|Artwork I purchased on Etsy - 2-1/2" x 3-1/2"|
After college, I worked as a technical bibliographer at Ford Motor Company’s Engineering & Research Library in Dearborn, Michigan. I’d been there about six months when I met Ed. He’d finished a master’s degree in electrical engineering at Stanford, and had been hired to work in the Physics Department in the research labs. Ed visited the library to request a literature search on the applications of carbon dioxide lasers, and I got the assignment. We dated a little over a year, and were married on August 14, 1970.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
One of my earliest memories is the recurring nightmare that haunted my childhood. In the dream I was be out in the middle of the ocean on a dark, moonless night. The towering black hull of an overwhelmingly huge ship bore down on me, white waves frothing around the bow. I would wake, crying, and my mother would come into my bedroom to comfort me. The nightmare left me with not only a fear of ships, but also pictures of ships.
In 1954, when I was seven years old, my maternal grandmother went on a pilgrimage to Europe, traveling by ocean liner. When she returned, she gave me all the postcards she had collected on her trip. Among them was a postcard of one of the ships she had traveled on. It was an aerial view of the Ile de France, set against the ocean. I don't remember much that filled me with more terror than that picture. Being a child, I didn't realize I could have thrown the postcard away and no one would have known. Instead, I kept it hidden so I wouldn't come upon it by accident.
I never told anyone my fears, not my family, not my friends - not even the fellow I had dated for three years in college. But then, on my second date with Ed, I shared my story of the nightmare ship. When I think back on that evening, I wonder why, after twenty-one years of silence, I shared my secret with a man I barely knew. Or why I eventually married this man, who would one day not only dream of living on a sailboat, but would be one of those relatively rare people capable of handling all the physical, emotional, and financial obstacles that keep most armchair sailors on land. Someone who would take me sailing across oceans - to the time and place where my nightmare would become reality. Years later, I joked I should have married an accountant in Kansas. Still, at the time, a physicist in Michigan had seemed safe enough.
DECISION TO GO CRUISING
In 1976, I was the librarian at a small chemical company in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Having left the research labs, Ed was working as an automotive design engineer at Ford. We were both doing well in our careers, and had a four-bedroom home on the Huron River in Ann Arbor. We’d been married for six years, and we were pretty sure we didn't want children. Just into our thirties, and we were starting to wonder what we were going to do with the rest of our lives.
A friend of ours, Tony Davis, along with three other people, purchased an old wooden sailboat. Their intent was to go cruising for a couple of years. The boat basically self-destructed at the dock, and Tony returned to Ann Arbor after a few months. We listened to Tony’s stories. After that, Ed occasionally suggested that he and I should try the cruising life. To which I would reply, “Go with Tony.” I’ll admit I didn’t take to the idea of living on a sailboat. I told Ed he was crazy to even think about it.
Since Ed was reading Tony’s cruising magazines, the subject continued to surface. Maybe the fourth or fifth time Ed mentioned it, he hit me after an especially frustrating day at work, and I said, “Yes, let’s do it.” That was in June of 1976. We didn’t leave Michigan until November 1978, but in those two years - though there were doubts - I never changed my mind, nor felt we wouldn’t go.
I remember being at work the day after we had so casually made our momentous decision. At coffee break I sat with some of my co-workers. During a lull in the conversation, I told them Ed and I had decided to buy a sailboat, and cruise the world. No one responded. The previous conversation resumed.
At the next lull, I said, “I just told all of you that we’re going off on a sailboat, and nobody said anything.”
One of the women spoke what all of them were thinking, “Don’t be silly. You’ll never do that.”
Ed also delivered the news at work that day - to his boss, Larry. Larry had an 18-foot sailboat, and he’d taken us out on a small lake a couple of times (my only experience with boats). I’m sure Larry was remembering how I’d refused to even try my hand at the tiller. He told Ed, “Jeanie will never go.”
It wasn’t that our friends were judging me unfairly. I had never been the athletic-outdoorsy type. I didn’t take part in any sports in school. I never walked when I could drive. Ed had exposed me to camping, but I didn’t take to it - all that dirt and discomfort and bugs. His efforts to teach me downhill skiing were also a dismal failure. Once, I even managed to fall off the chair lift when we were about six feet off the ground.
All in all, between my fear of ships, and my lack of interest in the outdoors, I was one of your least likely candidates for the cruising life.
