While I have never met him personally, we share roots in Chicago and a background in theater, and I have read and enjoyed many of his touching/funny/witty stories. He is humble, funny, kind and clearly loves the heck out of life (and his beautiful wife, Carolyn). His smile is genuine. His stories are colorful and entertaining. His travels impressive. It is truly my honor to share with you our online interview so that you can get to know this incredible man, this living cruising legend (and one of my idols), a little bit better. I hope you find it as inspiring and enjoyable as I did!
I was an actor as a teenager, and the guys on the corner in Chicago used to joke that 'I was FAT,' as in lucky. (If you rob a bank and don't get caught, you are even Fat City! ) This isn't new... Think of the Fat Buddha that the starving Chinese adored. But at 15 I purchased my own sailboat, Corina, and the guys were blown away. "He's Capt Fat now!" said one as I walked by. This rapidly turned into Cap'n Fatty, which everyone calls me - wife, mother, and child included. For years, I wrote for SAIL mag under my real name of Gary. But I wanted to write some funnier, truer, grittier stuff, and used Cap'n Fatty. Honesty always resonates with the reader. At SAIL, I started out pretending to be something I am not. I learned an important lesson. You can be okay pretending, but only great being honest.
2) You are a living legend and an inspiration to so many boaters all over the world. How does this pseudo celebrity status make you feel?
Mostly great! I'm honored to earn my living with my pen. The readers are the people that ultimately sign my paycheck. I am grateful. And I feel each of the fans I meet deserve a moment of civility. I try to make each one feel special for a moment or two.
3) Born to "penniless sea gypsies" you say you were "blessed" to have grown up almost exclusively on sailboats. Did you always feel this way or was there a time you felt like you were missing out on land life and longed for normalcy? Or were you always aware that your lifestyle was a gift?
I was born an outsider. We were misfits. We were broke. My father wore a skirt (pareo). We bowed to no god. The dreaded do-gooders even got court orders a few times to take me away from my loving family... It was a GREAT way to grow up.
The only thing better than being a boat kid was raising [daughter] Roma Orion aboard! (Yes, we've already sailed many a mile with Sokù Orion, our wonderful granddaughter.)
4) If you had to pick one place you've been to stop cruising and settle down, where would that be and why?
If I had to settle in an English-speaking place, that would be New Zealand. Luckily, I don't! When our health fails, we will retire to SE Asia. Or St. John, USVI, the nicest place under the American flag.
5) You are a prolific writer (at one point sold over 200 articles a year for 10 years!) and seem to have articles in a sailing publication (sometimes more than one) every single month. How much time do you spend writing and how do you maintain a work/life balance? Does Carolyn ever begrudge all the time you spend in front of a computer?
No, Carolyn never does, as she likes to eat as much as I do. Basically, I write four hours a day, from 8 to 12, minimum... and have done so for over 30 years. Each day, I am VERY excited to get to work. I do not really care about educating my readers; I want to emotionally touch them, make 'em laugh or cry. I believe I have written between 18 to 50 good pages in my life. I hope to write a few more before I die.
6) Speaking of Carolyn, behind every great man is a great woman and it is no secret how much you love and adore each other. You met and fell in love so young and seem to have a charmed relationship, what is the secret to your obvious happiness?
I do not know. She is very passionate, very smart, and very hardworking. We occasionally argue, etc, but we have always been there for each other since the age of 16. I can be a selfish little prick at times and we've been dead-broke for years at a stretch... chalking it all up to penis size seems simplistic. (Poor Carolyn has a permanent dent on her forehead from slapping herself and moaning, "I can't believe you said that!")
7) Full-time live aboard cruising can be very challenging, and you are no stranger to the sometimes frustrating combination of project boat and low funds. How, after over 50 years of living aboard, do you keep it fresh and not get "burned out?"
I really like to sail, and Carolyn really likes to travel. We sail really hard for a couple of years (last year we sailed 10,000 miles and repowered) and then 'chill' with some coastal gunkholing for awhile. My boat is my everything: job, sport, love, passion, home, office, profession... I am still very turned on to living aboard, and feel that after 54 years... I am starting to get the hang of it!
8) You've owned a bunch of boats and sailed a lot of miles on all of them. When outfitting a boat for a voyage what are your top five pieces of equipment that you wouldn't head offshore without (aside from obvious things like sails, water and, of course, Carolyn)?
I have a well deserved reputation for being cheap—but it is really VALUE which I seek, not price. The piece of gear I love most is my Monitor windvane. It is just about the only 'must have' piece of metal aboard. The AIS is a wonderful advance. I believe in Max props. Harken makes a wonderful roller furler. I prefer a tiller. Solar cells sure are swell. I grew up on a wooden boat with cotton sails and hemp anchor rodes and a sextant and a coal shuttle and kerosene running lights... so, yeah, I have seen a lot of changes.
9) I have a feeling you are not a 'regret' guy, but what is the biggest mistake you have ever made at sea or while cruising?
I dunno. I've swam away from two vessels, so you'd think I'd have some! But most of my major mistakes are shoreside. (Pauses. Thinks) Mostly, I regret not doing stuff. Sitting on your butt is boring. Fortune favors the brave.
10) Are you shocked by how your life has turned out, or has the Universe conspired exactly how you thought it would? Are you ever surprised or impressed by all your accomplishments?
I'm happy. My boat is my magic carpet, my freedom machine. So I knew I'd sail. But I only went to school for five years.... 3 grammar, 2 high... and thus was worried I could not be writer. Luckily, I rapidly learned that good writing has little to do with intelligence and almost nothing to do [with] modern education. It's just transparency of personality on the printed page, that's all. It just takes a little grit. And I've got plenty of that.
Want more FAT?
First, Check out Cap'n Fatty's Facebook Page and Website and then buy his books, they are sure to give you a good laugh, a healthy dose of gypsy-tinged inspiration and maybe even tug at your heartstrings a little. He is an expert story teller and his passion for life and living it to the fullest is infectious...
Books by Fatty:
- Chasing The Horizon: The Life And Times Of A Modern Sea Gypsy
- Buy, Outfit, Sail: How To Inexpensively and Safely Buy, Outfit, and Sail a Small Vessel Around the World
- Collected Fat
- Red Sea Run: Two Sailors in a Sea of Trouble
- Cruising World Yarns
- All At Sea Yarns: The All At Sea Stories
- Somali Pirates and Cruising Sailors
- Seadogs, Clowns, and Gypsies