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High Life in the Lowlands

I’m currently in Amsterdam and attempting to teach our ten week old granddaughter Soku how to sail. This isn’t going too well. The only encouragement she has given me is that, when I mention the word wind, she breaks it. Like many Caribbean sailors, she is a tad more interested in the bottle than she should be.

Sadly, her editorial judgment seems fairly mainstream – by that I mean, whenever I tell her a joke, she throws up. Yes, her repertoire is limited. Regardless, she gets her point across.

She’s smart. In some ways, she is physically advanced. For instance, most infants this young don’t have good eye-to-hand coordination. But if I want Soku to put both hands over her ears, I just say, “… did I ever tell you, tack-for-tack, about the 53 days we spent at sea between Cape Town and St. Barts?”

I must admit my wife Carolyn – now known in the Low Country as The Sailing Grandma – does most of the babysitting (especially when I hear any squirting sounds or smell anything).

Anyway, this leaves me with plenty of time left over for ‘other tings, mon’.

For instance, it only takes one stroll past the Oude Kerk (the Old Church, strategically placed in the heart of the red-light district to make confession easier for the sinners), to realize that the women of Amsterdam are extremely friendly. And, I was amazed to learn that all the women in Holland were born in Russia … well, all the ones I’ve met, anyway.

Frankly, I’m amazed the Dutch don’t get mad when people refer to their homeland as the Low Country – I mean, why bring their morality into it?

However, it is rather nice to be somewhere where I’m not the cheapest guy in town.

“The Dutch kiss three times,” notes my Euro-trash buddy Robbie Ferron, “because kisses are free, so why not take an extra one?”

Ah, that’s the Dutch attitude.

Of course, I am a world-famous moocher. Wherever I go, I mooch. (Let’s face it, at 59 years of age, my petty theft days are over – I just can’t run fast enough anymore!) Alas, it isn’t easy to mooch off the Dutch. Ditto, circumnavigators. And live-aboard boaters are notoriously tight-fisted as well. So I had to be creative. And high tech.

Needless to say, I turned to Facebook. That’s right. I have over 1,200 FB friends, most of whom I owe money to. I’m listed as Gary CapnFatty Goodlander. Most of my Status Updates are about 1.) how cheap I am, 2.) how expensive life is, 3.) and various scams I have concocted to deal with these two subjects (without actually working, of course).

So I put the word out worldwide that I was lost in the bowels of Amsterdam – and hungry for some action. About 1,000 of my FB friends are in the Caribbean, and not a single person responded. This is how it should be – why check FB when you are sailing in Paradise?

However, one ‘has-been’ from St. Croix responded. It was Charles Balch, formerly of the St. Croix Yacht Club and now living in Arizona (amazingly, with a pretty wife and cute kid). He once owned a Freedom 40 named Ubi Libertas in Teague Bay, and we used to sling some Caribbean ink together. (He helped me quite a bit when I wrote the hurricane pamphlet for FEMA entitled: How to Prepare Your Vessel to Survive a Hurricane in the United States Virgin Islands. (Catchy title, eh?)

Anyway, Charlie is now living in the States, pretending to be sane, and trying to forget about half the stuff he did while on St. Croix.
Charlie suggested I get in touch with Michael Phelps.

“I’m sure we’ll get along swimmingly!” I agreed.

“No,” said Charlie, “not the swimmer … the St. Croix pilot with the same name.”

Now, I’d bumped into Mike a couple of times in the VI – but I never really got to know him. You see, a harbor pilot is a supremely qualified mariner – especially in the case of Mike who has an unlimited Master Mariners License for All Oceans and All Tonnages. Plus, of course, he’s circumnavigated. And commanded some of the biggest, heaviest, most prestigious Tall Ships afloat in the world today.

Me, I’m not a real competent seaman. Example: Mike knows the difference between the navigation lights of a submarine and a tugboat with a tow.

If you should ask me which vessel was which at night, I’d just smile, drool, and say, “Wow! … look at all the freak’n colors, dude!”

But I figure that – hey, bygones should be bygones, right? I mean, why should I hold his maritime competence against him? To put it another way, just because I’m an incompetent seaman doesn’t mean I should not allow Mike the joys of being mooched on by yours truly.

