Chapter 1: My First Boat
Hello, I’m Captain Cappy. My grandson Ned told me I should jot some notes down about my life on this beautiful island of Martha’s Vineyard. To me, it’s no big deal , but Ned loves the stories of my childhood. I’m in my 90s, and I’ve been a fisherman all my life. My dad named me Cappy the day I was born. He was a whaling man, and oh the stories he told about his life on the sea.
Anyhow, my mom was in labor with me on the kitchen table at our house in the bluff with her midwife. From what I’ve been told, I was holding up the fishing. Dad and the crew were waiting for me to be born before they went out to sea in the quest for whales. After I was born, my dad came in as I was being slapped on the butt to make my first cries. He looked at me and said, “That little man can fit in my cap. I name him Cappy.” He kissed Mom and off he went to get whales. That was 98 years ago. And that’s how I was named.
The island population was around 500 people back then, and it was so peaceful in one way and very demanding in others. I called it island life and the way of the sea . The sea can turn at any time and make life on the island very trying.
I’ll never forget the day I was standing next to the lighthouse in the bluff. I was 10 years old, I was looking down at the sails of the ships leaving the harbor. They were headed out whaling. It was a very calm morning. The sea was flat, with very little wind for the sails. We had just gone through a four-day storm. My God, how Mother Nature changes from one extreme to the next. As I stood on the cliff, I looked down and saw the wreckage of a very old boat . It must have washed up onto shore in the storm. Oh, what a sight. I had to investigate this wreckage.
I climbed down the cliff to the little old boat. It was a mess. It was all beat up from the storm. I remember wondering how it didn’t sink to the ocean floor. Or was it on the ocean floor and then brought to me as a gift from the great Atlantic? There were floorboards missing and parts of the bow and stern all broken away. There where barnacles all over her. There was some writing on the bow of the old boat. Very carefully, I broke off the barnacles from the wood and saw her name. It said Salty. Her name was Salty. I sat on the beach next to her and thought to myself as I looked out at the ocean, “This is my gift from the storm.” I shouted, “THANK YOU!”
But looking at Salty, I knew I had my work cut out fixing her up, and I had to get her up on shore away from the tide. I started digging her out of the sand with a big seashell. Salty was very heavy. She was 16-feet long and very wide. I worked very hard putting round driftwood under her so I could push her to safety from the high tide. I had my work cut out for me. For three weeks, I made new planks for her at the house in the bluff and carted then down to her. I used my dad’s old hand tools to fix her up.
I remember my mom asking me what I was up to, and I told her about my find. When I told Mom that the boats name was Salty, her eyes lit up. She said, “Oh my God! That’s Captain Ben’s old boat.” She told me that I needed to tell Captain Ben that I found his old boat. Now, I wasn’t very happy about this at all. All I could think was that I just lost my boat. Captain Ben was a very old man — and very mean. He was a retired sea captain and a loaner. He lived by himself at the other end of the bluff. I remember looking across the lagoon at his house. Mom told me that I needed to tell him of my find today. So off I went walking the shore of the lagoon to his old falling-down house. I think it was the longest walk of my childhood. And all I could think was that he was a mean old man.
As I arrived at his house, I could smell the smoke of a fire from his barn. I went to the door of the barn and saw the old man sitting next to a still. He was making peach moonshine. He looked over at me at the door and told me to bring him some firewood from the pile. I was shaking with fear. First of all, this was a very old, mean man, and everybody talked about him. And second of all, I had to give him his boat back. I brought him an armful of firewood and set it next to the still. He looked at me and, with his raspy voice, asked, “What’s on your mind young Cappy?” I shuddered with fear. I didn’t know what to say. “WELL! What on your MIND?” he shouted. I looked right at him and shouted, “I FOUND YOUR BOAT.” There was dead silence for a minute, which seemed like an hour . Then the old captain said, “What? What do you mean you found my boat? I don’t have any more boats.” I shouted, “SALTY. I found Salty.” The captain’s face was puzzled. “Salty,” he said, “how did you hear about Salty? That boat was lost at sea a good 15 years ago. What are you talking about?” The captain was baffled.
