Twelve years ago I had not long finished the plans for Swaggie, an 18ft long junk rigged mini blue water cruiser, and had published a teaser on line. It had attracted attention from quite a few people, among which was a gent who identified himself as an American, living in Japan with his wife and family, and who I found out later wrote western novels ( among other genre) for a living.
Charlie Whipple wanted to build a small yacht, but one in which he could circumnavigate, wanted to know if he could fit “this” and “that” into Swaggies solid little hull, and the emails flew back and forth until I said “enough”, drew a sketch of a 6.5m gaff cutter which had space for all of his wish list, and sent it off.
The next email said something along the lines of “I’m arriving on ( this date), can you please help me find a shed and a place to stay?

Hooboy! Denny and I were due to head out on an overseas holiday about a week after he was to arrive, and the boat only existed as a rough pencil sketch.

He arrived, we had a little confusion about arrival dates and times but I managed to find him in the airport lounge, and on our way back to our place I noted on the side of the road, stopped and bought a little 10 ft caravan, and a few hundred yards along the road an old Mitsi station wagon. Bought that too. Abut two grand for transport and accommodation.

We were in the middle of building our house, were staying in a campground nearby but the workshop was up and useable, so the caravan was duly set up in the campground, the car checked over to make sure it was all legal and we did the walkaround in the workshop so he’d know where everything was.

I drew up the plans for the main and forward hatches, took him to the lumber yard and bought materials then headed out. It was the kids trip to Disneyland, a road trip through Las Vegas and down to Tijuana and all points in between. For us that’s a big trip, its an 11 hour flight each way from here to LAX .

Got back and Charlie had made pretty good progress on the hatches, made friends at the campground, and was well settled in his little home on wheels, so it was nose to the grindstone for me, and drawing up the plans at least fast enough to stay a bit ahead of him.

We had lots of adventures Charlie and I, some good, some, like him losing a finger and most of a thumb on my sawbench, not so good. But by the time launching day came around a bit over two years later he was a very good friend.

The boat went in, and sailing tests, after a slight mod to accommodate some wire rigging with more stretch in than the suppliers suggested, were very successful. The fat little long keeled cutter was a lot quicker than most thought she’d be, her accommodation more than adequate, and she self steered on most points of sail with only sheet to tiller ( Thank you John Letcher, look up his book on that subject) to guide her.

It was late in our summer that he headed out, friends standing on the rocks of Mount Maunganui in Tauranga, and we followed his reports avidly as he made progress toward Hawaii.

But, he reported from about 200 miles north of New Zealands northermost point that he had a problem and was heading back. On his way though he made an error transcribing the GPS reading to his chart ( pre chart plotters being cheap enough to warrant buying) and the little ship, trucking along on her own, doing what she was designed to do, sailed herself onto the rocks at the base of a 200 ft cliff on the outside of Great Barrier Island. He’d been 50 miles further in than he thought, and had taken a short nap at just the wrong time.

The chopper responded to his distress beacon, and he was lifted off, taken back to Auckland where we picked him up and kept him company until he could catch a flight home. Amazingly he had no injuries apart from a few scratches from climbing onto the rocks where he watched “Resolution” being ground to splinters by the surf, but huge injury to his psyche. Something that took him years to get over.

He came back to NZ last year to visit friends, check some details for the book he was writing, and to visit the wreck site if he could.
We, he and I did all those, except the wreck site. That part of Great Barrier Island is seriously steep and challenging terrain, and he, not in very good health, couldn’t make it up the first hill let alone the rest of the 5 km scramble over the peninsula to where the remains of Resolution lay. So I ran it while he sat and waited, managed to get down the cliff to the site, and even more of an effort, managed to climb back up with a 2ft x 3ft section of the cold moulded hull.

He took that back home, planned to have it framed and put on his office wall. Still bright yellow, the wood still in good order, no rot, the epoxy still bonded and the stainless screws still perfect, it was a very appropriate memento.

Charlie Whipple died this morning. He’d not been well for a long time, had heart problems but it was cancer that took him from us. It was relatively quick which I guess is easier, but he leaves a very big gap, in the lives of his family, his friends, the readers of his books and the boating world as well. We’ll miss him. Rest in peace Charlie, you may have only achieved half of your dream of building a boat and sailing around the world, but that’s so much more than most of us dreamers ever manage to do.

Charlies book is available on Amazon, it’s a very good read.

RIP Charlie.
John Welsford