Cap'n Fatty Gets His Comeuppance

Leaving in a hurry when anchored on a lee shore can be cause for tense moments and choice words between a skipper and his mate.

capn fatty
Cap'n Fatty and Carolyn rarely cruise on a schedule.Cap'n Fattty Goodlander

The worst thing about regularly dispensing advice in a sailing magazine is that you feel really stupid when you break your own cardinal rules, the ones you caution fellow sailors to pay strict attention to. Aboard Ganesh, our 43-foot Wauquiez Amphitrite ketch, I consider it a sin to ever sail to a strict schedule. And while we're in full ­cruising mode, we're pretty good about not doing so. But we were recently hard aground on our own coffee grounds in Singapore, and having far too much fun playing patty-cake with our grandchildren. So we ended up behind schedule to meet our incoming guests in Thailand, nearly 600 nautical miles away.

As a result, it was 0400 on a windy morning, still pitch-black out, and Carolyn was on the foredeck peering into the gloom as our anchor chain rattled up.

“Once we’re short-scoped,” I shouted loudly, “we’ll have to get it up quick! There are rocks all around, and I’m being sidestepped by a northwesterly current.”

She muttered something I couldn’t hear.

“Louder!” I called forward.

She didn’t respond.

We were close to shore, anchored in the lee of Pulau Pisang, in the dreaded Strait of Malacca. I’d elected not to deploy my anchor light (it’s best to be low-key in this area), and I’d had to get closer to land than I wanted to get out of the swell. But it had been light when I’d anchored, and now it was dark. The frothing rocks looked far too close for comfort. And Carolyn seemed to be taking her sweet time.

“Damn it, hon!” I shouted forward. “You realize you’re not getting paid by the hour, right?”

I couldn’t tell if she responded. The wind was pushing my bow one way, and the current was pushing my transom the other. I was doing everything I could to play throttle-jockey and hold Ganesh in place. My patience with Carolyn was wearing thin. “Aw, for gosh sake!” I yelled forward. Neither of us had got enough sleep, and we were exhausted from our pre-voyage preparations.

She said something, but all I caught was the phrase “not helping.”

“What’s not helping?!” I bellowed.

“You,” she said.

I squinted, then clapped my hands together to relieve the tension. She had no idea, I thought, how difficult it was to keep a 30,000-pound vessel stationary in conditions like this — none! In fact, she acted as if she had all the time in the world.

“Oh, honey bun,” I moaned, completely exasperated by this point.

I heard the windlass jam. It ­happens if it’s getting too much slack or too much shock-loading. It especially ­happens, I noted, if the operator’s not paying ­attention.

I could hear Carolyn laboriously clear the jam. Next I saw her leaning over the bow rail and peering downward into the murky water. Then her headlamp tumbled into the water without warning. “Merde!” I heard her say, which is the closest she gets to turning the air blue.

“Do you know where the other headlamp is?” she asked vaguely.

I was hopping up and down on one foot. “Goddamn it, Carolyn,” I said. “Now’s not the time to quiz me on shipboard ­inventory!”

She calmly strolled aft and ducked below in search of a flashlight.

That was the last straw. I dashed forward. “Do I have to do everything myself?” I asked no one.

“Evidently, yes,” I replied.

Damn, the frothing rocks looked even closer. I felt around the foredeck and found the windlass control's wire. I grabbed it and followed it to the switch. On Wild Card, our previous boat, we had deck-mounted foot buttons, but Ganesh has a hand-held controller and cord. As I started taking in the chain, Carolyn hoisted herself out of the cockpit and asked, "What the hell are you doing up there?"

I resisted the urge to snap back, “Your job!”

Carolyn approached, her headlamp bobbing.

“Don’t shine that damn thing in my eyes,” I said through gritted teeth.

I needed coffee, some meditation — perhaps Prozac.

There was a tearing sound, and the windlass shut off. I re-punched the switch. Nothing.

I was bewildered until Carolyn approached, making sure the beam of her headlamp was focused on the deck. It revealed that I’d sucked the remote-­control cord into the chain gypsy. It had rolled up and torn itself out of the windlass case. I could fix it. I had a spare cord and control, but it would take time — and daylight. To make the repair, we’d have to dump our scope back out and wait until dawn. We’d be lucky to get away before noon. Damn it!

“I can’t fix it in the dark,” I said. “I’ll let out the rode to 5-to-1 and wait for the sun.”

“Fine,” she said, looking me directly in the eye. “Should I make us some coffee, or would you prefer to burn down the galley yourself?”

My hands were on my hips. I bit my lip. I took a deep breath. Then I deliberately turned away from her.

She went below.

It was not my finest hour.

We managed to get back underway by 1100. Neither of us was particularly talkative. I left her alone to do her job as we raised anchor, which was dead-easy now that we had light. I was feeling bad and holding it in.

Lunch was, as usual, the highlight of our cruising day. With our autopilot steering, Ganesh threaded her way through the endless stream of freighters on her port side and the entire fishing fleet of Malaysia to starboard.

We had a fresh salad, fresh bread, and black pepper chicken with jasmine rice. Ah, delicious!

“Wait,” Carolyn said with a twinkle in her eye. “There’s more.”

capn fatty
Carolyn learned the finer points of anchoring by pumping with determination on a manual windlass aboard Wild CardCap'n Fattty Goodlander

She’d made banana flambé, passing the two hot plates out the hatch while still aflame.

This made me feel even worse. It’s hard for me to make a tuna fish sandwich underway; Carolyn churns out major meals without comment. And she always adds a little something extra — a special flair, a dash of unexpected excellence. Every time she’s ducked below for the last 45 years, she’s automatically asked me, “Can I get you anything?”

I, on the other hand, occasionally forget to do so when heading for the saloon. (By “occasionally,” I mean 95 percent of the time.) Carolyn cans. She cooks. She kneads her bread. And yet she is ever ready to cease everything at the drop of a hat to take part in any cockamamie shore scheme I might dream up.

I was feeling particularly lacking. So I waited until we were both sipping our rich cappuccinos, and said as calmly as I could, “Sorry.”

“For what?”

“For being such a lout.”

She laughed.

“Where do you get goofy words like that?” she asked. “Do you have a special writer’s thesaurus for male apologizers?”

She wasn’t letting me off the hook lightly, not that I deserved to be.

“Look,” I said, “I’m sorry. Not only did I interfere on the foredeck, I screwed up while doing so. And it could have been worse. I lost my concentration on my vessel’s placement. I should have stayed at my helm. That’s my job. So the skipper owes you an apology, and I apologize.”

“What about the husband?”

“OK,” I sighed. “That’s a given. So I need to be punished, to be made to suffer. Name the sentence.”

“Seriously?”

“Sure,” I said, “What’ll it be? Diamonds? A new Gucci ditty bag? Top-Sider high heels? Something from the new Galley Slave line at Victoria’s Secret?”

“How about an all-afternoon kayak trip in Langkawi?” she asked. “We could see the mud skippers, those walking fish. We’ll bring a picnic lunch and leave all our cares and woes at home.” “Four hours in a kayak,” I said. “That’s all you want? I don’t deserve you, Carolyn.”

“You got that right,” she replied.

Cap’n Fatty is atoning for his wrongs as the Goodlanders enjoy Southeast Asia.