After Ed and I made the decision to sell everything, and live on a sailboat, we couldn’t help but wonder what that life would be like. To get a taste of the lifestyle, we made plans to take a vacation in the Caribbean, and charter a sailboat. It’s pretty funny, when you think about it. We were buying a sailboat, but didn’t have the confidence or experience to rent one without a crew.
We chose a 46-foot sloop named Fine Feather. John and Linda, the owners of Fine Feather, chartered the boat in the Virgin Islands, working out of St. Thomas. We lived on Fine Feather for a week. Included was our private cabin, gourmet meals three times a day, swimming, snorkeling, sails around the Virgin Islands, with nighttime anchorages in different locations.
Our week on Fine Feather lived up to everything promised, and more, including a few unexpected treats - like an impromptu sail on the beautiful 90-foot schooner, Antares. John and Linda were good friends with the owner, a South African who'd sailed Antares across the Atlantic to the Caribbean. We were in an anchorage one day when John and Linda spotted Antares sailing through the channel. The four of us piled into their Zodiac, and motored over to catch up with Antares. Invited aboard, we climbed onto the yacht and joined them for their sail. We met the owner and crew - there were no guests aboard. Antares was out sailing to make the most of a beautiful day.
It was a week in paradise, in every way. While that boded well for our future as live-aboards, it was obvious that some of the things we enjoyed on Fine Feather would be missing on our own sailboat - like the gourmet meals and a friendly crew to pamper us.
FINDING A BOAT
Once the decision had been made, we raided the Ann Arbor public library. We read books about boats, sailing, and the cruising lifestyle. I wasn’t interested in the technical aspects, and decided to follow Ed’s opinion as to what we would want in a sailboat. We heard of a new Taiwanese ketch that was being brokered in the Detroit area, and went to take a look. Other than that boat, there didn’t seem to be too many large sailboats available in our area of Michigan.
We took to reading the brokerage ads in SAIL magazine. Based on our research, Ed made a list of our criteria: 40-45 feet in length (a good size for live-aboards), used boat (cheaper), a steel hull (strength, easily repaired), a ketch (two masts, with smaller sail area per sail for easier handling), and an aft cabin (best place to sleep at sea).
We saw an ad for a steel sailboat listed with a broker in Ft. Lauderdale. I gave him a call. He asked me how tall my husband was, and when I said 6’1”, he told me we didn’t want that particular boat. Ed wouldn’t be able to stand upright when below deck. The broker asked our requirements, and I read him our list. He told me he would mail us the paperwork on several boats, some which would be available in Florida, and others in the Caribbean.
One day I was daydreaming about finding our boat. My fantasy yacht was called “Moonbeam.” I pictured us going down to the Caribbean to see her. When the listings arrived from the broker, I leafed through the papers. With a total lack of interest in the technical information, I looked at the photos and read the names of the boats. When I saw one called “Tropic Moon,” I thought, “Ah, there’s my Moonbeam!” When Ed came home from work and read through the listings, he said that there were only two boats worth following up on. One of them was Tropic Moon.
I checked back with the broker. For some reason, one boat was unacceptable - I think the price was too high - and that left Tropic Moon. But the broker wasn’t sure if she was still available - she had been on the market for so long. Nor could he tell me where she was located without doing some checking. When he did call back, it was to say Tropic Moon was moored in Grenada, in the southern Caribbean, and was still for sale.
Though the boat sounded promising, we didn’t rush right down to Grenada. For one thing, this was many years before the U.S. Marines would make the island famous by invading it – and Clint Eastwood would star in the movie, Heartbreak Ridge. We needed to locate Grenada in our atlas. We also took care of practical matters like having the boat surveyed; getting copies of the blueprints for Tropic Moon from the designer, (Alan Buchanan, in England); and negotiating the sale price. When, after several months, we finally did go down to Grenada for a firsthand look at Tropic Moon, we were already pretty sure we would be buying her.
Tropic Moon’s steel hull was built in Holland in 1961, and the rest of her construction had been done in England. She was first named Miskin, and her original owner sold her after a year. Her new owners renamed her Tropic Moon, and sailed her across the Atlantic Ocean, to the Caribbean.
In 1978, Tropic Moon was already seventeen years old, and had led a pretty hard life. She worked for twelve years as a charter boat in the southern islands, followed by five years of non-use and neglect in Grenada. Aesthetically, whoever had decorated her interior had never read the book on appropriate, cool colors for the tropics. Her settees were red vinyl, the carpeting in the two sleeping cabins was a dirty, dark red, and there was red linoleum on the floors in the salon, hall and galley. The Formica covering the walls and counter tops in the galley was bright red - with glaring turquoise trim. The interior was dingy and dirty. Rotting curtains hung in tatters over the saloon windows.
