Even after 40 years, an old captain can learn a new trick.
Capt. Tedd Greenwald is on the 10th renewal of his U.S. Coast Guard license. At five years each, he’s been a licensed captain for 45 of his 69 years.
But this time, there was a new form added to the mix, and when he went in to renew his 200-ton ticket, he filled out the wrong form — the one designed for interior staff who don’t have watchstanding duties. (It doesn’t require a vision or hearing test, so he knew pretty quickly that something was amiss.)
“I never saw that before, so it must be new,” he said.
He also failed to get his drug test at the proper place. Like every previous time, he simply went to a chain lab for his drug test. But now, the USCG requires the test be signed off by an MRO, medical review officer. His regular testing facility didn’t have one.
“If you look on the Coast Guard site, there’s a link to accredited labs, and the nearest one to me was 100 miles away,” he said, noting it would have been a nice motorcycle ride, but he didn’t want to spend that kind of time for this. “So I searched online for a drug test with MRO and found out that any Walgreens can do it. You just have to ask for it.”
So this 10th renewal has been a bit of a learning curve, but the work is complete, and he’s now waiting to hear back, confident that he’ll carry on with his maritime career. He does have two bits of advice for his fellow professional mariners:
First, don’t let a renewal lag too long. Get a continuance if needed one, but don’t let it lapse. “Even if you don’t know if you want to continue, renew it anyway,” he suggested. “Otherwise, you have to start over and that’s a pain.”
Second, don’t cheat on sea time. With a summer-only job on a yacht that doesn’t move much, Capt. Greenwald doesn’t always have his time.
“You just take an open-book test, about 50 questions that you’ve seen before,” he said. “It takes a couple hours. The penalty for lying is probably bad, so be honest and take the test.”
Capt. Greenwald has been boating all his life, beginning with his grandfather’s 50-foot Chris-Craft. He worked on a 90-foot commercial dive boat in the 1970s catching lobsters in the Bahamas. “Miami was on fire then and the price for spiny lobsters was high. I made a ton of money and studied at night.”
He graduated with a master’s degree in physics from the University of Miami. He found his life partner, Mary Ellen, in the late 1970s and they married in 1981. They have been working together on yachts ever since.
“We might just be the longest running captain-mate team in yachting,” he said. “We’ve almost never had crew. It always just seemed like a disaster waiting to happen.”
Though he has run larger vessels that required additional crew, he prefers the life better working just with his wife.
After recently being in touch with a captain he knew in those early days working on a 70-footer — a captain who has gone on to build 400 footers — Mary Ellen asked if he regretted not going the big-boat route in his career.
“Not really,” he told her. “It’s felt pretty good being employed all of these past 40 years.”
Their most recent vessel is the 1940 Burger M/Y Pilgrim, a 72-foot, steel-hulled vessel that lives her life in the fresh water of the Great Lakes.
“It’s a pristine show piece,” he said of the yacht. “The hull is wiped down every day, and there are never any spots on her.”
For the past six years, the Greenwalds cruise with the owners around Lake Michigan, then secure her for the winter when they “retire” between deliveries to their winter home in North Central Florida. The time they spend in their home west of Gainesville can’t really be described as retired, though.
The Greenwalds have built another career “trying to save the planet,” he said. They both volunteer with the Florida Museum of Natural History (Tedd is a docent, teacher and photographer there; Mary Ellen works with the Miami Blue Butterfly restoration project). Last year, Capt. Greenwald was named one of two Volunteers of the Year from among the museum’s 538 volunteers.
And he’s gotten “pretty good” at his photography hobby, bringing home the award in 2015 for best Florida landscape photo from the Florida Wildlife Federation. This past spring, on a field assignment taking photos with museum researchers, Capt. Greenwald was able to capture images of the osmia calaminthae, a blue bee thought to be extinct.
And this year, he’s vice president of the board of the Florida Springs Institute, a non-profit organization that works to document Florida’s freshwater springs and educate the public about threats they face. Florida has more first-magnitude springs than any other place in the world.
“There definitely is life after boating,” he said. “I’ve traded all my saltwater in for fresh.”
Lucy Chabot Reed is publisher and editor of The Triton. Comments are welcome below.