Jane was a bored shrink in London who felt there should be more to life than riding the Tube into work, listening to a person-with-too-much-money complain, and then riding the Tube home again. She felt life was passing her by. This is common. The case could even be made that this life-stage is just a natural part of growing up. But Jane herself was not common. She was not merely a dreamer, but a doer as well. A few days later she noticed an ad in the paper looking for a nurse. She’d had some medical training, but what intrigued her was not the job but rather the venue. It was aboard a sailing ship about to set off on an around the world cruise. She applied. She got the job.
It was almost as if she’d been let out of jail. London faded. The Pacific was now her backyard. The lofty isles of the Marquesas flew by, the drowned isles of the low-lying Tuamotus had to be carefully avoided, and Les îles de la Société beckoned.
She was young. The Polynesian men were like muscular gods. The air invigorated and the palm fronds seemed to wave welcome. Jane felt very alive, very lit up, very willing to taste the lushness around her.
A year passed. Or was it two? It didn’t matter. She was tanned. She swam everyday. She ate well, slept well, and laughed easily.
Her life was a tire swing.
She couldn’t wait to wake up in the morning to see what the new day would bring. And she could no longer remember the timid lass who’d ridden the Tube into the City everyday, while kind of existing and yet never really living.
“Whale!” a passenger said as her ship was steaming into Hong Kong. Everyone ran to the port side and looked into the water.
“There!” shouted another.
Jane looked too. At first, she, too, thought it was a whale. But then she realized her mistake as the British submarine surfaced beside her sailing ship. Its hatch slowly opened. The formally-dressed crew filed out at attention to ring the ship. Then the skipper came out in his dress-whites and stood proudly atop the conning tower.
He wasn’t a big man, but there was something about him; something British and sterling about the set of his chiseled jaw, his piercing eyes. And he had a dark bushy beard. And he made Jane suck in her breath and think; this is the most handsome man I’ve ever seen.
The two vessels soon drifted apart—but that magnificent vision never left Jane. It is in her heart to this day.
Her own ship was soon full of hustle and bustle as the previous passengers left and the new ones arrived. There were fresh medicines to be inventoried and bills of lading to be signed. And that is why she was on deck when a member of the British embassy staff came up the gangplank to inquire if there were any British citizens aboard who would like to attend a party.
“There’s a least one,” said Jane brightly.
The party, as it turned out, was for the crew of the British submarine and within moments of the skipper making his grand entrance into the room, Jane was shamelessly flirting with him.
Now here you have two sailors from the same small island nation and yet totally different backgrounds—both of whom must sail away the following weekend. So it was only five days. Five short days. Five sleepless days of love and seduction and passion.
And, to this day, Jane blushes.
“We were … he was … I was… we were, er, insatiable,” she says. “We made every second count—every look, every gesture; each breath!”
Then Jane sailed off in one direction and John (for that was his name: John, but to Jane it seemed as if she’d never really heard that name before) sailed off in another.
And that was that. Except that John couldn’t concentrate. And Jane spent a lot of time at the end of the bowsprit, staring sadly out to sea.
Now John’s submarine was, as mentioned, British. It had been lent to Australia, but Australia had never fully understood that it had complete control of the sub. This worked to John’s advantage when back at the base, the subject came up of random pings that submarines were hearing while transiting the southern Indian Ocean.
An Australian fellow in a fancy uniform was chatting to John about them when John suddenly jumped up, hastily gathered his charts together, and dashed out of the room muttering, “Well, Sir, I’ll find out straightaway, Sir!”
How odd, thought the Aussie.
And so it came to pass a few months later, Jane was holding onto the forestay while standing on the bowsprit of her tall ship, when, “WHALE!”
But it wasn’t a whale this time either—it was a sub, the same sub. And this time John came on deck all alone in his dress whites, stood on the wet, glistening deck, took of his officer’s hat, bent on one knee, and shouted to the other ship, “Marry me, Jane!”
It was like a dream to Jane—like she was hallucinating.
She couldn’t find her voice and she felt faint—was scared she’d slip down to the deck.
“I can’t,” she shouted back. “You’re married to the Navy!”
“Screw the Navy,” John said, “You’re my life now.”
And so for the next 29 years—until John’s step was infirm and Jane’s hair was solid grey—they sailed the world together aboard a modest Rival 32 sloop.
One day, while re-bolting the valve assembly on my Perkins M30 diesel in Mayotte with John’s able help, he told me the story of his romantic courtship of Jane. And across the harbor in a small French café, Jane related the same fairy-tale episode to my wife Carolyn—billing it lustfully, girl-to-girl, as The Day I Married the Most Handsome Man in the World.
Cap’n Fatty Goodlander and his wife Carolyn recently finished their third circumnavigation. Fatty is the author of Chasing the Horizon and numerous other marine books. His latest, Storm Proofing your Boat, Gear, and Crew, is out now. Visit: fattygoodlander.com