Growing up in western Massachusetts, I didn’t have much exposure to the sea, or to seafarers. It was by freak chance that I met my first sea captain.

In the summers we rambled the highways and byways of our region freely. We got to know people by their cars. One person in particular had a small four door, like a Rambler. He sat low in the driver’s seat and from the back seat we could see his huge hands as they gripped the steering wheel. He would always come from the south on Route 116. Oddly to us landlocked kids, on the trip to town he would regale us with stories of his time at sea as a Tall Ship captain.

“I sailed all over the world, many times, you boys should go to sea! Look in the National Geographic magazine, you’ll see me.”

We called him the old guy, the boat guy, the guy from National Geographic. Once I told him of my great-grandfather, Daddy D, the only sailor I knew of in my family tree, who was revered by my five brothers and me.

The old guy turned out to be Capt. Irving Johnson, the grandfather of the modern era of Tall Ship sailing. Chance had brought us together. He had retired to his boyhood home of Hockanam, a small village that is part of the town of Hadley.

Maybe there is a law of three. Maybe some magic happened when I evoked the name of my great-grandfather in the presence of another seaman. Three generations were represented and a wish was made or granted. I don’t know if it was Mr. Johnson’s wish that a kid he met as a hitchhiker would go to sea, or if the spirit of my great-grandfather wished it, or if I myself did. All I know is years later it happened.

They say that music is a harsh mistress, and I have experienced that, but the sea may be even harsher. Once it grips you, you are forever taken. Years later with the memory of Captain Johnson and of my great-grandfather fresh in my mind, I hitchhiked to Provincetown on the tip of Cape Cod, with the idea of finding a boat. The long pull of the sea began.

I worked on a couple of fishing boats which would serve me well when I arrived on the Vineyard a few years later. I was hanging out at my brother’s campsite off Old County Road, sitting around a fire talking about working on boats. I was telling some stories of the fishing boats in P-Town. There was a guy there who had worked on sailboats. I mentioned that I would love to do that and he said: “I hear they’re looking for a cook on the Shenandoah.”

I knew nothing about the boat. The guy said that it was the finest boat in the harbor, a real beauty. This was late August and I had had enough of the streets. I had spent the summer busking for spare change, ostensibly to prove my music. The prospect of cooking on a sailboat was intriguing. I asked the guy to try to hook me up with the skipper. After my time on fishing boats, I knew a bit about what I was looking to get into, and I had enough general cooking experience in restaurants, so I figured I could handle it — whatever it was.

I hadn’t seen the boat, I figured it was some sort of charter boat and that it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. The kid didn’t really provide much of a description and everybody else just sat around saying, “Yeah, it’s an awesome boat, man . . . pass the joint . . . where’s the beer . . . play a tune.”

I got in touch with the office of the Shenandoah and asked if they were in fact looking for a cook. They said they were, but that the boat was going to be late getting in and I wouldn’t be able to meet the captain until Monday morning, the same day the other cook wanted to leave.

On that Monday my brother John drove me down to the Coastwise dock in Vineyard Haven and we waited for the skipper to show up.

The ship was a beauty, like nothing I could have imagined. When we arrived at around 6 a.m., we sat in his car on the edge of the harbor and smoked a joint to properly assess the situation. I was awestruck. She was over 100 feet long , two tall masts raked back, she sat tied to the dock, gently swaying.

Oh my God, I thought, what am I getting into . . . I have got to get this job. “Better not get too stoned, I really want this job,” I told my brother.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “You’re the only one applying.”

“Yeah, but still, what a trip . . . look at that thing.”

My brother agreed. “She’s a beauty. I’ll go get us some coffee,” he said.

I was about to step into a world that could not have been more unfamiliar to me, one that would change my life and one day show me the world. All I had to do was cook for 40 people six days a week on a coal stove in a steaming galley. Trial by fire indeed!

Eventually the captain showed up. He wore a baseball cap of sorts with a picture of his ship on it. I introduced myself.

“Hi, um, Captain Douglas, I heard you were looking for a cook?”

He shook my hand, looked me in the eye with a bit of a twinkle and said:

“You ever work on boats before?”

“Yeah, a couple of fish boats outta P-Town.”

“Can you cook?”

“I had better be able to, I got the job right?”

I smiled and his gleam turned into more of a stare. I knew he needed a cook, that the other guy was bailing, so I thought I’d try his sense of humor. I had talked to the departing cook the day before and he figured I’d be able to handle it. What it was I still didn’t quite know, but I was game to find out.

“Well, you got a point, my cook wants to go today. You got your gear, I guess we’ll try you out,” the captain said.

“Thanks, captain, you got yourself a cook.”

“We’ll see in short order.”

I got on board shortly before noon that Monday, the day Shenandoah departed for a week of sailing in the waters around Martha’s Vineyard and beyond. The departing cook gave me a brief description of the job, a tour of the boat and a rundown of the food he had planned to serve for the week. Then he split, off to college in California.

I went back to the galley where the coal stove was cranking, hot water boiling and steaming on top, a slight red glow to the cast iron just above the fire box. In a matter of a day I had gone from being a roaming busker, playing music on the streets of Cambridge, Provincetown and places in between to being chief cook — the only cook — on one of the finest Tall Ships In America.

So began the second phase of my training as a seaman and the first phase as a budding sea-cook, and perhaps the realization of a wish of an old sea captain and a young hitchhiker.

Joe Keenan is a musician, writer, baker and shingler living in West Tisbury.