I told him my story of how I found Salty. And I told him that Mom told me that the boat belongs to him. Captain Ben sat back in his chair for a few minutes and then asked me what kind of shape she’s in. I told him that I’ve been working on her for a few weeks, and she needs a rudder and a sail. She is just about seaworthy again. He smiled at me. I’d never seen this old, mean man smile. He looked at me and said, “I can’t believe this. Salty has come home. OH MY GOD.
Young Cappy, I have a rudder and a sail that fits Salty. They are up in the loft of the barn. You take them to her and get her ready for sea. When she is ready, you come get me. I want to sail her back into harbor.” I’ll never forget the smile in the old man’s eyes. Now I, on the other hand, was not very happy. I just lost my boat that I found and worked very hard to get seaworthy. But I remember thinking that I had done the right thing.
For the next three days, I worked on the mast and sail, then the rudder. Salty was ready and it was time to get Captain Ben to his old boat. I just sat in the sand next to her, dreaming about taking her out to sea, but knowing it would never happen because she belongs to Captain Ben. The timing was just right for getting Salty ready for sea. Because of the new moon, the tide will be at its highest in the morning at around 6 o’clock, and then will be the best chance at launching her. I went to tell Captain Ben that’s she is ready for sail in the morning, and we agreed to meet at the bluffs lighthouse at first light. I had no idea how the old captain was going to get down that cliff to the boat. I did all I could do to climb the cliff myself.
I tossed and turned all night. It was the longest night of my life. All I could think about was the old mean captain getting into my boat and sailing off into the sunrise. Well, morning came slowly, but the sun was starting to rise and off I went running to the lighthouse. It was a big day on the island. Not only was Salty ready for sea, but the whalers were due back into harbor. And Dad would be home. They had been out fishing for 30 days. I arrived at the lighthouse, but the captain wasn’t there. He was nowhere in sight. I looked down the cliff at Salty, and there he was, standing next to his boat. How in the world did he get down that cliff? He was there long before me. I climbed down to him, and he was a very happy old man standing there next to his old friend Salty. He shouted, “COME ON! The tide is high, let’s launch her.”
The tidewater was at its highest, and Salty had water under her. We pushed and pushed. Then she started to float. “Push us out from the bow, Cappy,” the captain yelled, “And get in.” I pusher her out until I was waist deep in the water, then climbed in. “Hurry, get the sail up,” he yelled. Oh, what a felling it was. All that hard work had paid off. We were sailing Salty. The water started coming up through the deck boards and through the side seams. I looked at the captain and shouted, “We are going to sink!” He had a great big smile on his face. “Oh, no we are not,” he shouted. He looked at me and explained that as soon as the boards are soaked with the taste of saltwater, they will expand and seal themselves. “That’s where she gets her name!” he shouted.
We headed out to sea, and sure enough about an hour later, the leaks stopped. I bailed the water out with a wooden bucket. We had sailed out to a point where we could just see the island of Martha’s Vineyard. It was awesome. Then Captain Ben yelled as he pointed to the horizon, “SHIPS AHOY.” It was our whaler fleet coming home . They were headed to Edgartown harbor with the whales. “Let’s meet them at the harbor, young Cappy!” the captain yelled. He was in his glory, and I felt great that I connected him with his sailboat Salty. They where like old family that had come together after being separated for years.
The winds were slow as we pointed the bow toward the point of Edgartown harbor, and I could see the whalers getting closer to the island. I couldn’t wait to see my father. He had been out to sea for a long time. I couldn’t stop thinking about telling him my story of the boat named Salty. Then out of nowhere, a 10-foot wave white capped the bow of salty. The bow went down, and the sea came splashing in. Captain Ben yelled, “Hang on, young Cappy,” as he gripped the rudder and turned with the wave. This wave came from out of no here. It just about swallowed us up. “Bail her out, me boy,” the captain yelled. “BAIL HER OUT! This is what you have to watch out for out here, Cappy. These waves can eat us up. These hands of sea can come from anywhere out here, and you must learn how to read them. They will take you to her bottom if you’re not alert. And that was nothing. You should have seen the hands of sea that swallowed Salty up when I lost her years ago. Now that was a storm. That was a storm!”
