back to the Logblog
Chat with Sailing Legend Paul Johnson
Back in the Lesser Antilles, Fatty hails an old friend
by Cap'n Fatty Goodlander
Posted here by permission, this story first appeared
in Cruising World Magazine in March 2013.
Best of all, Paul Johnson put his money where his
mouth was. One year, he sailed from England to the Caribbean,
then unexpectedly received a commission there to build one of
his own 42-foot Venus designs. One problem: His tools were in
Jolly Ole, and winter had arrived. “Tsk, tsk,” said Paul, who
then nonchalantly sailed back to England and returned to the
Caribbean without comment. That made four transatlantic
passages for the year, two of them made in the dead of winter,
and all accomplished without damage or fuss.
“Try that with a lofty, modern IOR production boat!” he
taunted any who’d listen.
No one took up the challenge.
“Heavy weather doesn’t bother me or my vessels,” Paul said.
“In fact, I rather enjoy being scared. It makes one feel
How many trans-Atlantics has Paul done?
“I can’t remember precisely,” he admits during our chat,
peering down into his glass for answers. “At least 30-some,
but who can say, really?”
In the day, if Paul needed money, he’d hastily dash off an oil
painting or two. The rich folk would snatch them up
gratefully. Renaissance man was a phrase muttered
deferentially wherever Paul sailed.
The women in Paul’s life are ageless. When he was a teenager,
they were in their early 20s—and they still are, 50 years
“The ladies are better sailors,” he contends. “They work
harder and are more willing to learn. Why, just recently, I
had a lovely 23-year-old deckhand for a couple of years.”
I first met Paul in the late 1970s on St. Barts. He was
already a designer/builder legend. His distinctive designs
were being built all over the world. He was on the cutting
edge of both traditional and ultra-cheap yacht construction.
He’d work all day in his cedar-scented Gustavia boat shed,
surrounded by scantily clad French models draping themselves
about in hopes of sensuously mixing up some epoxy for him.
Then he’d retire to the famous Le Select to attempt to drink
the island dry. He was as handsome as Byron: barrel-chested,
wild-haired, and well-muscled. He wasn’t arrogant, precisely,
just dead right, and he knew it.
In his heyday, Paul could’ve modeled for Michelangelo’s King
Neptune. He had not only the physique but the mental intensity
as well. A spotlight followed him around. His entourage was
international: a French poet, a Spanish artist, an Italian
actress, a Dutch abstractionist, a Polish violinist.
He was untamed, and his lusty appetites were enormous. People
wanted to share his raw passion and to witness such classic,
unbridled hedonism. A succession of Beautiful People —Lulu
Magras, Mad Murphy, Jean Claude, Joe Green, Bruce Smith, Jenny
May—trooped through his epoxy-splattered boat shed in Gustavia.
Former girlfriends and ex-wives came and went, trailing
children and divorce lawyers and other shoreside vexations.
Palimony, matrimony, alimony, and plain baloney were all the
same to Paul.
What did it matter what some freeway-addled stateside judge
proclaimed when the Caribbean trade winds were fair and the
distant horizon clear?
If there has been one big insurmountable problem in Paul’s
life, it was the wicked women of his design disciples. They
just didn’t seem to get it. They didn’t stay under his spell
like their eager, wanderlust-smitten husbands. So these
devious women continuously and quietly sniped away, pointing
out the bloody obvious: Paul never grew up. He never settled
down, never signed on the dotted line. Never bowed. Never
stayed put. Never took the blame. Never paid—what’s the
expression?—the wages of sin.
Puritans hated Paul Johnson and the strong drink in his mighty
fist and the lusty song of freedom that sprung from his
It was then that the Pacific beckoned. Yet another young lady
agreed to be shanghaied. Alas, there are a lot of tiny dots in
the Pacific, and some of them are very, very hard. Paul hit
one. His vessel sank. But, his 18-foot dory-style dinghy was
nearly as big as his original escape craft, so they piled into
that for another 1,500 miles or so of Pacific fun.
Money appeared. Another vessel was whipped up, but this one
didn’t last, either. It, too, slipped beneath the sea.
Today, he lives aboard one of his beloved designs in the
island backwater called Carriacou. If he’s too ill to come
ashore, a young, local yachtie girl heats up some leftovers
and rows over. Paul then pours on the famous charm and slips
in a sea yarn or two for payment.
“Is that you, Fatty?” he asks as my wife, Carolyn, and I
circle his gaffer while standing on the deck of Ganesh, our
43-foot French-built ketch. “Of course I’ll come for dinner!”
He keeps us laughing until the wee hours with his bawdry sea
Finally he’s ready to go, but there’s one final question.
“I’ve been considering sailing back across the Pond to the
Azores,” he says. “Or maybe just into the lee of Tobago for
the remainder of hurricane season. What you say? Which is the
I look at the growth on his anchor rode, his sun-weary
halyards, those tattered bits of baggywrinkle drooping to the
deck of his nearby boat.
Yes, time has passed. Yes, none of us are quite what we once
were. And yet—despite it all—there’s still fire in Paul’s
belly. The horizon beckons. Why not one more grand sailing
“Both are pleasant this time of year,” I said. “I’m sure
you’ll have a wonderful passage either way.”
He smiles. We’re sailors. We’re home upon the sea. Our vessels
are our seashells as long as they are afloat. Screw the
scolding doctors, the bean-counters, and those bloody Dirt
It takes him a long time to crawl into his battered dory and
swing his twisted limbs into place. He coughs and clutches his
chest. Finally, breathing heavily, he casts off his painter.
“I’m sure I will,” he says ever so softly as he sculls away
into the inky blackness of Tyrell Bay.
to the Logblog