Captain Wolter Asks JFK To Lend a Hand
It was on just such a beautiful spring day that Virgil arose to say, "Eheu! I think today I shall write 'The Aeneid!' " Today, I propose to write about the Watson boys. In a recent outburst, I told of my extreme popularity in Paris and I dropped the name of our United States ambassador there, Arthur Watson. I had his name wrong, I was immediately told. He was Dick Watson. Arthur was indeed his name, but he was known as Dick and was the only Dick I ever knew whose name was not Richard.
Dick and his brother Tom were IBM and they slummed around Maine a good deal. They enjoyed the beautiful yacht Palawan, which was skippered by a Hamburger named Paul Wolter. Myself and a few other intellectuals pronounced it "Voltaire" until Paul asked us to stop. As skipper of the Palawan, Paul had taken her around the world numerous times and once up the river to Bangor. The Palawan was owned by IBM. It became the custom for Tom to use the yacht now and Dick to use it again, and for Paul to do the sailing for both. Also (partly for company purposes), Dick was Republican and Tom was Democrat, a difference that led to Dick's being ambassador in Paris and Tom's being ambassador in Moscow. Paul sort of stood between and outranked them because he belonged to the Hamburg Pilots' Association. Paul had become our good and dear friend, and through him we got to know Tom and Dick Watson.
Times have changed. The Palawan sailed into the sunset, Dick and Tom with her. Paul and his gndige Frau Barbara live in retirement at Camden, Maine, and winter aboard their stinkpot Economy at Man o' War Cay at Abaco, the Bahamas. As I write, they are moving north for the summer.
Should you sight them as they pass, you will find the Economy to be a well-built craft, and may smell some of the savory foods Paul concocts. He built the Economy, and I built the hail-board on her stern that says:
You now will appreciate that on alternate weekends, Paul would have a boatload of Democrats out for a sail, and again would have a boatload of Republicans, demeaning himself accordingly and maintaining the strictest indifference and neutrality. Loyalty to IBM came first. Paul prospered and was content, and the only thing he feared was my 20-foot canoe. By Paul's standards, I was never to be other than a highlander, a seaman only for feeding ducks on the Alster. He would always give me a maritime hand as I started down a flight of stairs.
It surprised me, when we were with him on the Palawan for a Sunday sail and a lobscouse, that he asked me to take the wheel and bring the beautiful yacht out of Castine Harbor. I did, without incident, and on a generous impulse suggested obliquely that perhaps the Palawan's compass needed adjusting. (Paul is also a compass adjuster.)
Some years ago, now, it was Tom Watson's turn to have the Palawan. Paul laid in the required supplies, welcomed the guests at dockside, and showed them to accommodations. All was ready to get under way. As Paul was completely concerned with the conduct of affairs (as usual), he had paid no attention to who the guests were. Fact is, he never did give that any attention other than his official welcome aboard. In spite of IBM's presence, the captain of a boat is always the CEO aboard, and don't you ever forget it. As well as I know Paul, I would never step on his deck without first asking permission to come aboard.
So Paul was unaware that the party included the president of the United States of America, one John F. Kennedy of Washington, D.C., and Hyannisport, Mass. Paul was nearly two days at sea before this information was brought to his attention. The voyage was pleasant, with favorable weather, and all went well.
THEN, with Captain Wolter at the Palawan's wheel, a certain harbor was approached. As the Palawan moved along slowly, Paul now and then gave orders to his two deckhands. He did so in a soft but clearly articulated tone that demanded instant response or else, for Paul runs a tight ship. And it so happened that President Kennedy, who fancied himself something of a yachtsman because of his Hyannisport connections, arose from the stern sheets and stepped forward to assist with the lines. Captain Wolter interrupted this kindness. In the same small but authoritative voice he had used with the deckhands, he now said to the president of the United States, "I did not ask you to handle that line."
A president is never quoted directly, so all I can tell you is that Kennedy said he was only hoping to help. Paul said, "I will tell you when I want you to touch that line."
And it was 10 or 15 minutes later that Captain Wolter said, "And now, sir, if you will be so good?"
There was that day that Captain Paul asked the president to lend a hand, and there was that day at Castine when he let me take the Palawan's wheel. Thar she blows and where away? Paul and Barbara are well on their way north now, I'd guess about Norfolk, Va. As soon as they open their house for the summer, they'll come by to say hello. I know all about bringing the Palawan out of Castine Harbor, but I know about the Kennedy thing by hearsay.
I'll ask Captain Paul if it ever happened. After, of course, we sing our song of greeting, a rowdy but appropriate ditty that begins, "In Hamburg, Saint Pauli...."