Expanded History- Chapter Five

 

Chapter Five – FROM IONA TO FIONA, THE INTERIM YEARS, 1970 TO 1983
I keep reminding myself that this bio was expanded to describe my sailing career, not a complete story of my life. But this period was very important for Edith and me; it was our middle years when we had to build up our financial resources, develop our professional lives and bring up our children. In this paragraph I will give a brief outline of those years, the overall canvas of our life, so to speak, and then below in separate paragraphs I will paint small pictures of sailing exploits which can be pasted on the canvas at the appropriate places. When we returned from the Caribbean we were flat broke and we needed a house. Fred suggested I borrow money from the same bank that financed Iona. ‘Get $5,000 for home improvement’, he said. ‘Fred,’ I replied patiently, ‘I haven’t got a home to improve.’ ‘Ah, I know that,’ he said ‘but the bank doesn’t’. We used the money as down payment on a house in Brookhaven. It was not on the water; Edith had seen enough of that for a while. Edith pointed out she had endured a year on the boat, in 1971 came payback; our daughter Brenda was born in March. Later that year Edith started her own medical practice in the village. We sold Iona and I bought a 19 ft used day-sailer which I still sail when I am home. In 1974 we bought a bare hull that was delivered to the backyard in 1975, after 8 years of labor it was to become Fiona. Sadly, in the late 1970’s Edith was diagnosed with breast cancer. Mastectomies of both breasts gave her a reprieve from this terrible affliction until 1990. But these operations affected her sailing; the muscles in her upper body were now weak and she could not brace herself during the normal rolling of an offshore passage. This factor and the increasing work load of her practice forced Edith to visit Fiona by air when we started cruising after 1983. Before the Fiona was launched we chartered boats at various times for a couple of weeks in the Bahamas and the Florida Keys.My more interesting sailing experiences until Fiona was launched are written up below.A Lingering Farewell to Iona.
In the late summer of 1970 I sailed Iona through Fire Island Inlet and east to Montauk with Tom, newly graduated from college, as crew. Edith and Colin drove to Montauk and we picked them up there. After a night at Block Island we set sail for Cuttyhunk. This turned out to be a minor disaster. The wind swung to a little east of north and we could not lay a direct course. By nightfall it was raining and we were still miles from our destination. When we finally beat up to the vicinity of Pig and Sow reef we handed sail and started the engine. Edith was lying in her bunk feeling sea-sick. After a while she called me and said she could smell smoke. Sure enough, tendrils of smoke were curling around the edge of the engine compartment hatch. I quickly got the sails up and laid off a course on starboard tack to take us towards the middle of Buzzards Bay. he smoke came from a slipping belt, I quickly tightened it and got engine going again. It was dark and I had to find the entrance to Cuttyhunk.Because it was raining I stupidly left the chart below and when I spotted the masthead lights of anchored yachts I figured we could turn into the entrance channel.Tom was stationed on the bow with a strong flashlight, suddenly he called out that he could see something in the mist and rain. ‘What is it; a buoy?’ I called. ‘It looks like a wall,’ he replied. Just then the boat bumped on the rocks fringing the harbor sea wall. Fortunately we were in the lee of the wall and backed off without damage. When we finally got the anchor down I poured drinks all round with a double for me. In the next week we enjoyed the lovely anchorages of Vineyard Sound, finishing up at Hyannis Port. On our return we dropped off Edith and Colin at Montauk and then sailed west along the south coast of Long Island. Just before we braved the Inlet the engine quit, it turned to be a blocked fuel filter, the commonest cause of engine failure with a diesel. This requires the fuel line to be purged of air, often a messy job when the boat the boat is rolling in the seaway.In 1971 I sailed Iona to Bermuda in mid-summer. For crew I had a local friend, Pete, and a young married couple, Mary and Charles, both of them students at Stony Brook University. We made the five day trip without incident, except we were all sea sick, including me. On our watches we re-introduced the idea of ‘Flying Fish Wings’; awarded to anyone who logged more than 12 nm on the two-hour watch. We first used this system on the trip south in 1968 to spur competition. We arrived at St Georges at midnight, but we managed to tie up at Ordnance Island without too much difficulty.mEdith flew down to join us with Colin and baby Brenda, then aged five months, Charles and Mary opted for the comfort of a B and B. We cruised west and tied up at the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club – a very posh establishment in Hamilton. In the morning the club secretary came to the boat and asked me to remove the diapers Edith had pinned on the life-line to dry! We anchored at Mangrove Bay where there is a perfect little island with a beach for Colin to play on. Just before we left Bermuda Mary took a cropper on a rental moped and opened up a nasty gash in her leg. This sort of accident is not uncommon in Bermuda; many tourists get crunched riding unfamiliar machines on the left-hand side of narrow roads populated by wide buses. Pete flew home with Edith and the children. Mary, Charles and I sailed the boat back to Fire Island Inlet with good winds in five days. It was to be my last trip aboard Iona as captain.In 1972 Sharon and Dick, whom we had first met at St Martin in 1969, bought Iona and I helped them sail to their home in Rochester. We powered through New York harbor and up the Hudson River. I left at Albany where the mast had to be lowered for the rest of the trip. The next year Dick asked me to help sail the boat on a cruise to Bermuda. I joined the boat at the 72nd St Marina in New York. Several incidents from this trip come to mind; one was tragic, one scary and one funny. Dick’s daughter was part of the crew, one night she went to sleep in the port bunk in the main cabin. The bunk had a lift-up backrest to permit stowage of bedding behind it. I did not notice that she had lifted the backrest, which was held up by a small hook, before she settled down. As the boat rolled the hook slipped out of the eye and the backrest crashed down, inflicting a nasty wound on the poor girl’s forehead.After we crossed the Gulf Stream we ran into a dead spot with no wind and I went for a swim off the side as we rolled gently in the swell. I noticed that a protective bronze cap over the nut securing the propeller had come adrift. I knew we had a spare on board so I dug it out and went back over the side with the cap and a large plumber’s wrench. The cap needed a little persuading to go on; I asked Dick to lower a hammer to me on a thin line. Taking a few deep breaths I banged away at the wrench while I hung on to the propeller. When it seemed tight I passed the tools back to Dick and climbed up the boarding ladder. Just as I stood on the bottom step a large shark swam by a couple feet from the boat. Thank goodness I had climbed out just in time; banging with a hammer while swimming is not a good idea, sharks are naturally inquisitive. When we got to Bermuda we had difficulty shifting the transmission into forward and decided to sail to the dock at St Georges. Dick took the wheel and when it seemed we had just enough momentum we dropped the sails and coasted alongside the moored boats. Just as were about to ask someone to take our line a head popped out of the hatch on a boat we were passing. The man watched for a second and said, ‘my God, that’s a quiet engine!’

