This account got stitched together with excerpts from a book I had for years called Forthcoming. But, other books got in its way.
Now, Forthcoming has finally come forth — as
Circumstances of my Birth
In the 1920's my father, aged 18, bought a biplane with the proceeds of a boxing purse. He taught himself to fly it from a corn field in Quaker Neck, by Chester Town, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Later, he and my mother survived the Great Depression well enough by barnstorming with that plane. I guess they passed adventuring down to me from both sides.
Hitler invaded Austria in March of 1938 -- 70,000 SS victims in Vienna alone. Neville Chamberlain capitulated at Munich in September. In October Churchill's Grand Alliance failed, and the Nazis took Czechoslovakia. It got grimmer and bleaker.
Then, on All Saints' Day, I entered the world. All the same, the Nazis continued their march for six more years. Daddy died in a B17 bomber, and Mom moved to Fort Lauderdale, still a small town, believe it or not, where I worked to heal the world.
Mom's lifeguard friend loaned me his 14 foot sailboat to get me out of the way. I learned to sail with it in the Atlantic off Fort Lauderdale. I dived the third reef with buddies where we filled the bilge of our wooden row boat with lobster. What we didn't take home to our mothers we sold on the beach. Spear fishing in those days meant skin diving in your underwear; no snorkels, no goggles, no flippers. We used a gig, a broom handle with a trident nailed to its end. This cost a total of 65 cents next to the Texaco station just south of the Andrews Avenue Bridge, the one with the sight glasses on the funny looking gas pumps.
We dived down 30 feet on the first breath and used the gig to tickle the bugs' antennas which they waved around from out of their holes trying to scare us away. By the time we dove down on the second breath, the lobsters had come out of their holes to do a little victory dance, whereupon we gigged them.
We used a wasteful trick which I haven't seen since. On surfacing you take the bug off the spear with the anterior thorax in the palm, tail outward. Then you slam the joint of the tail and throat onto the edge of the old splintered gunnel. The tail goes flying into the bilge, and you "return the head to the environment" in today's greenie correct language for wasting a good soup. Yankees, incidentally, call Florida lobsters crayfish and boast of the real lobsters they have up north. They do this, I've discovered, because they don't know how properly to cook Florida lobsters. Wash out the lymph first, then poach and broil.
The Governor's Club
Mom made a bad marriage, and despite its dissolution, the government cancelled her war widow and orphans benefits. I worked nights in restaurants loading beer coolers, washing dishes, making Cuban sandwiches and pizzas, cleaning toilets — you name it — for more hours than Florida's child labor laws permitted, but for which the Federal government gladly issued a Social Security card to collect FICA. These early civics lessons did not go unlearned by me.
My big break came when I got a job as the night bellhop at the downtown Governor's Club Hotel, the tallest building between the Boca Raton Racket Club and Arthur Godfrey's place on Miami Beach. The pristine seven miles of Fort Lauderdale Beach had at that time only three hotels, two of which closed off season. Landing this job at the mother of hotels began the best education a boy can have.
I worked at the hotel a minimum of 9 hours a night, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. I barely had time to run from school to the hotel locker room and change into my uniform, and I didn't get home until after one a.m. I never went to a football game or a high school dance. That really didn't hurt me as it turned out.
My Friday and Saturday night fun began at 12:30 a.m. when I got off work, and big for my age, I never got refused service from the age of 15 onward. Sometimes my buddy hot wired his mom's car, and we lead footed it down to Key West. The conchy Joes and fishermen fed us beer by the pitcher and clams by the bucket until midmorning for singing Hank Williams country ballads. My buddy had a guitar. I had the words. Saturday and Sunday mornings remained for diving or working on junker cars.
The hotel became my home, and late nights I did my homework at the bell stand. Because this gave me lots of time to study, I racked up A's in school while sleeping in class. Standing rigidly at my post by the front desk in the afternoons, I began a lifetime habit of daily reading the entire newspaper, filling my hard drive with random data the town's educators never dreamt of. But the Governor's Club gave other courses, too.
In the winter the place filled up with wealthy seniors who had wintered in Florida during the Roaring 20's and in the Depression. Midwestern for the most part, some of these people began life in the age of the robber barons, and they either came from great industrial fortunes or amassed their own. By the second season everyone had taken me under their wing and told me their life stories, leaving me with a profound respect for those who made their pile by guts and talent. It also washed away any envy I might have developed toward those poor babies who inherited theirs. Strangely, perhaps, seeing the rich at first hand solidly vaccinated me against socialism. People whom you either admire or pity leave you nothing to struggle against. I got a booster shot later in life by living and working in some of the world's socialist "paradises".
