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The strangest week Crimmins ever spent was trying to fathom a New York psychiatrist who brooded in virtual silence on the foredeck and in his stateroom. "It drove me almost crazy thinking how I should try to get through to him," Crimmins says. "I asked his wife about it and she just kind of smiled and said nothing, so I decided to let him set the pace. The longest sentence we heard out of him was on the last day when he said, 'This was the best vacation I ever had.'
"I used to advertise that the captain doesn't drink," says Crimmins, "but it cost me too much business." Those who didn't assume he was a reformed alcoholic concluded he must be some sort of nut. "One man whose wife arranged the charter came down to the dock without telling me his name, just to check me out. He told me later, 'I just didn't want to get stuck two weeks with some psalm-singing preacher.' " Crimmins now drinks an occasional rum and Pepsi.
One possible flaw in an otherwise good nature is his attitude toward children, remarkably W. C. Fieldian for a former scoutmaster: "I've never known a child who could stay content for an entire cruise." Vague prejudice crystalized to firm policy after successive cruises with a 10-year-old boy given to slapping his mother ("I nearly threw him overboard") and the 11-year-old son of a corporation lawyer who whiled away one long evening feeding Traveler II's stainless steel winch handles to the fish. Children under 12 are now banned, and Crimmins tells parents, "I'm doing you a favor."
On nautical playgrounds, however, an ADULTS ONLY sign hardly eliminates all problems of permissiveness. In Crimmins' view, morality is mainly a matter of compatibility: he has known successful skippers who preached on Sundays, and others whose boats "would make Hugh Hefner blush." The trick, as he sees it, is simply to avoid horrendous mismatches of crew and guests. On Traveller III no one is frisked for marriage licenses, but neither does Crimmins carry one of those bulkhead plaques that say: MARRIAGES PERFORMED BY THE CAPTAIN GOOD FOR THE DURATION OF THIS CRUISE ONLY.
"I assume the best," he says, "but I never go around saying so-and-so and his wife cruised with me if I'm not completely certain. You only have to be embarrassed on that once."
As a shipboard sheriff Crimmins pleads poor vision. On one cruise it took him a week to notice that his two couples were playing musical staterooms. He said nothing, but one of the bikini-clad guests took him aside to explain that each wife had once been engaged to the other's husband. She said, "Does this bother you, Captain?" Crimmins, whose own idea of high living is an Out Island jamboree featuring himself on the fiddle, was momentarily taken aback. He said, "No-o-o, no-o"—his voice becomes Irish falsetto as he quotes himself—and, recovering quickly, he added, "You folks do track a lot of sand aboard and that bothers me." A friend of Errol Flynn's in days when he cruised frequently to Jamaica ("Errol was a wonderful man around other men, but I never would take respectable guests to the wild parties he threw"), Crimmins has boiled moral philosophy down to a pragmatic homily: "I don't mind vices, as long as they're gentlemanly vices."
Despite such tolerance and a gift for avoiding undesirables, Crimmins is no nautical Will Rogers. He has met and sailed with men he doesn't like. As chief yeoman, Peggy records guests' names on two lists; happily, the undesirables make up the short one. Drunkenness, vile language or merely gross incompatibility have caused him to cut cruises short or at least reject next year's deposit check, fairly mild responses considering that 20 years ago, after suitable warning, he sometimes dealt out corporal punishment for unseemly conduct. Advancing years and an injured back have mellowed an Irish temper, but his wife says, "He still has a short fuse for anybody who is foulmouthed around women."
A temper, Crimmins admits, is an occupational hazard skippers must work to curb. As every weekend sailor knows, the world is full of landlubbers who could reduce Job to a raving maniac: tracking sand, spilling drinks, clogging toilets, wasting water (Crimmins carries an almost unbelievable 450 gallons), grabbing for support from fragile gear, and invariably reserving questions for exquisitely inopportune moments. Operating with the special calm of men who recognize temper as a weakness, Crimmins conducts subtle indoctrinations, aided by a mimeographed list of "rules" written by a cheerful regular guest. ("Don't keep asking the captain where you are," is one suggestion. "He probably doesn't know, either.") Says Roger Carroll, the Bahamian who has crewed with him for seven years, "The worse things are, the quieter the skipper gets."
But not always. A few years ago the executive vice-president of a large auto-rental company wanted the thrill of sailing into a squall. "I told him we were too shorthanded to make all the quick sail changes," Crimmins says, "but he insisted he and his lawyer would help." When Traveler II rounded into the maelstrom, the executive froze—and a $900 sail split from leech to luff. "I guess I chewed him out pretty bad," Crimmins recalls. "After that I wouldn't speak to him." At anchor next morning the executive apologized. "He looked at his lawyer and then he told me, "You know, I haven't been bawled out like that in 15 years. I've got too many yes-men—if you'd consider coming to work for me, I'd like to have a man who says what he thinks.' " Crimmins declined the job offer but accepted a check that patched both sail and friendship, and preserved his record of not having made an insurance claim in nearly 25 years.
Most cruises are more tranquil. For their weekly $2,000, guests may choose a course in any direction, but when it's left to Crimmins—and if his party has 10 days or more—he unvaryingly sets sail across the sandy Yellow Bank to the Exumas, 90 miles and 365 islands of kaleidoscopic anchorages, terminating with George Town. April through June are the most perfect sailing months, though he cheerfully admits his favorite weather pattern—"a series of snowstorms all across the northeast"—can make January's mid-70's Bahamas average seem ideal.