Childhood Dreams of Ink and the Sea

Capt. John Clark when he was five years old took an overnight ferry to his grandparents’ home on the island of Jersey for the holidays. He remembers standing by the rail, looking out at the sea and thinking,”This would be a pretty good way to make a living.” Twenty-three years later he was the captain of a ferry operating out of Southampton, and today he is captain of Wind Spirit, a motor sailing ship carrying 148 passengers on cruises in the Caribbean and the Greek islands. I interviewed him yesterday on the ship for a feature scheduled to appear in next week’s St. John Tradewinds.

It’s been a good 20 years since I have done any serious reporting, but it all came back to me pretty quickly, especially with the help of new technology. This morning at the Cruz Bay Library I listened to the digital recordings I’d made with my Pentax Optio camera, playing the SD card on my Vaio and listening with Bose headphones. Everything was perfectly clear, and once I learned the keyboard shortcuts for pause and rewind, the transcribing went fairly smoothly. It’s still a lot of work to put together a decent feature article, and it also came back to me that transcription is damned boring work. But by tomorrow I should have a chance at the fun part, drafting the story.

I remember, too, how I always felt such a responsibilty when I wrote about someone like Capt. John Clark for The Woonsocket (R.I.) Call, The Providence Journal-Bulletin, or the Casper Star-Tribune’s energy magazine. Here was another fellow answering my probing questions with honesty and trust, not having a clue what sort of spin I would put on his life. One of the most intriguing comments he made illustrated his lifelong distaste for the nautical stuffiness one finds in the Royal Navy or on big cruise ships. His real love is cargo ships, where you can let your hair down without always being on display for passengers, and you have the puzzle of figuring out how to pack all the cargo so the sweating timber doesn’t ruin the coffee. He said he likes the philosophy of Windstar, which operates Wind Spirit, because there’s no formal attire and a minimum of pretense. Even so, he said, he sometimes wishes he were on a cargo ship and had a chance to roll around in some grease. Great quote. Do I use it? I’m not sure yet. It’s probably not the sort of sentiment his corporate bosses would appreciate. My overall goal is to write about Capt. Clark in such a way that he will find himself saying, “Yes, that’s it. Blimey, the fellow got it exactly right.”

When I was about eight years old, I had my first reporting job. I called up neighbors in Wayland, Massachusetts, and asked if they had any news for The Claypit Flyer, my weekly newspaper that sold for two cents a copy and was published on a bittersweet-smelling Hectograph, a bed of jelly that received the purple stain of the master copy and transferred fainter versions of purple to the copies. I loved writing out the stories and seeing the new edition arrive, and delivering them on my English bicycle was fun, because everyone was so glad to get their copies, and very often I received cookes as tips. And so here I am, nearly fifty years later, delighted to be interviewing the captain of a ship who dreamed he would be a captain when he was a boy, and what’s more, preparing a blog entry which in a few minutes will zoom onto my laptop screen with a photo, viewable anywhere on the planet.

Readers, what were you dreaming about when you were under 10 years old? And are you doing it now?

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