Bell hopping at the Governor's Club set up precepts which later in life permitted me to discount wealth and its trappings and proceed to the heart of things. As an example of what I mean, once I served a drink to Adlai Stevenson while he campaigned for the Presidency. He sat alone in his underwear, scrunched up in a club chair, writing a speech from scratch. It really impressed me, a high school kid, that big shots like presidents sometimes wrote their own speeches. I knew I loved old Adlai when he disembarked from one of his two huge whistle stop buses. Caught in a sea of camp followers disgorging themselves from the buses and local dignitaries and reporters, all blathering importantcies at each other, Adlai swam to the middle of the lobby waving a rolled newspaper over his head. Above the din he hollered, "Where's the men's room?"
I showed him where.
Later I served him a drink in the bedroom of his suite, while his noisy entourage prated and preened in the front room and the hall outside. Mr. Stevenson had finished half his drink before he broke his concentration enough to notice me standing there gawking at him. While he finished the rest, he chatted with me about China and the great loss to the West when the KMT failed. He got up and went into the bathroom and just left me there in his bedroom, no Secret Service or anything. I could have assasinated him. The next day I went to the library and found out KMT was the Kuomintang. I already knew about that and decided that if old Adlai thought the West had lost something with Sun Yat Sen then I would vote for Eisenhower if I could have voted.
Because of such early encounters, I felt no intimidation from scholarship interviews with stern and stuffy academic boards. Even later, as a young systems management consultant, it didn't faze me to walk in cold on board members and even CEO's of world renowned corporations. Not if I'd grown up prattling with the rich and famous in their underwear while attending Governer's Club High.
By 15 years of age I directed two middle aged subordinates at the hotel, guys that drifted from Saratoga in the summer to Gulfstream in the winter, following the horses in their baby blue Cadillacs with a garment bar full of flowered shirts across the back seat. When they ran low they took jobs in hotels for room and board. Without knowing it I absorbed basic lessons of supervision and command that my peers wouldn't get until their 30's, if then.
In the summer the Governor's Club had only me on duty. Back then the summer season didn't exist, and the hotel catered to the commercial trade. If the front desk needed a house dick, they called me. If a noisome whore had slipped in, they called me to calm her, dress her and escort her out with the decorum befitting the hotel. Sometimes, out of season, the Governor's Club made for a lot of fun and excitement.
Once I led around in the dark one of our ambassadors to South America, looking for a place to hide him until I could go down for the pass key and get him a new room. He had nothing on but his Panama hat and a loud voice. He kept saying "I tell you boy!" and waving his gold knobbed cane and rapping it on the doors of other guests. His $300 (read $3000 today) call girl from a ring that sold millionaires' college kids had locked him out of his room. I couldn't lead his fat nakedness into the lobby while I fetched the pass key, so I locked him in the housekeeper's linen room. When I got back he'd damn near beat a hole in the door with his gold knobbed cane. I had to clear the hall of excited guests before letting him out. I draped a sheet over Mr. Ambassador and took him down to a vacant room. Even so, old Mrs. McCaskey in room 411 told me next day that she had left her door cracked and watched the hallway after I'd got everyone back in their rooms. She said she knew who it was because the guy under the sheet waved his cane around yelling, "I tell you boy!"
Tips of a Lifetime
Mostly I read books between checking patrons in and out, many of whom shared their wisdom with me, for which I of course boldly asked. Now a senior myself, I realize what has happened. I have become in my life the sum of two casual remarks made by out of season travelers at the Governor's Club Hotel.
One of these guys, a graduate of St. Johns in Annapolis, told me of the Great Books education. "Read these books and you don't need to go to college," he said. Accordingly, I gave up Saturday mornings of skin diving, sailing and car tinkering and used the time instead in the public library. I checked out and read all the books on the list over a three year period, while sitting under the racks of dry cleaning in the little room behind the bell stand. That got me an ivy league scholarship, something the Fort Lauderdale High counselor told me I couldn't hope for. Unknowingly, she gave me a lesson in the value of so-called counselors and psychologists.
The second life forming tip came from a wealthy inventor who each year parked his 50 foot power yacht nearby in the New River while stopping between Virginia and Havana in the early fall. He stayed with us again when he sailed northward in the spring. He piloted solo while going south. On the trek back home, however, he came with a Las Vegas showgirl from Havana's Tropicana revues. That sure looked like a good life to me!
This wonderful man advised me to put my savings into successively larger sailboats until I had one with which I could live aboard forever in the Caribbean.
And I did that too.
The desk clerk puttered at real estate. He had met a real estate magnate who, when the desk clerk told him I had traded my Saturday morning sailing for the library, arranged to fly us with his plane to Fort Meyers on Sunday mornings to crew on the big scow races on the Caloosahatchee River -- and he flew me back in time for work!
