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Cruising Tales: Breaking in a New Charter Skipper – Part One

One of the best suggestions for brand new charter skippers is that they keep their zippers closed while on charter. Zippers apply to clothing but more often to the mouth and maybe to the pouch full of Playboy magazines under his bunk.

In the mid-1960s a young, thin, nearly-broke Texan sailed his beautiful 40-foot Alden ketch Tumbleweed into Long Bay at Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, to keep his boat afloat by chartering. 

The first thing you noticed about Fritz Seyfarth was his twinkling, deep blue eyes accentuated by his broad smile. Fritz had all the good qualities for becoming a successful and popular charter skipper. Nice-looking and always grinning, he made you feel good just to be around him. But underneath, Fritz was a gentle soul and very, very shy around women. Unless they were “safely” unavailable by their attachment to another man, there was no way that Fritz could have a cook or what he affectionately called a “salad girl.”

So he had to go it alone. His first charter was almost his last.  In Fritz’s own words, his first guests were “three middle-aged, good-ole-boys from Alabama off on a toot. They arrived on board well-juiced and stayed in that condition for seven days and nights.”
         
Much to their disappointment there were no dusky maidens on moonlit beaches waiting for them in every anchorage. So they made up for it by drinking the boat dry – daily. They ate everything edible, curdled the anchorages with their rebel yells, and bellowed football fight songs at three a.m. They ground their cigar butts on the teak deck, brought sand aboard in piles everywhere, plugged up the head six times a day, fell down, threw up, broke gear, but never hurt themselves.

After they left, Fritz kissed what was left of the deck and vowed never to charter again. Fortunately, old hands like Dyke and Inga Wilmerding on Mandoo soothed his broken brow and convinced him that not all charter guests were that bad—and that some of them could be downright delightful. So Fritz continued and was glad that he did, in spite of his shyness and reluctance to look a female, young or old, in the eye.

For eight years he had many honeymooners—“first, second, and practicing,” in his words—and occasionally some unusual folks such as a former Burma Trail elephant driver, a Utah sheepherder and three window-dressers. He also had old Howard Cole, a fine old gentleman whose body was ravaged by cancer, kept alive by a battery-operated mechanism pumping chemotherapy drugs into him.  Howard remarked to Fritz that he’d rather die sailing on Tumbleweed than in a wheel chair.

One of his most unusual charters was with the French Ambassador to Columbia with his nudist girlfriend.  Imagine what it was like for poor Fritz to merely carry on a conversation with the beautiful woman.  It was very stressful trying to ignore and not stare at her bow or stern. Do you address her by looking several inches above her head or at her feet?

Fritz’s buddies on other boats had no trouble staring at her at all. In fact, each morning, most would call him on the radio and politely ask where he planned to anchor for lunch or for the night “just in case he needed some help aboard with something.”

By the end of the charter, Fritz had a permanent blush on his face, his electric-blue eyes were frosted, and his shoulders slumped.  Afterwards he rallied with his friends but never did quite recover. He had burnt out and gone belly-up.

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