Sunday, July 13, 2008

Captain Fatty's Message in a Bottle

Captain Fatty Goodlander and his wife, Carolyn, on the bow of the Wild Card.
Photograph by Jim Sublett.

Captain Fatty Goodlander and his wife,
Carolyn, on the bow of the Wild Card
in the turquoise waters off Vava'u, Tonga.
Early this morning, as I was driving to the Tabeguache area for what is becoming a routine weekend hike with Scout, I listened to NPR's Weekend Edition on the radio. Liane Hansen introduced a segment about Captain Fatty Goodlander, one in a series entitled "Captain Fatty's Message in a Bottle." As a recent subscriber to Cruising World magazine, I know Captain Fatty as an editor-at-large and regular columnist for the magazine. So I had one of those "driveway moments" as I sat in the Tabeguache parking lot listening to Captain Fatty for a few minutes while Scout gave me a what-are-we-waiting-for look.

In less than four minutes, Captain Fatty summed up what it means to live the sailing dream. His opinions were so heartfelt that I decided, as I got out of the car, that I had to post his words on my blog. This evening, when I went to NPR's website, I found that the segment was only available in audio format, so I transcribed it in its entirety:

Y’know, I’m astonished how often people ask me if we anchor at night while on ocean passages. The answer, of course, is no. The ocean is very deep, in places over thirty thousand feet deep, about the height that a jetliner flies, which is far, far too deep for a recreational sailboat to anchor in. We just keep sailing, all day, all night, occasionally for months in a row without stop.

We don’t have to steer. We have a mechanical windvane to do that, and it steers us flawlessly without any external power source. But we do have to keep a watch out for ships. I am on watch while my wife Carolyn sleeps. At regular intervals, I wake her up and she is in complete charge of the vessel while I nap.

I don’t find it boring at all to be on passage. Besides sleeping and keeping a lookout, I do navigation, I keep a log, I maintain the vessel. My wife Carolyn cooks. We read a lot, we make love a lot, we argue, we laugh, we get naked, we shout aloud at God, we sing joyously His praises at the top of our lungs, we act like complete and utter fools. In deep ocean, we act like the happy, delirious children that we are. Mother Nature herself entertains us: clouds, birds, waves, stars, planets, meteors, rainbows, moonbows, lightning.

We listen to a shortwave radio, mostly the BBC but we listened to NPR as we sailed past the U.S. military base on Diego Garcia in the middle of the Indian Ocean. How strange to hear All Things Considered so far out to sea, like a lost, century-old radio signal emerging from the ether.

It is hard for me to get my head around the fact that America goes on and on and on as I sail. I don’t feel like an American anymore. I don’t feel like a Chicagoan or a southsider or someone born though lying in hospital on the lip of Lake Michigan on Ground Hog’s Day, February 2nd, 1952. I feel like a sailor. I feel like a seabird. I feel free—utterly, completely, deliciously free. I live in the last place without fences, without rules, without cops, without social restraints of any kind. I am free, free as any man can be, as free as any man ever was.

Almost continuously—sure, I have to occasionally stop, touch land, mingle with dirt dwellers and their slick, glad-handing politicians, and, of course, the related uniform power thugs which anxiously encircle them. Y’know, they don’t talk about extortion these days. Nah, it’s not P.C. They don’t talk about strong-arm tactics or intimidation. Nah, we’re far too civilized for that. Instead we call it taxes and universal health care, and my favorite, paying one’s fair share. Whenever I hear that phrase, I think of it being uttered by Tony Soprano.

No, y’know, I’m far happier at sea. The rules are plain. God is strict. You goof up, you die. That’s plain enough, isn’t it? It’s easy for me, a guy like me, to be happy offshore. You soon realize that all the happiness you’ll ever need is already inside you. The happiness isn’t something you’ll ever find; it’s something that you already have plenty of, that there is no path to happiness, that happiness itself is the path. And thus, I sail and sail and sail.
Right on!

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