Carolyn Goodlander is truly a woman of the world. When I met with Carolyn to share lunch and words at the Cruz Bay Landing on St. John, she had just returned from her third circumnavigation aboard the sailboat home she shares with her writer husband Captain Fatty Goodlander, the editor-at-large at Cruising World Magazine, author of seven books, and well-loved radio show host and social media sensation.
The day following the interview, Carolyn was off again to visit her daughter Roma who lives and works in Singapore. Crossing the South Pacific by boat or jetting to Asia ruffles Carolyn’s feathers about as much as a trip to the post office might fluster you or me.
Despite her seventeen years of constant travel, Carolyn does claim a home port – St. John. This is where Fatty and Carolyn were received royally at their welcome home party hosted by Pickles in Paradise. At the party, dozens of fans were regaled with tales from the couple’s latest round the world adventure.
Not one to sit back idly, after his storytelling, Fatty entertained the crowd by belting out classic rock tunes accompanied by the regular mob of Coral Bay musicians. During the presentation of the burgee from the St. John Yacht Club (his fourth, I’m told) he was subjected to a celebrity roast by a close friend.
“Anyone here ever read anything by *Condor Van Harding?” Several hands shot up.
Carolyn, ever the diplomat, made the rounds stopping at each table to personally reunite with her adopted Coral Bay family. Fatty repeatedly acknowledged his wife from the stage, a refrain his fans know well.
“Carolyn is the reason for my success. Without her, I would be nothing,” he claimed.
Inspired by the mystery, I set out to uncover the woman behind the man and the myth. I was not disappointed.
The Woman Behind The Man
Calm and open, the experience of chatting with Carolyn is very different from that of speaking with Fatty, which sometimes feels like taking audience with the Wizard of Oz. I asked if she is really Fatty’s editor and agent, “the brains behind the operation”, as Fatty claims. While she may be the brains, she admits Fatty uses her as a literary device.
“What he says should be taken with a grain of salt. We are almost fictional characters in Fatty’s work. I edit for grammar and punctuation occasionally, but I’m not his editor, and he doesn’t like to take business advice from me. At least, not very often. I also don’t bake bread every day,” she laughed.
After Hurricane Hugo in 1989, the Goodlander’s lives were transformed into a soap opera at the point of Fatty’s pen – a reality show before reality shows existed. The daily account after the major disaster and the loss of their boat Carlotta propelled Fatty’s career. By the year 2000, the Goodlander family was financially supported by Fatty’s writing alone. Before that, Carolyn worked three jobs to allow for the big break that would open the world to them.
“Roma didn’t like being the subject of her father’s work until she left for Brandeis. At that point she realized that fame opens doors,” Carolyn said.
Free to Roam the World
These days, tales from the sea have taken a digital turn. In the era of classic sailor pulp, nearer to when Fatty started out, typed or even handwritten articles and manuscripts were submitted by post. When the check finally arrived from the publisher, cashing it abroad was nearly impossible.
The Goodlander family survived through this difficult period of global citizenship and moved with fluidity into modern times. Now internet is available in almost every port and all their banking is done online.
The immersive life of the world cruiser can be syndicated via Kindle, blogs and video. Carolyn and Fatty have utilized new technology on every step of their journey. First, by creating their own publishing company American Paradise. Then when Amazon’s CreateSpace made publishing and distribution unbelievably easy and affordable, they moved to that platform. These days, Fatty’s digital work sell four times better than any printed version. Times are changing and fast.
The Next Generation
I asked Carolyn how she felt about the million dollar exploits of sailing digital media moguls like Riley and Elayna of La Vagabonde or the crew of SV Delos. Really, Carolyn and Fatty are the forerunners of these millennial internet stars. Vagabonde’s continuous cruising is supported by online subscribers somewhere to the tune of $400,000 annually. Delos follows closely behind. Carolyn is supportive and excited for these young people and hopes that she and Fatty can use some of their strategies in the future.
It doesn’t matter what generation you belong to — millennial, x’er, or boomer — the story of sailing around the world never gets old. To share it, all you need is a boat, ingenuity and bravery, a dash of charisma, and a willingness to open your life up to the public eye.
I asked Carolyn what advice she had for the new circumnavigating documentarians, in particular, women.
She said, “Learn everything, from the galley to the engine room. There are no blue jobs or pink jobs. The sea doesn’t discriminate.”
She went on to say, “Women actually make better crew because of their willingness to do what it takes. Men’s egos just get in the way.”
Carolyn and Fatty don’t have plans to move to land anytime soon, if ever.
“Of course we discuss slowing down at some point. We might stop our ocean crossings, but we don’t plan to move off the boat. Southeast Asia is where we will probably end up. There’s a little island in Malaysia where cruisers in their 80s live aboard. You’d be hard pressed to find a more welcoming and interesting community,” she said.
Carolyn tells me her lifestyle demands sacrifices, but it is worth it in every way. Doing what you love makes hard choices easy. She suggests if you are unhappy, write down why, and what you want to be doing ten years from now. Take actions to make your vision a reality. Live your dreams without regret.
*Condor Van Harding
A pseudonym of Fatty’s used in Gallery Magazine and for some of his more risqué work.
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