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The captain’s sunny outlook invites a mocking moniker

2023 January 1

I am an admirer of the late William F. Buckley Jr. 

Buckley was a man of politics, not as a practitioner, but as an acerbic commentator in his magazine and syndicated newspaper columns and on his “Firing Line” TV show. But my admiration has nothing to do with politics, a subject I shun in this magazine because, as we all know, sailing is a much higher calling. I will just observe that in his heyday Buckley was considered a right-wing firebrand, but by today’s standards of toxic political discourse he would come across as a circumspect Republican Rotarian.


It was Buckley’s zest for sailing that made me a fan. He dove into offshore voyaging and racing with infectious brio, undaunted by the challenges of racing to Bermuda or sailing across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, undeterred by the colorful variety of mishaps he encountered along the way. 

And then he wrote about it, most memorably in Airborne, one of his astonishing output of 50 books. Ostensibly about an Atlantic crossing in a rather odd 72-foot schooner named Cyrano in honor of its incredible 18-foot bowsprit, the book wanders with delightful digressions, some recalling other sailing adventures and misadventures, one giving an amazingly lucid explanation of celestial navigation, all accompanied by a brimful of bonhomie for his eclectic corps of crewmates.

I have written about Buckley before in this space. He returns now because of something his son Christopher wrote. Christopher was a young member of the crew that crossed the Atlantic in the 1975 voyage chronicled in Airborne. The father-son relationship that developed in the 30-day voyage—affectionate though sometimes antagonistic, often described with biting though amusing irony—enriches the sailing story.

Forty-seven years later, a story written by Christopher about sailing with his father appeared in the September/October 2022 Boat U.S. house magazine. It is hilarious, while at the same time reminding us of what made Bill Buckley a memorable character in our little world of sailing.

Christopher Buckley, a prolific writer himself, is the author of more than 20 books, most of them written with his tongue stuck in his cheek. Satire is his specialty, and his gift for humorous story telling is prominently displayed in the Boat U.S. piece titled, “My Old Man and the Sea.”

Here is his take on his father’s expertise in docking Cyrano with its prodigious proboscis: “With my father at the wheel, going hell-bent-for-leather toward a pier, that long bowsprit became a jousting piece. What vivid memories I have of people scattering like sheep at our approach! One time, someone actually leapt off the dock into the water in an attempt to escape. Over the years, my father took out entire sections of docks up and down the Eastern seaboard. His crew bestowed on him the nickname ‘Captain Crunch.’”

After I stopped laughing, this got me to thinking about what sailing nickname my son and daughter, both of whom are writers, would come up with for me. 

Each of them has a rich store of experiences sailing with their old man that might be fodder for at least a mildly mocking moniker. The fact that both turned out to be skilled sailors who devote much of their non-working time to using those skills on the water with great enjoyment puzzles me, considering what I put them through on sailboats starting soon after toddling stage. I hope there is a statute of limitations on reporting parental abuse to social service authorities.

In my defense, those were simpler times in the annals of sailing. There was a lot less to think about. When more on whim than a detailed plan, the First Mate and I decided that a week or so of cruising sounded like fun, we just sailed away. No worries about waiting for the perfect weather window. Who knew what one of those looked like? No weather routing to obsess over. It didn’t exist for ordinary sailors. No waypoints to put into the chartplotter. I’d never heard of either one. Off we went, with a little kid, and soon two kids, onboard a 30-foot boat, come what may.

What came were family sailing adventures that were delightful—except when they weren’t. 

So there’s our boat, hard aground in a channel, with a 4-year-old boy standing in the cockpit, bawling his head off, maybe out of terror over the sudden stop and listing of the boat, or maybe out of disapproval of the navigator’s incompetence.

A few years later, the same boy, dragged along on a larger boat with a racing crew for want of a babysitter, is in the cockpit again, this time being held firmly in place under his mother’s foot as another predicament his father got into plays out—a spectacular jibe-gone-bad, spinnaker-in-the-water, boat-on-its-beam-ends broach. No tears this time, but the boy may be wondering why his family couldn’t have more normal bonding experiences like maybe camping beside a placid lake in the woods.

His young sister’s introduction into family sailing came in a couple of cruises marked by conditions that were ideal—ideal for prolonged childhood mal de mer.

So it’s long stays below deck for her, wedged in a berth with a Barbie Doll and a bucket. After some days of this, when the seas finally abate, she emerges from the companionway wearing only a frilly sundress to join crewmates in the cockpit who are clad for a chilly day on the water in multiple thermal layers under foul weather gear. She refuses all entreaties to add anything more than a life vest. We get it. It’s a protest. She’s telling us: Enough is enough, no more buckets and Barbies for me.

As adults, these long-suffering children are sailors through and through, so obviously it all worked out for the best.

Still, I worry about a Buckleyesque Captain Crunchlike nickname. I confess to being vulnerable on one score. I did have a tendency to sugar-coat the sailing experiences the kids were enduring. Don’t worry, I would counsel in a fatherly authoritative voice, this is almost over. See how the waves are getting smaller. Feel how the wind is weakening and veering. Soon we will be reaching on flat water. Maybe we’ll stop for a swim.

I think I heard from time to time a muttered, “Yeah, right, Dad.”

So, will they call me “Captain BS?”