A Crocker Ketch Comes Home
During a summer sojourn to her home waters, an old ketch’s past takes on vivid meaning when her original first mate, 60 years on, pays a visit.
The brothers loved sailing the boat and raced it in the 1936 Newport-Bermuda Race, voyaged to Labrador and circumnavigated Newfoundland, then shipped the boat to Seattle.
And that’s where Paulie—who, as a 19-year-old, was one of the youngest members of the Women Airforce Service Pilots but didn’t know how to sail—enters the story. After a familiar wartime pattern, a young Paulie met a young Henry in San Francisco when he was on shore leave from the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier. Perhaps he was drawn to her youthful beauty, her independent thinking, or her spunk. Maybe her prowess as a horsewoman, skier, hunter, tennis player, and fisherwoman drew him in.
But surely her achievements as a pilot bowled him over: Paulie was one of only 1,074 women to fly in service to the U.S. World War II military effort. Of the 104 women in her class, designated 44-W-3, only 56 graduated. Paulie herself test-flew the dangerous B-26 and the light Cessna 78, one of which she landed without a hitch when the engines gave out right after takeoff.
The romance blossomed into marriage. Brother Lee sold his share in Land’s End and gave it to Henry and Paulie as a wedding gift. Off they went.
“I love Land’s End,” Paulie told me in the summer of 2012 when I met her on a remarkable day aboard the boat after the 46th-annual S.S. Crocker Memorial Race in Manchester by the Sea, Massachusetts. “But I thought she’d been cut up and sunk. I thought I’d lost her forever.”
She wasn’t exaggerating her feelings; her love for the ketch was evident.
But what was it exactly that Paulie and countless other sailors have so clearly known and felt so deeply about Land’s End? What was it that I—after nearly 15 years of supportive yet somewhat passive immersion in the life of this boat—still stubbornly didn’t get about her?
Perhaps, I thought as I sat down to chat with the woman who’d pioneered the role that I now play on Land’s End, the opportunity for understanding what had been invisible to me was at hand.