Another member of this vagrant sailing fraternity was wandering through Greece one day when he heard that an American yacht was in port looking for a crewman. He had always wanted to go to the U.S., so he sought out her skipper. "Sure, we need a hand," the skipper told him, "but you got things wrong. We're not headed back to the States, we're going to Australia." "That's O.K.," said the happy vagrant and signed on.
Some of these compulsive deckhands are regarded so highly that skippers planning a race or cruise will send halfway across a world or a continent to get them. Generally in straitened circumstances, they will sign on for what are called their tickets; i.e., the skipper will send them air fare from here to there and pay any bar bills incurred on the way.
Only thus can the skipper be sure of what he is getting in the way of skilled assistance, for signing on a crew can be a chancy business. The sea has a way of attracting as many wrongoes as right guys and there is often no way to tell the difference until the anchor is weighed. A certain successful middle-aged businessman, whose name is best left unspoken, can and does spin a ropy yarn with the best of them in yacht club bars all over the country. He owns a small cruising boat of his own and has sailed aboard others on numerous ocean races. He has learned to bark orders with the authority of Horatio Hornblower and is full of knowledgeability about rigging, navigation, pilotage, racing tactics and marlinespike seamanship. He seemingly possesses all the qualities of a first-class crewman—until you put to sea with him.
As one such ill-fated voyage began, with our vessel sliding out to sea beyond land's protection, this crusty old shellback was suddenly transformed into a jellyfish. For the next four days, bundled in foul-weather gear against wind and waves that he rarely even saw, this seagoing lump lay about down below, moaning on the cabin floor or whimpering in a bunk he had appropriated just as its rightful occupant was coming off watch stiff with cold and well-earned fatigue. It was a tribute to the other crewmen sailing with him that instead of throwing him overboard they really felt some pity for this creature.
When we made a landfall and the seas flattened out under a benign sun, the jellyfish suddenly became a man again. Shucking his dirty clothes, shaving, donning a sweater with a nattily embroidered flag over the left breast, he stepped jauntily out on deck and rapped out advice to the bedraggled crew as though nothing had happened. "Better change that vang," he suggested smartly. "We ought to have the spinnaker up, skipper." Then to the startled helmsman, "I'll steer, here you take the mainsheet." When the helmsman declined the offer, he strutted fore and aft, apparently oblivious of the none-too-subtle remarks tossed in his direction.
I never saw him after we got in, but it is easy to envision him recalling to some rapt audience how hard it blew that night and what advice he gave the watch captain. Oddest of all, one could almost understand a listener's belief in him and his tales. Soon he would be getting another invitation to sail an ocean race, an invitation he would, of course, accept.
I hope I'm not on board.