The Voyage of Sea Swan.
When we returned from the Caribbean we renewed our friendship with Betty Lou and Arnie. Arnie had been building a schooner about 53 ft long for half a dozen years, it was now nearly finished. He quite literally started with some trees that had been knocked down for a new development and scrounged almost everything he needed from the dump or local yards. Arnie was a wonderful craftsman, many fittings were elaborately carved. The boat was massively built – the stem consisted of 12 x 12 oak. Betty Lou, who was in her mid-twenties and quite a looker, worked as a waitress at a restaurant in Patchogue to earn the hard cash they needed for their venture. The boat was now afloat and they lived aboard. During our first winter back Edith became very concerned about Arnie’s health, he had respiratory problems exacerbated by living on a cold, damp boat. She made him promise to leave for the tropics before spending another winter in the north. And so in the fall of 1970 a bunch of Arnie’s friends gathered at the boat on evenings and weekends and did all we could to help. For example, on the dock was a large pile of lead scrap that Arnie had collected over the years. We got a propane burner rigged and melted the lead in large bread tins liberally coated with graphite. As the production team got the pigs ready the installation guys fastened them to the lowest part of the frames with ½ inch lag bolts. Then we turned our attention to the running rigging, all the halyards, sheets and lifts had to be prepared and reeved. The boat had no winches, mechanical advantage was provided by blocks with the bitter end cleated to belaying pins. The masts were set up with dead-eyes, a feature that gave us considerable trouble when the trip started. Finally one weekend we took the boat into Great South Bay for an inaugural cruise and tried the sails for the first time. That was the shake-down – we planned to leave for the Virgin Islands the next day. It was the last day of October and some snow had already fallen.

I was going to sail as navigator but we had not been very successful in recruiting more crew. A young woman, Kathy, who was Steve’s sister, was the only hand besides Arnie and Betty Lou. I sat in the cockpit alone on the morning of our departure and worried about our lack of muscle power. Sea Swan was heavy boat, without winches sail handling was going to be tough. As I brooded, my friend Pete gave a hail and came aboard to make his farewell. I looked at Pete, he was young and strong; he made a living as a clammer but had recently signed up for courses at a local college. ‘Pete,’ I said, ‘how would you like to sail to Bermuda the way they did a hundred years ago?’ This was quite true, Sea Swan’s rig and gear were archaic. ‘It’s a chance that won’t come again,’ I continued, ‘it’s a unique opportunity.’ ‘How long will it take?’ he asked. ‘Probably about five days,’ I replied, ‘you’ll be home by weekend.’ Pete calculated, ‘Well, I’ll only miss one course. OK, I’ll go. I’ll get a sleeping bag and foul weather suit. I’ll be back soon.’ Pete left a note for his wife saying he would be back by weekend. As you will see, this did not make me very popular with her. We shoved off in the afternoon. Heading west for the Inlet I decided to swing the compass by steering a circle while I compared the steering compass heading with a small hand bearing compass I had brought along. The results were staggering, the main compass refused to budge until the boat had turned nearly ninety degrees. When I made a deviation chart I found that the graph varied from +45º to -45º. Besides the navigational problem this meant tacking at night was going to be real tricky. Tacking was also complicated by an idiosyncrasy of the steering system. The wheel operated a worm that turned the rudder, but it was an antique device Arnie had picked up somewhere. When the wheel was turned left the boat went right, apparently a feature of very early wheels for small boats when conservative sailors wanted something that behaved like a tiller. This took a little getting used to. The main compass was a beautiful antique brass and glass affair of hexagonal shape with sloping sides. It was mounted on a bridgedeck in front of the companionway. I went searching for some iron object that was responsible for making the deviation so high. I soon found it; underneath the bridgedeck was the galley refrigerator, inches the below the compass, and to which the needle was very attracted. Obviously that problem was not going to be fixed very easily.