The night of high school graduation I didn't attend. As usual I pulled my shift at the Governor's Club. But that night, at two a.m., and with the night desk clerk beaming, I climbed into my seven year old Ford convertible, and drove out of town forever.
The well-spent nights reading Great Books in the laundry room paid off handsomely. Davidson College, perhaps the best liberal arts college in the South, granted me a partial scholarship which, together with my savings, got me started in the halls of ivy. Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity filled in by giving me board for serving meals, and fun jobs like Hell Week chairman and rescuing occassionally wayward Brothers' dates. More revenue came in on school breaks and even by a summer at Green Giant Canneries in Walla Walla.
At the end of the sophomore year it became plain the money wouldn't reach. The U.S. military offered to finance the rest of my education if I first flew off their aircraft carriers for six years. Who could say no? I got the U.S. Navy all agog with perfect scores on both flight aptitude and officer qualification tests. Hint: to get 100% on officer qualification one must steam directly and silently on by the drowning children when given orders to proceed directly to point so-and-so under radio silence. Not a difficult question at all if you think Navy. And thinking Navy, the Navy threw me overboard and steamed on because of an ulcerated left cornea. They dumped me on the street outside Opa-Loka Naval Air Station with barely enough change in my pocket to bus back to a flop house in Fort Lauderdale -- if I didn't eat, and if I slept in the Grayhound station overnight, which I didn't, and did, do respectively.
Three more years drudged by with studies interleaved with work, or work and no studies. Work like rodding radiators, truck driver, forklift driver, parking valet and librarian. The valet parking job at Jack Valentine's night club led to an afterhours gig at Bea Morley's 4 O'clock Club across the highway. I played a rube at the bar, an easy role for me. The club's dancer would drag me onto the floor to prove to the tourists that anyone could learn the Cha-Cha. She had a brand new Thunderbird sports car and a beach apartment. Though scant pay and late hours, the job had perks.
I got no job offers in the recession in which I graduated. Broke again, but responsible for a wife and a baby this time, and with the world slightly unravelling for me, I tore one of two faded pink slips that the crowd of job seekers had left hanging on the U. of Florida Placement Office bulletin board. Without knowing it I had just taken a ticket to a career in systems engineering at the simultaneous dawns of the space and cybernetics ages. Miraculously, Pratt & Whitney punched my pink ticket when they hired me as a mathematician to do rocket engine design. Whoa! Me? I resolved to fake it as long as I could.
The higher math scared the tar out of me. I expected every day to get fired for incompetence. I filled the time while waiting for the axe to fall by fiddling about with their huge computers which really interested me, pretty much as Nintendo games interest today's youth. For the first time in my life I worked at a job I wanted to do, and for the first time I got paid real money to do it. It just wasn't what they hired me to do.
It shocked me to learn that the real mathematicians in the place regarded me in some awe. The computers, it seemed, held the same mysteries for them that descriptive mathematics did for me. Soon I got into developing real time operating systems before we had names for those things, and I found myself in an insatiable job market.
When my cash flow turned positive I bought a racing scow to start the climb toward my retirement boat. I also began to collect gear for that boat. Take the dishware I still use today for instance. It looks and feels like good china, but wears like steel. I purchased it over years, a super expensive plate or cup per month. They have graced more than a dozen homes and five live aboard boats around the world, surviving the upbringing of three rambunctious boys. My dinner plates have over 50 years of use. So talk about your long range cruise planning, will you?
While my contemporaries chose to climb the corporate ladder, I clung to the advice of my mentor from the Governor's Club, the inventor. I moved upscale in boats and geography, not office suites and salary. Pay, perks and promotion meant less than getting the job done well and early in order to move on to the next boat, the next sailing venue. A wide reputation for getting results on the job became a fully unexpected bonus to such a modus operandi. And that let me parlay racing scows on Lake Worth to Snipes on Clear Lake to cruising Stjärnbåts in the Kattegat and Westerlies in the Baltic.
I've lived abroad since 1970, except for a couple of spells in Florida changing and refitting cruising boats. I worked in Russia, Israel, Brazil, Venezuela, Japan, Micronesia, Indonesia, the Antilles and every European country. Sailing opportunities in foreign venues always took the top job placement criterion. Not only did my knowledge of the world's waters grow, but so did my appreciation of its cultures. I studied Swedish, French, Russian, German, Spanish and Malayu, and retain some fluency in some of them, though age now robs me of some of that joy.
Shortcut to Cruising
The sailboats got bigger as the inventor had told me they should. When the boats got big enough I moved aboard. Spare time, weekends and holidays went to my boats; and in Europe I had eight weeks holiday. As a liveaboard, the between job moves also became long cruises. Unpaid leaves and absences expanded into years. The miles and the seas traveled accumulated. I could see the final endless cruise coming when the last son left university.
