Something had to be wrong.
Why would a sailboat that draws three feet be anchored so close to shore that it would be beached with the retreating tide? Perhaps the skipper planned to move before the ebb or maybe the bottom was in need of repairs.
A skiff was tied off the stern. Someone was aboard.
The light was fading and I figured I would have an answer in the morning.
The bay was calm Monday, the shoreline coated with a green ooze of sea lettuce. The odor of rotten eggs wafted in the windless air. It was before 6, and the air was already thick and oppressive, but I wanted to get out on the water anyway. I carried the oars to the seawall and scanned the horizon.
The boat that had been so close to shore the night before was further offshore, away from the smell of the dead seaweed and the dangers of being aground.
The skiff was gone. Whoever owned the boat must have friends in the neighborhood. And then I spotted the man pulling a boat up on the beach to our north.
“Good morning,” I called over.
He looked up and, even at such a distance, I recognized him.
“Hey John,” he said waving. “It’s Captain Fredy.”
I first met Alfredo Silva several years ago under strikingly similar circumstances. It was a summer morning and I was sculling when I checked out a sailboat that had arrived over night. Tied to the lifelines were a bicycle, water jugs and laundry. As I approached, a head popped up from the companion way and I was soon regaled with a tale that was hard to believe. Captain Fredy said he sailed up from Florida and would spend the summer bouncing around the bay.
I suppose it’s not all that unique to boat-bum around the bay. But it was Fredy’s account of how he got into sailing, and how he ended up in Florida, that was extraordinary. With hardly any boating experience, and a road map (not a chart) of the East Coast, he set off from Rhode Island for Florida in a 20-foot sailboat in 1996. He told me he was hard-pressed for cash but not lacking the spirit of adventure and ingenuity, so he fashioned a sail out of a blue tarp, brought his cat along for company and set sail for Florida.
He battled storms, ran aground too many times to count, and met lots of people along the way. He believed he set a world record for distance using a tarp as a sail and even contacted the Guinness Book of World Records to see if that might be the case. He figures the cards he sent his son along the way would verify his trip, however, Guinness wanted him to file everything online and Fredy doesn’t have a computer or an Internet connection.
Around 2002, Fredy turned up and used my neighbor’s mooring until September. He pedaled to Hoxsie Four Corners to shop at Dave’s and used our hose to fill his water jugs but otherwise pretty much kept to himself. The second summer, he helped paint the house, although he never got much higher than seven feet.
“I don’t do ladders,” he told me.
Then two or three summers passed without sight of him.
Now’s he’s back and I got the short version of the story.
Seems he was more strapped for cash than ever and the yard that had his boat in storage seized it for payment. He believed that was the end of his sailing. He was living in Pawtucket when a friend said he had a boat he wanted to sell. Fredy belived he was in no position to buy until he learned he could have it for a buck.
The boat, a 26-foot Columbia, was in tough shape. She had a hole in her bow and the interior was a disaster. That didn’t bother Fredy. Other friends gave him things and he learned quickly how to fiberglass.
“You know I got pretty good at it. Fixed up the hole. Even did these,” he said tapping his two front teeth. The teeth were very white, but they looked like teeth. He grinned with satisfaction.
He wasn’t happy with Guinness and their demand to file everything on the Internet. He related how the current world record for a boat using a tarp sail was less than 1,000 miles. He had them easily beat.
Then Fredy was off to the market, only this time he didn’t have his bike. He took the bus. By the time I got home Monday night, he was gone and I didn’t expect to see him until next summer. But then he returned Saturday.
We talked Sunday morning and I heard how he had been anchored between Patience and Prudence Islands when a squall hit with such vengeance Friday that Amy’s Dollar – he kept the boat’s original name and added the dollar – was on her side.
“It must have been blowing 80. I thought we were going to capsize,” he said.
The wind and waves lifted the skiff and spun it like a toy before slamming it into a rock. The mainsail was ripped and the boat dragged anchor. When it was all over, in just a matter of minutes, he had lost the oars, gas can and whatever else was in the dinghy. He went to work patching the hole in the dinghy and crafting a paddle from a 2x4 and a scrap of plywood. As the wind was from the south on Saturday, he unfurled the jib and returned to Conimicut.
His Sunday morning jaunt was to get coffee.
“Every sailor has got to have coffee and water,” he said.
That afternoon I paid him a visit. I brought along a couple of spare oars, an anchor and what could work as a sail cover.
Fredy had a baby guitar in his lap and was listening to the game on his radio.
“These are tougher to play than learning to sail,” he said, plucking a few strings. He welcomed me aboard. It was shipshape.
“Night lights,” he said pointing to six solar powered LEDs hanging from lines. “Got ’em at the Dollar Store for a buck each.”
A sleeping bag was rolled out on the starboard berth. Cans of food were stowed above the galley that consisted of a butane burner. Nothing fancy.
Fredy does a lot of fishing.
The boat is a dazzling white with a wide, light blue stripe running down her sides. Narrower red and darker blue stripes are just about the waterline.
“Rustoleum,” he said proudly as I admired the work. An American flag flew from the shrouds.
“You know how many boats don’t fly the flag?”
I learned a little more about Fredy, how he had served in three branches of the service – Army, Air National Guard and the Navy Reserve. He’s been told, he said, that could be another record.
Most compelling is his philosophy about sailing. He waits for favorable winds and tides and sets off.
“I love being out there sailing with those guys and their million dollar boats,” he says with a laugh, “and this was a buck.”
Letting the tides and wind carry him has worked, although there have been some harrowing experiences. His encounter with the rocks off the southern tip of Hog Island as Hurricane Irene ran up the eastern seaboard last year is a whole other story.
Fredy told me he came to this country from Portugal when he was 7 from Vila Nova de Gaia, the same town where 15th Century world explorer Ferdinand Magellan was born.
“You know he could be a great, great uncle,” Captain Fredy speculates.
Maybe there’s something to Fredy’s speculation that wanderlust is in his genes.