Expanded History- Chapter One

Chapter One-How a lad from Lancashire wound up in Brookhaven, New York.

I was born in Bolton, England, in 1932, a long way from the sea. In those days Bolton was a grimy, cotton-spinning town located on the northern fringe of the Lancashire industrial belt stretching from Liverpool to Manchester. When I was a year old my mother died in a ghastly domestic accident; her dress went up in flames when she got too close to the small fireplace used to heat the house. The great depression was in full swing; my father was only working part-time in a mill and was in no position to look after a small baby. After a period in an orphanage I was sent to live with my paternal grandfather William. He was an irascible Irishman who was sixty-five when I arrived on the scene. His first wife had died in the mid-1920’s after bearing four sons and a daughter, my father was the eldest. His daughter died when she was eight, which my grandfather blamed on incompetent doctors, he never again allowed one in the house or permitted a visit to one. He had married again to a much younger woman, Alice, so she could look after his two younger sons still living at home. Alice belonged to that generation of English women whose potential husbands had all been killed in the Great War. Despite the age difference of thirty years she probably figured William was her best bet. My grandfather treated her as a menial and was not above beating her on occasions. I think he was a very frustrated man, although he was only a clerk at the mill he was quite intelligent and had obtained a patent on an improved cotton- spinning machine. I remember as a child listening to his stories of growing up in Barbados. My great-grandfather, John Gilmor Forsyth had been born in Canada. His father returned to Ireland when he was a child and at eighteen he joined the British Army. He was a sergeant stationed on the Gold Coast of the African continent when my grandfather was born in 1868. When William was five the regiment moved to Barbados where he remained until age twelve. At that point his mother, Susannah, died in childbirth, his father left the army and moved back to Cork where the family originated and married his wife’s sister. Years later when I was cruising in the Caribbean I came across Susannah’s grave. My father married again when I was five, he had another son and we drifted apart; his second wife did not like a reminder of his earlier marriage. After the eleven-plus exam, a sorting out process inflicted then on all British children, I went to Bolton School, an excellent institution with lovely grounds and facilities. The school was well endowed by a former pupil, William Lever, who had started a small soap manufacturing business that became Lever Brothers. Bolton of the 1940’s remains in my memory as dirty and damp. During the war years we often spent nights in an air-raid shelter, it was cold and smelt strongly of cats. Bolton received very little bombing but I can remember Alice standing me in the window of her bedroom, which faced east. On the horizon I could see the red glow of Manchester burning. But Lancashire folk are wonderfully resilient and I had a reasonably happy, working class childhood. Even the experience of growing up in war-time England contributed to my deep-water sailing style later on. Occasionally Alice was able to get special treats on ‘points’, usually tinned fruit or Spam. These are diet staples for long distance cruising and I still prefer them to the fresh variety. It does not help to be a gourmet if you live on a small boat. When the war ended in 1945 travel resumed to Ireland and I well remember a trip we made to Dublin in 1946 to visit relatives of William’s first wife. We stayed at a boarding house in Dun Laoghaire and took a streetcar to Dublin. I was amazed to find that the children in the streets of Dublin were even scruffier than kids in the poorest parts of Bolton, many did not even have shoes. Included in our little holiday was a tour of the Guinness brewery, it was well patronized by several Irishmen who had made multiple tours and were showing the effects of the free samples. In the loading shed large barrels on carts pulled by huge Clydesdale horses were being filled from nozzles on overhead hoses. Suddenly one of the tipsy Irishmen slipped on the wet cobblestones and saved himself by grabbing a hose. It jerked out of the barrel and my grandfather was hit in the waistcoat by a solid stream of Guinness. This evoked many ribald comments from fellow passengers as we trundled back to Dun Laoghaire. I was secretly delighted and smart enough to keep my mouth shut. William died of old age in 1947. One of his sons, Eric, had moved back into the house after spending the war working in the oil fields of Persia. Eric was single at the time and was the first of my father’s generation to get a university degree in our family. Eric worked at an oil refinery in Manchester and bought a small, two-stroke motorcycle for the commute from Bolton, which he let me ride when I was old enough. One Saturday afternoon in 1948 I went with some friends from school to watch to watch Bolton Wanderers play soccer at Burnden Park. It was an important match; a Football Association Cup quarter final. We stood on terraces behind one of the goals. When fans could not get in they broke the fence at the back and climbed in behind the terraces. This caused people at the front to be crushed against steel barriers. Suddenly it became a crisis and someone shouted. ‘Pass the lads to the pitch.’ I was suddenly seized, lifted aloft and passed over the crowd to the grass. I found myself with quite a few other boys near the goal posts, but then the ambulance men began to put bodies near us and cover them with blankets. As I recall the teams played on. About fourteen fans had been crushed to death. Perhaps that is why I became fond of sailing; I get uneasy in large crowds.

