Sea Siren: the Ultimate Liveaboard Mother
A young Cap’n Fatty and his mother, Marie Goodlander, the Sea Siren, were right at home aboard their schooner Elizabeth. At 94, Marie proves she still can handle the helm when she joins Fatty and Carolyn for a sail aboard their new boat, Ganesh.
Fast-forward 50-odd years. I’m on the phone with her. We call her the Sea Siren now. She wants to visit. “I’ve never sailed on Ganesh,” she says, as if that explains everything.
I’m a man of logic. I have some sense. I’m not a fool, or leastwise not normally. For decades while circumnavigating, I’ve been conversing with various doctors who keep telling me her death is imminent. Yes, she’s already fallen a number of times. Once, she broke her hip, and an arm, too. Yes, there are pins and rods and bolts holding much of her frame together.
I consult with her doctors and her friends and her neighbors. They all say, reluctantly, that she’s too far gone, too old and frail at 94 to journey anywhere. And of course, sailing is absolutely out of the question.
“Do you want to kill her?” one friend asks me forthrightly.
Did I mention that she’s now legally blind?
So I know what I’m supposed to do: tell her no. Tell her that her dream of sailing aboard Ganesh is just folly!
But during my youth, there were a million times when she was supposed to tell me no—but she always said yes. She’s the one who taught me to be so free, free, free.
I snatch up the phone, dial her number in Santa Cruz, California, and shout, “Great! Wonderful! Of course, we’d love to have you, Sea Siren! We’ll beat up the Sir Francis Drake Channel, have Thanksgiving at Haulover Bay on St. John, and then set up the twin downwind poles for the run back to Cruz Bay. How’s that sound?”
It took us a while to prepare: We removed the Monitor windvane so it’d be easier for her to clamber aboard, added PFDs to the dinghy, and identified strong handholds in all the areas where she’d be likely to sit. My biggest worry wasn’t the trade-wind seas but rather a steep ferry wake that might catch her totally unawares.
On the second night, we take her ashore by dinghy to Caneel Bay to see if she can seduce “one of them rocking fellows,” as she put it. Perhaps to bolster her self-confidence, she says to me, “I want a martini, Timmy.”
Timmy was my childhood nickname.
“I want a martini, too,” chimes in Carolyn, my wife.
“Me three,” says Morgan, my brother, who brought Marie here to the islands from the States.
I’m worried. It wasn’t easy getting her from the swim platform into the dinghy. Now they’ll all be drunk as well.
I voice my concerns. “Don’t be so uptight,” my mother says breezily. “What’s a martini or two? That is, before I switch to the Cruzan rum!”
Ashore, my mother’s on a tear. She drags me on the dance floor and starts to make moves no son should see.
“She’s still got it!” laughs Carolyn, grinning behind her champagne glass.
Eddie Bruce, a local St. John drummer, is in the band. My mother has always been attracted to drummers, and she says to me, “Don’t tell him how old I am.”
This causes me to wonder if she lies to “her boyfriends at the old-age club,” as she puts it. Perhaps she naughtily tells them that she’s only 85 or so. Strange.
Our meal comes.
She eats her filet mignon like a happy lioness, then focuses back on Eddie. Oh, god! Now she’s trying to organize a conga line. Eddie is shouting at me. “Your mudder,” he yells, “is just my kind of woman, Fatty!”
Darn! I’m losing control. Carolyn is motioning to the bartender: “Tree piña coladas, please!” (We doan pronounce the letter “H” in dese islands.)
I’m a basket case by the time we’re hoisting the Sea Siren over the transom, but she’s having the time of her life. “Feel the breeze!” she cries. “And those flowers—smell those flowers! Isn’t it wonderful to be alive, Timmy?”
Just because she can’t see doesn’t mean she can’t judge. She feels stuff instead of observing it. She feels a halyard I just coiled. “That’s not the way your father used to do it,” she notes.
I explain that we’re using high-tech double-braid now and that this kind of line isn’t coiled quite the same way as three-strand hemp.
Most of her life was spent aboard vessels with kerosene running lights, cotton sails, and tarred manila anchor rodes. She’s agog at our GPS, radar, and watermaker. “Well, I never!” she keeps saying with a shake of her head.
We join a five-boat raft-up for Thanksgiving, and I have to caution her not to eat all the food herself. Later that evening, a dozen of us are singing together in the cockpit, and I hear Carolyn’s voice intertwining with the Sea Siren’s on the same song that we used to sing as a family aboard Elizabeth 55 years ago.
Yes, things change. I’m using LED running lights, Dacron sails, and BBB chain on Ganesh now. But some things stay the same, too. Like the human voice, filled with love.
Cap’n Fatty and Carolyn Goodlander are wrapping up the rebuilding and repowering of Ganesh. Once again, they’ve begun eyeing the western horizon.