View Full Version : winter reading

Jim Budde
10-15-2004, 08:54 AM
Last sail of the season yesterday .. winter's coming and it's time to put my little boat away until spring .. which leaves me in withdrawal mode until lakes freeze over for hard water sailing .. so .. I read. Here are two great little books... The Magic of the Swatchways by Maurice Griffiths and The Boat Who Wouldn't Float by Farley Mowat. The former is a series of articles written in the 1920's and 1930's about sailing in the Thames Estuary (England). The later about an owner and his love affair with a boat that never really stopped taking on water .. and his journal of a trip along Canada's eastern shore and ultimately up the St Lawerence Seaway.

Captain Pre-Capsize
10-15-2004, 08:46 PM
I laughed so hard when reading The Boat Who Wouldn't Float that I had tears in my eyes - hilarious!

10-16-2004, 01:18 PM
I've just started British Sea Power by David Howarth. Only a few pages in but so far a very enjoyable style.

10-16-2004, 01:51 PM
Just finished "After the Storm," by John Rousmaniere, subtitled, "True Stories of Disaster and Recovery." A little uneven, but interesting. I'm currently reading "The Cruise of the Snark," by Jack London.

10-19-2004, 08:46 AM
I'm half-way finished with John Rousmaniere's Fastnet race book, well written but scary. Everyone thinking of an Atlantic voyage to (or from) Europe should read it.

I've also been catching up on my reading with a couple of Tristen Jones' books, great reads, but how anyone ever came to believe that he was telling the truth is beyond me.

Also, just finished "White Hurricane" by David Brown on the November 1913 storm on the Great Lakes. Also, pretty scary stuff, and a must read for the "Ocean Bound" folks who don't know much about the lakes.

All old stuff, I know, but hey, I just got around to reading Slocum's "Around Alone..." just this past summer, also a must read for anyone contemplating an ocean voyage.

It was 45 & rainy outside yesterday, and with a day off, I had a most pleasant day inside reading.

10-19-2004, 09:39 AM
I am working my way through Patrick O'Brians series and am now a quarter of the way through "Treasons Harbor."

So far in this book I have not encouhtered Diane (Villiars) Materin. She is the most interesting of all O'Brians characters, to me. I have always been interested in strong females, fictional and historical.

Greg Stoll
10-19-2004, 10:44 AM
"Tinkerbelle" by Robert Manry. Singlehanded sailing across the atlantic in a 13' boat. Good stuff.


John B
10-19-2004, 03:46 PM
If you're interested in early ocean cruising add
Mulhauser and Gerbault to the list. If you can find South Sea Vagabonds by Johnny Wray its well worth reading.Real can do stuff.
Shiela in the wind , Adrian Hayter ,and The Cruise Of the Teddy, Erling Tambs are both fascinating books because of the careless sort of feeling you get from the authors.
The Southseaman by Weston Martyr is excellent but frustrating.I hated it the first time I read it. If you see a book called last voyage by Anne Davison do everyone a favour, buy it and burn it or put it through your garden mulcher.( this is from someone who loves books)

Andrew Craig-Bennett
10-19-2004, 04:44 PM
No, don't do that. Don't forget what she did next - she was the first woman to cross an ocean singlehanded - in a 23 footer. Read it, but then go on to read "My ship is so small" - here is a sample:

Conditions had a delicious dreamy Southern feel about them, calm and unhurried. There were lovely soft pearl-grey nights of a peculiar luminosity and soothing restfulness that were the physical manifestation of contentment. There were sunrises of such crystalline clarity and pristine glory that one could forgive any amount of travail for the joy of beholding those few golden moments when the world was born anew. There were sunsets so lurid, when an orange sun crept down a black and blood-red sky into a smooth lead-coloured sea, that one was convinced there was nothing less than a hurricane in the offing. I would shorten sail and batten down and prepare for the worst, only to discover that all the fuss in the heavens was for a few drops of rain. The weather eye I had acquired through years of flying and farming in England was sadly out in the lower latitudes, where the familiar signs and portents meant nothing at all. The weather could, and did, change with extraordinary rapidity, and the minutest rise or fall in barometric pressure might mean a severe blow, or nothing. . . . I soon gave up trying to forecast and took the weather as it came. After all, there is very little else you can do in the ocean, with no convenient ports to run to for shelter there, so I gave up reefing until it was necessary, and it was hardly ever necessary on this trip, as most of the time there was either a glass calm or a very light breeze, and our average day's progress was twenty miles.