The inlet was calm and we powered out to sea through the night. A new problem arose; both the diesel engine and the propeller had been scrounged from local yards but they were not matched. The pitch of the prop was too coarse and the engine ‘lugged’, that is to say it could not achieve proper rpm for the power delivered and it ran very hot. By the next morning the superheated exhaust gases had burnt a hole in the corrugated flexible coupling between the engine and the exhaust pipe. A tongue of flame licked the sides of the wooden casing over the engine and we had to shut it down to prevent the boat catching on fire. We set sail to a light easterly wind that gradually increased in speed over the next day. Sea Swan did not point up too well; by the second day we were about 50 miles west of the direct rhumb line to Bermuda. Unfortunately most days the wind had an easterly component and we made slow progress. The continuous beating to weather stressed the new dead-eyes and the standing rigging slackened alarmingly. Arnie had not been able to afford timber to make the masts long enough to step on the keelson; they were stepped on deck with a compression post underneath. This robbed the masts of support from partners at deck level and they began to sway ominously. We did what we could to tighten the dead-eyes on the lee side as we tacked and we rigged extra tackles to supplement the standing rigging. Twice the wind rose to gale force from the northeast and we were forced to heave-to. At least as we got south of the Gulf Stream the water was warm. I remember one night, when I was relieving Pete on the watch, that we noticed the jib had come loose from the gaskets and was working its way up the headstay and flogging badly. While Pete kept an eye on me I made my way along the long bowsprit standing on the side supporting chains. It was quite dangerous as the boat had a tendency to pitch violently and take green water over the bow. I clawed the jib down and secured it before inching back to the relative safety of the foredeck. A funny episode that comes to mind occurred during a gale a couple of days before we raised Bermuda. Arnie and Pete were busy on deck reefing the mainsail and I was at the wheel. I heard plaintive cries for help floating up the companionway. When I got a chance I pushed open the hatch. Betty Lou was sitting on the cabin sole buried up to her shapely bosom in books. A large bookshelf which we had temporarily tacked up with nails before leaving Long Island had come adrift and buried poor Betty Lou under scores of books. I rather brusquely told her we had more important things to do on deck at that moment. Eventually one night we had the lights of Bermuda in sight, but we were approaching from the west, the dangerous side due to the reef extending for miles from the islands. My navigation had been by celestial sights and dead reckoning, there were no electronic aides except an aero beacon at the airport but we had no direction-finding radio. I took bearings on the Gibbs Hill lighthouse and some antenna lights at the old dockyard using the sextant horizontally. This gave me an arc as a line of position and we were somewhere on it. A short segment intersected the reef but most of it lay over deep water. I figured we were still several miles from the reef but on an impulse I turned on the depth finder, an old Heathkit that had a maximum range of 60 ft. To my horror the spinning light flickered and settled down to a steady reading of 12 ft. The reef was studded with shallow coral heads and was a notorious graveyard for ships and we were sailing over it in the dark! We were close hauled on port tack heading southeast, I rushed into the cockpit and as calmly as I could asked Arnie, who was at the wheel, to turn sharp right. I tensed, waiting for a crunch, but the depth finder soon indicated we were back in deep water. It was a near miss, another few minutes on our original course and we would have been in real trouble. At first light we were located off the southwest corner of Bermuda, but there is only one entrance into the Bermuda reef and that lay about 20 miles to the northeast, naturally that was the direction the wind was blowing from. I reckoned it would take up another day to beat up under sail and I suggested to Arnie that we had to use the engine if we were going to make the entrance in daylight. We had wrapped the leaky exhaust pipe with fiberglass and we protected the engine casing with a sheet of aluminum. We evacuated the cabin, lined up the fire extinguishers in the cockpit and as we powered along the south coast of the island copious fumes wafted up the companionway. We made it OK to St George and cleared customs; it had taken us eleven days from Long Island. Pete dashed to a telephone and came white-faced, I don’t know exactly what his wife said to him but he immediately took a taxi to the airport. When I met his wife socially for years after she was rather distant. I had problems too; I had worked with Arnie to get the boat ready for a week before leaving, add the time we had been at sea and that left me with only ten days before I was due back at work. I told Arnie that I would fly home too unless we left for the Virgin Islands the next day. It was tough to leave the pleasures of Bermuda so quickly after such an arduous trip, but we buckled down, fixed the most pressing problems as best we could and left after twenty-four hours.

