Retiring before 30

“I don’t know, Paul,” I said in an uneasy tone as I sat on the couch of the big-time yacht broker who’d set up most of my boat delivery jobs. “I need to draw the line and quit this business before I’m 30. “I’m not getting any younger.”

Even at 29, I was feeling time’s winged chariot at my back. Was I going to be a boat bum for my whole life? Wasn’t it time to grow up, stop delivering boats, and get a “real job”? Plus, I had this girlfriend.

“Just this one more job, Dave. This is a plum one. I promise,” he said, leaning back in his chair.

I smirked: “You always say that, Paul. You said that regarding that Hood 50 yawl delivery from Duluth to Palm Beach. Hell, when I took it I didn’t even know how you got from Duluth to Palm Beach by water.”
“Well, you figured it out, didn’t you.”

“Yeah, thirty-eight days later, while working on a flat-fee basis,” I said. “You didn’t tell me about all the locks in the Erie Canal, and about having to pull her masts on the east end of Lake Erie in order to transit the thing.”

I thought back a bit: “And what about that couple with the floating Winnebago impersonating as a sailboat? The one I tried to deliver from Rhode Island down to Norfolk late in the year. Almost drowned on that one. No, Paul, I’m done. Plus there’s this girl, now. If I did do another, she’d have to be part of the deal.”

“No problem with the girlfriend coming along, Dave. Besides, this is a captain job, not a delivery gig, and on a 58-foot very high-end ketch, currently lying in Bermuda. The owner wants to actually use the boat – here, there and everywhere – and he and his wife want to fly to join it at various points. Piece-of-cake. No hanging around for you week after week in some sterile marina. This would be exploration. Seeing the world. And with the girlfriend with you. So put off your retirement until 30, old-timer.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Let me think on it.” I got up from the couch.

“Money’s not the issue with this guy either,” Paul had said as I began to leave his office. “I sold him this yacht. He’s wicked rich. He’ll send me the tickets to fly you down to his house in Greenwich, where you’ll spend the weekend.”

“Why do I have to do that?”

“Well, you’re the final interview of three.”

“I thought I had the job? And I’m last in line? What happened to the others?”

“Don’t know. Something to do with the wife. Look, Dave, he loves your resume, but his wife insists she meet you first. Pure formality. You’re invited to spend the night at his house and he’ll take you back to the airport in the morning. He’ll be picking you up at the gate at LaGuardia. He’s easy to spot – distinguished-looking, charming, with a full head of white hair. He’ll be in a green BMW convertible.”

And that’s what happened. The owner and I chatted about his boat all the way to his home, with him asking probing questions to determine my level of knowledge. Twilight yielded to darkness as we crossed into Greenwich, and we headed up a quiet, winding road with antique gas-lit streetlights.

“The streets in Greenwich are pretty charming,” I said as we slowly wound along the road.

“This is actually my driveway,” the man said.

“Wicked rich” indeed, I thought.

I spent Saturday and Saturday night getting to know the owner and his wife, answering more knowledge-probing questions such as “what type of EPIRB would you recommend” and “what is the man-overboard procedure you prefer.” Good questions. All went well with the man’s wife, too, until the next morning. That’s when I brought up the subject of my girlfriend.

“Paul the broker said it would be okay if my girlfriend came along,” I said. Then I thought I’d sweeten the pot: “It would be a real bonus, as she’s a nurse and a fabulous cook.”

“Sorry, no ladies on board,” the wife replied with conviction. “We had a problem a while back.”

“Gee, I really need my girlfriend along,” I said.

“And I need my husband,” she said, standing up and reaching out to shake my hand. She looked at me, as if I were a little dog that just didn’t get it, and started to head out of the room. Then she turned at the door and gave me a knowing smile.

“My husband will need your girlfriend, too,” she said. “So that’s the problem. I’m doing us both a favor.”

So that’s how I retired from the boat business.

Before age 30.

And the girlfriend didn’t last long, regardless.

Ropers new novel, “Rounding the Bend: The Life and Times of Big Red,” will be published by Points East in May.

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