The snail-like advance was a straight invitation to barnacles to grow on the log line, and they were surprisingly tenacious and difficult to remove. The water was so still and clear that sometimes it was almost as if you could see straight down to the bottom of the sea. Fascinating little striped fish, black and bright blue, swam about in the shade of the ship. A few flying fish skittered across the surface like flat stones thrown on a pond. They were very small flying fish, no bigger than minnows. There were times when rubbish thrown over the side in the morning would still be alongside at nightfall. Then the air was breathless and there would not be the smallest sound from the ship, not even a creak, and the silence was primeval. One might have been alone on the planet where even a cloud spelt companionship.

Most of the time, however, there was a huge swell in which FA rolled abominably and flung her boom from side to side with a viciousness that threatened to wrench it clean out of its fastenings. She rattled her blocks and everything not immovably fast below with an aggravating irregularity, so that I was driven to a frenzy of restowing and rigging preventers in an effort to restore peace. An intermittent blop--rattle--crash on a small boat at sea is the nautical version of the Chinese water torture.

Calms permit a little basking, but not much for a single-handed sailor. They provide an opportunity to overhaul gear and repair or renew anything that might give way under more embarrassing circumstances, for if there is one thing the sea will not forgive it is a lost opportunity. I made up and reeved new jib sheets, mended slide-seizings on the mainsail, patched the sails where they showed signs of chafe, and recovered the fenders whose canvas covers had been ruined by oil in the dock at Gibraltar, and felt no end salty at my work, deriving a deep satisfaction in the doing of it, even though the patches on the sails were by no means the finest examples of a sailmaker's art.

For the first nine days out of Casablanca there was not a ship to be seen, and I missed them, grizzling quietly to myself at the loneliness; then we joined the north- and south-bound shipping lane and two steamers appeared on the horizon at the same time, whereon, embarrassed by riches perhaps, I perversely resented their presence. "What are you doing on my ocean?"

Being in the shipping lane again meant the resumption of restless, sleepless nights. I figured out it took twenty minutes for a ship invisible over the horizon to reach us, and as a big ship was extremely unlikely to see me I had to see her, so any rest below was broken every twenty minutes throughout the hours of darkness. Enough practice since leaving England had endowed me with a personal alarm system which rang me out of a comatose condition at the appropriate intervals. Occasionally it let me oversleep, and once I awoke to find a south-bound steamer twenty-five yards astern of us. . . . A miss is as good as a mile maybe, but twenty-five yards is a narrow enough margin in the ocean, and it gave the required jolt to the personal alarm clock. On these ship-watching nights I used to get two hours of genuine sleep at dawn, when it could be assumed that FA was reasonably visible, and I couldn't care less by then anyway, but the overall lack of sleep did not improve the general physical condition, already much lowered by dysentery. The thought process, never on Einstein levels, were reduced to a positively moronic grasp, and I had some rare hassels with navigational problems. However, the balance of nature was somewhat restored in that I was eating better on this trip than on any of the previous ones--the voyage from Douarnenez to Vigo was made almost exclusively on oranges--and there are several references to cooked meals in the log book. . . . I had an uncomplicated yearning for plain boiled potatoes and cabbage. As these do not represent a normal taste on my part, I concluded it was a deficiency desire, and stepped up the daily dose of vitamin tablets: a strict necessity for ocean voyagers, as I discovered on the nineteen-day Vigo to Gibraltar run, when I tired to do without them and broke out into reluctant-to-heal sores. The only canned goods whose vitamin content survives the canning process are tomatoes, which probably explains why canned foods lost all appeal for me as soon as I went to sea. Very practically I was learning what stores would be required for the long passage.

One supper was especially memorable, though not for the menu. At 1750 hours, Sunday, October 5th to be exact, I was fixing some cheese nonsense on the stove, for it was a flat calm and I was in an experimental mood, and whilst stirring the goo in the pan I happened to glance through the porthole over the galley and spied a steamer way over on the horizon, the merest speck to eastward of us, going south. A few minutes later I looked out again and to my surprise saw she had altered course and was making towards us. Coming out of her way specially to look at a little ship. Thrilled to the quick, I abandoned supper, brushed my hair, and made up my face, noting with detached amazement that my hands were trembling and my heart was beating, and I was as excited as if I was preparing for a longed-for assignation.

She was a tall, white-grey Italian liner, the Genale of Rome, and she swept round astern of us, the officers on her bridge inspecting FA keenly through their binoculars. As she had so kindly come many miles out of her way, I had no wish to delay her needlessly, for minutes are valuable to a ship on schedule, so I made no signals, but waved, and the whole ship seemed to come alive with upraised arms waving in reply. She went on her way satisfied that all was well with her midget counterpart, and the night was a little less lonely from the knowledge of her consideration.