Fortunately we picked up the Trades quite far north and this gave us a reach as we headed south for St Thomas. This is the best point of sailing for a schooner, but Sea Swan was still relatively slow, the problem lay in the distribution of weight, I think. The boat would start to pitch, on each oscillation the bow would dig in more deeply, until after several cycles she nearly stopped, then the pattern would start over again. The 900 nm leg to St Thomas took nine days. For several days before our arrival the sky had been overcast and I had not been able to obtain any sights. The notorious Anageda Reef lay only twenty miles east of our track, I was very worried we might strike it; it was low-lying and not well lit. During the night I left orders with the watch-keepers to be awakened if any break in the clouds occurred. About 2 am I was called on deck, the moon and several stars were visible between the scudding clouds. Normally it is impossible to take star sights after the sun has set for about an hour, but the moon gave just enough light to illuminate a faint horizon and I was able to grab a couple of position lines; they put us on track for St Thomas. In the morning the steep hills of Tortola were silhouetted on our port bow in the rays of the rising sun, I was truly glad to see that familiar sight. We tied up at Charlotte Amalie by lunchtime; it was the Monday I was supposed to be back at work. My old friends Barbara and John, shipmates from Arvincourt II, managed operations for Pan Am at the airport and they were able to get me on a plane to New York that afternoon. I got back to work a day late but I don’t think anybody noticed. I had not seen much of the Caribbean or Bermuda on this trip but the ceaseless rolling and pitching during nearly three weeks at sea had reduced my waistline by a couple of inches.

The Newport to Bermuda Race.
In 1972 Hugo, a friend who kept his boat at the same yard as me in Patchogue, asked me if I was interested in serving as navigator on his boat for the next Bermuda Race. This is one of the premier events in the international racing circuit. I was flattered. As it turned out, boats had to carry a navigator who had sailed to Bermuda previously; I guess Hugo didn’t know many people who had. Navigation in those days was performed by taking sights on celestial objects, although I was reasonably proficient at finding where we were I discovered racing navigation was much more than that. In cooperation with the skipper the navigator is also a tactician; trying to correlate the weather forecast, the effect of ocean currents (particularly the Gulf Stream) and the sailing properties of the boat to produce a strategy that will beat all the other competitors to Bermuda. I wasn’t too good at that, I suspect. One day near the summer solstice I crossed Long Island Sound on the ferry after work and Hugo picked me up in New London for the ride by car to Newport. All the other crew had already gathered on Hugo’s boat, a Cal 36. I was immediately immersed in the racing culture after I was introduced as the navigator. A very large man with a bushy beard grabbed my shirt collar and pulled my face next to his. ‘Remember this, navigator,’ he snarled, ‘you can only lose this race, not win it’. We later became good friends and there was a lot of truth in what he said. Three of Hugo’s sons were in the crew of ten, eight of whom stood watches, four hours on and four off. Hugo and I did not stand formal watches. The race got underway the next morning, there were over a hundred and fifty yachts leaving at ten minute intervals in several different classes, depending on the boat size. The weather forecast was not good; a tropical storm was making its way up the coast near Florida and a couple of low pressure centers were forecast to cross the track of the race. It got increasingly rough, the stress of plotting my sights down below in the heaving cabin made me sea-sick. The sights were needed about every two hours while there was anything in the sky to see, starting with star sights in the early morning and late evening and sun sights in between. At times a crew member had to hold onto me as I swung off a stay trying to catch a sight. After we crossed the Gulf Stream conditions got very bad. When we were about a day’s sail from Bermuda the boat was really taking a beating. We were on port tack sailing hard into steep waves. The boat seemed to be powering out into space and then crashing down, only to repeat the maneuver with the next wave. A fresh-water tank located under a bunk broke its securing straps and began to pound on the hull with each crash. I recollect that the mast, which was stepped on deck, began to stress the support underneath and cracks were appearing. We were not laying a course that would bring us to the finish line off St David’s light; the wind was pushing us to the west by about 20º from the desirable heading. It seemed to me that a tack of twenty miles or so to the east would then give us a fair shot for the finish line and the waves were at such an angle that we would not pound so much; I was a little fearful we could seriously damage the boat. I recommended a tack to the east for a few hours to Hugo and he accepted the suggestion. It was a mistake, at least in terms of the race. Although we might have stopped the boat pounding itself to pieces this is the thinking of a cruising sailor; racers don’t care. The original heading was the ‘money tack’, that is, we were getting closer to the finish than heading east. And, of course, just to prove Murphy’s Law, when we did go back on port tack the wind had veered, so we were too pinched to lay the finish line anyway. I think we finished somewhere in the middle of our class, but the crew was furious with me. I didn’t expect Hugo to ask me to navigate again, but two years later, for the next race, he did.