We had flown down for our “trial sail,” so we were more than a little unhappy to find that the main mast had been taken out of the boat to repair some wood rot. And nobody had bothered to tell us! Though we couldn’t sail Tropic Moon, Sam (TM’s captain), gave us a ride in the boat, motoring around the large, beautiful, horseshoe-shaped harbor of St. George’s, Grenada’s capital.
We knew from the survey that the steel hull needed extensive work, and that the teak deck would have to be replaced. At the time we toured Tropic Moon, I couldn't appreciate her finer features - like the lovely teak woodwork we would eventually unearth from beneath the blackened, aged varnish. Still, we figured she would do, since Tropic Moon fit our criteria. She was a 42-foot, steel-hulled ketch, with an aft cabin. She was reasonably priced because of her poor condition ($35,000).
Once we returned home to Michigan, ready to go through with the purchase, we heard from the yacht broker. The owner, (whom we never met), hadn’t been able to sell Tropic Moon for years. Yet now he was claiming to have found another buyer. He tried to raise the price to $45,000. We held firm at $35,000, but it was months before we knew for sure the sale would go through. It was an anxious time. I consoled myself with thoughts that a better boat would come along. Still, in my heart of hearts, I knew Tropic Moon was my “Moonbeam,” and I wanted her to be our home. It was a relief when the owner finally agreed to honor the contract, and sell us the boat.
While most potential boat owners spend months, or even years, searching for the right boat - aside from that Taiwanese ketch in Detroit - Tropic Moon was the only sailboat we looked at, and the only boat we seriously considered.
Having found a boat only got us half way there. There were months of preparation ahead, as well as doubts and uncertainties. I realized I could change my mind. And I thought about it, especially when friends questioned our sanity. They reminded us of all we were giving up (i.e., great jobs, money, security, not to mention health and dental insurance). It didn’t help that not one friend, or member of my family, thought I was capable of succeeding in this new life style. The only person who had any faith in me was Ed.
JOURNAL ENTRY (April 14, 1978)
Well, dear journal, I guess the big news is we mailed off the money to pay for the boat. Didn't seem like anything. Just sent a piece of paper, and in exchange for that piece of paper, we get a sailboat. Tropic Moon is to be our home. We intend to cruise the world with her. That sounds impressive, to say the least. But become reality? Why not? As I read the other day, "There was no reason not to go." And that's the position we're in - ready for breaks from our careers, no family responsibilities (and none planned), money socked away, and... Tropic Moon waiting for us in Grenada.
JOURNAL ENTRY (April 17, 1978)
The big event, since last writing, is that we now have a Bill of Sale (which I like to think of as a Bill of Sail). We also have a very official-looking paper, with red seal and ribbons, which says Americans own Tropic Moon. We've turned in the British registry to the British Consulate in Detroit, and have another paper with red seal to show for it. I keep writing that we finally own Tropic Moon, but we're actually only still 99% of the way there. The money hasn't been released from escrow yet because the provisional registry hasn't arrived. A minor point, really, but I did breathe a sigh of relief when Ed turned in the British registry. They can't get her back now!
To make all of this happen, we visited the American Embassy in Barbados, to complete the necessary paperwork. From there, we flew on to Grenada. We stayed three days on Tropic Moon. It was my first time staying on the boat. I had been apprehensive about cockroaches, but didn't see any on the boat - despite the fact they ran all over the docks. I had been concerned about getting sick when we sailed, but only got a little queasy. Staying on the boat was nice. Nice is a rather bland word to use, but that's what it was. Not exciting or romantic or thrilling. On the other hand, not terrible either - just nice.
I enjoyed sitting in the cockpit watching the activity around the harbor. It was fun to lie around reading - a sea story, of course. It was nice to laze in the bunk each morning, taking hours to get up. The closest we came to "romantic" was the two of us sitting on deck at night doing some stargazing. Ed already knows several of the constellations; the best I can do is pick out the Big Dipper.
I felt like an old-timer, this being my second visit to Grenada. I was much more relaxed this time, the biggest difference being I could understand the people when they spoke to me. Their West Indian accents are challenging. This time I quit listening so hard, and the meanings sunk in.