John B
10-19-2004, 05:18 PM
Funny how a story can affect you isn't it Andrew.I remember putting that book down in disgust and contempt. But I didn't mulch it. It still sits like a festering sore in my bookshelf.( must remember to make a warding sign next time I go past it.) I have one other book I feel the same way about. I can't say who wrote it because I know them. Frustrating. Every time I look at it I think " drop saw would fix that" :D

10-19-2004, 07:13 PM
I enjoyed Farley Mowat's other "boat" book - Grey Seas Under - about salvage tug work in the North Atlantic. Some tough work and tough characters there. Not a cruising guide to the NA. Or is it?

Just finished Nathaniel Philbrick's Sea of Glory: America's Voyage of Discovery: The US Exploring
Expedition 1838-1842. I enjoyed the read and learning some little known history (to me anyway). Just wished there were more/better illustrations of the two 70 ft. schooners, Seagull and Flying Fish. I thought it interesting that of the six ships in the expedition, the two "little" schooners were the ones the officers aspired to sail; a fact the expedition commander was slow to understand. Also interesting to learn of Charles Erskin's history as a cabin boy on the expedition who started out as an illiterate 16 year old and learned to read and write on the voyage. He went on to write the book "Twenty Years Before the Mast". I must track down a copy and read the sailors perspective from the other end of the whip.

Philbrick's other book, In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, was interesting too. Tragic indeed.

10-19-2004, 09:56 PM
John, I remember reading South Sea Vagabonds many moons ago. I've been on the lookout for a replacement copy for some time.

Auckland seemed such a cruisey place back then.

Terry Etapa
10-20-2004, 07:21 PM
When looking for a Mowatt book to read, don't forget Claire. Her book "Outport People" about when she and Farley lived in an outport town is a great read.

10-21-2004, 10:19 AM
Just found an English website containing quite a few electronic versions of nautical writings:


If you've never read it, give "The 200 Millionaire" a quick read, you'll be shipping your small wooden cruiser to Europe before Christmas.

Alan D. Hyde
10-21-2004, 06:22 PM
From The Circumnavigators by Don Holm:

The Connecticut Tahitian

When I am old I will have my past, and if
that measures up at all to the future I dream of
now, my life will have been complete.

on a lagoon into which murmurs a clear mountain stream with a series of little waterfalls and pools fringed with luxurious ferns, there is a home, Polynesian style, with terraces and pandanus roofs open at both ends for the wild pigeons and doves to fly through, the grounds lush with a curious combination of native and exotic plantings tropical cherry (for the birds), hotu and frangipani, ironwood, tamanu from Panama, Barro Colorado jungle trees from Chile and Peru, hybrid hibiscus and exotic fruits, all botanical experiments by the owner.

In this Lyrical scene, too, there is a disguised and soundproofed diesel generator that makes electricity for hot water and cooking, and stereophonic renditions of Tchaikovsky, incongruous in the evenings as the changing colors of the setting sun outline the magic island of Moorea some twelve miles to the west.

On the steps of the terrace sits a man with snowy white hair and deep-lined skin, chatting happily with his beautiful daughters, typical Tahitian girls of mixed bloodlines, who call him "Poppy" which never fails to arch the eyebrows of the tourists just off the Quantas jet when he and the girls go down to Papeete to shop at the early-
morning market.

Onlookers are apt to think that here is another wastrel or remittance man, descended to a life of beachcombing and native wenching on this tropical South Pacific isle now somewhat tainted by crass commercialism and an international jet airport. But Poppy is no ordinary South Seas derelict. He is a supremely happy man with a life of fulfillment behind him that began in the late 1930s when he purchased Svaap, which means "dream" in Sanskrit, for $1,000, and sailed her around the world at that time, the smallest vessel ever to have circumnavigated.

He is still a handsome man, but now the stern lines of his rather long face and thin tight lips that were outward marks of his inner drive and great self-discipline have softened almost in repose.

And why not? His life had almost been programmed as a living dream. Many people have sailed around the world in small vessels. Many have escaped to what they believe at first is a personal paradise. Others have spent their lives doing pretty much what impulse or whim suggested. Few of them have ever found the real happiness they said they were seeking, for they who actually do achieve such goals are usually the unhappiest. Oddly enough, it was this man himself who said it is more important to have good dreams than to attain them, the ultimate happiness being not in the accomplishment but in the seeking.

