Splicing and Sculling
Sculling was a skill my brother and I learned when I was eight and he was six. My Dad carved out a three inch wide quarter moon in the transom of our row boat and found an extra long oar with no leather in the middle to use for the sculling oar. He demonstrated the technique
and we practiced until proficient. We sculled so hard the bow of the boat swerved back and forth and we left a wake behind. By the time we got to Maine on the famous cruise of 1956, my brother and I hardly rowed anywhere. We wanted to see where we were going. Maneuvering into a dock was simpler with sculling. The old fishermen in Camden, ME said, “Ayuh, scullin’ is fastuh."
The first splice I learned from my Dad was an eye-splice. He explained that the three strands of rope were like a chicken’s foot. A better way to show it is on a website called Animated Knots by Grog.
Most often we used an eye-splice on tie up lines. The ends of the line were usually whipped with waxed thread. The ditty bag held a lump of beeswax, a sailor’s palm
, linen thread, and a big needle which had three sides. This skill of splicing is a prerequisite to fishing and I still think of the three strands laid out to splice as a chicken’s foot.
The letter was never written. In my heart I knew my parents would never let me go. It was a few years later that the Brigantine "Yankee" was sold and the Johnsons set about building a smaller Yankee which could cruise the canals of Europe.
The new owner of the "Yankee" continued the concept of circumnavigations with a college aged crew who paid for passage. Tragedy followed in this pursuit. One crewmember vanished in April of 1964 while hiking in the Galapagos Islands.
This is link to letter from Derek Lumbers, the skipper, and statement of Marsha Hunt as to the disappearance of Saydee Reiser on Isla Floreana, in the Galapagos Ids. April 15, 1964.) Lumbers' letter is when he was captain of the brigantine Yankee . The subsequent voyage across the South Pacific ended in disaster on the infamous Beverage Reef off the island of Rarotonga, part of the Cook Islands.
It must be noted that in 1964, all navigation was done with a sextant, chronometer, and compass. The coral reefs in Polynesia are tricky and difficult to transverse even with modern aids like GPS. Factor in the treachery of unpredictable weather and the frailties of human nature and you have the recipe for disaster as in the foundering of my heart's desire, the "Yankee", on the very dangerous Beverage Reef. The crew was rescued and taken to Rarotonga, but the hull of the "Yankee" remained on the reef. I do not know of any salvage attempts.
Derek Lumbers apparently took up with a Cook Island woman, and no more about him has been learned after many inquiries from his relatives.
I will get on with Easter Island soon.
A Ticket to Ride
The 96' Brigantine Yankee
*Irving and Electa Johnson; The Yankee's Wander-world (National Geographic Magazine, January 1949)
*Irving and Electa Johnson; South Seas Incredible Land Divers (National Geographic Magazine, January 1955)
These articles in National Geographic were some background. My grandmother gave us National Geographic magazine from 1949-1969. This was typical for children of the '50's. Now I had to figure out how to convince the Johnsons to take aboard an 8 yr old girl on their next circumnavigation....as a cabin girl? The only useful skills I had were splicing an eye in and whipping the end of a manila line, steering a compass coarse, rudamentary chart reading, dish washing, and dreaming. My parents were the biggest problem I thought. My older sisters would be delighted to be rid of me for 18 months. I knew I could handle it. This confidence was born of ignorance. Heck I could steer a sailing dinghy with my feet and scull the skiff as fast as rowing it. A letter to the Johnsons was in order.
To Easter Island
In the 1950’s the imagination of a child was often inspired by National Geographic, both the magazine and the TV program National Geographic Explorer. TV was a new diversion in our home but it did not substitute for playing childhood’s made-up games. My sisters and brother & I often played “orphans” where we survived parentless on a deserted isle, ala Swiss Family Robinson. National Geographic expanded my horizons to continents like Africa and to islands in the South Seas. One island which fascinated me was Easter Island. How could I possibly go there?
My parents must have read about the Brigantine “Yankee” in the local papers as she was home ported in Gloucester, MA in the 1950’s. It was in the late 40’s and 50’s that this 96’ sailing ship circumnavigated the globe four times with a crew of 18 or so college aged kids. The owner and his wife, Irving and Eleckta Johnson, were lifelong adventurers who led seven around the world expeditions lasting 18 months each. This lifestyle would have plucked the romantic strings of my father’s heart but with four children to feed…he probably thought it would have been a fun way to spend a few years of one’s youth. I absorbed his ideas like a sponge. Little did he and Mom know that they were inspiring my dreams of visiting Easter Island and Polynesia by boat.
My first brush with Easter Island and the “Yankee” occurred off an island near Martha’s Vineyard, south of Cape Cod, MA. It was a small uninhabited island called Naushon Id. with a sandy beach called Tarpaulin Cove. We were anchored there on my father’s 40’ lobster boat called the “Phyllis” on our way to Maine. Young kids like my brother and I, 6 & 8 years old, needed to stretch our legs a little and do some running on the beach. Off in the distance, a large sailing ship appeared in the light breeze with a squares’l set above the jib.
“Let me see! My turn with the binoculars, “my brother begged as our rivalry played out to be the first to identify the ship. Dad recognized her as the “Yankee” with a bunch of kids on board. He regaled us with the stories he had read about her. It was 1956; a year after the book was published by Eleckta Johnson, “Yankee’s People and Places” which chronicled their sixth circumnavigation. The idea was planted, and the seed of a plan grew in the heart and mind of this eight year old girl. When I turned eighteen, I would ship aboard with the Johnsons and sail around the world on the Yankee, stopping at Easter Island, Pitcairn, and Tahiti.