I am attempting to explain what a harbor angel is to my six year old granddaughter Sokú Orion. “They are wonderful people who help sailors in strange ports,” I say.
“Why?” she asks.
“That’s just it,” I say, “they don’t have a specific aim or goal—they are just nice. There is no profit motive nor logical reason, save, perhaps, that they admire an offshore sailor’s courage.”
“Are you brave, grandpa?”
“No,” I say honestly, “but I understand why some dirt dwellers think I am.”
We have mega fun afloat, my grandkids and I. While anchored amid the thousands of ships off Singapore we’d often jump into our inflatable dinghy and go zooming around the harbor while murderously waving plastic swords—screaming at the top of our lungs, “Candy, candy; we want candy!”
I’d told them that each passing ship was filled-to-bursting with candy—and that the container ships with multicolored containers imported the uncombined M&Ms.
A kid’s world is filled with such magic.
“Candy boat,” her younger sister Tessa Maria says, pointing at a tanker sliding by our 43 foot ketch Ganesh in the Med.
“… liquid candy,” I say calmly, “see all the pipes on deck? Bulk candy boats have huge cargo hatches and deck cranes with large buckets.”
“Why are the sea buoys shaped like that?” asks Sokú Orion while cruising the Balearic Isles of Spain.
“To stack donuts on,” I say without a blink.
“Oh,” she says while nodding in understanding, “Cool!”
But kids grow in fits and spurts—and the Easter Bunny, Boogie Man, and Santa Claus all fall by the wayside. And, yes, the candied marine world I created tottered in adult-doubt as well.
Then we sailed into Simon’s Town, South Africa—and our lines were caught by a glowing, exotic-looking woman from the shiny new 56-foot aluminum sloop Urchin in the next slip. It was obvious she wanted to gam—but I didn’t want to lose my family focus. Let’s face it, I can slither through the gutters with sea gypsies anytime but I only have my grandkids a couple of times a year.
But this fierce African woman was a force of nature and would not be deterred. She gathered my two grandchildren together at the lifelines conspiratorially, looked over as if she pitied my ineffectual rudeness—and said triumphantly, “My name is Charlie and I own a Chocolate Factory!”
It was an arresting first line. And, of course, it fell right into my sugary worldview. So I, too, was enthralled. True, Charlie was kind and generous—but I also sensed a stainless steel in her soul. Something told me she’d make a better friend than enemy.
“I too have a sweet-tooth,” I said, holding my hands up in mock surrender, “and Sokú Orion has been known to partake in the confectionary arts—Tessa Maria as well!”
“… I knew a Fatty and his crew would,” Charlie smiled back.
Charlie was born on a farm in sandy Namibia, and it was there she fell in love with deserts. She was sent away to Cape Town to attended university—and it was there she fell in love with desserts, mountains, and men-of-the-sea.
“My first husband was a navy admiral,” she said to Sokú Orion, “my second was a yacht racer. I can’t seem to keep my hands off sailors!”
Sokú’s jaw dropped.
“Is she for real?” Sokú asked me.
“… don’t know,” I said, now completely intrigued by the larger-than-life Charlie. “Let’s find out—let’s give Sailor Charlie a hug and see what happens.”
You see, dear reader, I have a simple idea as a cruising sailor on an endless 56 year-thus-far circumnavigation—I have to be ready to ride when an empty saddle appears. Hunter S. Thompson felt the same way—‘Buy the ticket, take the ride!’ he said. Or, to put it another way, I’m not ready for Fiddler’s Green yet.
“Right out of Law School I became a lawyer for the District Attorney’s Office,” explained Charlie as she ushered us into her shiny new Jeep, “but I didn’t like trying to navigate the halls of justice during the Apartheid era. Next I tried contract law—but there, too, seemed only losers.”
We roar off along a breathtakingly-beautiful highway on the cliff edges of the Western Cape. Everywhere we look is beauty—except the squalid townships.
“I will show you baboons,” she says, and abruptly pulls off the road. We come across two huge birds—the male is dancing in front of the female. It is an amazingly sensuous dance—we are practically drowning in his pheromones.
“Are they baboons?” asks Sokú.
“Ostriches,” says Charlie, as if that’s close enough.
She is telling us many divergent, highly intriguing stories as we tour the countryside—weaving dozens of them together in the same gush of words. She speaks of the history of South Africa and the history of herself—as one. Charlie is totally lit up on life—and her love of Africa burns within like a raging fire. She glows with enthusiasm—the words tumbling out of her in a jumble of contradictory love.
Africa is the most conflicting place on earth.
“Nelson Mandela, despite everything that happened to him and his being held in jail for 27 years, was the sweetest man,” says Charlie. “He ruled with his heart—and it was a kind heart, a good heart.”
Charlie saves her rand, and puts a down payment on a tiny piece of property—which she builds on and then sells. She takes the resulting profit and opens up a business—the first of many diverse financial risks. Now she is beginning to think of cashing out—and has the brand new Ed Joy-designed, artic-themed, 25 ton (she is tired of crowds) 56-foot sailboat to do it aboard.
Just as Sokú Orion and Tessa Maria are beginning to get too antsy to be contained in a car—Charlie yanks the Jeep into a parking space. She forces us to thoroughly wash our hands. She makes us don hairnets. Then she tows us into her doubled-shifted 24/7 (Sugar addicts never sleep) Chocolate Factory—were 29 happily-plump confectioners ply their trade.
My granddaughters eyes are big as saucers—“Oh My God,” says Sokú Orion in awe while staring at a giant wall of chocolate-dripping marshmallows.
We leave with a huge bag of chocolate swag—feeling like the sweet-toothed international pirates we are.
We ride around Table Mountain as we return to the boat.
“I love this country,” says Charlie—and every second we have spent in her riveting company confirms these heartfelt words.
Later, at the airport, Sokú Orion is attempting to explain to the airline ticket agent who I am.
“He and grandma sail around,” she says with a bit of swagger, “And the whole wide world is their candy store!”
Editor’s note: Cap’n Fatty and Carolyn will soon be back in the Caribbean—pausing before Circ #4.