The final chapter in Bowditch’s life began earlier that fall. The boat’s builder and captain, Frederick Strenz, was 57. A spare, stern man recently retired from his steel company on the North Shore of Massachusetts, he’d sailed much of his life. Longtime friend and legendary boatyard owner Sturge Crocker credits Strenz’s eventual triumph over the ocean more to a lucky roll of the dice than skill. “I told him anyone with that kind of luck ought to invest heavily in the lottery.”
Strenz’s ultimate dream took on tangible proportions in 1969, with a $50 set of mail-order blueprints from naval architect James Kerr. The aspiring boatbuilder had earned a graduate degree in engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and had at his disposal some of his own ace welders. Gradually, a lattice of steel sheaths and iron crossbeams formed Bowditch’s skeleton, which was fortified with panels of rust-controlled Corten steel.
He was proud of his achievement — “a little too proud,” one crewmember later remembered.
“Never worry about this boat,” Strenz said on several occasions. “You can haul it up 20 feet and drop it, it’ll withstand that. And when bad weather starts, all you have to do is button up and go below. Just button up and go below.”
Manchester, as it was called at the time, is a quiet, quaint New England town built around a small harbor. It has a yacht club with a gazebo for picnics, and a broad, calm basin for a few dozen cruising boats and a small flotilla of Herreshoff 12½s. Many of the town’s families settled here early and stayed. Most have some bond with the sea, and as a result, with each other.