When I was 13, a neighbor gave me an old, prewar radio that ran off batteries, one of which was a lead-acid cell. I scraped money together for new batteries and managed to get it working. It was the start of a great love affair. The glowing tubes excited me as no modern, solid-state, transistorized electronics has ever done. Shortly after that the great sell-off of surplus military equipment began. I was in heaven. I found a unit available in large numbers that contained a small motor I was able to sell for a profit to a man who was motorizing treadle sewing machines, so I got the rest of the unit, which contained about twenty tubes, for free. Soon myself and friends found the ‘Command’ series of radios used in American bombers. We organized an illegal net between our homes. One day Alice came to the shed in the garden where I had all this stuff and said she could hear me on top of the BBC program she was listening to. That seemed impossible, the frequencies we used were quite remote from the BBC domestic service. Nevertheless I placed an old alarm clock I used as an audio source on the microphone and went in the house. To my horror the living room reverberated to a loud ‘Tick-Tock’ coming from the radio. I rushed back to the shed and turned off the transmitter. The mystery was soon solved: although we had the radios we did not have the connectors, they remained attached to the plane’s wiring. So we had to attach wires to the multitude of small pins on the connector sockets with clip leads. One of them had slipped and accidentally piped the antenna output into the 230 volt ac mains. Goodness knows how many Bolton housewives were entertained that afternoon by my teenage chatter. I built several radios, whenever I hear ‘Twelfth Street Rag’ played by Pee Wee Hunt I think of the first that actually had a loudspeaker. I had worked feverishly to finish it all Saturday, when I finally turned it on, late at night, out came the sound of the rag, it was a late night jazz show and Pee Wee was ‘Top of the Pops’ in 1947. I sold another radio, in a fancy Bakelite case, to an old lady down the street. She told me her old radio, which was defunct, had been a ‘talking wireless’, and could I build her a ‘music one’? I made sure to check the BBC Radio Times for music on every channel when I delivered it to her. I then built then an oscilloscope from radar parts that had a beautiful blue trace. In one of the electronics magazines I read eagerly each month at the library I saw an idea for a closed circuit TV system. I just needed another cathode ray tube and a photocell. These were fairly easy to get. About ten milers from my home, in a town called Chorley, was a large dump of American equipment. It was formed on the outside by packing cases each containing a fuel drop tank, they were stacked about ten feet high. Inside the enclosure was a great variety of equipment, including aircraft instruments and electronics. One of the favorite things scavengers would do was to unwind the antenna wire from the many yellow ‘Gibson Girl’ emergency transmitters and crank away. These sets had a waist that was supposed to be gripped between the thighs by downed flyers in a rubber dinghy and a hand-cranked generator. They had a couple of nice tubes inside powered by the generator, how the flyer got the antenna up at sea remained a puzzle, but how he cranked, flew a kite and at the same time keyed a morse code emergency message remained a bigger mystery. A radar jammer that was there in large quantities contained a very expensive photomultiplier tube and associated accessories. It was ideal for my TV system, which could only handle still pictures. The man who said he owned the site operated a service station at the front. He charged five shillings for anything you could carry out. I discovered that there were several very good sources of surplus material in Manchester when I went up to the university in 1950 to study electrical engineering. In my final year I was able to buy an excellent American short-wave receiver. Manchester in those days was extraordinarily polluted by thousands of domestic coal burning fireplaces. The air smelt acrid and was often a murky yellow color. Waiting for a double-decker bus from my digs to the university I could often only just discern the destination in time to flag it down as it emerged from the gloom and roared past. Many bomb-damaged sites were boarded up. Our lectures at the university were frequently interrupted in my first winter by rolling power black-outs.

