When I hung up the phone after a call that, in hindsight, I’d been eminently unqualified to field, two words leaped to mind: “He’s toast.” Of course, that’s not what I’d told the forlorn family member, for whom I had nothing but sympathy. But facts were facts, and on that bleak afternoon in 1982, even I?a fledgling associate editor for this very magazine?could clearly see the writing on the wall.
It’d been weeks and weeks since a young solo sailor named Steve Callahan had set off from the Canaries bound for the Caribbean. Now he was seriously overdue, and his family was trying to muster a critical mass of journalists, sailors, and friends in an effort to pressure the U.S. Coast Guard into launching a search for the missing mariner. Not surprisingly, as his relatives had no idea what, if anything, had happened, nor the foggiest idea where across the breadth of the Atlantic to launch such a mission, their pleas were falling on faint ears.
“They’re in denial,” I thought, even before dialing the local Coast Guard station on behalf of the family and receiving the precise answer I expected to hear (“Call back when you have something solid. . . .”).
So it was wondrous news, about a month later, when word came in that after 76 days adrift in a life raft, Steve had been rescued by fishermen off the small Caribbean island of Marie-Galante. The first photos of the shipwreck survivor were shocking: Having lost over 40 pounds, Steve was tipping the scales at just over a hundred, much of it ballasted in his hideously swollen feet. Otherwise, he was literally skin and bones.
In the years since his rescue, the skinny guy?even back to his normal weight, he’s still no bruiser-has done OK for himself. His appropriately titled book about the ordeal, Adrift, was a best-seller and remains one of the epic adventure stories of all time. His gift of life restored, he’s continued to thrive as a sailor and a writer. Oh, and he’s not such a bad dude, either.
The same could be said of another sailing scribe whose life and times may not have been as dramatic as Steve’s, though they’ve been no less eventful. While he goes by the nickname “Cap’n Fatty,” in reality, like Steve, lifelong sailor Gary Goodlander is no candidate for the heavyweight class. Indeed, he earned his handle at the ripe old age of 16 after acquiring a 22-foot double-ender rotting on the shores of the Chicago River. A bit of an eccentric even then, the neighborhood kids had always considered him to be “fat,” as in lucky. But this skipper thing took his evident good fortune to new heights. Cap’n Fatty was born.
So what, one might ask, is the connection between Ol’ Skinny and Cap’n Fatty? Good question. The answer is, beginning this month with Steve’s inaugural effort (page 21), this pair of distinctly disparate sailors will share the role of dual (dueling?) columnists for our monthly On Watch column, swapping duties every other issue in a space that’s been vacant since the departure of longtime regular Tom Neale last June. Those are big deck shoes to fill, but with their divergent styles, voices, experiences, and points of view, we think they’ll dovetail as sweetly as the joiner work of a well-crafted yacht. Their sails are set and drawing. We hope you enjoy the ride.
On a more somber note, this month we also bid farewell to a fine sailor and a treasured shipmate and colleague, marine artist extraordinaire Jim Mitchell, who at 77 lost a long battle with cancer in October. Jim and Tom collaborated on the On Watch column for eight years (think The Odd Couple at sea and in studio), and Jim, who was a regular contributor to this journal since its inception over three decades ago, continued to work at his art and craft right to the end; indeed, his final illustration for us accompanied a Cap’n Fatty story in last month’s issue. His talent, sense of humor, and friendship will all be sorely missed. Fair winds, mate, and thanks for everything.