It was the late 70s, and we still practically newly weds, when I said something like “hey honey, let’s buy a boat”. Brenda and I had been sailing together since our junior year of high school when we sailed aboard a Carl Alberg Typhoon out or Norwalk with our friend Chris. It was from Chris that I caught the sailing bug.
Well, Brenda must have said yes, or is perhaps guilty of not putting up a better fight, but one way or the other, we settled on our first boat. Somehow we found a tiny, although it didn’t seem particularly tiny to us at the time, Cape Cod catboat, a Mystic 20 built in Groton CT named Tao. She was named, as are so many “cat” boats, after a cat. In this case, the Siamese cat in the Disney story “The Incredible Journey”.
We looked at her in Mystic CT and it was love at first sight. Our very first boat. I believe this is a shot of her in the marina, the day we took delivery.
We headed out, aboard Tao, with our friends, Chris and Pat for the run back to Bridgeport where we planned to keep her. I was a happy guy. Happy to have a boat that was better looking than my hat. Well, this shot wasn’t taken on that exact day, but it illustrates my point. Brenda, perhaps happy as well but only until she discovered, to her extreme distress, that she was prone to nausea when things got bumpy. Which on a small boat, is nearly all of the time. I wish I could say that she eventually got over it, but not completely, even to this day, 40 years later.
Look at her. Her expression is very nearly “come hither”. Worked for me…
I guess it was a calm day on the water. Nice sweater, she knitted this one and many, many others, over the years. Hundreds? Quite possibly.
Well, we finally made it to Bridgeport where I had arranged for a mooring to be installed off of the beach, down the street from the duplex apartment that we were renting at the time.
That arrival day, when we tied up to the mooring off of the beach, was not a calm day. Not at all. Once we were secured to the mooring, Brenda leaped overboard, foul weather gear and all, and waded ashore. I don’t recall what she said or perhaps thought exactly, about that first cruise but I am pretty sure it isn’t printable. Not a great way to begin our sailing life together.
Shortly after that horrible beach landing, perhaps the very next day, I moved the boat to a more sheltered mooring in a nearby harbor.
From that day forward there has been an ongoing quest to find calm anchorages. Sometimes we were actually successful. We hung out with our friends Chris and Pat along with others, nearly every weekend. No outboard engines on our dinks in those days. Chris and Garrett with me in the bow. Good thing it was a calm anchorage. Rub a dub, dub…
Chris and Pat’s Sea Sprite 23 had an outboard. Way to small for an inboard.
We joined the Catboat Association and were members for many years. Eventually, Brenda and I ended up on the board, or “steering committee”. Get it “steering” the association, like a boat? Clever? We thought so.
We also participated in many catboat races in those days. However, like today, back then, if you ask Brenda what her favorite part of sailing is, she will say, predictably, “being anchored”.
And anchor we did. I particularly like this shot of Brenda. What a dish. I’d totally date that girl. To starboard, a mop, or some bleach blond chick. No, a mop, really. However, anchoring alone was rare for us as we nearly always rafted up with other small boats. Somehow three tiny boats tied up together don’t seem, well, so tiny. That became even more important when we all started popping out kiddos. However, we weren’t in a rush, as while we were “yacht owners” we didn’t want to bring kids into the world until we were really settled.
To us, being “settled” meant a microwave and garage door opener which weren’t in place until we’d been married for nearly 8 years. Actually, there was more to it than that as we were pretty much kids ourselves when we got married, our early 20s. Kids having kids doesn’t always work out so well.
Here’s Tao rafted with her bigger sister Lady Bug, a Legnos 10-3 and Petrel, a sister ship to Tao owned by Toby and Martha Forbes. We met them. along with their son and his family that owned Lady Bug in Port Jefferson. We became long time friends and eventually moved into the guest cottage on their estate Oak Knoll, in Ridgefield not long after this shot was taken. This is where Toby and Martha lived, in the main house. It was built by Frederick Remington, the artist, as a summer home. We loved it there and lived on the estate for, I think, three years. Oak Knoll was designated as a historic site in the 60s. I was a really charming little cottage, once the home of the estate gardener and also built by Remington. It was a great spot and the deck, nearly as large as our cottage, provided a spectacular view. I loved working out in the yard, or should I say, the South 40, clearing brush and cutting dead wood for the wood stove. Toby and Martha were very happy to have the help, I think. I am not absolutely positive about that, but they were always very gracious. They left us pretty much alone and it wasn’t until years later that we really became good friends. We all wished we had spent more time together when we lived in the cottage.
Toby and Martha met during WWII in SanDiego. Toby was a PBY Catalina amphibious airplane Navy pilot. Martha love to tell the story of how she was smitten by him when she first saw Toby in his uniform and went right up to him and took his arm. They were a wonderful couple.