I had always spent a lot of my vacation time at school camping or hiking, often in the Lake District, which lies about a hundred miles north of Bolton. After my first term at Manchester University I planned to spend New Years camping with two friends on the top of Helvellyn, the highest mountain in the Lakes. We pitched two small tents just below the summit on New Year’s Eve. The next morning we started to cross the last obstacle before achieving the top, a narrow ridge called Striding Edge. It was covered with snow and ice and we had no ropes. Half way across I nearly lost the first of my nine lives – I started to slither on a sloping sheet of ice that ended in a fifty-foot vertical drop to the rocks below. Just before the edge my studded, army surplus boot encountered a nub of rock protruding from the ice. I was very precariously balanced. Without a rope how could I get back? After a rather intense debate my friends fastened all the small leather straps from their rucksacks together, held hands to get as close as possible and slid the lifeline over the ice so that I could grab it.

Once safely back at the university I completed the medical examination, drew a pile of flying gear and started training as a pilot in the University Air Squadron. My very first RAF familiarization flight was in a Tiger Moth biplane from Barton Airfield, adjacent to the Manchester Ship Canal. Later the squadron was equipped with Canadian-built Chipmunk aircraft. These were low-wing monoplanes with an enclosed cockpit. They were much more comfortable than a Tiger Moth, but not as much fun to fly. Several of my friends were students in the medical department, through them I met my future wife, Edith, although we did not immediately click. In fact, I had a girl friend who was a teacher at a local school. A few days before Christmas, 1952, I drove over to her school on my uncle Eric’s motorbike to see the Christmas concert. It was a miserable, misty night. On the way home I hit an unlit lamp-post and woke up on Christmas Day in Withington Hospital. Sitting by my bed was Alice, who had been brought over as I was expected to die. My worst injury was a fractured skull. In order to reduce the pressure caused by a brain hemorrhage, the surgeon had performed a spinal tap, a risky procedure in those days. That was definitely the second of my nine lives. I slowly pulled through, completed my degree but it was summer before I was pronounced fit to fly. That fall of 1953 I entered the regular RAF to complete my two-year national service obligation. A special course was organized for former members of University Air Squadrons. One of my friends from Manchester on the same course had to sell his car as he had knocked up his girl friend. It was a 1932 two-seater Singer, he proudly showed me a special feature which was that the back of the seat folded down to form a bed. Considering the jam he had got into I thought that was rather ironic. I bought it for thirty pounds, although I did not have a driver’s license. On the way back from Bolton after a weekend pass I missed a curve in heavy fog, struck the kerb and rolled over. I suffered a few scratches but the front axle was damaged. I sold the Singer to a secondhand car dealer for five pounds, as is, hitched a ride back to the base and we all had a wonderfully drunken party that blew the five pounds. I guess I was a rather irresponsible youth. I received my wings the following summer flying Harvards, the American-built T6 trainer. I was then posted to an advanced flying school to convert to jets. My first flight in a twin seat Meteor Mk 7 was a revelation. This was flying! Quiet, with no vibration, this plane had a fantastic rate of climb for its day, I loved flying it and the single seat operational version, the Mk 8. My conversion course was finished by the end of the year and I went home for Christmas leave. I ran into Edith at a party and we never looked back. Edith lived at home while she was studying medicine at Manchester University. We were both beneficiaries of the 1944 Education Act, which provided free university education to kids that made it through the entrance exams. Edith was much smarter than I was, she had taken accelerated courses at school and entered the university at age 17. She had been brought up as an orthodox Jew by her father who was so enamored of her beautiful Jewish mother, who had escaped from Poland after the Great War, that he had changed his Irish name of Maher to Meyer and converted from a Catholic to Judaism Edith’s mother had died when she was eight, but fortunately her father then married a very loving step-mother for Edith. We had a wonderful Christmas together but shortly after I returned to the base I was told on a Friday that I had to be at a gunnery school in south Wales the following Monday. This was a problem as my room was full of my electronic gear and I was car-less. I went home on the train and arranged to borrow a car the following day to drive back to the base. The only car I could get was a 1928 Austin 7 Chummy. When I picked it up the owner explained there was a problem with the brakes, if applied with the car going backwards they locked up and had to be disassembled before the car would move again. To avoid this he had simply disconnected the brakes altogether. To stop the technique was to shift down and at a low speed put your foot over the running board and press on the ground, or simply turn the engine off in gear. A brick under a wheel took care of parking. I picked up Edith for the ride and started on the three-hour journey. In a town called Chesterfield, noted for its church with a crooked spire, I was driving a discrete distance behind a modern car when it suddenly stopped. I swung out to pass on the outside but there was a double-decker bus coming the other way. Unable to stop, I drove back onto the sidewalk and passed inside the car that had stopped ahead of me, much to the amazement of the lady driver. She was in the act of stepping out on the passenger side to inspect the shop that had caught her eye in the first place. I gave her a merry toot on the horn, a brass affair with a large black rubber bulb. All this took place in a twinkling, Edith wanted to know what the hell I was playing at. We got to the RAF station and I loaded my stuff and started back across the Pennine hills that divide Lancashire from Yorkshire. It was dark and rather foggy when I was pulled over by a police car. The puny rear light had gone out. When I fixed that he wanted to see my license, which I didn’t have. I got a ticket. Edith was not impressed, you would think these incidents would have tipped her off about the kind of