For the 1974 race Hugo acquired an Allied 42. This was a much more comfortable and drier boat than the Cal. It had been upgraded for the race at Weeks’ yard including fitting a holding tank, which I think Hugo believed was necessary for sailing in Bermudian waters. The tank involved some complicated plumbing, it had been installed under the supervision of Joe, a co-owner of the yard, and he was also sailing as a crew member on the race. About two days into the race when someone was pumping the toilet the handle became very stiff to operate and suddenly the joker valve let go and a few gallons of very evil-smelling fluid spurted back into the head. It turned out a newly-installed elbow had clogged and for some time the contents of the toilet were simply being pushed under increasing pressure into a connecting pipe. Poor Joe got the task of cleaning up and fixing the toilet as we pounded towards Bermuda. I don’t remember how we placed in the race, we usually finished in the middle of the pack, I think. After we had crossed the finish line Hugo sailed to the Princess Hotel in Hamilton where he had reserved a slip next to the swimming pool. I was impressed with the hotel, which was very luxurious and yet had an old world charm. After this race I sailed back with the boat to Long Island. Hugo continued to ask me to sail as navigator for the next four races. On a later race I asked Edith to fly down and stay at the Princess as the social scene after the finish of a race was great fun, with many parties in a style only Bermuda can provide. On my last race, in 1982, Hugo’s son Peter sailed as captain with a boat that had been chartered for the race. My main recollection is an incident that might have proved tragic, but in the end only cost us time. Somewhere in the vicinity of the Gulf Stream late at night the boat was sailing well on starboard tack in a strong wind that was steadily increasing. The watch captain decided to bend on a smaller jib, it was fed into the spare groove on the headstay foil and hoisted aloft. But halfway up it jammed, it would not go any higher and would not come down. The watch captain went up in the bosun’s chair to have a look, got sea-sick and decided to leave it for the next watch to sort out. They sent a young crew member up in the chair with cutters but the heel of the boat made it to difficult for him to reach the head of the jammed sail. They winched him down and attached a line to the bottom of the chair so that he could be pulled upwind. Up he went again but when they began to pull him upwind, the ‘D’ ring to which the tether was attached simply ripped out the stitching of the canvas cover and he was suddenly jettisoned out of the chair. He plunged towards the sea over which we were sailing at 7 to 8 knots. Fortunately the safety harness jerked him to a halt before he hit the water. When I saw him in the cabin later his body was covered with bruises from the fall. In the meanwhile the halyard to the bosun’s chair and the safety line for the cutters had formed an unholy knot around the half-raised sail. A mess that was finally sorted out in the morning by rigging the spinnaker pole and having someone sit on it while cutting everything free. Naturally we didn’t do too well in the race by sailing without a jib for several hours. In fact the incident helped me formulate my theory on how to win; you must make absolutely no mistakes, either in seamanship or navigation, of those that pass this test the winner will simply be the lucky one picking up just that right wind to get to the finish line first.

The Building of Fiona.
In 1974 I went to an engineering conference at Anaheim in California. Edith came along as a short break from her medical practice. I had got the idea of buying a stock fiberglass hull and then building the rest of the boat yourself from a friend at work. This gave me the opportunity to have a fiberglass boat without the expense and time needed to make a mold. Not far from Anaheim at Costa Mesa a firm called Westsail was building a line of very staunch double-ended boats based loosely on the designs of Colin Archer, a Scandinavian naval architect active at the end of the nineteenth century. Westsail was prepared to sell a boat in any state of completion from a bare hull to a finished yacht. I suggested to Edith that we sneak off a couple of hours early and pop down to Costa Mesa in a rental car. Most of the boats built were 32 feet long but when we arrived at the yard the first of the 42 foot models was nearing completion. It was a lovely looking boat with a generous rounded bilge and long straight keel supporting the rudder at the stern. Edith walked round it and offered her considered opinion; ‘it looks like another eff-ing Iona’. She didn’t actually swear, that is how she phrased it. A salesman descended on us, he said orders took a year to execute, but a down payment of $2,000 would hold a boat for later delivery. He also mentioned that the price was rising substantially next week, but a deposit now would get the current price. I scoffed and said all salesmen say that. He looked hurt, but after a hurried family conference we asked him if he would take a post-dated check and still give us the old price. He agreed, and that was the first step in the long saga of Fiona, which, of course, was the only name we could give the new boat after Edith’s initial assessment.

