Years before the Digital Age and Cruising World existed, the Seven Seas Cruising Association provided its members with essential local knowledge of far-flung destinations, a primitive communications system, and a cockpit full of camaraderie. And long before the world became concerned about pollutants damaging the oceans, the S.S.C.A. presciently affirmed its commitment to the environment through its slogan, “Leave a Clean Wake.”
Over the years, many people have volunteered to make the S.S.C.A., the largest sailing and cruising organization in the world, and perhaps none were more committed than Ginny Filiatrault. Now 73 years old and retired to Florida with her husband, Jacques, she still lives and breathes cruising under sail.
Filiatrault was born Ginny Lea Duba in 1936 in Santa Monica, California. From the beginning, she was crazy about boats. “When I was 9 years old,” she recalls, “Dad and I built a sailing dinghy, soaking the plywood in the bathtub to make the pieces pliable for the hull shape. We launched through the surf near the Santa Monica Pier and spent days sailing in the open roadstead. At 12, I lived aboard Dad’s 34-foot Seagoer yawl, Temptress, a sister ship to Harry Pidgeon’s Islander. I met Harry in person, after he accomplished a solo circumnavigation and was on the hard at the Los Angeles Boat Show. It was such fun to sit in Harry’s cockpit and talk of his next cruise. Harry invited me to crew for him, but Dad said a firm ‘No!’
“When I was 13, Dad took me to the Wilshire Ebell Theatre in Los Angeles to meet Irving Johnson and see his film The Peking Battles Cape Horn. I can still hear Irving say, ‘Here comes the big one!’ as a monster wave lifted Peking’s stern. Years later, when I was editor of the Commodores’ Bulletin of the S.S.C.A., I came to know Irving and his wife, Exy, personally.
“By 15, I used my babysitting money to buy a derelict 12-foot lapstrake sailing dinghy to rebuild. My friends complained that I talked about boats and not boys.”
At 17, she knew the founders of the S.S.C.A., Jack Carstarphen, who first had the idea, and the others. In all, the group was made up of six couples living aboard in Coronado, California. Ginny remembers the boat names as if it were yesterday: Evening Star, Tropic Bird, Shellback, Norwind, Stardust, and Black Dolphin. The date: April 1952.
Three years later, in June 1955, she married “the boy next door,” who’d sailed in the Transpacific Yacht Race and liked to “talk boats,” too. By this time, Ginny was living aboard her 37-foot, John Hanna-designed Carol-class wooden sloop, Bojac. She was recommended for membership in the S.S.C.A. and accepted as a commodore in December 1955. (Currently, S.S.C.A. members join as associates, and after a year of living aboard and fulfilling a cruising distance requirement, they can elect to become commodores, or voting members.)
“In the 1950s,” she says, “the S.S.C.A. traded workload between two locations, San Diego and Wilmington, California, where I prepared my boat to cruise and shared the work with other commodores to keep the S.S.C.A. growing strong. In December 1959, Bojac headed out with our red burgee flying proudly. Many commodores greeted us in San Diego, and then we sailed south on our adventure! We sailed along the Mexican coast, down Central America to Panama, and then to the Galápagos Islands, where we spent five glorious months. Sadly, plans for the Marquesas didn’t happen, as the skipper changed course for medical school.”
In 1963, Ginny sold Bojac in Panama and moved to New Orleans, where she bought a 32-foot Alden, Malabar Jr., and later an Alden 50 ketch, Windsong, which was home to her and her daughter, Bonnie, for many years. “To keep active in the S.S.C.A.,” she says, “I did all the Commodores’ Bulletin mailings to past commodores.” Ginny and her family sailed Windsong to Palm Beach, Florida, in 1972 and sold her in 1975.
The S.S.C.A., then based in Marina del Rey, was having financial difficulties, so Ginny and her first husband offered to help financially and move the organization to Florida, where it could be registered as a non-profit. The voting members approved and began shipping boxes of stuff to Palm Beach. What couldn’t be shipped, Ginny and her family personally picked up in California and drove back to Florida.
Back in Florida, Ginny says, “Two of us and our attorney signed the Articles of Incorporation for the S.S.C.A. on December 15, 1975. Subscribers became associates, and membership soared! The growth of the S.S.C.A. was totally due to family unity.”
Ginny worked out of a trailer in a Florida campground, editing the Commodores’ Bulletin, which is essentially a compilation of letters written by members describing their cruises and relaying critical information on navigation, hazards both in the water and ashore, recommended anchorages, gear reports, and much more. Under Ginny’s direction, the S.S.C.A. in 1987 was finally able to afford its own office in Fort Lauderdale. Ginny remained as editor/office manager/treasurer/board member until 1991.
In 1978 and 1979, members secretly discussed among themselves about how best to recognize Ginny’s contributions to the S.S.C.A. Commodore Arliss Newcomb, who sails Canvasback out of Port Townsend, Washington, organized the effort. “I thought a quilt would be just the thing,” she recently wrote. “Margaret Alexander of Sea Fever helped me write a letter to all the commodores asking them to make a square depicting their boat. It took almost a year to receive the 60 squares that made up the quilt. I embroidered an exact copy of the Bulletin cover for the center of the quilt and hand-sewed each square onto the backing. The quilt was finished in time to ship to Bill and Becky Beckham of Pot O’ Gold so they could present it to Ginny at the 1980 gam in Lantana, Florida. It was a labor of love to thank her for keeping the S.S.C.A. afloat.”
The list of others who contributed patches reads like a who’s who of cruising sailors: Eric and Susan Hiscock of Wanderer IV, Al and Beth Liggett of Sunflower, Hal and Margaret Roth of Whisper, Don and Sue Moesly of Svea, S.S.C.A. founder Dee Carstarphen and Stuart Hopkins of Sea Wind, Bill Healy and Gary Walls of Amadon Light, Larry and Babe Baldwin of Faith, and S.S.C.A. founders Bill and Marian Rumsey of Black Dolphin, to name just a few of the 60. Ginny still has the quilt, a treasured possession and an interesting artifact from an earlier age of world cruising.
Dan Spurr was Cruising World’s senior editor from 1980 through 1987.