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 REUNION OF PAULIE and her beloved boat was enormously significant for me. It was an event that in my mind, in retrospect, eclipsed the race itself on July 14, although that, too, was a weighty achievement for Land’s End—and a ton of fun for all the crews of the 60-boat fleet, which included a total of four Crocker designs. Post race, we tied up at the slip at the Manchester Yacht Club as the belle of the ball; we lay next to Tyrone, a 60-foot Crocker whose owner, Matt Sutphen, had embarked on a love affair similar to Rick’s in 2006, when he bought the schooner. A stream of admirers, well-wishers, and former crewmembers who’d sailed on Land’s End came aboard, and the captain wore the grin of a man who’d won a billion-dollar lottery. “Overwhelmed” is about the only word that describes the state of the first mate, who’d presided over a rushed and frenzied session of polishing and cleaning, air-freshening and rearranging.
Any less of an effort was unthinkable on a day that more than a dozen years ago would have been simply unfathomable.
“This is just great!” Paulie burst out as Rick reached over and helped her climb aboard. “She hasn’t changed a bit!”
Of course not, I thought, but I behaved, buttoned my lip, then scurried past her belowdecks so I could take in her reactions when she saw the interior.
Slowly, steadily, knowingly, Paulie descended the steep companionway stairs, turned toward me in the saloon, and, with an amazed and half-dazed look on her face, ran her hands over the liner boards as she moved forward. Then she kissed the kerosene lantern above the nav station.
“This is just great!” she said again. “Henry would’ve loved to see this.” She settled onto a settee cushion, and Rick came below just in time to hear her begin reminiscing. Memories poured out of her like milk from a pitcher. No stone was left unturned; she recalled the 24 snatch blocks that went with the square sail, the challenge of heaving to, how she and Henry traded watch duties, how the boat originally had no forward hatch, where she had dish drying racks installed so she could clean up and set drinks out. Looking down, she said, “The cork sole was so greasy. This is so much better.”
My jaw tightened; goose bumps popped up on my arms. This woman really remembers this boat. Really.
She went on. During their Alaska honeymoon cruise, they were running low on ice as they came into Nanaimo, on Vancouver Island.
“We got there and asked if we could get some ice,” Paulie said. “Henry had grown this beard. He was a good-looking man. The guy on the dock said he’d sell us 150 pounds. I said, ‘150 pounds isn’t going to take us anywhere.’
“ ‘OK,’ he said. ‘I’ll give you 500 pounds, because your husband looks so much like Jesus Christ.’ I nearly fell over!”
While Paulie and Rick chatted on about sailing, the Loomis family, and the boat’s years in Manchester, my mind was racing. There were things I still wanted to know; gaps in the tale nagged at me. I needed to settle at least one of them. She’d told Rick during their phone call that she’d spent her honeymoon aboard the boat, whose forward cabin contains only single bunks.
I interrupted them. “While you cruised in Alaska,” I said, “You say you slept in—?”
“We slept here, in the saloon,” she answered without missing a beat. She grabbed the slat that I’d forgotten about, the one just beneath the starboard settee, and gave it a tug inboard.
“I had this made into a double,” she said. “It was so warm and cozy with the fireplace. Don’t ever lose that,” she said, emphatically pointing at the fireplace. “It’s a treasure.”
|JOIN the 50th S.S.Crocker Memorial Race: While our participation in the 46th race in memory of naval architect Sam Crocker was a milestone for Land’s End, the highly popular and well attended event comes off like clockwork every July. Anticipation is now building for the 50th celebration, set for 2016. Send your ideas for a fitting tribute to both Crocker designs and half a century of the regatta to the president of Crocker’s Boat Yard, Skip Crocker (http://www.sscrockerrace.com).|
And that was my instant of clarity. It all made sense to me now, Paulie Loomis aboard Land’s End, in 1946, in Alaska, on her honeymoon. With her fortune and her imagination and her drive, she could have placed herself at any one of the beautiful or elegant places that the world conjures up for pleasure. Instead, she chose to court rough-hewn adventure on Land’s End. In Paulie Loomis endures the spirit and truth about Land’s End, a saga of living life to the fullest that I’d ignored all these years, too focused, I now see, on mold and miles of varnish.
So, as I’d done countless times before—always immersed in all my senses, but with the feeling on those occasions that there was much more to this boat than I could ever know—I scanned the saloon and its contents: simple kerosene lamps, varnished lockers, wooden ceiling ribs painted eggshell white, the dining table, the blue ceramic hearth. I listened, and at last, I heard.
For the woman who so loved the outdoors, who was endowed with a trail-blazing spirit, who was a brave pilot towing live targets in war time, who wasn’t a sailor but had a few bucks, drove across America, met and fell in love with a man from one of the country’s more prominent, fearless, and patriotic 20th-century families, Land’s End made perfect sense. And it still does.
Elaine Lembo is CW’s deputy editor.