man she would ultimately marry. When I completed the gunnery and tactical training courses in the spring of 1955 I was posted to a Royal Auxiliary Air Force squadron at Ringway, near Manchester. The auxiliary squadrons consisted of weekend warriors similar to the Air National Guard in the U.S. We were equipped with Vampire jet fighters, the first generation of jets to enter RAF service, but by then they were rapidly becoming obsolete. I flew to Gibraltar that summer in a Shackleton maritime patrol aircraft. Gibraltar in those days was a huge, British military base with the harbor full of naval ships. Later the squadron came down too. We flew with the French in Algeria as they belonged to NATO then. In Oran the Frenchmen took us out for a night on the town. At a club overlooking the moonlit Mediterranean there were svelte-looking singers in style of Piaf – very sexy. Later our friends suggested with a grin that we say hello to the singers at the bar, of course we agreed. We were introduced but after a while I realized there was something odd. The singers were men! It was an education for a naïve lad from Lancashire. My education continued with a very French supper and a visit to a very French maison de tolerance that was actually owned by our host squadron. I realized the RAF still had a long way to go. While I was at Gib I had a very near miss landing a fully loaded Meteor 8 following a recall immediately after take-off due a fog bank rolling in from the sea. The plane had extra fuel tanks and was carrying a full load of ammunition so it was way beyond the safe landing weight. As I rolled into a turn towards the runway north of the towering rock she stalled. Full power on those two wonderful Rolls Royce engines kept me flying just a few feet above the sea. Shaking like a leaf the plane staggered over the end of the runway and fell on it like a sack of wet cement when I cut the throttles. It was definitely life number three. Halfway down the runway I ran into the fog and then taxied back after a plane behind me had landed. I went for my breakfast, I said nothing about the incident. Then the pilot of the plane that had landed behind me came up and clapped his hand on my shoulder. ‘My God, Eric’, he said, ‘ I didn’t expect to see you again!’ ‘Why?’ I asked innocently. ‘Weren’t you a bit low on that approach? You were blowing two columns of water in the air, they were dousing the navy!’ The commanding officer of the squadron was Jack Wales, a big, burly man with a distinguished war record. He also was chief production test pilot at Avro Aircraft, located at Woodford, a few miles from Ringway. When I left full-time service with the squadron and become a weekend flyer I too joined Avro’s, working on the design of an autopilot for a guided missile. The following summer the squadron was stationed on the northeast coast of England for two weeks of gunnery practice over the North Sea. I was towing a target flag one day in a Meteor 7 when an unexpectedly high wind drifted the plane too far east on the gunnery range. With the shoot over I turned towards the base and got a position fix from radar operators. Uh, oh, I was a long way from home with little fuel remaining. The logical thing to have done was to have dropped the target flag into the sea, thus greatly reducing fuel consumption. But that would have aborted the shoot, I was too ashamed to do that. Instead I shut down one engine to save fuel and when the coast came into view and I could see the runway I asked for permission to drop the flag and land immediately instead of following normal landing circuit procedure. I released the flag and made a tight turn to line up for the approach, the fuel gauges were on the stops. After landing I taxied to dispersal and shut down. The engineering officer looked worried, ‘You should have landed ten minutes ago’, he said. Later I was called in to talk to the training officer. “What the hell are you doing flying around on fumes”, he said. The engineering officer had told him the plane had been refueled to within 5 gallons of its official capacity; about 30 seconds of flying time. There went life number four. Looking back on those hectic days I can recall two more of my ‘nine lives’ which were lost in my first year on the squadron. On one occasion I stupidly let down in cloud without properly ascertaining my exact position from the radar controllers. It was a total lapse in standard procedure that I find hard to explain, even now. We had a phrase for it – clouds can have hard centers. I broke through the cloud base just a few hundred feet above the green grass and stone walls of the rugged Welsh mountains. Somehow I had convinced myself I was over the flat Salisbury plain. I was a few seconds away from finding the hard center. The second incident was due to the carelessness of an air traffic controller. I was vectored over the airfield in cloud under the supervision of the ‘Ground Controlled Approach’ operator. He got the plane directly in the way of a commercial airliner also making a landing at Ringway. The pilot saw the belly of my plane pass over his cockpit window, he filed an official ‘near-miss’ report. It was a very near miss indeed, the subsequent inquiry blamed the controller. After a year or so Jack asked me one day to fly with him in a new Shackleton as co-pilot. It was interesting to perform the tests required to certify a new plane. But a couple of days later Jack took off in the same plane without a co-pilot and it crashed into nearby hills, killing him and all the flight test technicians on board. I was devastated by his death. I had got to know him and his family well, I suppose he had become a father figure for me. And I had hoped to continue test-flying with him. In 1957 the Royal Auxiliary Air Force was disbanded following Britain’s military debacle in Suez and the concomitant decision to pull out of the world policeman business. Edith had completed her medical degree by then at the age of 23 and was interning. In the fall of 1957 I emigrated to Canada and, rather to my surprise, Edith agreed to join me after a few months and we were married in 1958 at the Toronto City Hall. I took an afternoon off work for the ceremony. We knew nobody, so we asked the couple waiting behind us to be witnesses. The presiding clerk observed this and asked us in all sincerity if we really wanted to take this important step. Toronto in the winter of 1957/58 was bitterly cold with snow piled up many feet deep at the edge of the roads. I could not afford a car. We lived in a small basement apartment several miles from the city center. Edith started a Canadian internship at a Catholic hospital.

