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Down with Sea Gypsies

I've spent the last six months writing a book on how to buy a boat inexpensively, fix it up at a reasonable cost, and sail it around the world on a modest budget. The official title is rather pithy: How to Inexpensively Buy, Outfit, and Sail a Small Vessel Around the World. It seemed to me that such a book was needed, and that writing it would be a good thing.

Not everyone agrees.

"The last thing we need is for non-rich people to start getting involved in yachting," mused Ima Fonie, skipper of the mega-yacht Banker's Bailout. "They'll cheapen the whole thing. I mean – what next? Will poor people want to visit Barts? Sign up for the Bucket? Where will it end? I think we should nip this 'everyman' concept in the bud. For instance, our vessel carries wealthy people aboard it. These people are, obviously, worth more than poor people – by, like, definition, okay? But now some poor folk are acting like they should be able to use the marine environment within our modest two miles security exclusion zone! As if they – the poor – have as much right to use this planet as those of us who have paid for it! This is ridiculous. Poor people should stay where they belong – toiling away in some dreary factory or whatever. Not attempting to infiltrate our yacht clubs, country clubs, and executive airport lounges. I mean, the wealthy people of this world have a right to be first in line with the airline industry – why not the polling station, fuel dock, and shipyard?"

I must admit, I was a bit taken aback by the vehemence of her argument.

"You aren't attempting to say," I sputtered, "that poor people don't have a right to breathe, are you?"

"That very question, Fatty, shows your pro-poverty prejudice," she shot back defiantly. "If you breathe in, you breathe out, don't you? And who is going to pay to have that carbon dioxide converted back into oxygen? Liberal Democrats? I doubt it. No, the job will fall to those of us you media-types so disparagingly refer to as 'fat cats.' Why should we have to put down our champagne glasses and clean up your mess? The same goes for all that messy dying that poor people love to engage in – why aren't indigents required to have burial insurance before they reproduce like bunny rabbits? No, let's not allow them ruin yachting, too!"

I turned to Cheap Charlie, founder of the Amateur Boatbuilding Society, for counterpoint.

"What do you say to that, Charlie?" I queried. "Pretty mean, eh?"

"Not really, Fatty," he said. "Sign-of-the-times, me son! Sammy the Sailor who started Middle Class Boaters – that organization at one point was almost as big as the US Power Squadron – well, Sammy committed suicide recently. He's now up on Pauper's Hill. It used to be that a common working man on a beer-and-ganja budget could go sailing – but not anymore. It's cocaine and caviar all the way. The rich Charlie Sheen's of this world have taken over. And the rappers. And the dot com millionaires. There's no room left at the dock for some idiot grossing less than 500Gs a year!"

I hadn't noticed – but he was right. There used to be thousands of 'back yard' vessels being built across America – now there are very few. Why?

"It used to be that boats were, at least to sailors, special things – not just blobs of plastic. But not anymore," said Willy Woodchuck – who was forced to immigrate to New Zealand to work as a shipwright. "Now it is considered low-class to work on your boat. That's what you hire pheasants for …"

"… pheasants?" I asked, puzzled. "Don't you mean
peasants?"

"Whatever!" said Willy glumly. "And, yeah, the hired help can be a tad touchy. For instance, my dream was to not only build fine yachts – but to eventually own one as well. But, of course, that's not possible. The pendulum swings. Let's face it, dude – the caulker at Morse Brothers in Maine during the early 1900s couldn't afford a boat either. If you work for a living, it's hopeless. If there's honest calluses on your hands, forget it. I goofed and told my son to go to college, study hard, and then work at an honest job. I should have told him to be an inside trader. Tricking poor people out of their precious pennies – now that's profitable! And if, while attempting to fleece the public, you goof up – don't worry, Uncle Sam will bail you out. Because, as any CEO will tell you – welfare is bad for poor people because they can't trickle it down – only the rich really know how to distribute their crumbs equitably."

Sometimes I just can't believe all the rapid changes in offshore passage-making – like yacht transportation companies offering those 'deluxe onboard packages' during which you can actually live aboard your vessel as it circumnavigates (with a dry bottom).

Of course, I always try to see the other guy's point-of-view. And it's true – there is a lot of false information out there – especially in relation to marine services. For instance, I heard that certain marinas and shipyards were attempting to eliminate the little guy.