The man, of course, is the almost legendary William Albert Robinson, who, now in his seventies, is able to look back on a life that not even Hollywood would dare suggest. He not only sailed the smallest vessel around the world, but also wrote several best-selling books and countless articles that made him famous and well-heeled; and he founded a shipyard that started out to build Baltimore clippers and other beautiful sailing ships, including his own personal dream ship, the 70-foot brigantine Varua, but ended up building minesweepers and patrol boats for the Navy in World War II which earned him millions. He owned trading ships and private tropical islands. He bought a piece of Tahiti in 1929, when it was still unspoiled (and cheap), and built a home there for himself and the three marriages he found time for, one to a wholesome New England girl, another to a sophisticated and famous lady artist, and the third to a mystically beautiful and exotic Siamese-Tahitian girl called Ah You.

Romance, adventure, fame, fortune these should have been enough. But Robbie, as his friends knew him, believed there was more. He used his trained and disciplined mind and physical energies to build lasting things, and his money and scientific curiosity to create medical institutes and foundations for research and treatment of
tropical diseases. While his contemporary, Alain Gerbault, wrote about the plight of the native islander, Robinson invested his time, money, influence, and ingenuity into positive efforts to do something for them.

For all this, he was a superb, courageous, and resourceful sailor, and a gifted writer whose command of words and imagery at times come off the pages dripping with salt spume and tropical perfumes.

Robbie, a Renaissance man in the ultimate sense rather than a follower of Henri Rousseau or an imitator of Somerset Maugham, would have excelled in any field he chose. To have done so in several nonconventional ones, for a Yankee with a stern and straitlaced beginning, perhaps makes him all the more unique.

On the warm and humid evening of June 23, 1928, a 25-year-old ex-engineer who had spent the last three years working in a textile factory on the lower East Side while preparing for his personal dream, left New York in the 32-foot Alden ketch Svaap as an entry in the Bermuda Race of that year. With him as crew were several college chums, none of whom realized that Robbie had plans to continue on from Bermuda around the world in the smallest yacht ever to attempt it.

Svaap had cost Robinson a thousand dollars and he had found her in almost-new condition, only three years old, a product of the genius of Boston's John Alden and the craftsmen of Shelbourne, Nova Scotia. Although she was a work of art in every way, with the lines of the famed Gloucester fishing schooners, she was not Robinson's ideal: she was just all the boat he could buy at the time. Ketch-rigged, she was 32 feet 6 inches overall, 27 feet 6 inches on the waterline, 9 feet 6 inches of beam, and drew 5 feet 6 inches of water.

The original sail plan was 660 square feet, which was reduced to 550 for deepwater voyaging. Moderate in all her dimensions, Svaap was easily driven, handy on the helm, and supremely seaworthy. With three tons of ballast outside, she could stand up to her canvas and some passages were astonishingly fast, close to the 200-mile noon-to-noon goal of all small boat voyagers. For ease of getting in and out of harbors and clawing off reefs and lee shores, Svaap also had a dependable 10-horsepower Kermath that at times on the circumnavigation was made to burn a wide range of exotic fuels.

The Bermuda Race proved to be Svaap's ultimate test. It was a stormy and at times harrowing passage, with an amateur and seasick crew, an inexperienced skipper, and an untried boat. The little ship stood up to the test supremely well, and instead of suffering the trauma of such a desperate experience, this was just what Robbie
needed to gain confidence in himself and his vessel.

By the time he reached Bermuda, Robbie was firmly convinced that Svaap was his dream ship. She was also the culmination of a boyhood enterprise. As a youth, he had sailed a 15 foot canoe on Lake Michigan, which he parlayed into a 28-foot sloop and now into a world-ranging Alden ketch.

In Bermuda, after his college friends left to return to New York, Robbie enlisted the first of his paid hands, a Bermuda boy, Willoughby Wright, who stayed with him until they reached Tahiti. Refitted and provisioned, Svaap cruised the West Indies with stops at Haiti and Jamaica, and, on August 12, anchored at Cristobal. A month or more was spent exploring the San Blas Islands, where a native cayuca was purchased for a tender.

Robbie was one of the first to describe the ordeal of taking a small sailing vessel through the locks, and typically he devised a way to thwart the destructive impulses of the lock tender by rigging four lines to hold the vessel in the middle of the lock as the water enters. At the Pacific end, he took on more provisions and obtained with some difficulty a visa for the Galapagos Islands and a French visa for Oceania. Here Robbie made a square sail for running down the trades, and re-rigged the ketch to his own specifications.

