Ch 3 - A Tale of Two Men - the Captain

"Have you ever thought about quitting your job, buying a boat and heading for the Caribbean?"

Who hasn't?  Two-plus years following Tino's death I accepted a job in Eugene with another point of purchase firm, and the first day fell for the quality control manager.  Our meeting was reminiscent of Gone with the Wind but in reverse, for I was the one waiting at the bottom of the stairs while handsome ‘Cap’, in blue jeans and cowboy boots, sauntered down, smiled knowingly and accepted my outstretched hand.

I couldn’t help myself.  I was impressed he'd been a helicopter pilot in the service, in spite of his fear of heights. I was also jealous, for I'd taken 19-hours of flying lessons in a Cessna 150, but  my lack of depth perception made landing impossible without bouncing down the runway.  The icing on the cake:  Cap had just returned from a hiking expedition in Peru to Machu Picchu; not that I'm a hiker, mind you, but it demonstrated to me his adventurous spirit.  His constant companion was Czar, a beautiful tri-color collie.

Our first date was on a Friday night in April, to a popular Mexican restaurant.  In the lobby I learned Cap was two years my junior, which shocked me for some reason.  I was robbing the cradle, for my previous partners were all older.  We had to wait for a table; then the water; the menu; you know the routine.  We skipped the Margaritas and went straight for our favorites:  bourbon and Coke for me, and rum and orange juice for Cap.  In time, naturally, I had to go, and jumped up just as the Mariachi's approached.

"Wait, wait!" Cap entreated.

I can't, I'm so sorry, over my shoulder.  I apologized again after he explained he'd arranged for a private performance, glumly adding the musician's rendition of El Condor Pasa was very good.  I tried not to laugh at the mental image.

"Why didn't you ask them to come back in 5 minutes?"


After dinner we went to his favorite hangout: a tavern with a pool table, and when he impulsively grabbed and kissed me I was a goner.  What a pushover, I know; but  Cap was the kind of guy everyone liked, with his easy manner, polite disposition and wry sense of humor.  Quite honestly, I felt flattered.

Shooting pool was his passion and he usually won. Cap could be cocky, making trick shots while looking elsewhere and good-naturedly goading his opponents.  I tried my best to play the game for his sake, but again, because of my eyesight, I rarely hit what I aim for.  "Let's go to the tavern," became a date with frustration for me, but I dutifully tagged along like a puppy.

Cap was fairly tight-lipped about his life.  His mother divorced his father at a time when it wasn't generally acceptable, but he was pressuring her to terminate her third pregnancy.  Her next spouse was an abusive man who raised her three sons, and broke her back.  Cap, the middle child, defended his mother and bore the brunt after his elder brother left.  His younger brother learned what not to do and was never beaten, so when Cap became old enough he joined the Army and learned to fly.  His mother eventually found happiness with husband number five.

After the service Cap flew in Alaska for scientists in the furthermost reaches, and he had some interesting souvenirs to accompany his stories: ivory objects carved by Eskimos; the skin from a bear he'd shot; whether legal or not I cannot say.  He flew for oil companies and rode-out more than one hurricane on rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.  Cap wanted to be closer to his frail mother, so he became a Life Flight pilot in the Pacific Northwest.

He met his ex-wife while playing pool, but unlike me she handled a cue stick quite well.  Cap, unable to have children of his own, was thrilled his partner had two daughters, and built them a house in Washington state.  After many years they decided to marry, for the girl's sake more than anything. Shortly thereafter the marriage dissolved, of his wife's choosing. Cap was devastated by the breakup.  He'd been a devoted father and suddenly had no visitation rights.

Cap couldn't, or wouldn't, fly any longer, which I could relate to, following my own experience with Tino. Utterly convinced the wedding ceremony was the kiss of death for his relationship, he vowed never to marry again; but I was convinced that once he discovered how wonderful this city-girl could be away from billiard parlors, he'd change his tune. I like being married.

Cap loved dogs, collies in particular, and Czar was the latest in a succession. Recollections of Cap's life were usually triggered by first identifying which dog he owned at the time. In addition to shooting pool, Cap's best times were with his faithful hounds.  Sometimes it was a double-hitter, as when Cap was jumped by three guys in a parking lot outside of a pool hall, and Ā-Bear jumped out of the open truck window to defend his master.  The fellow whose wounds required medical attention tried to sue Cap, until the nonplussed judge threw the case out of court.  Cap always claimed to have a bulls-eye on his forehead because he'd been attacked quite a few times.  He could definitely handle himself, with or without a dog.

After the divorce Cap moved to Eugene to be closer to his family, but after 2 years of bouncing between jobs he was ready for a real change.  We were getting to know one another during frequent weekend getaways.  I tried to enjoy the great outdoors in his truck-camper, but definitely preferred the splashy resort packages I arranged in the mountains and at the coast.

I must pause here to explain that within a week of starting my new job I knew it was a mistake.  I was back in the same crazy industry, but as a department manager.  It was the perfect example of one of the Peter Principles People are promoted to their level of incompetence.  I'd been a terrific buyer and project manager, but overseeing employees and budget reports?  I raced to the bookstore for Basic Accounting, totally intimidated by the financial officer who resembled the menacing Septa in "Game of Thrones."  I knew they'd discover I was a fake.

I was also troubled to learn that my new boss had just returned to work following one year in a supervised facility.  He'd arrived at work one day stark naked except for his tie, and was summarily carted away and hospitalized.  After Cap gave me his eyewitness account, I kept a raincoat hung on the back of my door, just in case.  I wondered what the pressure would do to me.

During a trip to the races in Portland at the end of June, a spark was struck while dining at a restaurant along the Willamette River.  A small sailboat pulled up to the dock and a couple tied off, then sat down at a nearby table.  We looked at one another.

"Have you ever thought about quitting your job, buying a boat and heading for the Caribbean?"

We each swear we said it; but definitely both of us thought it. The next day we wandered around a marina and began to discuss the possibility of doing just that.  We paused to admire a 50-foot trawler, and the owner invited us on board.  His wife and another couple were inside, and by the sound of it they'd been enjoying Happy Hour for some time. They poured us some wine and shared information, anecdotes and advice until, with wobbly legs, we managed to climb off without falling into the drink.

"So, what do you think?"  Cap sounded serious.

"Do you really think we could?"

There were only two hitches:  our lack of experience and, more importantly, money.

"Sure, it's possible.  We can find a fixer-upper for as little as $5,000."  Cap said it so confidently I believed him, or wanted to.  Dealers tried to point us in the direction of gasoline powered cabin cruisers, but Cap insisted a diesel-engine trawler was the way to cruise down-island.  I didn't have a clue, and left all that to Cap.

We soon discovered the price tags we faced weren't within our budget; not even close.  Sailboats were cheaper but out of the question.  We didn't know the first thing about jibs and booms, nor did we care to learn. We wanted to spend Christmas in the Virgin Islands.  Power boats had to be easier.

Back in Eugene, Cap scoured local ads, marinas and boating magazines. Searching was quite limited in 1997, and our hopes dimmed as his results failed to uncover any trawlers for less than $60,000.  I'd have given up but Cap turned out to be tenacious.  One day he ran into my office waving a grainy advertisement torn from a yachting magazine:  King Tut, a 1971 Tradewinds Trawler, 33-feet and already in Florida, for only $37,000!

Next up: the Auction

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