Tell Tales: Role Reversal

What happens when the doctor becomes the patient.
Illustrated by Steve Haefele. Steve Haefele

I spotted the email from Capt. B and winced. Like the thump of a doctor’s mallet to the knee, it provoked a natural reflex. Capt. B’s boatyard has treated my condition for years, and while he is no physician, Capt. B is quite the surgeon when it comes to extracting Benjamins from my billfold. However, now it was my turn to play doctor.

Instead of an invoice, the email was an outline of Capt. B’s vision for converting the remains of his 34-foot, diesel-powered sedan into a modern outboard cruiser. The brief specification and guesstimates for center of gravity (CG) and performance accompanied a cryptic plea: “some thoughts when you can afford them.” Aha! After serving as Capt. B’s annuity for years, I now had him as my client.

Oh, what a glorious repose I enjoyed that night while dreaming of serving my primary marine service provider as a yacht designer. I trifled endlessly on billable hours. I took wild shots at estimating cost, played pin the tail on the CG and proposed grossly overoptimistic performance. The crème de la crème was, of course, unrealistic milestones and completion dates. I couldn’t wait to get started.


I couldn’t recall the details of how Capt. B had come to own the vessel, but I ­remembered that he’d built her for a customer. I imagined the poor devil had likely passed of natural causes while waiting for her completion. She’d been interned at the yard since the 1980s, serving as a hostel for a variety of aquatic and terrestrial creatures. Her topsides were a petri dish of molds, and a thick beard had grown from her hull bottom.

“Oh, what a glorious repose I enjoyed that night while dreaming of serving my primary marine service provider as a yacht designer.”

“Fantastic idea!” I gushed when Capt. B received my call.

“What idea?” he mumbled.


“Well, the restoration of your yacht, of course,” I replied.

At first he insisted that it had all been a horrible mistake: “I’m afraid the idea came to me last evening after a number of bourbons. I should have turned off the computer and gone to bed.”

“Nonsense,” I said. “Alcoholic beverages have inspired many great yacht designs. You, my friend, were temporarily a freethinker, unencumbered by the misguided opinions you’ve rendered in your 60 years as a captain, boatbuilder and yard owner. Your vision is brilliant.”


“It’ll cost too much,” Capt. B grumbled.

“Not necessarily,” I volleyed. “With a bit of tweaking to your specification, we could save a fortune and create value should you ever consider selling her. In fact,” — I paused for effect — “I believe the yacht you’ve described is something of a breakthrough. Her blend of old and new is the perfect vehicle for cruising millennials.”

The hook was set! But I began to feel guilty. I thought of all the money I’d poured into my fleet over the years with Capt. B’s encouragement. While an enabler, he’d always been fair. I decided to visit the yard and take a serious look at his dream boat. Perhaps I could talk him out of it.


It was too late. He’d moved my boat from the shelter of his shed to make room for his own. A fellow in rubber gloves and boots was swabbing her down with fumigant.

Oh no… what had I done?