On October 25, Svaap departed Balboa with a pet honey bear aboard as a pet. The 1,100-mile sail included squalls, calms, adverse currents, and head winds, as usual, until they made a landfall on Tower Island. Robbie was fascinated by the Galapagos Islands, and after a romantic and carefree interlude that included a love affair
with Karin, the beautiful, dark-haired, half-wild daughter of a Norwegian colonist, he tore himself away to pursue his greater dream.

Before leaving, Robbie stopped at Post Office Bay to drop off some mail for home, just to test how long it would take. By coincidence, Cornelius Crane's Illyria, on a scientific cruise, picked it up soon after and posted it at Svaap's next port!

Departure was made in hopes of making the next landfall, 4,000 miles away, on New Year's Day. Slowly Floreana dropped from sight behind them. There was no turning back against the winds and currents. They were alone on the longest, loneliest ocean passage on the globe. Only then did Robbie suffer his first shock of realization. "I felt a sudden panic," he wrote. "I felt as a bird might feel, starting out to wing a lonely way to the moon." Gradually he adjusted to the long passage frame of mind he was to adopt many times.

Then came the exhilaration and exultation of sailing down the trades. It was his first experience with the Pacific Ocean, which ever after would be "his ocean," where he felt most at home.

At noon, on December 31, they were ninety-four miles from Fangahina in the Marquesas. On January 1, 1929, at dawn, little Svaap rolled up on the crest of a swell and just ahead stood the bulge of a mountain. The landfall had been made precisely to the minute he had estimated at the beginning of the passage.

They sailed through the Tuamotus and on to Tahiti, entered the pass, and tied up to a buoy along the Papeete waterfront. The air was heavy with the scent of flowers, and filled with strange land noises: a milkman making his rounds, dogs barking. Robbie raised the yellow Q flag and waited for the authorities.

"I gave myself over to the ecstasy of it all: a feeling of utter relaxation and peace, and of accomplishment."

This first impression of Tahiti turned out to be a lifelong love affair, but there were still worlds to see and conquer. Here Wright left the ship, and Robbie engaged a Tahitian man of all trades, Etera, and made the first contacts with people who were to influence him in later life, such as Dr. Lambert of the Rockefeller Foundation, who was doing medical research in the Western Pacific, and Henri Grand, a local entrepreneur, who later became a business partner.

For six months, Robbie stayed at Te Anuanua, making short trips to Moorea and other islands while he was a house guest of friends. By then, he had gotten over his yearning for Karin and found compelling reasons for going on. He departed Wednesday, August 28, 1929, with Etera, a character who became to Robinson a constant source of frustration, disappointment, admiration, and comradeship. A small craggy man, Etera was a mixture of Gilbertese, Fijian, and Tahitian, and already had a colorful background as a blackbirder, pearl diver, and cook on trading schooners. He was about forty-one years old with a bushy head of coal black hair and a broad flat nose. Aside from adventuring, Etera best liked women and wine, in that order. For the
rest of the circumnavigation, Robbie was bailing him out of jail at every port, picking up forged markers at strange waterfront bars, and trying to separate him from his latest harem. When Etera had applied for a job the night before Robbie sailed, he was asked how much time he would need to wind up his affairs before leaving on a world cruise. "Five minutes," Etera told Robbie. This consisted only of getting his possessions out of hock at the Chinese laundry for forty francs.

Together they sailed and explored the waters of Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia, poking into remote places, living off the land and sea when they ran out of food and fuel, weathering hurricanes, making notes on native customs and taboos, compiling a dictionary of pidgin English, and even dining with cannibals - all in that dim
period prior to World War II, before the Southwest Pacific became a vast wartime theater of operations. When Robbie visited the area, much of it was not even charted, and he found countless colonial pestholes dating back to the eighteenth century, cesspools of World War I intrigue, lonely missionaries, feudal planters, and Sadie Thompson dives on sultry waterfronts.

They visited Hollandia, once a teeming colonial city when Muhlhauser was there, now almost deserted of Europeans, and later to become a military staging base. They called at the uninhabited Komodo Island of the giant monitor lizards, long before the television travelogs had heard of it.

Sailing through the exotic Java Sea, they called at Batavia, went on through Banka Strait to Singapore, and entered the South China Sea. They had now sailed as far east as they could go, in spite of having been pointed west all the time. From here on, they would be homeward bound.

Like most travelers then, they received a hospitable welcome at Singapore, and survived the Christmas festivities of 1930. Sailing on Sunday, December 28, they cruised for three weeks in the Strait of Malacca, stopping to go ashore frequently, with Robbie often trudging miles into the jungle while Etera stayed behind to guard the boat.