I was again working on autopilot design, this time for a subcontractor providing parts for the Avro Arrow, a new Canadian jet fighter. I also rented a plane and picked up a commercial pilot’s license, I tried for a job with Trans Canada Airlines. I was a little too honest in mentioning my old motor bike accident and was turned down on medical grounds. I was bitterly disappointed. Perhaps in retrospect it was not such a bad thing – I had become too addicted to the adrenalin kick of military flying and I think I would have become bored with airline flying. Edith got a job offer from a family practitioner after completing a Canadian internship and I went back to graduate school at the University of Toronto. In early 1960 there was a recruitment week at the university, we could sign up for six interviews. I signed up for five Canadian firms and quite randomly put down Brookhaven National Laboratory, which I had never heard of, for the sixth. After a brief chat the interviewer asked me if I had ever been to New York, and I said no. “Come down”, he said, “You can stay at the Pennsylvania Hotel and visit the Laboratory by train.” It sounded fine, about a month later I found myself inspecting the huge synchrotron. (popularly called an ‘atom-smasher’) they had just finished building and talking to several scientists and engineers. I made an effort to appear to be the proper English gentleman by wearing a bowler hat. This impressed them no end and I think that is why they offered me a job. Walking over to lunch with the department chairman, Ken Green, I noticed a large, modern building and asked what it was. “Oh”, he said, “That’s our hospital, we do research with radiation related therapy”. “Do you need any doctors” I asked, semi-jokingly. “We need a woman in the clinic”, he said, “It’s hard to find female physicians, but the ladies here prefer them”. “Maybe I can help you”, I said. And that is how we both wound up working at Brookhaven in the fall of 1960. The laboratory was owned and operated by a consortium of nine east coast universities, in two world wars the site had been an army camp. In 1947 it was turned over to the Atomic Energy Commission for the construction of a large laboratory concerned with the design of nuclear reactors and high energy physics experiments. It was a lovely, rural site in the pine barrens of Long Island about 65 miles from New York City. Edith and I were given scientific staff appointments for two years.

