A few years ago, we needed help. We needed another catamaran captain. For weeks it seemed the word was out, and finally, on one bright sunny morning, I was told: “There’s an applicant for the captain’s job waiting at Rose Marina. The person for the interview is waiting in the ships store. The name on the application is Jesse Baughman.”
When I arrived at the marina, I had no idea the next hour and the next few years would be an exercise in comedy, some of the best seamanship ever, and enough innovative inspiration and friendship to reinvent a lifestyle.
When I walked into the ships store, I began looking for someone who would fit the description of a sailboat captain. At first, I was imagining an old salty dog with grey hair and a beard, and for footwear, weatherworn topsiders spattered with paint.
With no traditional old salts milling about the store, I began to consider another image. Perhaps the new applicant would be different and a younger version of a mariner with a captain’s license? Perhaps a young man looking at a phone and liking someone on Facebook? I could not have been more wrong.
When Jesse saw me looking around for something I could not find, she approached with a smile and then a laugh that has never failed to be contagious. “I think you are looking for me,” she said. “I’m Jesse Baughman.”
Standing before me was not what I had been expecting. Here was a young woman in her mid-twenties wearing a colorful sundress with perfect hair, makeup, and earrings, and she was standing at eye–level because of her high heels.
“So, you’re the Jesse that wants to be a catamaran captain?” I said to cover my surprise, and my conclusion that however pleasant and attractive this person was, she was not what we were looking for in a sailboat captain.
“That’s me,” she said with a laugh.
“You have a captain’s license?” was the classic first question.
“Yes,” she responded. “Yes, I do.”
With that answer, a few items seemed to fall into place, but I quickly considered she must not understand what this job is about, and I should try to discourage her.
“Do you know how to sail?” was my next question that I mistakenly thought would lead to the end of the interview.
“No,” she said, “I don’t know how to sail, but that won’t be a problem for me. I understand the wind and the waves. Trust me, sailing for me, will not be a problem.”
After this previously unheard-of-answer, I was certain the interview was all but over.
In the past, we hired captains we had to teach, but this took time and patience, and I could not imagine this young woman in a sundress and high heels wrangling a sailing catamaran on a windy day. At this point, I decided more discouragement was needed.
“This job can be hard.” I was watching for a reaction or perhaps a storm cloud to cover the sunny disposition. “It can be an 11-hour day,” I explained. “You would be out in the sun and the wind, with only a ten-minute break for a quick lunch.”
There was no crack in the armor, nor was there a cloud over the sunny smile.
She answered with another laugh, “I’ve done commercial salmon fishing in Alaska—seven days a week, 14 to 16-hour days with only a few chances for a Snickers Bar. There were times I was the last person standing.”
Seeing only steadfast determination standing in front of me, I tried again for discouragement. “You have to be strong,” I said. “Really strong.”
With that statement tossed up for consideration, Jesse stepped forward, looked me in the eyes, and placed her hands on her hips. “I’m man-strong,” she said with confidence. “I’m as strong as you are!”
After that, I decided to change tactics. “Come on,” I said, “let me show you the boats.”
She followed me down to the docks where the Kitten waited. The Kitten is one of two 26’ by 16’ sailing catamarans.
“Okay,” I remarked, “Why don’t you climb aboard and take her out. I’ll just come along for the ride.”
Without a word, Jesse kicked off her high heels and jumped aboard. She then instructed me to cast off the bowline as she was already casting off the stern. By the time I had complied she had the auxiliary motor started, the boat in reverse, and she backed the Kitten out of the slip as well as I had ever done—on her first time.
She then cruised the boat out into Marco Bay, and after I raised the sails, she turned off the engine and had sailing figured out in about ten minutes. After several turns into and away from the wind, she was very confident, and I was too, especially after she drove the Kitten back into the slip and docked perfectly.
Once back on the dock, she laughed good-naturedly again after she smoothed out her sundress and pulled on her high heels. “Well…” she grinned. “What do you think?”
I shook my head, but now I was laughing too. “I think you’re hired. Are you always this much fun?”
She laughed again. “Wait and see!”
A few months later, we were out together. Jesse driving the Kitten, and me on the Red Rooster—our other identical boat.
We each had six passengers and came across a pod of bottlenose dolphins chasing some fish. With catamarans, frightened fish often use the boat hulls to hide behind when the dolphins are cruising for a meal. On this occasion, a big Jack Crevalle was hiding just beneath the surface of the water next to the back of the boat where Jesse was watching intently. I was behind her in the other boat watching her lean over for a better view. Before I could reach the camera, she reached in the water with the speed of Wonder Woman and pulled the big Jack out of the water by its tail. The fish was huge as she held it up for her and my passengers to see. After a few seconds for photographs, she tossed the fish back to cheers and resounding applause.
On the way back to the marina, Jesse’s passengers were yelling over to my passengers and my boat. “We have the best captain in the world!”
I could only respond, “Yes you do!”
Tom Williams is a Marco Islander. He is the author of two books: “Lost and Found” and “Surrounded by Thunder—the story of Darrell Loan and the Rocket Men.” Both books are available on Kindle and Nook.