My wife Carolyn and I love people. We often attend parties as we sail, invite people aboard for dinner, and mingle with the dirt dwellers ashore. In addition, we adore having guests—but only for brief periods of time and only while in port. Why? Because guests can seldom adapt to the hardships offshore. They begin to whine. And they are always twice the trouble at sea—Carolyn has to spoon-feed them; I have to make sure they don’t get hurt.
So two of our firm rules of living aboard are: no long-term guests and no guests offshore.
None of which was on our mind while, in the middle of our third circumnavigation, we went ashore to Changi Village in Singapore to see Brad Pitt in Fury, a well-acted (if violent and dreary) WWII flick. Seating is assigned in Singapore. It is a place you don’t break the rules without due consideration. Thus, in a nearly empty movie, we were bunched cheek-to-jowl with the other attendees – just in case an additional 500 movie buffs required sequential seating.
We arrived early. Carolyn, ever hopeful, mentioned popcorn.
“Are you crazy?” I asked her. “We could cruise Thailand for a month on what a Small Buttered costs.”
People were coming and going through the previews and government propaganda—they were standing up and milling around. Just as the movie started, the neatly-dressed young man sitting next to us regained his seat, handed me a Small Buttered, and put his finger to his lips for silence as the movie began to unspool.
The popcorn was excellent.
At the end of the movie—as the credits started to roll—he and I spoke concurrently, with me saying, “Thank you!” and him asking, “Are you on a boat? Can I buy you a cup of coffee at Starbucks?”
One good deed deserves another. His name was Stanley. We invited him and his date aboard Ganesh, our 43-foot Amphitrite ketch, for a leisurely lunch that stretched delightfully into dinner.
They took us ashore for tasty treats. This resulted in Stanley giving us a nearly weekly tour of the gourmet restaurants of Singapore, one of the best ‘foodie’ countries in the world.
Despite being separated by 40 years in age and thousands of cultural and racial differences, Stanley and I hit it off. He was in search of adventure. I was fascinated by Asian culture. We exchanged war stories. I learned as much from him as he did from me. He started hanging around Ganesh more and more. I taught him how to sail a Laser, tie a bowline, and handle a dinghy.
I blush to admit it but I began to think of him as the son I never had.
He was like a sponge—all I had to do was tell him something once about the boat, and it was forever incorporated into his actions. Plus, he was the politest of Singaporeans—a gentleman who stood out in a sea of perfectly-behaved Asian gentlemen.
First he was part of our watery entourage, then a member of the family. He cooked us Asian meals during all the Chinese holidays. He helped our granddaughter Sokù Orion with her Mandarin. If our daughter Roma needed to get someplace—he’d drive her. If we were hungry, he’d bring us to a food court—and cook us a tasty treat with the help of an army buddy who owned a stall there.
Stanley is a man of diverse talents.
And he never asked for anything in return save the pleasure of our company.
It was like I’d fallen into a Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid buddy movie—with the most unlikely of candidates.
But circumnavigating is all about continuous change—and about the same time we headed sou’west to Cocos Keeling, Stanley signed a contract with a company to work for a year in Xi’an, China—home to the Terra Cotta Warriors. This is about as far inland as you can get in China, at the very end of the Silk Road.
We figured we’d never see Singapore Stan again—but, of course, we politely invited him to join us in the Caribbean for a visit. About a year later, he Skyped us in Grenada and said, “I’m ready.”
“… ready?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said. “To visit.”
“Oh,” I said reflexively, “Now is not a good time.”
And it wasn’t. We’d soon be working our way northward up the Lesser Antilles and we were in the middle of a major publishing project.
His face dropped. He looked sad.
“I really need a break from China,” he confessed—the desperation plain in his voice. “The noise, the pollution—it is getting to me.”
“Actually,” I said, totally surprising myself, “I was just kidding. Now is a perfect time, Stanley. Give us a flight number, date, and time—and prepare yourself for the most incredible week ever!”
“Three months?” Stanley asked softly as Carolyn blanched.
“Let’s leave it open-ended, shall we?” I said. “We sail to no one’s schedule.”
Now to say Stanley was a perfect guest is to make an understatement. He was small in stature and brought only one small soft bag. We barely knew he was compactly inhabiting the forecastle. He carefully watched us perform our daily duties and soon was doing them all: singlehandedly hoisting the dinghy up on the davits, moving the solar lamps to be recharged, and neatening up the entire boat throughout the day.
