“You dirt ball, get your hands out of your pockets and help your ship mate out over there. You’re about as useful as teats on a bull!” Those were the first words that cap spoke directly to me as a freshman during my first day aboard the TABOR BOY. Those were ego shattering words spoken from an adult to a young boy of 15. While helping my new shipmates hauling in the mighty outer jib on a blustery fall day, all I could think of was, “oh crap, I guess I better find another fall sport because this guy hates me.” Two minutes later, I heard him say to my friend at the helm, “Are you trying to spell your name in the wake? Why don’t you go back and cross the ‘t’ and dot the ‘i’?” To the young navigator, “You couldn’t navigate two terds in a piss pot with two sticks to help you.” And to the young cook, “Cookie, I want coffeeeeee!” Then I realized that I was in good company and it wasn’t just me. We were just dealing with miserable old man that hated kids. Over the next many years, I would learn that my first impression couldn’t have been more wrong.
You see, Cap devoted the second half of his life to not only making mariners of many (several hundred) young men and women but also filling their “sea bags” with what they needed to be prepared for life. His method was similar to the military, first strip the man down of arrogance and ego then slowly build him up with pride, responsibility, and most importantly confidence. The TABOR BOY was the perfect tool to help him with this task.
Cap had a remarkable background for this position. He attended the United States Maritime Academy at Kings Point, New York and graduated at the end of World War II. This was a very demanding era for the Merchant Marine Service as many ships and men were lost during the war. Attrition was high and Cap advanced quickly. At the age of 26, he had his first command of a freighter, sailing the New York to Africa run. If you have never sailed on a merchant ship, you have to imagine the responsibilities of a captain: manage three departments (deck, engine and galley), ensure the safety of the crew (and keep the crazy one from killing the others), ensure the cargo remains undamaged, maintain the ship, manage all ship’s business with the port of call, act as the ship's doctor, and administer penicillin to the more promiscuous crew members after that port of call. Cap managed all these responsibilities very capably, but the runs were arduous and the only time he had with his young family was while his ship was in New York Harbor unloading and reloading cargo. A few New York harbor businesses such as tug companies offered him jobs but fortunately for me and many other young men, fait led him to Tabor Academy and the TABOR BOY. During my time at Tabor, he successfully passed the Coast Guard examination for his Master Mariner license which is the full meal deal, permitting him to be captain of motor, steam, and sail vessel of any tonnage. Simply stated, he could sail as captain aboard any vessel afloat. At that time, there was only a hand full of captains with this license. I can’t imagine that there are very many of these licenses around now.
Cap had very high expectations and demanded your best performance and didn’t accept less. Through my time aboard the TABOR BOY, I learned to expect the same from myself and to become more focused, attentive, and intelligent with my work. It was the real world on the TABOR BOY. You could not make mistakes. A mistake might cost you a finger, a limb, or even worse a life. I also learned that it was equally important to look after my shipmates and help them when needed.
After graduating from Tabor, Cap continued to be my mentor. I would call him at least once a month from Maine Maritime Academy to tell him how my studies were going and to ask for advice on what major I should choose and what shipping company I should sail for as a cadet. I had the privilege again to sail with Cap after college but this time as a colleague. Time didn’t change much and he still let me know when I didn’t perform a task to perfection, but I loved every minute of it.
His mentoring didn’t end there. After ten years of sailing aboard commercial and research ships I was getting the itch to find a shore side job. He scolded me and told me that I couldn’t stop shipping until I sat for the top Coast Guard engineering license; it would be like quitting college at the end of my sophomore year. So I sailed for seven more years until the day that I called him to tell him that I passed the engineering exams and had the license in my hand, the Chief Unlimited Horse Power and Unlimited Tonnage License. “Well that’s great mate but now you have to sail on it as chief.” Damn Cap, don’t you ever let up? So, I went back out and sailed as chief for a few times on NOAA’s (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) flag ship and continue to sail on new construction as the commissioning chief engineer. Thanks to him, I feel good about my accomplishments but know that I have to continue on with my best effort.
Cap died just a few years back but I can honestly say that he is still my mentor and I know that he still expects my best performance each day and on each ship I serve aboard. I miss you Cap; sail on ship mate!
By the way, my friend at the helm that was scolded for spelling his name in the wake became the #1 pilot of the Blue Angles. I guess he learned how to steer!