The Master of Deviation
Cool. Steve Black, the founder and director of the Caribbean 1500, says that when it comes to high-seas sailing, there are few cooler customers than Black's old Great Lakes racing buddy, Steve Pettengill-a veteran of the BOC Challenge solo around-the-world contest and the current chief of offshore testing for Hunter Marine-and Davis Murray.
"They're just these warped guys who've never seen a day of bad weather," says Black. "They could be out there on the worst day imaginable and they'd describe it as 'fresh breeze.'"
Not surprisingly, Murray and Pettengill are also good pals who've knocked off a lot of miles together over blue water and black pavement. Murray keeps his 1988 custom soft-tail Harley alongside Pettengill's collection of bikes in the latter's Florida garage. The pair has been known to drop everything and bolt for Daytona, despite the fact that Murray believes his ride has serious front-end issues. "When you go past a bar, it always turns that way," he insists.
Pettengill and Murray forged an alliance back in the late 1980s, when they helped deliver a mutual friend's Whitby 45 from Chesapeake Bay to Fort Lauderdale. By that time, Murray had left the family compass-adjusting business in Philly, and his plans were, as they say, open-ended. So when Pettengill asked Murray to come up to Michigan to help him prepare his Hood 40, Freedom, for the 1988 singlehanded transatlantic race from Plymouth, England, to Newport, Rhode Island, Murray signed on.
It led to one adventure after another. Murray helped Pettengill deliver Freedom to the United Kingdom for the race start, then returned to Newport, which at the time was the growing U.S. hub of long-range solo sailing. He got to know Black, who'd raced his own Dick Newick-designed trimaran across the Atlantic, and started sailing with him on the New England multihull circuit. He also met an up-and-coming singlehander named Mike Plant and became involved with Plant's Duracell campaign for the 1989 Vendée Globe nonstop sprint around the planet. Next up on the agenda was another project with Pettengill, namely his successful assault on the New York-San Francisco Clipper Ship record aboard the tri Great American.
In 1990, Black got the notion to form a cruising rally from the U.S. East Coast to the Caribbean, an event not unlike the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers that Jimmy Cornell had recently launched with resounding success across the pond. One of the first people he enlisted to the cause was his handy, knowledgeable friend, Davis Murray.
"He's a wizard at problem solving, especially under way," says Black. "He's seen everything that can break on a boat."
Murray sailed that first 1500 and each subsequent one as well, and they make up a goodly fraction of the roughly 170,000 nautical miles he reckons he's accrued in his offshore career. Black usually pairs him up with a crew of fledgling voyagers on a paid gig that works out well for all concerned, especially considering that Murray handles the traffic on the morning S.S.B. radio sked and has walked fellow rally participants through countless underway repairs, from wonky electronics to failed rudders.
There's no question that Murray has been a major asset to the rally, but the opposite is also true. For many years he boat-sat rally yachts at a marina in St. Thomas for owners who briefly returned home; he picked up plenty of repair work as well. It was then that he decided to make a permanent move to St. Thomas, from which he's never looked back. More important to the telling of this tale, the Caribbean 1500 played no small role in introducing Murray to the guitar, a life-altering experience if ever there was one.
"A few years back, there was a guy from Colorado named Phil Robinson who did the rally," says Murray. "He had a guitar on his boat. I come to find out he's a pretty fine musician. One night we're on his boat drinking Heinekens and I happen to mention how I always wanted to learn how to play the guitar. He says, 'Grab a couple beers, I'll get mine and show you how.' So he starts me with a couple of chords, puts my fingers on the guitar and says, 'Strum.' He says, 'Davis, you got rhythm,' and that's a good thing.
"Next time I'm in the States," Davis says, "I buy my own guitar and start practicing. And practicing and practicing and practicing."