So I called him up out-of-the-blue, told him how hungry I was, reminded him I was a ‘fellow Virgin Island sailor,’ and then rudely demanded to know what he was going to do about it.

I honestly thought this little con would be easy – but Mike stopped me in my tracks by saying, “I’ve read all your books.”

… Oops, there went any hope of him thinking I was 1.) honest, 2.) nice, 3.) truthful.

But an empty stomach (combined with a distinct lack-of-pride) will do some amazing things, so I pressed on. “I hear you have a boat, and that you orgasm at the mere thought of giving free rides away to undeserving people.”

Needless to say, he was a tad wary. I don’t blame him. If people had sense, they’d run screaming at the sight of me. But I can be amazingly charming and persuasive when needed, and thus soon convinced him to pick us up in the heart of Amsterdam, right next to the library and NEMO museum.

His steel motorboat named Vegt is nine meters long, and is filled with tasty snacks. I didn’t want to waste any time with small talk or nautical chit-chat – so I callously tripped my wife Carolyn as she followed me aboard – and while Mike was helping her up, dashed for the galley.

It didn’t take him long to figure out what I was up to – after all, I was surrounded by his food and I had obscenely bulging cheeks – but I stopped him in his tracks with a simple sailing trick: I asked him about Chryrsalis, the boat he’d sailed around the world. “That Carl Alberg 37 is a sweet design, eh?”

Like any sailboater, he froze and started spewing superlatives faster than a politician on meth … while I chewed through yet another layer of his delicious Dutch food.

As soon as he wound-down with wonderful, too-good-to-be-true stories about his amazing boat, I inquired about his St. Croix job. “Was bouncing cruise ships off the Frederiksted pier fun?”

“Oh, that was one of the best jobs I ever had,” he admitted. “I did it for 11 years, and loved every day of it. I kept my personal boat right there at the STXYC … ”

By this point, Carolyn was cramming food into her face as well. I give her a kick, and hissed, ” … sing for your supper, babe!”

“I heard you and Bingley were tight,” Carolyn said quickly, yelling up at Mike at the steering station.

“Absolutely,” said Mike, “This was, of course, before he became a senator. I skippered the Bomba Charger for a couple of years. It was fun to work with dem guys.”

I felt we’d have more time to chow-down if we were underway, so I asked Mike to shove off.

“Okay,” he said, “would you like to go to Anne Frank’s house?”

“Sure,” I said breezily as I yanked the lid off a tin of cookies, “Why not, if she’s home?”

For some reason, my wife Carolyn gave me a dirty look.

Yes, Amsterdam did look quaint through the small galley port hole as we stuffed our suddenly-piggish faces.

Occasionally, we’d buy more time with a query like, “so you claim to be friends with Nick Castruccio of Annick II, Tom Gerker of Parts and Power, and Llewellyn Westerman of Charis, do you?”

“Sure! To live on St. Croix is to love Llewellyn. And when his brother Inglore visited Amsterdam, we gave him a tour of the city and he was … well, he wasn’t as ravenous as some.”

Needless to say, our patience ran out at precisely the same moment as his food supplies. When the last herring was put on the last cracker, my wife suddenly said, with a loud belch, ” … drop me off at the next coffee shop, would you?”

This is the only city in the world where such an offhanded comment would worry two grown men. We must have looked stricken. So she sadly amended that to … “Drop me off at a Starbucks, then,” and we heaved a sigh of relief.

Thus our ‘VI Sailor’s Reunion with Cap’n Michael S. Phelps’ came to an end. I really love his business card. It reads Grootvaarbewijs Binnenwateren Europa (Master Mariner), and also claims to be a ‘Texas Navy Admiral,’ which, evidently, impresses the Dutch.

We’d have spent more time together with Captain Mike, but my wife Carolyn and I were busy attempting to find Dave and Trish Dostal’s yawl Rob Roy (of Coral Bay, St. John) which was reported to be in the area. Alas, they cleverly managed to avoid us. Perhaps Mike had warned ’em?

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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