Months went by and then I got letter asking if I would sell the contract back to Westsail for $10,000. Oil prices were shooting up and the company was apparently losing money on every boat they sold at the old price. I told them to build it and flew out on a red-eye to discuss the final package. They had moved to a new address, instead of the grungy old yard we had first visited there was a brand new factory with a jazzy sales office featuring big picture windows and staffed by svelte young ladies. I began to suspect the company was heading for bankruptcy. The package I decided to buy included the hull with ballast, engine and rudder installed. I also bought a lot of extras that were custom made for the boat such as the mast and rigging, bow platform, sails and stanchions, they were not installed. A mistake I made was to buy a kit of pre-cut plywood parts that matched their standard design, as I wound up building the interior to my own design the wood was mostly useless and simply became a source of lumber. After a couple more visits to California on the red-eye, returning the same day, on which I handed over an increasing percentage of the final price, the boat was ready for shipment. By then I was convinced the company was going down the tubes and on my final visit I made arrangements for the boat to be shipped via special boat trailer within a week. I already had a cradle sitting in the back yard which I had made to a Westsail specification by hiring a welder to fasten together a pile of six-inch ‘I’ beams and two-inch steel tubing I had cut up. It was an immensely strong cradle, a feature that saved my life later, as you will find out. The dispatcher told me that the boat left Costa Mesa on Saturday; it required special permits in just about every state because it was a wide, high load. Indeed, Fiona had a 13 foot beam and even though the trailer had a slot so that the keel was only inches above the ground the rig was 14 feet high. To unload I would need a 30 ton crane to lift the boat onto the cradle. The dispatcher estimated it would arrive the following Friday, I was amazed, it was over 3,000 miles to Long Island, nevertheless I rented a crane with operator for Friday. If the driver showed up late it would be my loss. That week Dick and Sharon were visiting Long Island Sound and Connecticut aboard Iona, I suggested they stay at the house for a couple of nights to witness the arrival. They came on Wednesday night, Thursday dawned bright and clear and about 7 am I heard the rumble of a heavy diesel; towering above the hedgerow on the quiet lane I live on was the outline of Fiona. I dashed into the front garden in my shorts, I explained to the driver that the trailer would have to be backed up the driveway. Dick and ten-year old Colin joined me, to make the turn the driver wanted the mailbox on the corner of the drive removed. Dick and I gave the post a vigorous shake so we could lift it out. We were standing right next to the throbbing diesel, suddenly I felt a stinging on my torso and for a moment I thought I was being burned by hot particles from the diesel exhaust. Then Colin yelled, ‘Daddy, Daddy, yellow jackets!’ Sure enough the wasps had a nest under the post and were defending their territory, Dick and I leapt about smacking our bodies and retreated rapidly. Some kerosene fixed the wasps and when the boat was parked just ahead of the cradle I told the driver, whose name was Wally Wiggins, that the crane wasn’t due until the next day. ‘What,’ he exploded, ‘I only make money when dem wheels is turning, I’ll take this turkey back to California.’ I tried to mollify him and said I would pay for a motel that night. He then spent a couple of hours on the kitchen phone and finally became somewhat happier when he arranged a load to pull back west on Friday afternoon. Suddenly I had a dreadful thought, Thursday was a working day and I had an appointment to meet some visiting Russian scientists, I was already late. Come with me I told Wally as I did a quick change into collar and tie and drove furiously to the Laboratory. I strode into the meeting, they were all waiting along with an interpreter. I still had Wally with me. ‘This is Dr Wiggins,’ I said, ‘he’s an expert on transportation.’ Wally loved it. When the crane lifted the boat an inch above his trailer the next day Wally was gone. Two days later one of our neighbors ran into Edith, ‘I see your husband has got his new boat,’ she said ‘he must be really happy.’ ‘Yes, I guess so.’ said Edith. ‘Oh, I mean really, really happy,’ she gushed, ‘I came by just as the truck arrived and you don’t often see a man jumping for joy!’

