I mean eccentric in the best possible way, of course, because he sailed for decades in conditions that most of us would hate. The cold and the rain and the stormy seas of the frigid north never bothered him.
From 1988 to 1994 he sailed his Wayfarer from Miami to the Great Lakes in yearly hops, by way of Newfoundland and the St. Lawrence. His book is the story of this trip, and to be frank, it’s not a very good book unless you are fascinated by dinghy cruising and camping. Otherwise, it’s more like a repetitious journal or ship’s log. His real thriller is Ocean Crossing Wayfarer, which will scare the wotsit out of you.
He did this later cruise mostly on his own because his wife, Margaret, had finally had enough of crewing for him after 25 years. In the foreword to this book, she describes those years as the “happiest and most hellish” times of her life. But it’s the happiest memories that stay with her.
“Luckily, one soon forgets the terrors, hardships, and boredom of long sea passages, and the wonderful memories remain most vivid,” she writes. “Times like flying over the waves, deep reefed, before a Force 7 wind, sparkling sun, blue waves, white foam, and up on the plane for many hours running along the Outer Hebrides, Wanderer going like a train.
“Times like being enveloped in a warm deep darkness with the constellations sparkling above our heads so bright that one could almost touch them and pick a star out of the velvet blackness to place on Wanderer’s decks as we lay anchored off a creek at Ras al Khymer in the Arabian Gulf separating Arabia from Iran. The starlight patterns on the curling waves, and the plaintive murmur of the prayer call from a far-off mosque set in the distant sands beneath the gigantic mountain ranges, was a night never to forget.
“Times like Christmas Day spent in Key West, trying to sail around Florida, where we rushed before a fierce northerly, having battled into huge, cold, breaking seas as the gale swept in. ‘Marina Full’ said the notice as we eased Wanderer into a crack between two enormous power boats and tied her to a palm tree whipping wildly in the rising storm.
“An hour later, after a rest and a hot shower, we decorated Wanderer’s tent with cards, balloons and Christmas roses (plastic!), ate nuts, dug our Christmas cake out of wet bilges, and said that this was the best Christmas Day we had ever known. Later, American yachtsmen collected us and gave us flashing ‘haloes.’ We joined in the carol singing to each yacht.”
Well, I can’t help thinking how lucky we all are that Nature should be so kind to sailors. How convenient it is that we should forget the terrors, hardships, and boredom that sometimes accompany our sailing, and remember only the good times. That, not good sense or reason, is what keeps us coming back time after time.
But each day brings its petty dust
Our soon-chok’d souls to fill,
And we forget because we must,
And not because we will.
— Matthew Arnold, Absence
“Sorry lady, bad news. I just ran over one of your roosters in the road out there. I feel real bad about it and I’d like to replace him.”
“Well sure, mister. If that’s what you really wish, you’ll find the henhouse next to the barn.”
(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)