Once a week he dove over the side and polished the prop and removed every single barnacle attempting to cling to our hull. If we needed food ashore, we gave him a grocery list. Any job I started on the boat—helpful Stanley was there within minutes, handing me tools and doing much of the heavy lifting.
Best of all he loved to sail—even demanding to be woken up so he wouldn’t miss any of the squalls. His love of sailing was almost as great as my own. He could not get enough of the wind, and sea, and sun—and at night he marveled at the billions of stars.
“I didn’t know they were actually there,” he whispered to me. “Not really. Why, we can see the Milky Way!”
Carolyn and I were able to appreciate our watery world anew through his fresh eyes. She particularly liked the fact that Stan would have the cockpit table folded down, beautifully set, and lit perfectly every evening—and then take it apart almost instantly, almost soundlessly.
“He’s like a ninja,” she giggled to me.
Yes, Stanley was amazing.
Of course, we had to continue working as per usual. In order to afford our globe-trotting lifestyle, we both work 20 hours a week. Self-discipline is key. We can’t drop the ball. And, one of the reasons we didn’t want anyone to visit right now was because we were coming out with a new book entitled Cruising Boat Basics. And I had to focus on the illustrations—as ill-suited as I am for the task.
“Can I try?” asked Stanley when I happened to drop a not-good-enough illustration on the cabin sole. It turned out that Stanley is a graphic artist as well as legal scholar, pastry chef, and fitness freak.
By the time his illustration was half done, I knew I was out of a job. Stan did all the illustrations for our new book, its complete front-and-back cover, and even a poster to promote its publication.
Carolyn and I are in continuous need of photos to accompany our Cruising World stories. We constantly attempt to take photos of ourselves under sail. But it is difficult to set a timer and get us both in the same shot. Hooray, Stan was a seasoned photographer as well. Thus, as we sailed and trimmed and reefed, Stan recorded it all with one of our three DSLRs around his neck.
A month flew by—and instead of impatiently awaiting the day of his departure, I began to dread the thought of Stanley leaving. Not only was everyone is Grenada in love with Mister Polite, but the fishermen of Carriacou and the model carvers of Bequia as well.
And, not only was Stanley into every aspect of sailing, he was into exercising as well. During his time in the Singapore army, he focused on physical fitness. We were soon swimming long distances together—as well as mountain hiking every afternoon we weren’t at sea.
I hadn’t felt this limber and strong in years!
There was one area, however, where I felt Stanley was lacking—and that is in street smarts. He grew up in Singapore—perhaps the most law-abiding, most polite, most civilized place in the world. In many ways, Singapore is heaven. In the two years I lived there, I not only saw no violence—I never even heard anyone raise their voice. “That which angers me, conquers me,” is a local saying—and Singaporeans never allow others to get under their skin. They carry their bliss inside.
I wanted to learn this Oriental serenity they’re imbued with—but I also wanted Stanley to learn that Singapore is the anomaly, not the rule.
Stanley had not only never been in a street fight, he’d never even seen one. Oh, as a Chicagoan, how I wished that was true in my case.
More time slid by—I haven’t had so much manly-man fun in years. And, before we’d go ashore on each island on our northward journey up the Lesser Antilles, I’d tell Stanley some of the wonderful experiences we’d had there over the decades. After all, we started cruising the eastern Caribbean in the 1970s. But when Stanley realized we were going to skip St. Barths, he looked dejected because he’d heard so many thrilling stories about Gustavia.
I looked at him. I saw a young Asian man—but I also saw family. I wanted to please him, just as he wanted to please me. Life is too short to resist such benevolent urges. He had become more than a human being—he was crew. Only half a dozen folks fit into this select group.
“Okay,” I said, and smiled as I moved toward the sheet winches, “let’s harden up a bit. St. Barths it is!”
Editor’s Note: This is part one of a two-part story. In part two, Stanley and the Goodlander’s sail into serious trouble in St. Barth.
Cap’n Fatty Goodlander and his wife Carolyn are currently preparing for their fourth circumnavigation. Fatty is the author of numerous marine books. His latest, Cruising Boat Basics, is out now. Visit: fattygoodlander.com