Sunday, March 6, 2011


To see my other 4 travel blogs, click on:
Blogs not visible yet, under construction:
    Cuba: 1960 under Castro
    Hiking: ME to GA, AZ, AK, HI, Canada, Norway, Germany, Japan, Mexico

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To see a particular chapter/segment, click on it in  the list at right

I was alone on my little sloop in October 1956.    It was cold black above, windy black all around, undulating black sea below.    At the top of each wave I could see a few tiny low lights on the distant coast of England, near the White Cliffs of Dover.    France was out of sight on my left.
It sounded like it, anyway.    Apparently my boat had struck an unbuoyed uncharted wreck. The hull heeled abruptly and was swung around by the waves.    On the next swell it was lifted free, but in the following trough the crash was louder and the boat heeled more.     Clearly the third impact would be the final one, and the sea would pour into the grounded hull.     I had no life raft, and the nearest land was several miles away, beyond the swift currents of the cold dark sea.

The QUOTES above are the immortal words of Snoopy, another would-be author. To find out if (?) and how I survived, read on.

Here I am 93, as of 2017, an Ancient Mariner, a Valuable Antique, and have made little progress in writing a book about my travels.   Part of the delay is knowing that others have had more exciting experiences and have written about them more artfully, and part is sloth.   So I'm starting the book with this blog.

Andy Warhol said everybody would be world-famous for at least 15 minutes.   An exaggeration, but I was spotlighted briefly by Lowell Thomas after crossing the Atlantic alone in 1957.    He was the newscaster who had made himself famous by making Lawrence of Arabia famous.   Soloing the Atlantic was uncommon sixty and more years ago, and always resulted in media coverage, and often a book.   Now many have done it, because of precedent and improved  technology (GPS, self steering, more).    I didn't have much of either.

Often I've been asked why I did that.   For those who don't mean, "What possessed you to do such a foolish thing ?",  here's from whence the infection came:
* Richard Halliburton, whose vagabonding books I got one Christmas at a time when I was a kid, starting with the seductive Royal Road to Romance.
* My grandfather.   Not the German immigrant who got run over by a streetcar in Harvard Square when I was a year old, but my mother's father, Frost Paine Bailey, who was closer to me than was my father.   The Baileys barely stayed afloat financially in the Depression by a little farming, a little real estate, a little taxi service, and his part time job as the Harpswell, Maine, agent for Casco Bay Lines, and school superintendent.   All my senses recall the shiny swirling grey green water, connected to the rest of the planet, in the narrowing gap between the high dock and the little steamer Aucocisco, which Grandpa met twice daily.
* His brother Myron, who captained ships around Cape Horn 30 times, and to the Orient,  as  commercial sail was being  slowly supplanted by engine powered ships.  He survived a divorce, a shipwreck, and the end of the Age of Commercial Sail to die on his little California almond ranch in the Depression.  I met him once, in 1931.  He had much in common with his famous contemporary, Joshua Slocum, who "... left his childhood home on a hardscrabble farm to go to sea... had lost two clipper ships under his command to shipwreck.   His second wife was no sailor and wished to stay inland.   He was broke.   He had been at the pinnacle of a fine career and then everything was lost.   One of the reasons was that the great days of sailing were over: Slocum had been born too late.   Steel ships and steam power were taking the place of wood and canvas, and his own commands were throwbacks to a previous age.... Although most ordinary crew members couldn't read or write, being a sea captain required literacy, knowledge of Euclidean geometry, trigonometry, advanced algebra, as well as knowledge of various languages, customs and law." 
* My parents, who inexplicably let me ride my one-speed bicycle alone from Maine to upper New York and back at age 14.   They were less influential the next year: she died from the effects of rheumatic fever in 1920, and he continued engrossed in the car business.
* Miss Heald, my teacher in our one-room Winslow grade school, who instilled a love of geography.   She told us about the Euphrates flowing past Baghdad to join the Tigris and form the Shat al Arab at Basra, and seared those names on my brain.  
* My appetite for exciting voyages was honed by two flights from Maine to and around Mexico in my  $800 Commonwealth Skyranger.

For about two decades a succession of things had pushed thoughts of the sea to the background: puberty, girls, MIT, World War II, marriage, jobs, small planes, fatherhood.    Then divorce in 1952, which meant the trauma of losing my treasured daughter Carol.   That year I went to Greenland as an engineer.   The hours were long and the tax-free pay was high.   Four years later I took ship passage from Montreal to Holland.   I thought my opportunity to sail across an ocean might never come again.

PS in 2017:  I was not only free of obligations, but also relatively free of concerns about money.   In other words as an American I was rich in postwar Europe, which had hardly begun to recover from the devastation.   From The Economist of 8/26/2017: "The average wage for a labourer in the early 1960s was $39.70".   That's a lot less than a dollar an hour for a work week of 48 hours or so, and it was worse in the 1950s.    

There was a lovely surfeit of girls on the steamship.   That's a Long Story, which means you can read between the lines, I don't know who will read this, and some ideas thought to be modern have really been current for a very long time.


Blogger chuck said...
You have me "reading between the lines". This kind of writing is intimate, tasteful, and fun...and a "lost art".
Blogger Babie D said...
Blogger TJ Blackblog said...
Very inspiring writing. My wife and I are 35 and 36 years old and share dreams of entrepreneurship, travel and adventure. We enjoyed your life stories and would certainly read your noval should you complete one. Your Portland Paper Carriers, Jason and Michelle Pulsifer
Blogger Chris said...
I think you grossly underestimate how interesting others would find your experiences to be.

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