On the last day of the year, they left Malacca and went to Penang, amost fascinating and exotic port filled with junks and sampans that looked clumsy until Robbie tried to race them. Here Svaap was hauled out and reconditioned. Next came a glorious sail to Sabang, the little island off the north end of Sumatra, with the next port Colombo, Ceylon, where they stayed a week. The wettest passage was along the Malabar Coast where the anchorages were open roadsteads.

He wanted to stop to explore the maze of canals and lagoons, the ancient walled cities, temples, and old palaces, but for this he needed an outboard motor and small boat, and, besides, the season was now becoming advanced for the passage to the Red Sea.

They left Mangalore on February 20, 1931, for Makalla, down to a ration of six small potatoes, half a tin of sardines, an onion, and a tin of evaporated milk for the l,000-mile passage. They found no Europeans at Makalla, but an Arabian Nights atmosphere of fierce Arabs, bearded Bedouins, religious fanatics, sultans, and exotic drums.

Ashore, Robbie was caught in a mob scene and in danger of being killed. He was saved by a tall stranger and later given the protection of the sultan, as well as a farewell gift of 150 rupees for "the brave American who sailed for the first time an American boat to Makalla."

The next stop was Aden, followed by two months of fighting their way against hot head winds and through uncharted waters, reef crawling most of the way. There was a brief spell in a local jail, a melodramatic escape from captors who held him for ransom, and the elusion of a pirate dhow. Graciously, King Ign [Ibn?] Saud himself extended
his personal protection to Robbie for the rest of his stay in Arabia.

Entering the Gulf of Suez and fighting all the way, the Svaap inched up to Suez after three months of heat, sand wastes, hostile natives, adverse winds, and dangerous reefs.

After passing through the Canal, Svaap was overhauled at Port Said with the help of the Canal Company. Course was set for the Greek Islands, which Robinson wanted to explore. The winds and seas were violent most of the time in the Mediterranean. They went through the Corinth Canal, built by Nero 1,900 years before. They visited Ithaca, sailed through Charybdis and past Scylla, paused at Capri, weathered more gales, and then went on to the Italian Riviera.

On July 23, they rounded the cape and came upon Villefranche and entered the small basin. There a man dashed out on the pier shouting, "Robinson? For God's sake don't leave yet. I've got your grandmother in tow!"

Months before, Robbie had made a date to meet his grandmother, who would be traveling in Europe, on a certain day. This was the day, and it was twelve minutes before noon, the time appointed for the meeting.

Remembering his Bermuda Race experience, Robbie was in no mood to cross the Atlantic between July and October. He decided to wait until November. This would give him six weeks in France. Etera had been in so many jams that Robinson had lost count. He had nursed Etera back to health on one occasion. Often he had taken the mate back after firing him or after Etera had quit numerous times.

In Paris, Etera lived up to his old tricks. He forged checks on "Captaine de Yak Svaap, Robinson" at bars and brothels. Finally, on September 11, they left for Gibraltar, and sailed for home via the southern route. Robinson wrote:

When two people have faced death, adventure, and romance of all sorts together in close association for more than two years, the combination is not easily broken. At sea he (Etera) was a splendid little sailor, afraid of nothing. Never once did he fail to produce regular meals. His orginality in port brought on some difficult situations, and some amusing ones.

The pathetic letters he wrote from various jails he got into were themselves worth his keep.

In Tenerife, Robbie had to shanghai Etera away after more shore trouble, just ahead of the police, slipping out of port at dawn. Boiling down the trades, they made the long passage skirting a hurricane cell. On November 1, staggering before an easterly gale, with a falling
glass, they crossed Robbie's outbound track and thus completed the circumnavigation in an elapsed time of three years and nine days to the hour.

There were eight hundred miles to go. They entered smoke from a forest fire. Looking for Frying Pan Lightship, they thought the chronometer was off and later learned that the ship had been moved.

Soundings showed them the shoal. For ninety miles, they groped northward in the gray blanket of smoke. When they were where Robbie thought they would hear the surf on Cape Lookout Shoals, he started the engine and said to Etera, "In a half hour we will stop the engine and listen again. I think we will hear the bell buoy that
marks the entrance to Morehead City." Within minutes after stopping the engine, they heard the harsh clang of the bell. Once again, Robinson's uncanny sense of timing had proved accurate.

"Capitainel Capitainel It's the belll C'est fini la guerre!" Etera called.

Svaap had come home.