This trip was my first opportunity to sail on Tropic Moon. (Ed had been down in January, after the main mast was put back into the boat.) The only other sailing I've done was a week's charter in the Virgin Islands, when we were checking out the idea of living on a boat, and a couple of day sails with Ed's boss from Ford. Not much in the way of experience, especially for an "avid sailor" as I've recently heard myself described! I enjoyed the sail. We got ourselves out into some fairly rough water. Sam, Tropic Moon's captain for the past five years, was with us. I even took the wheel for a while. I have pictures to prove it.
JOURNAL ENTRY (July 5, 1978)
I have a good job, but I'm anxious to quit. I'm counting the days until I can give three months' notice; I've already leaked the date to a few people. I should know by now there's no great big dream to look forward to. That my problems will continue - just in a different environment. I won't be escaping the feelings of frustration, insecurity, depression, and restlessness.
Ed won’t set a date for our departure, which irritates the hell out of me. I've threatened to leave in November and go live on the boat by myself. Ed just laughed. Not that he would mind my doing it; he feels I never follow through on anything. Pipe dreams and fantasies. Perhaps there’s another reason for my vacillating moods. Maybe it's really a fear of leaving. It’s a big step we're taking, and seems especially unnerving when I realize it could all end in disappointment if we find ourselves totally unsuited to the cruising lifestyle. Actually, I thought this whole preparation time would be harder than it’s been. I thought I'd be crying a lot more.
JOURNAL ENTRY (July 18, 1978)
I've given notice at work for October 31st. It's a relief to have that settled. I've also told both my sister and my parents about my proposed driving trip. Lynn (in Arlington, Virginia) wanted to know if I could find my way. My Mom (in Florida) wanted to know if I could drive all that way alone. No wonder I lack self-confidence.
I've made an inventory list of everything in the house. We’re deciding what we'll sell, and what we'll store with friends. Kathy will be keeping our large looms, spinning wheel and IBM typewriter. She's also offered to take chairs, end tables, paintings, and other art that can fit into their new home. She and Bill have a large house, and can absorb a lot of our stuff. Luckily, our tastes and color schemes match. I really appreciate the offer because it means we'll be able to hang on to those belongings we particularly like. I've sold the first item from the inventory list - the lawnmower, for $60. It's a start.
I expect to get an appraisal on the house next month. We've started patching cracks, painting, and cleaning out closets. We've thrown out garbage bags of stuff, and I've cut my wardrobe down by more than half. Things are moving forward with some positive force. This certainly feels better than sitting around, fretting about what may or may not happen.
After seeing Tropic Moon, we knew she needed a lot of new equipment. Since this was long before the days of online shopping, we pored over marine catalogs. We shopped. We shopped some more. We had everything shipped to our house in Ann Arbor. Our purchases included:
A marine toilet (with holding tank)
Kerosene stove (gimballed, with three burners, and oven)
Miles of rope
A VHF radio
Cans of antifouling paint
A sewing machine
A manual typewriter
Foul weather gear
A sextant, and books on celestial navigation
Charts and cruising guides
A life raft
(Yes, it was a lot of fun…)
In the fall, we put our house on the market, and it sold quickly. Our dentist bought our Porsche. The old pool table Ed had restored stayed in the basement. We moved the things we were keeping over to Kathy and Bill’s house. A neighbor took my plants. Virtually everything else was sold, or donated, including most of our clothes.
During the weeks before the closing on the house, we borrowed a large van. We packed up everything that was earmarked for Tropic Moon, and drove to New York. We stayed with Ed’s parents, who lived on Long Island. After making the necessary arrangements, we drove the van to a shipping warehouse. The van was unloaded, and everything we were sending to Grenada was packed into two large wooden crates. The crates would travel by freighter from New York City down to Grenada.
Back in Ann Arbor, we resigned our jobs, settled the house, and said our goodbyes. Ed turned in his Ford lease car. That left us with my yellow Pinto. We drove “Daisy” from Ann Arbor to Arlington, Virginia, where my sister lived. Once there, we sold the Pinto. Down to a few duffle bags, we said our goodbyes to Lynn and her family.
Ed flew from Washington, D.C., to Grenada, while I flew to Fort Walton Beach in Florida, where my parents were living. I spent two weeks with my folks before I continued south to Grenada. My mother later told me that when she was saying goodbye to me, she was heartbroken, because she was sure she would never see me again.