Professor Salt of the Offshore Sailing School
It's a simple recipe: Take big-boat sailing students and have them learn in paradise.
My favorite guest was Fred the Fisherman. I figured he’d be an unusual fellow, because who else would sign up for a learn-to-sail course so they could troll the North Drop, off St. Thomas, for blue marlin at 5 knots? Yes, he thought way outside of the tackle box. His fishing rig consisted of an ancient reel carrying what I’d estimate was three-ounce test line, a large lead sinker, a tiny hook, and a dozen whole frozen conch. Some of us speculated that he kept the bait under his pillow; all we know is that by the end of the charter, the fine folks at The Moorings gingerly approached his cabin dressed in hazmat suits! Fred’s fishing routine was odd, too.
Often he’d wait until we were anchored in a safe harbor, then eagerly drag his fishing gear into the cockpit. He’d toss his heavy sinker and frozen conch over the side on the monofilament line thinner than a human hair, then prop his Penn reel and rod up against the stern rail. Everything would be fine for about three or four minutes, and then the Moorings 50.5 would swing on its anchor rode, which would tug the fishing line and knock over the pole. No matter where Fred was on the vessel, he’d stampede aft, grab the still-bouncing reel, scream, “I got one! I got one!,” and then give a giant tug to set the hook. The tug would, of course, snap the line and cause him to scream in outrage, “The bastard stole my bait again!”
He did this a dozen times or so, and none of us could convince him of reality. He was determined, he said, to “fight one to the death, just as Hemingway would!”
This would’ve continued all week, but I finally got him to use 50-pound test in order to, as I put it, “make it more sporting for you!”
That evening, anchored off Jost Van Dyke, he managed to hook the reef itself and thus snap his fishing pole in half while setting the hook. It was the end of Fred’s fabulous fishing career. Everyone sighed in relief, and a few chimed in: “I saw it skywalking, Freddy!” and “That blue marlin was huge—a world record, for sure!”
For the rest of the trip, he’d strut around and say, “It was like hooking a freight train!”
Now I’d been thinking that Freddy wasn’t the sharpest filleting knife in the tackle box, but one day he nonchalantly said to fellow student Linda Ross, “No, there’s only one tack line on the jib, but yeah, there’s two sheets. The one not being used is called the lazy sheet. And, yeah, the jib car might come aft a couple of inches, right, Fatty?” Maybe he was learning how to sail!