They continued on up to New York and tied to the mooring at the Battery. Robinson was given a hero's welcome. He wrote a best-selling book of adventure and escape with the same exquisite timing he showed in his navigation. He wrote magazine articles and went on a lecture tour. He got married. He was famous.

Two years later, with his bride, Florence, a New England girl who had learned to sail in dinghies, and a cousin, Daniel T. West, Robbie sailed again in Svaap. After more adventures in the West Indies, and a grounding in a river on the Central American coast, they went through the canal again and headed for the Galapagos Islands. The purpose of this voyage was mainly to do some scientific research, and to make a movie of penguins on one of the islands. For props, they had brought doll-house furniture, purchased at Macy's, and on the
island they built a small "penguin city" of lava rock.

Just as they began filming, Robbie, who had never been sick a day in his life, came down with appendicitis, which ruptured on the second day and peritonitis set in. A thousand miles from help, on a lonely island, and with a maximum of three days estimated time before death would come, there appeared miraculously in the cove an
American tuna clipper, the Santa Cruz, with a long-range radio.

Next followed a race with death in which the U.S. Navy at Panama dispatched a destroyer with complete operating facilities and a flight of Army planes to assist in the rescue. The dramatic, almost melodramatic episode caught the attention of the world at a time when the public needed something to shake the routine boredom.

Newspapers and radio stations all over the world followed the rescue effort minute by minute as the dispatches came in. If Robbie had been famous before, now he was a superstar.

His luck still holding, he was taken aboard the destroyer for an emergency operation, then taken to Gorgas Hospital in Balboa for further treatment and two more operations by Dr. Troy W. Earhart, one of the world's finest surgeons. While he was recuperating, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt passed through the Canal Zone
bound for Hawaii. Robinson was invited to meet with the President and had an opportunity to thank him for the assistance of the Army and Navy.

Robbie then decided to give Svaap to the Naval Academy at Annapolis. Before salvage operations could be organized, it was learned that the local military commander at Wreck Bay had commandeered Svaap for his own use and wrecked it on a reef.

He and Florence later sailed to Tahiti on a steamship and built their home there. In 1937, restless, his New England conscience telling him that he should not be living such an idyllic life, they returned to Ipswich, on the Connecticut River, where Robbie indulged his second great love, after Tahiti, that of designing and building sailing ships. In his small yard, which he founded, he rounded up old-time New England craftsmen and they began turning
out beautiful vessels such as Baltimore clippers, as well as trawlers for the fishing fleet.

Then came World War II, and his yard was taken over and expanded for Navy vessels. At the peak, more than six hundred men were employed and some two hundred ships were built. Just prior to the defense effort, Robbie had purchased in Ceylon a beautiful full-rigged ship and had it brought to Gloucester as a model for designing and restoring classic old vessels. Later he sent this vessel to Tahiti to be operated in partnership with Henri Grand. During the same period, he designed and built with W. Starling Burgess and L. Francis Herreshoff his idea of an ultimate yacht, the 70-foot Varua.

He lived on Varua, tied up in the river, during those hectic wartime years, dreaming of returning to Tahiti some day. Meanwhile, he had been divorced and married again, this time to Sarah Lancashire, an artist whose professional name was Sallie White.

At last, on July 7, 1945, after winning the Navy E, completing the ship contracts, and disbanding the business, he departed on the unfinishd Varua. In his papers was a letter of authorization from Admiral Chester Nimitz himself to enter the South Pacific war zone. On board were Sarah, or SLR, as he called her, and two of his closest wartime assistants. They made a stormy passage via the old sailing route to Port of Spain and Panama, where the two old friends left the ship.

With a hired Haitian as crew, and SLR as mate, he sailed to the Galapagos for a visit, calling upon his old romance, Karin, now burdened with children and living in semi-poverty. Then Varua
sailed down the long passage to the Tuamotus and Tahiti and home for Robbie.

Life in Tahiti was not one of idleness. Robbie kept busy with a project of building a native community on an atoll he had purchased at auction from the government with Henri Grand as partner and there engaged in medical research. He sailed Varua on exploring missions among the islands, and even up to Hawaii. He wrote books and articles. He lived his dream at last.

Ultimately, SLR could not take the island life any more, and yearning for the world of art, patrons, and more intellectual outlets, she left for Italy. They parted on good terms and with mutual respect. In Italy, Sarah reached full development as an artist and achieved worldwide acclaim.