Here I am with my college buddy Tom, driving the tractor. “Bob, let me drive, let me drive!” Tom now lives in Marblehead MA and is an active sailboat racer with his wife Lisa. It was a lovely cottage. I believe this is a shot of the living room. Want to guess what time of the year it is? That’s right Christmas. Gold star for you.
Notice the stuffed decorations on the tree and the skirt. Brenda sewed them all. We also sewed those lovely covers for the chair cushions. Not a bad pattern. Since then we’ve upgraded. No more vinyl sling chairs for us.
It was aboard Tao that we learned to enjoy gin and tonics, perhaps from Toby and Martha. It must have been too early in the day for that when this shot was taken. We are still in regular touch with Chris and Pat, to this day. Our youngest is named for Chris, actually.
We fished but once caught, we had no idea what to do with our catch on on such a small boat. Besides, who actually eats bluefish?
In those days, no protection from the weather so foul weather gear was in use nearly all of the time. Brenda just loved being coated with salt, even on a sunny day. Tao was a wet boat and to make matters worse, no shower. There’s that hat again. I guess it was on sale. I can’t think of any other reason I’d buy it. Heck, perhaps it was free. Had to be…
Not sure about how this shot fits in. I just like it. We sailed as late into the season as we could and I can still remember the one Memorial Day Weekend when I couldn’t get the boat ready in time. I wasn’t happy at all about that. Mechanical problems, I recall. Isn’t that always the reason?
I guess Brenda hadn’t yet seen “Jaws”. Thanks Stephen, I never really got over that, myself. DUH DUH…DUH DUH…DUH DUH DHU…However, I have always been fairly sure that sharks don’t eat clammers. Well, mostly sure. Don’t you just love the speedo?
We sailed Tao, far and wide, farther and wider than was reasonable, in such a tiny boat. Oh, did I mention that it had an even tinier 5hp one cylinder diesel? When it was running, it sounded like someone rattling a stone in a coffee can. Bang, bang, bang… I still have the prop on my desk as a paper weight.
We covered a lot of ground from Bridgeport to Nantucket and down to Barnegat Bay NJ. Brenda was not amused when we went through NYC, Hell gate sideways and into a snotty SW wind under the Verazanno Bridge with a full ebb against the wind and a huge chop.
After that experience, it wasn’t until we headed south in our SAGA 43 Pandora, that she went through NYC again, more than 20 years, or was it 30 years later, declaring “Well, that wasn’t so bad”. You go girl! She is such a sport.
Once, we even sprung for spot on the dock at Bannister’s Wharf in Newport, behind the famous ocean racer Boomerang. For a 20′ boat the cost of dockage, by the foot was about the same as a fixed rate mooring. It was a really long way down from the dock to the deck at low tide.
Remember Buzzards bay Light near Martha’s Vineyard? It’s now a tall flasher but no longer manned or with a chopper deck for switching crew.
We passed the light on our way to the Vineyard and Nantucket. It was a really long way to go in a 20′ boat. Perhaps easy to get there, with the SW prevailing winds but tough to get back in time to go to work after our two week holiday. And, when it got foggy, no radar, GPS, just dead-reckoning in pea soup, not sure what was coming our way.
And, there was always a lot of commercial traffic coming our way. This freighter pre-dates the current container ships that dominate world trade. This sort, the type that sports it’s own cranes for loading and unloading, are still used in some really small ports but most have been scrapped. Our one trip to Nantucket aboard Tao was to visit the Opera House Cup, an annual gathering of classic yachts. This is the original Malabar class schooner, by the same name, designed by John Alden . I tried my best to get a spot on this boat for one of the races. No luck. Back in the early 80s, there we still a lot of older fishing boats out on Block Island Sound. That was before the modern draggers that decimated the fish population.
And, there was no fishing village more charming than Menemsha, Martha’s Vineyard. This is an old style sword fishing boat. A spotter would stand on the cross tree on the mast, supported by the hoops. When they saw a fish swimming along the surface, they’d go up on a long bowsprit and harpoon the fish. A lot of swordfish were landed at these docks.However, adventures aside, and there were plenty of them aboard Tao, we had some of our best times just lazing along on a calm summer evening, G&T in hand.
And it was on this very evening, when this shot was taken by our artist friend Chris, while aboard his own boat, that he immortalized Tao and her crew in the painting that he did for me as a gift on my 25th birthday. For me, that painting immortalizes those wonderful times along with those famous words, “hey honey, let’s buy a boat”. I’m pretty sure that sometimes Brenda still wishes she had said, “let me think about that for a while”.
Setting that aside, and I do, it’s been a great ride.