While growing up aboard the schooner Elizabeth in the 1950s, I used to swing through the rig, much to the disgust of the timid adults ashore. I loved being aloft. I felt comfortable there, like a proud frigate bird surveying the ocean.
Once, in St. Petersburg, Florida, while standing atop our starboard ratlines, I noticed a blue kite stuck in a tree in nearby Vinoy Park. We were poor; I had no toys, and kites were fun. So I quickly slid down our galvanized shrouds, leapt onto the dock of slip No. 7 and dashed across the street.
It was tricky because the kite was caught at the very top of a large banyan, but I eventually managed to get it down. Alas, it wouldn’t fly. Again and again, I tried to launch it, and it would just spin out of control. I soon became frustrated, but fortunately, my brother-in-law, the Gyroaster, came by. He was a giant of a man, and handsome as heck. My sister, Gale, would melt when he was around. Yuck! Actually, you’ve probably seen him — he was the Marlboro Man for many years. And anyway, he knew a lot of stuff.
“You need a tail,” he said, as he returned to his pickup truck and ripped up a greasy T-shirt.
Once a few knotted strips of fabric hung from the kite, it was a totally different beast. It flew sweetly. I had perfect control. I’ve never forgotten that day.