What Does the Captain Call You?
It was Halloween, our last full day in Grenada. The next day we’d begin a series of three eight day cruises with passengers as we made our way from Grenada, up the chain of the lesser Antilles, back to the Virgin Islands. The Romance was tied up at the shipyard’s dock to resupply both the fresh water and the auxiliary engine’s fuel tank.
A much smaller vessel, a modern fiberglass sloop, had arrived in the harbor. I met her owner on shore as I ran an ship’s errand. “I’m Billy Bones,” he declared and pointed to his sloop. “That’s my yacht.”
In 1974, there were few whites on Grenada and they all seemed to know each other. He surmised that I was a crewman from some vessel which was why he stopped me, but wasn’t Billy Bones a character from Treasure Island? This young man looked more like a pirate than a yachtsman. He was handsome. He wore scruffy cut offs, a blue denim work shirt, a long ponytail, and a black eye patch. He pointed to it and mused, “Yep, one eye. I’m the only one eyed skipper in the Caribbean.”
I shook his hand, but felt I should correct him, “my captain has one eye too.”
One thing was for certain, both of the one eyed skippers eagerly displayed their handicap. Billy with a patch and my Skipper liked to thrust his empty eye socket wide at you when he was annoyed. You didn’t dare look away and you had to stare into it.
“Oh, you work on the Romance” he exclaimed!
Billy looked up at my ship’s tall masts and yardarms and sighed, “she’s some boat.”
I’d let Captain Kimberly correct Billy on that point. The Brigantine Romance was not a boat, she was a ship. He was a stickler about that point. Pity to anyone called her as a boat. I’d seen the Captain curse out those who’d done so.
The Skipper would dismiss Billy’s beautiful vessel. Yacht implied luxury, wealth, and to Kimberly was simply a fancy name for a boat. A ship represented seaworthiness and hard work while boats ferried people ashore from ships.
Some boats are pretty big so one time I asked the Captain if there was definitive way I could tell the difference between a boat and a ship. “You can put a boat onto a ship, but you can’t put a ship onto a boat,” he declared, “besides Michael, aren’t you too God damned tired at night to be working on a boat?”
Then Billy said, “Mike, please tell Captain Kimberly I’ll come on board to pay my respects to him.”
I gave the Skipper Captain Bone’s message.
“Oh, the rich kid on the boat,” he grumbled with a contemptuous smile? “Michael, how would you like to be a wretched marinaro on Billy Bone’s boat?” Of course, I didn’t tell the Captain that Billy as though he’d be real nice man to work for.
The Romance’s crewman were often called wretched marinaros by the Captain. After a bad day, or if he gave someone a awful job to perform, he’d quip, “it’s not easy being a wretched marinaro on the Romance.”
I wondered if the Captain would welcome Billy Bones on board.
Later, as dusk fell, I gave the ship’s deck it’s evening scrub. Billy walked up the pier accompanied by his wife who was a lovely blonde woman, and their two young children who were in costumes. I’d forgotten it was Halloween. The little boy was dressed as Peter Pan and his older sister was dressed as Wendy. They were adorable. I hadn’t seen any white children since we’d left the Virgin Islands.
I went to the Kimberly’s cabin and told them that the Bones family wished to come on board. The skipper had already had a couple of his rum Marlinspikes so he was in an affable mood. However, I believe he was taken by Mrs. Bone’s slender beauty and the sweet nature of their children. He was uncharacteristically polite when he invited them on board.
By now the entire crew had gathered around the Bones family. Mostly to gaze at Billy’s beautiful wife and to talk to her children rather than to meet another one eyed skipper.
The little girl turned to our Captain and asked, “what’s your name?”
“I’m Captain Kimberly,” he gently replied, obviously charmed by the pretty little girl.
“But what do people call you,” she demanded?
The Captain stammered, “most call me Skipper, but Gloria my bride calls me Arthur.”
“What do your friends call you?”
I waited for him to admit he had no friends, but in the darkness he appeared to blush. Before he answered little Wendy she turned to me asked why I held a bucket and stick broom.
“To scrub the decks,” I told her, “the water keeps the planks swollen and watertight.”
She asked me where I was from. “I’m from Chicago. Do you know where that is?”
“Of course,” she said and asked, “what’s your name?”
“Does anyone call you Mike?”
“Yes,” I said, I’m called by both names.”
What a smart little girl. It was so nice to have these people on board. We’d never had visitors such as them.
“Who calls you Mike and who calls you Michael?”
After a moment’s thought, I said, “people who know me casually usually call me Mike. People whom I’m close to usually call me Michael.”
“What does the Captain call you?”
Everyone went silent and turned to me to hear my answer. I didn’t know what to say. The Captain always called me Michael, but he hated me. I’d just declared that people with whom I was close to called me by my full name. The Captain might be angry that I had the gall to imply that he liked me and double down on his meanness. That precious little girl in her snow white nighty had painted me into a corner.
“The Captain calls me a wretched marinaro,” I said.
The crew and even the Captain laughed. Little Wendy smiled, but looked confused. The Skipper offered the Bone’s marlinspikes and then the two one eyed skippers traded stories about their vessels. Mrs. Bones and her children entertained rest of us by simply being friendly, kind, and lovely.
Later before the Captain disappeared into his cabin, he paused and looked at me.
I said, “goodnight Skipper.”
He nodded and said, “a wretched marianero, right?”
“Goodnight Michael,” he said.