The year was 1968 and I was rebuilding a Utility Four, the predecessor to the Atomic Four, a flat head four cylinder gasoline auxiliary engine for my just-purchased 22-foot wooden double-ender Corina. There was one problem—I didn’t know much about mechanics. But I didn’t allow that to stop me. I just took my engine to bits and another identical ‘parts’ engine to bits—and assembled a hodgepodge hybrid with the best looking parts. How did I judge? Did I mic ’em out or anything? No, I just stared at ’em and said, “This one looks nice!”
Hey, I was sixteen years old. And dead broke. And herbally confused. But I soldiered on—knowing that doing something is always better than doing nothing. (The key to life, that.)
Now I worked alongside my brother-in-law’s just cemented ferrocement Friendship Sloop in a funeral parlor on Cleaver Street in Chicago (yes, we were hippies who had read of the Merry Pranksters and their exploits)—right next to a pile of sharp river sand (the best kind for high compression strength concrete) left over from his cement day.
It took about a month for me and my gear-head buddy George Zamiar to put my engine back together—and we were quite proud of how frictionless it was as we spun the large lever clamped on its crankshaft. We were now ready to torque down the head but …
… lacked the expensive head gasket.
Thus, a couple of days went by before I could hustle up the money and return with the head gasket—only to discover that my nieces and nephew had played ‘sandcastle’ with my defenseless engine by shoveling the cylinders full of sand and then repeatedly turning the crank to watch the sand pile move up and down.
Upon catching sight of this huge setback—I screamed. Gary Martin, named after me, was about six at the time. He frantically ran upstairs, shrieking for the protection of his mom. His four year old sister Angie followed in his fleeing footsteps. This left the three year old Cindy the only remaining offender.
She had no idea what I was mad about—only that I was mad and her siblings had shot off like terrified rockets—and there she was … her little legs spinning in the air like a Wiley E. Coyote. (Coyotes have been clocked at 43mph.) Finally, her feet regained the ground, burnt rubber, and she, too, shot off like a scalded cat.
She’d probably never moved that fast in her life—before or since.
Of course, I don’t play favorites with my nieces and nephews, but I always made sure to shower Cindy with some extra attention—perhaps because she was the youngest. She was a sweet child, a complete chatterbox, and always overjoyed to see me. I found her utterly adorable. We played a million games together. I’m not sure—but it would not surprise me if she thought we were the same age—I have a silly, childlike side that yearns to befriend.
Now, I’d love to report that all three of those kids had an easy life and cake-walked their way to power, prestige, and success. Alas, I can not. Angie died young—of cancer. Gary has been in and out of hospitals all his life. Only the runt of the litter, Cindy, has survived intact. No, it has not been easy. Her taste in men is worse than my wife’s. She fell into a whiskey bottle. One of her kids became entangled with the law. But, throughout it all, Cindy the Chatterbox chattered away optimistically—and kept on keeping on.
She worked her fingers to the bone cleaning up (literally) the messes of others—and has now reached some small but important balance in her life. She is raising her granddaughter as a single parent. Both her daughters are employed. Each has a nice apartment in Hull, Massachusetts. Life isn’t perfect but, at least, it lacks the drama of drunken brawls, smashed windows, and overturned cars.
My sister Carole passed away recently—and I bumped into Cindy the Chatterbox, chattering away at the funeral. As the casket was being lowered into the ground, I vowed to my descending sister that I’d keep a protective eye on her precious Little Cindy.
Thus, 49 years after that little girl and her gang of sibling ruffians made me dissemble my re-rebuilt engine once again (and laboriously air-spray all the sand out of its crankcase), Cindy flies into St. Thomas, steps aboard our Amphitrite 43 Ganesh, and says, “Wow, Uncle Fatty, where did you steal this?”
Cindy runs with a hard crowd. It was rather difficult to convince her that we’d acquired our yacht legally. Ultimately, we managed.
And, while we sailed to a hundred countries over the course of our lives, poor Cindy was scrubbing floors and hallways and kitchens—just like her namesake Cinderella. Thus, we’d insisted she bring a US passport with her so we could bring her to Tortola and she could get it stamped and feel like a world traveler too.
… it’s the small things in life that delight, right?
Once in Tortola we met up with Paddl’n Sue—another strong woman living an alternate lifestyle few understand. We toured the island together and then tacked over to the Baths in Virgin Gorda. Cindy loved climbing around the giant boulders—and swimming up into the silent rock caves.
The following night we had a gourmet dinner with Tom and Barb Gerker of Parts & Power—and Cindy was blown away by their magnificent hilltop house and its 290 degree view of the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and Sir Francis Drake channel.
“This is the finest house I’ve ever been in,” gushed Cindy. “I mean, I’ve seen residences like this in movies and magazines—but to actually be here? Being wined and dined and feted. Having them ask me what type of music I like—how, exactly, I like my rack-of-lamb cooked? It’s like a dream, Uncle Fatty, like a tropical dream. I have to keep pinching myself—just to prove to myself it’s actually real!”
I looked up at the tropical sky. There were a million stars. One of them winked slyly—just like my sister and her mother used to wink. I smiled heavenward.
Mission accomplished. Promise kept.
Cap’n Fatty Goodlander and his wife Carolyn recently finished their third circumnavigation and are currently planning their fourth. Fatty is the author of Chasing the Horizon and numerous other marine books. Visit: fattygoodlander.com