Much of the south shore of Long Island is protected by Fire Island and the waters are ideal for small boats with retractable keels called centerboards. We rented a house with a canal in the back on the shore of Bellport Bay. In the spring of 1961 we bought our first boat, a 16ft plywood sloop. Sailing on the bay was popular pastime, for our initial outing I had on board ‘Learning to Sail’ by Peter Heaton. A friendly neighbor towed us from the canal to the bay with his powerboat. He left us bouncing in the chop and I started to hoist the mainsail. The boom swished violently over our crouching heads. As I did not want to be brained I tightened up a handy looking rope that connected to the boom and continued to raise sail. The next thing I knew Edith and I were both in the water and the boat had capsized. Fortunately the bay was only 4 feet deep at that point. Peter Heaton’s book and a couple of seat cushions floated soggily to the surface. So we truly learned to sail starting at square one. Chagrined, I described the incident to a more experienced friend, he assured me everyone learning to sail capsizes at some stage, better a small boat than a big one. Sailing on Great South Bay was a perfect introduction to the sport. On weekends there were often informal races organized by friends at work. I remember sailing over to Fire Island one afternoon. Several small boats were tied up to a dock, including one belonging to Edith’s boss. He waved us over to tie up next to him. When we were settled we joined him and his wife and he passed us two open cans of beer. I took a swig and spluttered; the can was full of bourbon. I made a commment and he said it looked better to appear to be drinking beer. We got fairly tight; at one stage Edith leaned on something soft behind her and accidentally pushed her boss’s large, woolly dog into the water.

