Two things blow my mind as a long-term marine scribe—one is that anyone who reads me regularly thinks I have any sense; and, two is that the arrangement of my vessel would make sense. Oh, how I wish both—or even one—was true! Sadly, my life is not like that. I’m an idiot—often a happy idiot—but both my vessel and my voyages are out-of-my-control.
Here’s the goofy reality: If I don’t write these stories, I don’t eat. And they won’t pay me for these sea yarns unless I send photos to accompany them. So, I’m always scribbling away and taking random snapshots of who-knows-what.
A hawk-eye reader recently sent me a question about a photo I’d taken of my long-suffering wife—which happened to have a blurry section of our mainmast in the background. He wanted me to explain the logic and placement of dozens of items around its gooseneck.
Some are original components, some installed by four decades of previous owners, and some installed directly from boat yard dumpsters by yours truly.
I mean, WTF?
How would I know?
A secondary problem is, as a writer I’m supposed to pretend to care. I don’t have the foggiest how this ‘feel good’ crap got started—but that’s the wacky ‘we’re all pals’ truth. Some brain-dead fool borrows a Crayon and writes in, and I’m supposed to be warm and respectful.
…can you believe it?!?
Anyway, here’s the crazy reality of my mast as succinctly as I can explain it.
It all began in 2004…
We were pretty exhausted at the end of our first circumnavigation aboard Wild Card, our world-weary Hughes 38—partly because I’d come to two startling conclusions that shook our watery world. I wanted to circumnavigate for the rest of my active life and, as I grew older, I no longer enjoyed being hungry. Oh, I didn’t mind being almost broke but I no longer wanted to be in distant foreign lands with totally empty pockets.
I think of this moment as my brief brush with maturity—interesting, even if it didn’t stick.
But imagine the look on my malnourished wife’s face when I told her that I wanted to sail around the world again but this time on a far tighter budget.
“That’s a joke, right?” she asked, her voice quaking in fear.
The ensuing second circ was notable for two things—how seldom we took our credit cards ashore and how many how-to books dribbled from my salt-stained pen. (Each of the new books have a working title of: Fatty Needs Money as I write them.) Thus, by the end of circ #2, by reducing our meager spending and increasing our income dramatically, we ended up back in the Caribbean with $40Gs stuffed in a bilge hidey-hole.
Carolyn is an avid reader and one day she was reading a novel about India as we sailed across the Anegada Passage. She was explaining lots of cool tings about the Hindu God of Last Resort, their famous Remover of Obstacles. Frankly, I wasn’t paying a lot of attention because it didn’t excite my prurient interest, but I tuned back in as she started rambling on about ‘impossible’ stuff.
“Nothing is impossible,” I said briskly as I eased the jib sheet a tad as Sint Maarten loomed over the bow.
“Yeah, there is,” she said matter-of-factly. “A bedroom door, for example. I’ve never had one—not since I met you. Ditto refrigeration. Ditto, pressure water in my sink. Ditto, a reasonably-sized hanging locker for my dresses. I’ve never had any of that—not since I moved aboard in 1970, nearly 40 years ago. And that’s okay, Fatty. We’ve had fun. But it is also the truth—and the truth is, I’ll never have them with you. And that’s just how it is.”
Heavy feces, right? Yeah. And I’d never thought of it that way. I’d always thought vaguely that, you know, someday we’d have a fabulous yacht. But now, with my new and improved plan to endlessly serial circumnavigate, that didn’t seem reasonable. Carolyn was correct—refrigeration was an impossibility for her unless I changed my plan—or, less likely, I got off my lazy butt.
Please bear in mind, dear reader, that my slight success in life has always been based upon my one talent—not getting hung up by the dirt dwellers.
The reality is, of course, that beggars can’t be choosers. If you want to buy a commodious, stout cruising vessel for 40Gs, you’re going to end up with a broken-down boat that no one else wants—most people, even newbie landlubbers, are pretty smart. We found a 30-plus-year-old Wauquiez Amphitrite 43 that had been sitting semi-abandoned for nearly four years with a kaput engine and a goofy roller-furling sail behind the mainmast.