I built a sturdy set of steps and rigged electric power into the boat. Once I moved all the extra stuff that had been stored in the hull the interior looked like a vast green cavern. It seemed terribly empty, I had told Edith it would take about three years to complete the construction of the interior furnishings, but I began to have doubts. I had no experience in carpentry, so the first thing I did was to run the dc wiring of the boat, at least I knew how to do that that. I decided to start at the forward end, which consisted of the chain locker and the forward head (toilet). But before I could build the chain locker I had to decide how the chain would be raised, I found myself shopping for a substantial anchor windless, which, in turn, required a 100 amp service for the one horsepower motor. Thus it went, almost everything on the boat interacted in some way with everything else, and I discovered a cruising sailboat is a very integrated design. When I was building the forward head I remembered I would have to store the dinghy on the foredeck over the head. The mounting chocks would have to be through bolted, in order to get those in the right place I had to build a small eight-foot dinghy before installing the overhead panels. It took me a year to build the forward head. By this time Colin was eleven, I felt a little guilty about the time I was spending isolated, working on the boat and I asked Colin if he would like to help me build a ‘kit’ car in the garage. These were the rage at the time; they consisted of a Volkswagen stripped of the bug-like body, sometimes even the floorpan and fitted with a special fiberglass body. We decided to build a replica Frazer Nash, an English sports car popular in the 1940s and early ’50s. This kit just used the front and rear axles of the Volkswagen, a chassis had to be made from 2 inch steel angle. But Fiona proved useful, I fastened a four-part tackle to the bow and used it to lift the body off a 1965 bug I had bought from a friend a work. It was a pleasure to do some metalwork; I was finding the carpentry of boat building quite trying. That project took care of winter, in the spring I started to build the aft cabin. I was concerned that the roof of the cabin was only supported at the sides, so I bought a few lengths of inch and a half diameter stainless steel pipe and installed two as supports between the roof and the hull. They turned out to be very handy for hanging on to when the boat was rolling. Many years later when Fiona was running her easting down in the Southern Ocean we were overwhelmed by a large wave that crashed on the stern of the boat and pushed her deep underwater, I am sure those extra supports paid off at that moment.

To shorten the time spent hurrying from the boat to the basement workshop and back again I installed a band saw and large belt sander in the main cabin. I was very concerned about the noise level when under power, when I built the bulkheads surrounding the engine I sandwiched 1/16th inch-thick lead sheet between plywood. This made a cozy and fairly soundproof engine room. Although it was tight fit I also put in a workbench with a vice. About this time I suggested to Colin that perhaps we should restore an antique car over the winter, the replica Frazer Nash was, after all, just a big toy. It took a year a find suitably beat-up classic car that wasn’t too expensive, but that is how I acquired the 1928 4 ½ liter Bentley. It had to be towed home on a borrowed trailer, but when I got really fed-up with endless woodwork on board I turned with pleasure and relief to fussing with that old car. It took two years to get the engine fixed and put the car on the road. The work was interspersed with boat construction, Colin didn’t spend as much time as I thought he would working with me on the restoration; I think he had discovered girls. When the aft end was substantially completed I started on the forward end of the main cabin. This area contained three bunks and a number of large storage lockers and a hanging locker. When I designed the overhead, or ceiling in land-going parlance, I used plywood sheets with white Formica glued to one side. Varnished mahogany strips covered the joints. This gave a pleasing nautical look, it was also very practical, it was easy to clean and permitted access to the underside of the deck if necessary. The bunk area took another year to complete. What was left was the galley and dining area. This was quite complicated; the table was mounted on a raised floor (sole for the sailors reading this) in the original Westsail design. I decided to keep this feature as it permitted one to look through the main cabin windows when seated at the table. On the starboard side I had to juggle with the placement of the sink, stove and refrigerator/ freezer unit. Fortunately I was diplomatic enough to ask Edith’s advice on solving this problem. The stove burned propane gas, I had built a gas-tight locker at the stern called a lazarette to hold the tank. Before building anything in the galley I had to secure and plumb the water and fuel storage tanks which were located underneath. The galley and dinette area took me nearly two years to finish. While building the floor (or sole) over the tanks I had a nasty accident. Until the companionway steps were finished, almost the last thing I built, I used a temporary ladder made of 2×4 timber studs to get from the cabin into the cockpit. One night while climbing out holding a half-full can of paint the ladder slipped and I fell back into cabin with the ladder under my body. I broke four ribs, and spilled paint over the teak frame of the companionway hatch. I got Edith to mop up the paint before she dragged me to the local hospital for an x-ray. When I recovered sufficiently I built the freezer using an old compressor off a car air conditioner. Fred helped me make a fiberglass food storage box for the freezer. During the winters I made the cabin and locker doors and numerous drawers in the warmth of the basement with forays to the boat to check fit and measurements. The cat we had then, a lovely Himalayan, played an endless game. She would sit at the bottom of the steps and expect to be carried to the cockpit. There she would wait until I carried her down again when I returned to the house. This went on all night. Eventually in early 1983 I turned my attention to the mast and rigging, painted the bottom and by April the boat was substantially finished. I then faced the problem of getting it to the sea.

