I have a confession to make – against all logic and commonsense – I enjoy meeting other writers, especially marine ones. I'm intrigued how they work their magic. Let's be honest, a boat moving through the water (even under sail) isn't the most exciting thing in the world.
I'm often asked how I became a sailing author. I tell the truth: "I started out covering paint drying, and then worked my way up to reporting on grass growing – and, after that, covering The Cruising Life was easy."
… I mean, what is a marine journalist but a fellow with a pen and a reckless disregard for the truth?
Recently I transited the Red Sea and was spit out into the Mediterranean Sea. It was in this area where I met a Famous Marine Writer (FMW). I was thrilled to meet him. He was fresh from picking up a new Australian catamaran he'd just had built to put into the charter in the Med. We had many mutual friends and much in common – he had twin daughters around the same age as our Roma Orion. People told me to keep an eye out for him. He was a hard worker toiling in the literary vineyards and so was I. We shared an addiction. I wondered what his thoughts were on prepositional phrases: pro or con? Was he as offended by adverbs as I? And, generally speaking, writers are a friendly, supportive group. So I was very excited to meet the FMW.
Alas, there was a problem. Somehow, I'd become invisible. In addition, he was deaf.
We were in a large group at an Egyptian marina – and he seemed to be able to hear the others, just not me. Nor could he see me – every time I boldly stepped in front of him, he turned away without acknowledging me.
"… he's publically cutting you," whispered my wife Carolyn in amusement.
"… what's that mean," I queried. "I haven't ever met the guy – how can he hate me already? I mean, I can see if he listens to a couple of my disgusting jokes – many normal, god-fearing people are repulsed, and rightly so. But isn't his snubbing me a bit premature?"
"… the British are very good at snubbing," Carolyn said. "That is, of course, when they're not whining about losing The Empire."
"… but we're fellow writers, for gosh sakes!" I said. "I keep jumping in front of him and he pretends I'm not there. I keep crawling between the legs of his admirers and popping right up into his startled face like a demented Jack-in-the-Box … and yet he never acknowledges me in the slightest."
"… don't cry, poor Fatty." Carolyn said in mock sympathy. "Be brave. You're a bit of a rough diamond, eh? This guy doesn't like to deal with lower class tradesmen like yourself … frankly, come to think of it â€¦ neither do I!"
I must admit, I was puzzled. But it got to be a bit of a joke. He'd enter a room – and I'd dash over with a bright smile. He'd have to shear off – and grab another person to use as a human conversational shield. I'd hang around on the outside of the group, grinning sickly. If he posed a hypothetical question, I'd eagerly wave my hand to answer – while hopping on one leg as if I had to pee.
He never blinked.
Back to the drawing board.
I decided that I should be more forward. I'd been trying to get his attention so I could speak with him – why not just engage him in conversation immediately â€¦ surely my pearls of verbal wisdom would dazzle, right?
Therefore, the next time I saw him, I ran up and said, "Here in the Mideast, surrounded by war, my verbs get tense. Do yours?"
Next, I tried, "Once while giving a speech, I was told I had a dangling participle. So I turned away from the audience to check the fly of my trousers. Has this ever happened to you?"
Finally, in desperation I blurted, "My penis is so small I need a magnifying glass to wank. What do you suggest?"
… a couple of times his plastic smile started to slip – but that was all. He refused to lower himself. He wouldn't even look down his aristocratic nose at me. Obviously, I wasn't worth the effort.
He was a tough nut to crack. I despaired. All I wanted to do was sit at his feet and bask in his reflected glory – was that asking so much?
I did manage to speak to his wife. She was … well, she spoke to me, at least.
Thinking that the husband might have some, er, jealousy issues with a fellow writer – I lavished him with praise to my fellow yachties – with the slim hope it would get back to the FMW.
"Each of his sentences makes me orgasm," I spouted in giggling adoration, "I kiss the pages as I read! I, personally, don't deserve to sharpen his pencils!"
I hate to admit it but all these ploys – as clever as they were – failed. Eventually I was forced gave up. I failed. Totally.
I'm willing to suck up as much as the next guy – but, hey, there are limits.
As painful as the above experience was, at least there was a plus side. Now, when asked, I can honestly say I met him. And spoke with him. Numerous times. (Hopefully, I won't have to admit he never actually responded.)
Months later, a mutual friend told me that the FMW was mad at me for copyright infringement. At first I thought we were talking about plagiarism – and hotly, vehemently denied it.
I'm not above stealing a word or two – but I don't steal boring, pedestrian ones. (One of my favorite lines of Kipling: "When love rejected turns to hate … all ill betides the man!")
