I often say in relationship to my vessel, "Wild Card is a modest boat, with much to be modest about." This is, in reality, an exaggeration. My vessel doesn't deserve to be spoken of quite so highly. My vessel is one small step from a floating wreck. A lot of jetsam is more seaworthy than my vessel – hell, even some flotsam! The fact that she is (usually) above the surface of the water is the most puzzling thing about her. Wherever I go, people row over and ask, "What the hell happened?"
Or, "Do you need a pump?"
Or, "Do you think there's still time to get her into the slings?"
Once, a US Coast Guard Auxiliary officer refused to come aboard my vessel for a 'courtesy inspection' because, as he delicately put it, "It was too dangerous, and besides – there was an odor!"
I mean, do they want me to have a holding tank or not?
The real Coast Guard has (wisely) refused to slap a sticker on her that says 'manifestly unsafe voyage' for fear of crushing the fiberglass during its application.
"Be gentle," my wife often tells me as I winch in the jib sheet, "this vessel is weaker than your morals."
Are you getting an accurate picture? I mean, my vessel looks like it has been maintained by â€¦ er, Somali pirates.
Which is fine.
The Caribbean is filled with hundreds of rust-streaked fiberglass yachts with rotten balsa cores, spongy decks, wobbly masts, crazed portholes, buckled bulkheads, etc. Nobody rows up to them and asks their owner why they rolled the topsides so badly, why they are allowing their sail covers to rot-off from centuries of sun-damage, why the dinghy is over-flowing with last month's garbage.
But I have a problem.
The only shore job I ever had was digging ditches, and, alas, I was fired from it for incompetence. (I mean, you use the shovel backwards a few times – wham! You're fired!)
â€¦ but I digress.
Somehow I stumbled into writing for a living. Bear with me a second, please. Grab a shovel, run topside, dinghy ashore to the beach, and then dig down three feet in the sand. Not so easy, eh?
Now grab a pen and write the sentence, "I dug down three feet."
â€¦ much, much easier, right?
So I decided to stick with writing.
But I didn't want to be a hypocrite. So I blurted out the truth: "I'm an idiot, and my boat is a wreck." I honestly thought that my readers would believe me – after all, why would I lie?
Instead, the editor labeled my columns 'humor' and he started to think that maybe, just maybe, I was a smart guy with a cool boat.
The truth is my entire literary career has been nothing but a 'Zen Mind Screw' of the first magnitude. The more I claim to have a single-digit IQ, the more my readers think I'm a member of Mensa. Damn! It's a trap – and no matter what I do, I keep winning.
Which is okay, too.
I'm easy. I go with the flow. I've got round shoulders from rolling with the punches of life. I've been accused (and rightly so) of many horrible things – why not suffer a few undeserved compliments? I mean, what's the big deal?
Well, frankly, it escalates.
I tell 'em I use a 'pre-used' paint roller from a shipyard dumpster to smear paint on my topsides, and somebody writes into the publication asking how to apply gold leaf. WHAT?!
If I had enough money to buy gold anything, do you honestly believe I would waste my time spewing this column?
I tell people I'm a high school drop-out who lashes his rig back together with waxed twine – and a mathematician emails in his thoughts on string-theory. (It has something to do with the quantity 1/(2 p a'), where a' is pronounced "alpha prime" and is equal to the square of the string length scale – all of which is total gobble-gook to a sailor like me.)
But wait – it gets stranger! Some people seek me out.
This isn't easy in my case. We move a lot. In fact, we move every time the bill collectors find out where we are â€¦ which is often. In fact, modern 'skip tracers' are so damn good these internet-assisted days that we move almost ceaselessly.
And we hide out in the smallest, least-known places on this planet – like the tiny rural farm community of Finike, Turkey.
This worked fine for a few months, then I got a note in my mailbox from Nadire Berker and Silem Yulcin that said, "â€¦ we're flying in to see Wild Card!"
It turns out they are both doctors and Silem is a university professor in Istanbul. Nadire works at the American Hospital, Dept. of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, and Silem is a professor & head of Dept. of Orthopedics at Marmara University Hospital.
And they are about to place an order for a new aluminum Ovni 445 – but wanted to see Wild Card first.
Now, it just so happens that an Ovni 445 is my dream boat. And, as previously mentioned, Wild Card is everyone's nightmare boat.
My wife keeps getting drunk and telling people at cocktail parties "my husband paid $3,000 for our yacht – and got ripped off," which made me a tad nervous.
To put it another way – only someone who hasn't seen Wild Card would want to see her!
So I consulted my daughter Roma Orion. She lives in Amsterdam, went to school, and has a job. To phrase it differently, she is a real misfit as a Goodlander! Anyway, I told her the bind I was in, and asked what to do.
"That's easy," she said. "Just greet them on the dock, and loudly start complaining about your various medical ailments, previous operations – oh, and ask for advice to use in your class-action lawsuit against the AMA. Medical folks hate that. Also ask them if they've ever had sex with their students or patients, for instance. They won't stay long â€¦"
"But they'll see Wild Card," I said, the worry plain in my voice. "They'll know my whole career is a charade!"
"Don't panic, Dad," Roma Orion said. "Cling to reality, no matter how slender the thread! And, well, your boat is what your boat is, and you are what you are – so sally forth with confidence and pride â€¦ no matter how ill-fitting both concepts may be in your case."
The kid is smart. Or smart-alecky – I'm never sure which.
I was going to put Wild Card in 'Bristol condition' for their visit – but you know how it is: procrastination is the key to flexibility. I got a little lax with too much flexibility. The next thing I knew – there was an authoritative knock on the hull. Oh, dear. It was them.
I dashed for the least-filthy pareo I owned.
"Welcome aboard," I said graciously, as I moved a few piles of stuff – and madly swatted at the bugs I'd disturbed. "Have a seat. Make yourself at home."
My only aim at this point was to get rid of them. Instead, I screwed up. I fell in love with them. Both of them. Ha! The joke was on me. They were utterly delightful people.
Nadire had a sailboat before she met Silem – in fact, much of their courtship took place under sail. Silem is totally enthralled with boats – always has been. Together, they've raised three wonderful children while owning a succession of vessels – including the Elan 434 they currently sail in the Black Sea.
Their big dream was to sail to the Caribbean – what cultural icons would I suggest they visit while there? (Skinny Legs on St. John, Le Select on Barts, Foxy's on Jost, and Frangipani on Bequia all leapt to mind.)
If a love for sailing and lust for the Caribbean wasn't enough in common, they shyly revealed that they'd written 'a number' of textbooks in Turkish – and had just sent a giant coffee-table book on Turkish maritime history off to their publisher as well.
They came, of course, bearing gifts. (Since they weren't Greeks – I didn't worry.)
One gift was a book by the famous Turkish wino – er, I mean philosopher – named Rumi.
"I love Rumi," I exclaimed. "He's my moral compass – well, when he's not too sloshed!"
My wife Carolyn wasn't aboard at the time – she was visiting her mother in Chicago. But once she heard we now had honest-to-goodness Turkish friends who had a large empty house in Istanbul with a bulging refrigerator – well, she immediately changed her flight home to land in the capital city.
So next weekend we're all sailing together on their boat in the Bosporus and Black Sea – and then partying our guts out in the better restaurants of (what was once) Constantinople. Yeah, they're going to drive me around to get the exhaust parts I need. Sure, we'll tour the Blue Mosque as well.
The very best part of being a boater is getting to meet other boaters – of every nationality, class, and persuasion. Some have absolutely no criteria when it comes to friends. They like anyone. Even us!
Editor's note: Wild Card is now cruising the Greek Isles and drowning in the baklava.
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