"Nothing could be further from the truth," said the yard foreman at Tiffany's Yacht Services. "We have tremendous respect for the mom-and-pop boater – just as long as they have the wallet of a Midas. Sure, we'll rent you a slip and haul your crappy little boat-toy out of the water – but our minimum charge is for a 100-footer. That makes sense, doesn't it?"

"Wait a minute," I said, "why would anyone on a 20-foot boat pay the same as someone on a 100-footer?"

"I dunno, either," grinned the foreman, "but some do. It's a status ting, I guess!"

"But if you pull into a gas station, they don't charge you the same amount as a semi-truck. And if a single person goes to McDonalds, they don't have to pay the same as a large family. And when you rent a hotel room, they don't charge you for the entire floor …"

"That's the beauty of yachting," acknowledged the foreman. "It's exclusive. That means THEY pay extra so that they don't have to rub shoulders with the rabble …"

"… rabble?" I said. "I'm rabble? I thought I was an American citizen."

"Maybe in the 1960s," he mused, "but not today. We're a global democracy now, and every dollar gets a vote."

In desperation, I turned to a sailmaker. They were always, traditionally, hands-on.

"Not anymore," said Gorgeous Gary of Gucci sails. "It's a different world, Fatty. And, frankly, I can't say as I regret it. It just isn't profitable anymore. For instance, if a customer comes into our loft and wants to know what a new suit of sails will cost – we give him the 'bum's rush' out the door. We just haven't got time to deal with such cheapskates. Part of the problem is this ridiculous 'wind is free' bullshit that a few loud-mouthed communists have been spreading around. The reality is the wind isn't free. In fact, the wind will soon be going on sale via iTunes. Yes, there will be an app for that. You see, you don't really own the wind with computer-generated sails. That's because of the digital thingy – you just are licensed to use the wind for a day or two – and then you have to pay again. I mean, if you attempt to reuse the wind and don't pay MS or Steve Jobs' 30 percent – you are a pirate! And that's illegal. You could be thrown in jail – which is often where poor people end up who complain about paying-through-the-nose. Ditto, all the equipment on your boat is only licensed for that boat. You can't use it on another boat – not without paying again."

"… what's this concept called again," I asked, shocked at the whole idea.

"Progress, Fatty," said Gorgeous Gary, "It's called progress."

"I can't believe this is all actually happening in my lifetime," I said, as I slumped down and held my head in dejection. "I just heard of Buddhist Temple being built with an express lane for the super-rich – so they didn't have to wait in line for their wisdom."

"That's wise," smiled Gary, "And probably boosts the bottom line too."

Needless to say, I started to complain. I kicked up a fuss. I called my delegate-to-congress. I wrote letters-to-the-editor. I started to use words like 'justice' and 'fairness' and 'equitable' and – needless to say, I got in big trouble.

A guy in a starched suit came down to my boat and asked to see my license for C-map.

Oops.

"And bring your Kindle topside, too," he said. "I want to check it as well. I hope there's no porn on your computer's hard drive – that's hard time, me son!"

You didn't have to be Sherlock Holmes to know what was happening. So I folded, capitulated, and caved-in all at the same moment.

"I think I goofed," I said sheepishly, "And I'd like to apologize to each and every person on this planet who has more money than me – and I'm sure that's most
of 'em!"

"Well …" said the guy – who seemed to need
more convincing.

"I was wrong," I said. "Dead wrong. Paying again and again for stuff you don't need or want is okay. Actually, I kinda dig it – now that I've carefully considered all the aspects. And I should be a tad more respectful … more docile … and more receptive to being ripped off by my superiors. So, basically, I apologize for existing-while-not-consuming-enough. I'll try to do better. Okay?"

The dude in the business suit wasn't so bad after all. He just put me on probation – and said if I never spoke out again, I probably won't have to do time. I slipped him some money. We departed friends.

Editor's note: Fatty and Carolyn are currently hauled out in Turkey, smearing paint on their boat and themselves.

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

About Cap'n Fatty Goodlander

Cap’n Fatty Goodlander has lived aboard for 53 of his 60 years, and has circumnavigated twice. He is the author of Chasing the Horizon and numerous other marine books. His latest, Buy, Outfit, and Sail is out now. Visit: fattygoodlander.com