Our next boat was a 23-foot wooden boat called a True Rocket. It had two bunks and an inboard engine. Our greatest adventure was to sail from Peconic Bay around Montauk Point to Shinnecock Inlet. When we left the protection of the north end of the Shinnecock Canal in a stiff nor-easter I realized I had been foolish to leave at all. The engine quit after twenty minutes because sediment in the tank stirred up by our motion had clogged the carburetor. We had to sail. Edith was very sea-sick. I got the sails up and headed for Three Mile Harbor. But without the centerboard down we were not going to make it. Poor Edith called to me, “Eric, I’m going to die!” as she lay in her bunk next to the centerboard trunk. “O.K.” I said, “As your last dying act put down the centerboard.” I was always the sympathetic husband. In the winter of 1962/63 we decided on a Caribbean vacation over Christmas and New Years. Quite randomly we picked out an advertisement in ‘Yachting’ for a charter boat and found ourselves one unforgettable day in St Thomas waiting at a bar by the waterfront for ‘Maverick’ to show up. It was our first visit to the tropics. St Thomas seemed incredibly romantic; native schooners unloaded fruit at the dock and the heavy humid air, leavened by the trade wind, was something we had never experienced before. ‘Maverick’ was a 75foot Brixham trawler built as a yacht in the 1930’s for a fishing-mad retired Indian Army officer, originally she was named ‘Cachalot’. When World War II broke out he was cruising in African waters, he volunteered to lend the boat to the British Admiralty as a mine-sweeper. They accepted and as he approached the English Channel, the old colonel was shot to death on the afterdeck by a strafing German plane. But the boat survived and after the war she turned up in Antigua, where Jack and Ruthie Carstarphen found her. The Carstarphens were founder members of the Seven Seas Cruising Club, along with a bunch of ‘liveaboards’ in San Diego. They felt they were not getting enough respect from local yacht clubs so they decided all members would be ‘Commodores’. The organization has now grown to thousands of members, they issue a monthly bulletin of world-wide cruising information. In those days the cruising scene in the Caribbean was quiet, every night we anchored in a deserted bay in the British Virgin Islands. We repeated this type of vacation in the winter of 1963/64, but first we flew to Barbados and Grenada for a few days. Grenada entranced us. It was still a British colony, life for the locals was simple and probably hard, but for tourists it was paradise. The air smelt of nutmeg and cloves. The rum punches were delicious and cheap. We stayed in a new, modest hotel on Grand Anse Beach called the ‘Silver Sands’. They were still learning the business. From the kitchen we often heard the crash of breaking crockery; we called it the sound of the Caribbean. After dinner we would take our drink to a gazebo on a small jetty over the sea. A spotlight illuminated a circle of light that attracted scores of colorful fish, they swam round and round like an animated sardine can. Edith and I loved Grenada of that period. The market in St George’s was bustling with vitality, with every variety of fruit and fowl for sale. South of the hotel was an old Victorian lighthouse, Point Saline, that the keeper still wound up every four hours and kept fed with pressurized kerosene. The Cubans demolished it when they built the infamous runway in the 1980’s. Flying north in the local carrier, Leeward Islands Air Transport or LIAT, we arrived at an island celebrating Carnival. The pilot buzzed the main street of the capital before we landed. I loved it but I was not too impressed to see an obviously sloshed mechanic checking the engine oil level, still dressed in his carnival costume, as we waited to take off again. LIAT was brilliantly characterized by a travel writer as a fleet of tin birds that fluttered into the air every day at sunrise. The Caribbean has not been the same since the tourist boom of the 1970’s, the old indolent life has given way to making money. When we finally got to St Thomas in order to board ‘Maverick’ we found Jack had signed up a temporary crew member, Doug. He had arrived on a South African boat built by an Englishman and some friends in Johannesburg. They were on their way to visit the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City. On leaving we asked Doug to call us if they ever made it to the Big Apple, never expecting to hear from him again. But it was a fateful message. In June, 1964, I got a call from Doug’s captain, John Knight, builder of ‘Arvin Court II’. They were moored at City Island, Edith and I drove over to meet John, his pregnant wife Barbara and Doug. They were planning to sail to England in a couple of weeks and needed crew, could we help? I did not know it at the time but our life was going to make a dramatic change. Until then, indoctrinated by the work ethic, we had worked hard but with no long term goal. The meeting with John Knight would eventually trigger a seismic shift, we would still work hard, but only to achieve our own carefully planned goal: we would sail away, free.

Eric aged 22, a trained killer

Edith and Alice in 1957 at Alice’s house in Bolton, Lancashire

Edith and Alice in 1957 at Alice’s house in Bolton, Lancashire

The True Rocket tied behind the house, 1963.

Eric learning to sail with the16 ft sailboat on the canal behind the house in Brookhaven, 1961.

Edith on the beach at Virgin Gorda,BVI, during a Maverick cruise, 1962.

Edith at the wheel of Maverick, Virgin Islands, 1961.

The Brixham Trawler Maverick under full sail in the Virgin Islands, circa 1962.