Water fills my view as I write this newsletter, the leaden grey waters of the bay which reaches within 20 feet of my office window, slanting rain that makes me wonder how I will get from my office across the 40 feet of open air that separates it from the house. Winter in the northern part of New Zealand is not severe, we have only seen frost here once, spring weather usually arrives by late September. But Larry has just come in from checking the boats stored in our little boatyard and reports it is too muddy, too soggy to start the repair work he’s taken on. And I am looking out at where Taleisin sits looking neglected and soggy. It all makes me restless and more than a bit nostalgic. Part of my nostalgia probably comes from using this wintery time to sort through some of our very oldest photos as we begin work on an interesting new writing project.
The Double Eagle, a bulky, roughly built 85 foot schooner was the very first full sized sailing vessel I ever set foot on. The day I met Larry he had just signed off as first mate on this Bahamian Built Schooner after helping sail her from Newport Beach, California to Hawaii and back. She and her crew had been involved in the filming of a television series called The Wackiest Ship in the Army. Larry’s stories of sailing on this romantic looking 140 tonner made me long to head offshore with him. As we built our first cruising boat together I did get to sail on this bluff bowed, hardmouthed beast of a boat. Her skipper Bob Sloan was a legend in schooner sailing circles and had sailed with folks like Sterling Hayden, Errol Flynn and Omar Darr. Listening to Larry, Bob and their friends talking about their exploits definitely made life around boats far more appealing than the bookkeeping work I was doing. This is the only photo I have of the Double Eagle, sure wish I had a better one.
When I asked Larry how he got the skills to start building a boat for cruising, he told me about his very first cruising boat. He’d fixed up a few small wooden dinghies when he found 20 foot Ptarmigan. She was a miniature Colin Archer cutter, bought for a few hundred dollars because her cabin was rotten. Larry spent a winter putting a new cabin on her, then a summer sailing her. When he fell in love with another boat, Larry’s Dad bought Ptarmigan and began sailing himself. She definitely taught Larry a lot about upgrading boats. Now he looks at the cabin he built and wishes he had known to make the cabin top parallel to the sheer of the boat so it looked sweeter.
From the very first day we met, Larry told me about Annalisa. “I felt like one of the luckiest guys alive when my Dad signed for a loan so I could buy her,”he told me. He was only 19, she cost him $2700. Built in Denmark by the Kongsor yard, designed by Knud Reimers, she was actually a gift to the Crown Prince of Denmark Later in her life she was shipped to Canada where Larry found her looking slightly tatty and with a mast that was delaminating. Over the next four years he stripped every inch of her hull and interior, built a new mast, raced her very hard and learned a lot about what makes a quality wooden yacht. A few months after we met, he took me to Canada nominally to meet his family, but in actuality I think, to see Annalisa so I could understand the quality he wanted to try to emulate as we built Seraffyn. Many years later, after circumnavigating on the boat we built, I got a chance to sail on this beautiful racing yacht. Sure glad we didn’t try to take a boat like Annalisa offshore. She was perfectly mannered, she went to windward wonderfully, but what a wet ride she provided compared to lovely Seraffyn.
My tour of our past was laden with people too. When I saw this photo of Larry and I with Lyle Hess who designed all of our cruising boats, it brought back wonderful memories. Lyle had been amazingly generous with his time, he lent us boatbuilding tools. I bridled when I heard him describe Larry and I as “those cute young kids who are building one of my boats,” But now when I look at this photo I kind of agree with him. We were young kids with big dreams. It was folks like him who generously encouraged us and spurred us onward.
We loved almost every minute of building Seraffyn. But setting sail in a boat we’d built by ourselves, being debt free and in fact having enough money saved up so we could forget about working for five or six months and sail down to Mexico, what an exciting treat. When I look at this photo of Seraffyn sitting serenely alongside a friends dock, memories flood my head as recall the thousands of miles, the hundreds of adventures we shared. I can think of so many grand stories we didn’t put in the books we wrote about Seraffyn’s Adventure. Maybe some day I’ll have time to write about those too.
And here I am, happy to be alive, free and probably sunburned as we scamper across the waters of Baja, California. A favorite author, Neville Shute wrote, “you can only do something for the first time once.” He’s only partially correct. Even today, 40 years later when we have to sit and wait for the wind to fill in then I see the first cat’s-paws ruffling the water and feel the boat surge into life as the sails fill, I still feel the same thrill I felt that day.
Talk of special folks, special moments. Larry’s dad Frank was part of a very enthusiastic greeting party when in 1978, after eleven years of voyaging on 24’4”Seraffyn, we sailed across the north Pacific to arrive in Victoria, British Columbia. Larry had bought me the lovely dress in Manila and when I said it was far too fancy for a cruising sailor he said, “You’ll need it when we get to Victoria because I am going to take you out for Sunday Brunch at the Empress Hotel.” I wore it happily as both my folks and Larry’s folks joined us for that celebratory brunch. The setting was superb with Seraffyn at the dock in front of one of the most elegant hotels in the world, food and service fit for a king. It was a wonderful moment, a wonderful meal and one I felt I’d definitely earned after 49 days at sea.
I guess it pays to let your mind drift into a state of nostalgia. Because just as I finished typing the last sentences, the rain stopped, the sun came out, the water of the bay turned from dull and depressing to sparkling green and blue then Larry called, “let’s meet up down on the jetty. I need your help so I can measure up for Taleisin’s new deck box sides.” It’s time to begin thinking of the spring refit, the sailing we plan to do when warm weather arrives, the friends who are already planning to sail in for a rendezvous in the bay in front of our house.
Lin and Larry