A parasite bringing black water fever wrecked those plans and my health in Sumatra. Coming out of an hepatic coma, it took seven months to return to work, and even then I could barely write my name, let alone drive a car. Of significance to my future books, I never quite recovered the ability to write legibly, except with a computer keyboard.
By the late 70's the French medicos, in search of the cause of my recurring fevers and their persistent and painful sequelae, did me the favor of overdiagnosing a little known genetic disorder, Hemochromatosis. Without the science available today they had to inform me of the actuarial truth that they did know, that I had less than 5-10 years to live. A bachelor father at the time, I didn't have to think twice. I just completed the life plan by quitting the job, putting the boys still in the nest onto the boat, and heading for the Pacific.
Through the canals in France and around the Mediterranean, I sailed into the Caribbean on Sayang, a Hallberg Rassy 38. I continued to Florida where I bought and renovated Jalan Jalan, a beautiful clipper ketch more suitable for world cruising. By the time I had her ready each of the boys had wandered into the world as confidently and dangerously as once had I. A solo sail back to Indonesia, with a stop in the Philippines to refresh the kitty came next. There, perhaps in the hills around Punchak, I would cross the finish line. Perhaps with a Filipina nurse?
On my second tour of the Caribbean enroute to the Panama Canal, I fell firmly in love in Puerto Plata. But my new wife, not a nurse, had got permanently moored to her business in the Dominican Republic. I based there and did my own business pulling charters in the Bahamas. I shuttled back and forth from the Bahamas to our homes in Puerto Plata, then later in Puerto Rico. I did seasonal refits in Venezuela, and finally, as a guide writer surveyed up to 195 anchorages from Bimini to Puerto La Cruz, at least once and often multiple times each year for 21 years.
In short, I racked up more single handed island hopping experience between the Bahamas and South America than anyone I know of.
As a credit to my French doctors I haven't died. By the turn of the millenium the genome project explained why. I had enough of a problem for them to find it if they searched hard, but not enough to kill me until my 50's. Furthermore, after 25 years more research on Hemochromatosis, the medicos now have ways of living with the disorder not unlike those used by people with diabetes. Meanwhile, I got 30 years of cruising I might not otherwise have had, albeit without any treasure set by.
But one who starts life poor knows how to end it poor, and, I must add, in style.
While chartering in Georgetown, Bahamas, friends would send cruisers to Jalan Jalan for advice on making the so-called Thorny Path to South America. The naïveté of these wonderful retired folks who planned to buck 25-30 knot tradewinds with their 25hp auxiliaries and their 32 foot cutters appalled me. I always invited them aboard and did what I could to further ensure their safety on what I knew, from my first couple of runs, as a quite arduous voyage for beginners. I had lots of rum aboard for my charter guests, and everyone, especially me, enjoyed the chart talk parties aboard.
That all ended when the Dominican economy tanked. My wife's rental car business got eaten up by the international companies, but she still had a boutique for the cruise ships in front of our house. Then the cruise ships stopped coming, and the Peso began to dive. I skittered up islands from Venezuela, where I did my charter season refits, and sold the house for what dollars we could get out. The chart talk parties at Georgetown became BYOB after that.
One cruiser suggested that since I wrote notes with the computer I should roll them off onto a printer, printing raw copies for everyone. When my printer paper ran out, and the printer ribbons wore out, I made photo copies and charged to recover the expense.
The notes generated more questions and the questions generated more notes. After a couple of seasons like that I found myself copying a real syllabus for which I charged a 6-pack of expensive Bahamian beer. Demand didn't slack even though it amounted to $15 for a short printout without illustrations.
In Puerto Plata that year we found people copying and selling my notes for Hispaniola's north coast run and the crossing of the Mona Passage. With encouragement from Milt Baker at Fort Lauderdales's Blue Water Books and Charts, I armed myself for the next season in Georgetown by printing 500 copies illustrated with hand drawings. Because of it I played that season in Georgetown instead of operating a Xerox machine, and the booklet sold out in three months.
The rest became postlogue as I dropped chartering and began plying the islands to keep the guidebooks current.
The Hemochromatosis has finally brought on heart failure. I've sold the last boat, built the last house and retired ashore in the Dominican Republic. Look for us at KEMBALI KE TANAH, our home overlooking the sea, or click on
Underway nine months or more each year, I would go ashore in the Dominican Republic to meet the fabulous Rosa Bonilla, a Puerto Plata business woman and my wife of 28 years. Rosa, who has many years navigating with me throughout the Caribbean, would go to ground from time to time when she either started a business or built a house. When you sail into Luperón's well protected bays Rosa can help you with charts, local information, land tours and real estate.