The Busman Takes a Holiday

Cap'n Fatty explains how he and Carolyn manage to "get away" when they're already long gone. "On Watch" from our December 2009 issue

busman holiday 368

On her vacation in Belgium, Carolyn Goodlander (left) managed to go sightseeing in Gent with her daughter, Roma Orion.Courtesy Of Carolyn Goodlander

Life is strange, and I am odd. You'd think after nearly 50 years of living aboard and sailing offshore that I'd be able to do a simple thing that most boat owners do without a thought. But I can't. I don't. Confession: Leaving my Hughes 38, Wild Card, for more than a few days fills me with fear and trepidation. It scares me more than sailing across an ocean-at least my boat is safe, sound, and within my control when I'm offshore. We'd just finished up sea trials with our new mainsail in the Strait of Malacca, and Carolyn, my wife, was putting on the sail cover. While coiling up the spaghetti of loose jib sheets and control lines in the cockpit, I mused internally on her unusual silence. We've been together for so long now, 39 years of living and cruising aboard, that we are, as I like to joke, "two sides of the same orgasm." To which she always responds, with harried exasperation, "Organism!" In any event, there was something on her mind, and she was working up the courage to share it with me. So when we were both below and I was noting our engine hours while she was puttering in the galley, I decided to help her out. "What's up, babe?"

She hesitated, then took the plunge. "I was thinking," she said, "that I'd like to spend some time in Europe. Soon."

Here's the bottom line: Carolyn can do anything she wants-and does. It's my job to help her to accomplish her dreams, just as she helps me to live mine. But money is also a factor because only a small amount drips out of my pen. Our cruising funds are precious. And we'd just spent two months in the United States, which I'd funded via lectures and book sales while visiting family and friends. Now Carolyn wants to blow off to expensive Europe for five weeks.

"And while in Europe?" I ask.

"I'd like to cruise along the Belgium canals with Paul and Susan. They've just sold Elenoa and bought a lovely canal barge," Carolyn says excitedly. "And also sail on Trish and Dave's 56-foot yawl, Rob Roy, in the Baltic Sea. I'll just backpack along the northern coast of Germany until I find them. And I'll rendezvous with Roma Orion, my sister, and my mother in Holland!"

I had to smile. Only Carolyn, after nearly 40 years of living aboard, would want to vacay aboard a canal barge in Belgium and a yawl in the Baltic, all while going off to find our daughter and her other relatives.

"Sounds good," I said. "I'll keep the home fires burning!"

Carolyn and I often take separate vacations so that we can marvel at being more than a 38-foot boat length from one another. And often those vacations involve the sea and sailing, because most of our friends and many of our family are sea gypsies as well.

I've done dozens of yacht deliveries, both for the paycheck and for the time off from writing, to see new locations, and to experience fresh sailing thrills. I often insist that the return ticket be routed through wherever my daughter, Roma, is currently living. Another bonus of vacation via delivery is that I get to sail on some amazing yachts: speedy trimarans, slow cruising cats, racing monohulls, gleaming motorsailers. I've even stepped aboard a stinkpot or two if the money is right and the crew congenial.

Once I even "vacationed" aboard Winthrop, a 110-foot, riveted-iron fishing vessel, off Georges Bank in February. Yes, I'm a glutton for new seaborne experiences, and pick-axing thick ice off her too-heavy bows at the height of a winter's gale certainly qualifies.

For years, I've been the PR spokesman for the Heineken Regatta at Sint Maarten. The organizers annually flew me around the world (I stopped in five different countries of my choosing) to do it. This was very nice because I was able to see all my ol' Caribbean racing buddies, continue to network with all the important marine journalists, and get to party hearty at one of the most fun sailing events on the planet.

On some occasions, we don't visit our friends as much as visit their yachts. By that I mean that we time our visit to coincide with their vacation departures; then we live aboard their boats while they're gone. Ditto the reverse: When I was on assignment with the Formula 40 professional multihull racing in Europe, I invited my Uncle Footski to cruise the Virgins aboard Wild Card, our 38-foot sloop.

The fact of the matter is that we have friends with boats (and houses) all around the world. Wild Card is often anchored somewhere trendy that said friends would like to visit. It isn't a very big leap to make a proposal: "Why don't you pay a call on our boat while we drop by your Aspen ski condo?"

Of course, this takes an element of trust. You can't do this with a landlubber. It must be with a seasoned sailor. And, of course, if I were a sensible person, I certainly wouldn't lend my uninsured boat to a lovable rum-soaked loony like Uncle Foot. But I'm not sensible. Nor am I encumbered with insurance. So I do what I want, when I want, with some of the most exciting, most creative, most fun-loving people on this wild and watery planet.

Carolyn and I often tell people that if we had more money, we wouldn't buy a bigger or fancier boat-we'd just travel ashore more. And that's true. Carolyn has traveled by train all over Asia by herself, while back on Wild Card, I've labored away on major book projects.

Occasionally we meet a yachtie who needs a car delivered to or from some distant place. If there's no rigid timetable and our cruising kitty is flush, we often lend a hand-and we get a free shore vacation in the bargain.

But even the most wonderful thing in the world can have a down side. We have cruising friends who fly home to check on their business interests three or four times a year. This gets old quickly. They usually either decide that cruising is just taking too much focus away from their business or (more wisely) that their business is getting in the way of their fun.

There's also another drawback to visiting home too often: You never really leave it behind. Picture Joshua Slocum gloriously returning to the United States after all those years, sea miles, and adventures, and contrast it with a modern circumnavigator who's flown back 15 or 20 times (yawn) since he left.

The fact is that for a modern circumnavigator, the problem isn't to discover how to travel more-but to wisely manage your shore and sea travel so it consistently enriches your life. Carolyn is a traveler who loves to sail. Her main payoff for our watery lifestyle is visiting the countries to which we sail. I'm a sailor who loves to travel. Mother Ocean herself is my preferred destination. The amazing thing is that for both of us, whether we sail across the mighty Pacific or just hang out before the fireplace in Aspen, our little Wild Card is the ticket.

The Goodlanders are wrapping up two years of cruising in Southeast Asia and are preparing to head up the Red Sea, Somali pirates permitting. Go to www.cruisingworld.com/wildcard to watch the latest episode of their video series, Dealing
the Wild Card.