I made a contract with the owner of a local boat moving company to haul the boat to Weeks’ yard in Patchogue. There were several problems; the boat was now higher because I had installed the life-line stanchions and it was sitting on the cradle. I surveyed a route and discovered some electrical lines which posed an interference vertically by about a foot. The contractor said to forget it; someone with rubber gloves could stand on deck and lift up the offending wires. Patchogue required a special permit to drive in the village. When I called the contractor a couple of days before the move he said the company had just gone bankrupt. The move was delayed. This did not endear me to the Weeks brothers, they had a tight schedule for launching boats using their 40 ton travel-lift, my delay would disrupt it, as well as requiring a new permit for transit through the village. Eventually the contractor called to say he had a trailer and he would drive the rig himself. One more problem; it was me and not the boat mover who had to crib the boat and cradle 21 inches off the ground so that the trailer could slide underneath. The boat was heavy, even without fuel, water and supplies it weighed about 37,000 lbs. I rented every 20 ton jack I could find and bought scores of concrete cinder blocks. With the help of Colin and one of his friends we dug holes under the cradle and put the jacks on pieces of 2×8 timber under the ‘I’ beams It had been a very wet spring and the ground was saturated, the jacks tended to go down rather than the boat go up. After we had got the boat raised up two courses, or a little less than 16 inches, allowing for subsidence, the ground under the cradle looked like a WWI battlefield, pitted with holes we had dug for the jacks and cribbing. Many blocks cracked and I kept driving to the local mason’s supply store for more. Prior to installing the last round of spacers to get the magic 21 inches clearance I was working under the boat operating a jack handle. The cradle was only 6 feet wide, but Fiona is 13 feet wide, so I had to crawl right under the boat to get to the jack.

Suddenly earth began to spurt horizontally in a hole about 2 feet from the jack. With a great groan the jack sank into the ground and the boat began to list to starboard and go down by the bow. I slithered out from underneath as fast as any snake. Fortunately the motion stopped as all the extra cribbing took up the load. The boat had tilted about 15º but the cradle held, although the forward supports were no longer just in compression. Nothing bent. Very gingerly we put more jacks under the list and got the boat horizontal again. Then we finally inserted the last spacers using wooden blocks to achieve the necessary clearance. It had been a long day and I had been nearly squashed flat.

The next day the contractor showed up, the trailer looked pretty flimsy to me for such a heavy boat. I looked at the beams on each side of the trailer and did a quick calculation; it was definitely overloaded. I mentioned my doubts to the contractor, he pooh-poohed my worries; I was a typical engineer (all theory), he had experience he said. Slowly the trailer was backed under the cradle and the blocks removed as the load was transferred. As he was organizing this phase I happened to glance at the tires, which were beginning to look pretty flat. On the wall of each tire it said ‘max load 4000 lbs’. There were six, small wheels so the arithmetic was easy. The rated load was 24,000 lbs and it was carrying 37,000 lbs. When Fiona was finally loaded he pulled onto the driveway for the night; sighting along the main side beams of the trailer I could see a distinct sag. When the contractor returned in the morning I showed him the route I had mapped out and asked him to drive very slowly. I was scared the trailer might collapse and dump Fiona on the ground. I also wanted to drive ahead and position myself for a few shots of the trip on my 8mm movie camera. Colin was elected to stand on the deck wearing rubber gloves to lift sagging wires. This worked for a while but then the idiot driver began to put the pedal to the metal. Eventually at the crossing of a major highway Colin had to lift a low-hanging traffic light, he had to run down the deck lifting the heavy light and was almost left swinging from it as the driver accelerated through the junction. I had little chance to get any movie footage. By some miracle we all arrived at the yard unharmed. A few days later the boat was lifted from the cradle and put in the water. As Fiona swung in the travel-lift straps Edith properly christened her with a bottle of champagne. Colin belonged to a militia unit of the Revolutionary War, all the troop attended the launching, at the word of command a volley was discharged from their muskets. Colin also played tuba with a group which provided Dixie music for the party. After the bow platform was mounted, the sails bent on and the engine tested I sailed Fiona with some friends to a marina in Greenport at the eastern end of Long Island. I had decided to keep her there for the first summer as the boat needed a considerable shake-down and the Great South Bay was too shallow for casual sailing with a boat that drew 6 feet.

 

 

happycrew
The happy crew of Sea Swan; Eric, Betty Lou, Arnie and Kathy. Pete is not present.
regatta
The start of the 1972 Newport to Bermuda Race. This is the class for smaller boats, which started first.
fionaint
Fiona’s interior, looking aft in main cabin. Note overhead paneling, upper right
ericfionadelivered
Eric enjoys a cup of tea; Fiona is finally on the trailer.
soldiers
A salute at the launching of Fiona from the Queens Rangers Revolutionary War Militia.
bermudach5
Charles, Mary, Pete and Eric at St Georges, Bermuda, 1971.
bermuda1971
Eric, Colin and Edith with baby Brenda on board Iona in Bermuda, 1971.
seaswan1969
Sea Swan under construction in Patchogue, circa 1969, Arnie sits at the stern.

CL