"No," our mutual friend said. "He says you used a photocopied edition of one of his books."
"But I don't have any photocopied books aboard," I said, totally puzzled. "And even if I did, how would he know?"
Again, I tried to forget about it – but it did stick-in-my-claw, so to speak.
A couple of weeks later, just before bedtime – it came to me in a flash of insight. "Carolyn," I screamed. "The checkbook â€¦ from a decade ago!"
"â€¦ from a decade ago?" she said, flustered "Why? I'm not sure we even still have it â€¦"
"â€¦ try to find it," I said. "It's important."
Amazingly enough, she found it within seconds. I flipped through it – Eureka!
Here's what had happened. Nine years ago, while heading across one of those pesky oceans, I'd purchased a (commercially-made, in Asia) photocopied edition of this guy's book. At the time, I admit I knew full well that he'd never see any royalties from it – but I wanted and needed the book and it was the only way to get a copy – other than delaying our departure for a month or two. But it gradually began to wear on my conscience – I'd ripped the guy off. True, hundreds or thousands of other people had, were, and would continue to rip him off – but I didn't feel that let me off the hook. So I dropped the author a note and enclosed a check for $20 US – and shipped it off to Jolly Ole England.
It gave me a warm feeling to do this – to pay the author just because it was the right thing to do. And, of course, I knew that if I ever met the author, he'd throw his arms around me in gratitude – after all, if everyone did what I did, he'd be a far wealthier man.
â€¦ see how stupid I am?
But while we're on the subject of famous marine writers – I must say, generally speaking, they're a swell group. I've met most of them over the years. Lin and Larry Pardey are good friends. We've had them aboard Wild Card for dinner and visited their lovely island home in New Zealand many times. Ditto, Alvah and Diane Simon of Roger Henry. On one memorable occasion, we all ate together at Alva's house in Whangerie – and he was kind enough not to serve polar bear. (Alva's North to the Night is a fine read.)
Jimmy Cornell of Aventura is one of my heroes not only as a writer but as a broadcaster as well. As far as I know, we're the only two circumnavigators to produce a radio show enroute. (I'm looking forward to seeing Jimmy's new book – it has a picture or two of mine within.)
Don Street of Iolaire is a dear friend – you can say what you want about Don, but the man knows how to sail. Hell, he's forgotten more than 99% of today's so-called experts.
We've crossed tacks with Evans Starzinger and Beth Leonard of Hawk a couple of times. Beth does a great job of explaining complicated subjects clearly and concisely.
I'm in awe of Webb Chiles – as a sailor, a writer and a stuntman. I've lost track of the number of times he's circumnavigated – but I remember he marries a new wife every time he steps ashore (well, six of 'em so far). I particularly admire his open boat ocean crossings in Chidiock Tichborne. Whenever we're in the Bay of Islands (NZ) we have him over for dinner – I can't get enough of his crazy stories. My favorite line: "… almost dying is a difficult way to earn a living!"
I've worked with Andy Turpin, Chris Kennen, Sally Erdle, Dick Johnson, Roger Snow, Jol Byerley, Jeannie Kuich, Gwen Hamlin, Herb McCormick, Teri Batham, John Burnham, Amy Ulrich, Herb Payson, Tim Murray, Marty Luray, Douglas and Bernadette Bernon, and many others who have morphed into good friends.
I love the writing of Melanie Neale – which isn't exactly a surprise since I've admired her father Tom's pen for many years too.
Speaking of Neale's, we keep bumping into Amanda and John of Mahina Tiare at boat shows. They're an interesting couple, very knowledgeable and hardworking.
The Caribbean is bursting with talent: Peter Muilenburg, Gary Brown, Amy Roberts, B.D. Anderson, Carol Bareuther, Norman Faria, Wally Bostick, etc.
I've tried to help some beginning writers like Jonah Manning – his muscular prose has brought tears to my eyes.
Susan Chapman is my favorite writer in the Caribbean – she has a very skillful, powerful pen.
Why help other writers? Because early in my career I was helped by Dana Cassell (on the business side of freelancing), Janet Groene on the marine side and Margret Walters (British novelist) on the literary side.
I could not have learned how to sling ink profitably without their valuable assistance. And the only way I can pay them back is by paying it forward with young writers.
And, who knows, maybe someday one of them will get so bloody famous – they can introduce me to the FMW of the Med.
Editor's note: Fatty and Carolyn recently stepped ashore in the Med, saw the prices, and returned to their vessel.
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" and his newest, "All at Sea Yarns." For more Fat-flashes, see fattygoodlander.com.