Now my biggest fear wasn’t that I wouldn’t be able to fix up the boat—hell, I can rebuild dumpster boats with one hand tied behind my back. My biggest fear was that, after a lifetime of avoiding getting trapped by the bean-counters ashore, that the clever greedheads of Simpson Bay would somehow trap me with money-trickery and wage-slavery.
After all, since we’d been forced to pay $56,000 for Ganesh, I was already $16,000 in debt to a dumb relative. (Who else would lend me money?) Worse, after promising myself I’d never make the mistake of having a boat in an active hurricane zone again, I now had two uninsured vessels in hurricane alley as September approached.
Yikes! What had I done?
Luckily, a male pole dancer (Chippendales!) who was a fan, reached into his sweaty jockstrap and pulled out $30Gs for our tired 38-foot sloop Wild Card. I was able to repay my surprised relative and put a down payment on a brand new M92B Perkins diesel from Parts and Power of Tortola.
Carolyn now had an aft cabin door, two lux heads, pressure water in the four sinks and showers fore and aft—and, most importantly to her, refrigeration.
For months she just kept running back and forth inside the boat naked, screaming, “Sugar daddy, sugar daddy!”
One of my concepts with a new boat is to not allow mission creep to overwhelm—to only change what must be immediately changed. Alas, Ganesh (natch, that’s what I named her) had that hokey roller-furler-behind-the-mast mainsail—suitable, perhaps for a motorsailer on Lake Wobegon but wholly unsuitable for an offshore greyhound. Worse, the mast had all sorts of large stainless devices bolted through the mast (stays, even!) to allow this roller furling obscenity to function. To top it all off, there was no track or slot in the mast, none.
Thus, I called my wife Carolyn on deck, asked her if she was enjoying her refrigeration—then hoisted her up the utterly smooth spar with rivets in one hand, sail track in the other, and a fully-charged cordless drill in the pouch of the bosun’s chair.
Since we like to occasionally play on the edge of the Roaring Forties and I’m a believer in storm trysails, I had Carolyn install a dedicated track (and halyard) for the trysail as well.
Yes, occasionally she’d scream bloody murder from aloft during ferry wakes—thank God for my Bose noise-canceling headphones.
In the end (of the week, poor thing) I lowered Carolyn to the deck, handed her an iced tea, and said softly, “…everything has a cost, babe.”
Since we had almost no money, I dumpster-dived for all the mis-matched cleats, pad eyes, and fairleads I riveted into our aluminum mast. Nothing looked the same or was made out of the same material—a true rigged hodge-podge.
In my defense, it all worked. It had to. Our lives offshore depended on it.
Cut to the chase—less than a year after finishing our second circ on Wild Card, we began our third circ on Ganesh—with empty pockets, calloused hands, and high hopes.
Was Ganesh pristine?
Oh, God no. Were bits of her far different than I would have preferred? Yes, you’re darn toot’n they were! But Carolyn had all her new trophy wife stuff and I’d managed to not allow the dirt dwellers to get their societal hooks in me.
And now, in 2021, we’re on our fourth circ—still on a modest income and still aboard an aging vessel that is far, far from perfect.
But we’re doing it. Imperfectly, perhaps, but we’re doing it. How? Because I know a secret many boaters don’t—that cruising isn’t about the boat, it’s about the voyage. Thus, year after year we average between 5,000 and 8,000 miles while miserly squeezing our pennies so hard Abe Lincoln cries. And an ugly mis-matched mast with nothing that matches.
The truth of the matter is that I’d love to jack up my masthead light and slip a new Hallberg Rassy underneath. But I can’t afford to—I’m too busy penning twisted missives like this.
But I never lose sight of what is really important: the fact that my cruising wife of 51 years and four circs whispers romantically each time we pass each other belowdecks, “Sugar daddy!”
If you desire to send a comment to Fatty and Carolyn please feel free to email [email protected]
Editor’s Note: Fatty and Carolyn are currently holed up in covid-free Singapore, waiting patiently for the so-called ‘civilized world’ to become so.