When we sailed in to Malta on board Seraffyn back in the mid-1970’s we moored alongside with one of the greats from the early days of ocean cruising, the late Humphrey Barton and his wife Mary. Humphrey, who was almost 76, had been a fighter pilot in WWI, then done a tremendous amount of ocean voyaging on small boats including a Transatlantic voyage on a Vertue 25. He usually voyaged with only women for crew. When we met he was on board Rose Rambler, his Giles designed 35 footer, now married to one of those crew. Mary and Humphrey were a riot – dinner out with them often turned into a rollicking evening with half the café patrons and the owners of the café ending up at our table.
I remember one particular evening when Larry (then a venerable 36 years old) and Humph (more than twice Larry’s age) started arguing the merits of various aspects of yacht design, engines, gear. The argument became just a bit too serious and suddenly Humph slammed his fist on the table – which silenced everyone – then stated, “All that’s wrong with you Larry is, you are old-fashioned.” A moment’s silence, a snicker from someone, and then Larry puffed up his chest and retorted, “From you Humph, I’ll take that as a compliment.” Brought the house down, cemented a friendship.
Next day Humphrey and Mary stopped us as we strolled by and told us we had to join the Ocean Cruising Club or the OCC as they called it. “Started it with a few voyaging friends about ten years ago as a sort of anti-yacht club,” Humph told us, “but more important, as a way to keep touch with each other. I’ll propose you, Mary will second you. Come on, join up.” Though we lived on a carefully constructed budget to ensure we could keep cruising and begin saving towards building a new boat, we couldn’t think of a polite way to turn down this persuasively presented offer. Within a few months, when the first half yearly journal full of letters from other voyagers arrived, we were glad we had joined. At least a dozen of the letters were written by voyagers we knew in effect updating us on their whereabouts (remember this was before internet, facebook, and when letters often went astray or took half a year to catch up with us.) We never let our membership lapse.
Several years later, when we were cruising in the Atlantic on board Taleisin, we were persuaded to join a second cruising club, The Seven Seas Cruising Association or SSCA. The reasons were similar; lovely invite, promise of monthly bulletins which would provide an easy way to keep up with lots of folks we knew. The very first copy we received had a letter from someone we’d never met, telling how they had enjoyed the new harbor at Porto Santo in the Madeira Islands. We were bound toward the US, decided to call in at Porto Santo, had an amazing three week stay including a wine adventure trip to five different small vineyards and bodegas hosted by a local chef who befriended us.
Three decades later I still am a member of both cruising clubs. But it has been almost five years since Larry and I last crossed an ocean and because of this I recognize few of the people who contribute letters in either club’s publications. Over the past months I have been on a major clean-up campaign around our boatyard, finding new homes for some of the boatbuilding tools Larry can no longer use, getting rid of old books and papers that are gathering dust. This clean up and consolidate spree has now stretched to the house and to all aspects of my life. On my list of clean ups to-dos – consider quitting OCC and SSCA. Then the August issue of the SSCA bulletin arrived. As usual, I began skimming through it. I only got as far as page three. I recognized the boat, the people – met them in Kemah Texas when we gave a talk. But that was not what convinced me to retain my memberships in both groups, it was reading the story of Nine of Cups meandering 15 years-and-still-going voyage and the philosophy behind it. Just as Larry and I never planned beyond the next ocean crossing, the next destination, neither did Marcie and David. They forgot schedules, chose off the normal route destinations, got to know local folks and took up their invitations to move beyond the shores of the countries they visited. They too were willing to slow up when something or someone interesting caught their attention. To quote their words, “We tend to dawdle.”
As I read their account, of course I compared my impressions of places we’d also visited. But what got me fired up and eager to keep reading were the places they saw that Larry and I missed. Their letter left me eager to do more offshore sailing, even if, due to Larry’s ever declining health, I have to do it on my own and invite friends to crew for me.
As I write this, I am packing to head for Annapolis where I will be doing the keynote talk at the SSCA Gam. Then later in the week I have a booth at the US Sailboat Show to introduce Voyaging with Kids and the other books I am publishing and do seminars on Saturday and Sunday. (booth M5 if some of you will be there) Now I have an added boat show quest, find and buy a good tiller extension for my little Bullseye day sailor Felicity, so I can get out alone and keep my sailing skills keen. Then I want to begin my search for an easily handled, fast and sea-kindly boat to someday take me to a few of those places I have missed.
And wishes too from Larry who had a good chuckle when he read this. “Hope you are ready to reef the mainsail on a cold windy night now I can’t do it,” was his only comment.
P.S. the journals and bulletins I receive from these two organizations do not sit around when I am finished with them. They first go to Dave, a very experienced sailor who lives across the bay from us. Dave’s comment each time, “Good to read about folks who have stopped talking and are actually doing it.” When he is finished, they are taken over to the Kawau Boating Club library where they soon become quite dog-eared.