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Cloud Nine’s Odyssey Revisited

After three decades of round-the-world voyaging, former shipmates of a globe-girdling Bowman 57 gather at a Minnesota reunion.

November 28, 2011
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Cloud Nine’s Odyssey Revisited Image

From the coast of Greenland (pictured here) and the Northwest Passage to the frozen continent of Antarctica, Cloud Nine was at home in the high latitudes and most everywhere in between. The world map (above) depicts routes and highlights. David Thoreson

Last winter, on a very cold and snowy Minnesota day, I was reflecting back on some of the sailing passages I’d made during the past 30 years aboard Cloud Nine, my 57-foot Bowman ketch. Most of my 217,000 nautical miles—including three circumnavigations, two trips to Antarctica, and three Northwest Passage attempts—had been aboard this boat. Perhaps coincidentally, my wife, Gaynelle, asked me at that same time about how I’d like to celebrate my 80th birthday. “What I’d really like to do,” I replied, “is gather as many as possible of the 310 former crewmembers who have sailed aboard Cloud Nine for a party to celebrate our shared sailing experiences.”

Last June, on our farm in southwestern Minnesota, that wish came true.

We couldn’t find them all, and we sadly learned that 22 of our shipmates had made their final passages, but 169 former crewmembers (with spouses and a few children), including 122 that had actually made bluewater passages with me aboard Cloud Nine or previous vessels, arrived from all over the United States, Canada, and England to attend our weekend pig roast among the Minnesota cornfields. The gathering was informal, and guests spent idle time browsing through my collection of artifacts from distant cruising destinations, including an eight-foot-long “spirit house” carving from Vanuatu’s Ambrym island, a set of masks from New Guinea’s Sepik River, and a lion spear from Kenya. The walls of both our bathrooms are also papered with previously used charts, and over 400 framed photos are hung on the corresponding places on the charts where the pictures were taken.

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Because crew changes often took place in remote spots to accommodate work and vacation schedules, I hadn’t seen many of these faces for many years, not since leaving them on a distant dock in Mozambique or Papua New Guinea or maybe even Dutch Harbor, Alaska. But they came to our reunion. Many in our group had never met, but one former shipmate, Cynthia Bowell, noted, “The beauty of this event was that no matter who you were sitting next to, you had so much in common, and the stories were so easy to share. Everyone had unique experiences in places that most people can only dream about.”

“As soon as we started talking details,” added Rona House, an English mathematician who went on to circumnavigate on her own 27-footer, Cacique, “the years dropped away like magic.”

Many of our crews included individuals who’d never previously been to sea. Several said that their open-ocean passages had been life-changing experiences. All our major passages were represented by many of the sailors who’d been aboard, and Saturday’s high-spirited roasting of the captain offered plenty of opportunities for them to tell the other side of the story. Here are some of the highlights, not only of those tales, but of Cloud Nine‘s voyaging history:

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A Passage to Antarctica (1988)
A Dockside Dismasting (1988)
North Atlantic Knockdown (1986)
Northwest Passage (2007)
Anarctica, Again (1992)
St. Thomas to Rio (1987)
Typhoon Forrest (1983)

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