Then Captain Ben went silent. It was quiet for about five minutes or so, but it felt like a hour. I then asked Captain how the sea had swallowed Salty. I’d been wanting to ask him this for quite a while, and I was thinking this was time. As Captain Ben looked out into the horizon he replied, “Now that was a storm of a lifetime. That was the storm that put me to grips’ edge. I was delivering my bounty to my secret spot.” Then he looked right at me and said, “There is a bounty hiding in there. Believe me as I say. There’s bounty a plenty. Sixty years of bounty.” And he smiled. “It’s been over 10 year since I’ve seen the bounty .Maybe someday, you’ll see it.” I had no idea what he was talking about.
“Anyhow, I was rounding the south end of Nomans Island, and it was storming out. The waves at the south point were 35- to 40-footers, and Salty was getting blown right into them. It was raining the hardest I’ve ever seen, and the winds were 50 mile per hour. I was coming back in from the deep sea when the storm came in, and it came from nowhere, taking me by surprise. I knew Salty would not have a chance of making Martha’s shores, so I headed her into Nomans Island. I tried to get her around the south point where the winds were smoother, but we were sucked into the point. The waves were going right over us. I couldn’t see anything but water. It seemed that the waves were walls all around us. Then out of nowhere, a huge wave that looked like a mighty fist came bashing down on the bow, flipping Salty over and throwing me into the soul of the storm. I fought for my life in that storm; it was the hardest swim I’d ever done. I couldn’t see anything but water. The next thing I felt was land under my body. The waves tossed me onto Nomans Island. I crawled up the beach to the rocks and watched that storm for two days till it passed. As it passed, the sea laid flat, the winds turned to a silent breeze and the sun came up over the horizon. It was like going from being in the middle of lions fighting to standing in a field of flowers. Funny how Mother Nature works, isn’t it?”
As Captain Ben held on to the seat of Salty, he looked right at me and said, “You’ve done a fine job bringing Salty back to float, young Cappy. A fine job.” At this time, we were entering Edgartown harbor. The fleet of whaling ships were pulling into the docks. I could see my father and his crew. They looked very tired; they had been out for 30 days. My dad was in charge of the fleet. It was said that he was the best captain on the East Coast. He was called Captain Red. I think it was because of his big red beard. Dad’s name was Mike. But everyone knew him as Captain Red. I later found out years later that my dad was Captain Ben’s shipmate. Captain Ben trained my dad to be one of the best captains on the East Coast.
We pulled up to the dock next to Dad’s ship, and he threw us a rope. He looked at Captain Ben and me with a shocked and puzzled look on his red-bearded face. Then he shouted, “It’s Salty!” Before Dad could say another word, Captain Ben shouted up to him on the dock, “AYEEEE! It’s Salty! From the great storm that took her away to the great storm that returned her to young Cappy. She belongs to young Cappy now. The hand of the sea has given a gift to your son.”
I was in shock. This mean, old man just gave me his boat. I jumped on his lap and shouted, “Salty is mine?” Captain Ben said, “Yes, she is, young Cappy. Yes, she is.”
Captain Ben looked my dad in the eye and said, “With Captain Red’s permission, I’ll make a seagoing captain of you, young Cappy. I’ll make a captain out of you that your father will be proud of. My dad looked at Captain Ben and replied, “It will be a honor.” Then Dad yelled, “Whales ashore, there’s much to be thankful for. The crew started scurrying to get the whales to market. Captain Ben looked at me and said, “Meet me at my barn at first light. There’s traps to build and crawls to trap. I had no idea what he was talking about but replied. “I’ll be there at sunup.”