Next we find Robbie married to Ah You, an exquisitely beautiful half-caste. On Varua, with Ah You and a native crew, Robbie sailed on a year-long voyage along the clipper route in the forties and fifties, during which he encountered the ultimate storm, described in great detail in a later book. They visited Chile and Peru, pausing for long periods for inland excursions, went up past the Guano Islands to the Galapagos for his fourth visit to the Enchanted Islands, and put in at Balboa where Ah You gave birth to their first child, a girl.

When the baby was only two months old, they departed again for home on Tahiti. More voyages followed, usually combined with scientific research, more intense work on his favorite project, finding a cure for elephantiasis and trying to trace the migrations of the Polynesians. More children also followed. As they prepared for a long cruise to Southeast Asia and Siam, Ah You became ill. She stayed behind, planning to join Robbie and the children later by air. But that was the last they saw of her, for she died soon after.

Back in Tahiti again, Robinson now found his roots deeper than ever in his beloved Ofaipapa, and his long years of work to bring about Franco-American cooperation in medical research reaching a point where it no longer needed his drive, ability, and financing.

What else would a man want?

The sea is strange and alien to man. It is cruel. It is beautiful. I could never understand the recent vogue for drifting on rafts, trailing barnacles and seaweed while growing biblical beards. The sea is for action: cresting, white foam at the bow, racing wake astern. You long for
port, although at the very end you are never quite sure whether it is the delight of the landfall or regret that the voyage is done . . . but underneath it all you know that what is troubling you is that your goal has been achieved and is gone.

Gone are that sturdy little ketch, Svaap, and Etera and a thousand strange and exotic islands. Gone are Karin and those wild moonlight rides over the ridges of San Cristobal. Gone the shipyard and six hundred loyal workers. Gone are Florence and the full-rigged Malabar ship he named for her. Gone the exhilaration and exultation of riding the foaming crests of a storm on a long Pacific passage. Gone is SLR, whose mind and artistic talent were keen enough to collide with his own. Gone is Ah You, the half-caste girl of mystical beauty, almost too unreal to be mortal, but who lives on in their daughters. Gone are the Arabian Nights adventures, the stimulation of goals and projects, the heady essence of fame and success.

He has had them all.

Yet, he still has the memories, and on a cool evening from the veranda at Ofaipapa he can see Varua in the harbor, resting sleekly at her moorings, her unique foremast yard harbor-braced and cocked, eager and able to take her owner anywhere in the world. There, with the sunset colors playing in the last light, he can see the fairy island of Moorea some twelve miles away to the west.

All is peace at last.


Read any of his books... To the Great Southern Sea by William A. Robinson is a good place to start.



[ 10-22-2004, 12:32 PM: Message edited by: Alan D. Hyde ]

10-22-2004, 10:02 AM
That's a great short story.

Matt J.
10-22-2004, 04:04 PM
Thanks for the reminder, Alan, of why we have little RARUS in the first place. (we almost bought EAGLET, SVAAP's surviving sister, but the deal went south).

I have 10,000 Leagues Over the Sea at home, a Wartime edition, I've been looking forward to reading.

10-22-2004, 04:45 PM
Originally posted by John B:
Funny how a story can affect you isn't it Andrew.I remember putting that book down in disgust and contempt. But I didn't mulch it. It still sits like a festering sore in my bookshelf.( must remember to make a warding sign next time I go past it.) I have one other book I feel the same way about. I can't say who wrote it because I know them. Frustrating. Every time I look at it I think " drop saw would fix that" :D I'd be more than happy to at least borrow it from you John! smile.gif

I've just read a book that I didn't like. Called "Dangerous Voyage", it's about a fellow who makes his way from the Caribean back to Australia after WW II. The bloke was a hazzard to himself and others and only made it by the grace of some higher power. I think he managed to go aground on every landfall he ever made, had at least one fire aboard, made his way around at least one headland/cliff by fending off with his arms, sank himself, pulled a shark into the cockpit, which destroyed a good bit of the cockpit and the aft end of the house and then, later, did it again!. I believe after the last sinking/burning, he gave up going on his own and hitchhiked the rest of the way. By this point, it wasn't all that far to go, so, very much in spite of himself, he made it most of the way home. Pretty disgusting sail tale. :rolleyes:

10-22-2004, 04:55 PM
Svaap (John Alden, design 224A)

10-22-2004, 04:58 PM
Here's some winter reading that won't cost you a dime!

Cruises and Logs (http://www.cruiser.co.za/links1.asp)

10-22-2004, 05:30 PM
Riddle of the Sands - Erskine Childers
A Thousand Dollar Yacht -- Anthony Bailey
'Hornblower' series -- C.S. Forester
??__________?? (help me) -- Webb Chiles