scum!”

I was none-of-the-above but managed to look ‘wronged’ none-the-less.

“We just happened to have an almost new jib from a Tartan 35 which will be perfect for Wild Card. You can have it, Fatty. Free!”

“Does it have a foam luff so it maintains its shape when partially furled? Will the luff rope fit a Harken 1.5 unit? Can it be skirted easily over my lifelines? Is it 6.5 ounce Bainbridge cloth? Is the leechline pre-adjusted?”

“Absolutely,” laughed Jimmy. “It’s top quality, and made with love by North Sails. I wouldn’t think to give you anything less, Fatty.”

Mollified, I agreed to inspect it.

At this point, I had three sails stacked up in Wild Card’s cockpit—each of which was far nicer than any sail I’d ever purchased for actual money. True, they were all a tad larger than I’d have preferred—but when they blew out in heavy air we’d be able to just slide them right off the furler into the water—and hoist yet another. How cool is that?

The only downside was—we had to leave Milos immediately. Used sailbags started piling up in the ferry company offices, at the harbor master’s hut, and were being stacked on the dinghy dock. Damn! It was far easier to turn on the ‘used rag’ supply than shut it off.  It seems that numerous local yacht clubs, charterboat companies, and various marinas had ‘banded together in Euro-brotherhood’ to eagerly ‘help get Wild Card back to the Caribbean—never to return!’

Ah, it’s marine-community-support like this that warms even the coldest sea gypsy heart!

(Editor’s note: Wild Card should be approaching the Balearics at this point—trying to decide whether to stop and plunder or not.)

Cap’n Fatty Goodlander lives aboard Wild Card with his wife Carolyn and cruises throughout the world. He is the author of Chasing the Horizon by American Paradise Publishing, Seadogs, Clowns and Gypsies, The Collected Fat, All At Sea Yarns and Red Sea Run. For details of Fatty’s books and more, visit fattygoodlander.com

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