The Circumnavigators - by Don Holm


- 9 -

The Connecticut Tahitian

       When I am old I will have my past, and if
       that measures up at all to the future I dream of
       now, my life will have been complete.(1)

on a lagoon into which murmurs a clear mountain stream with a
series of little waterfalls and pools fringed with luxurious ferns, there
is a home, Polynesian style, with terraces and pandanus roofs open
at both ends for the wild pigeons and doves to fly through, the
grounds lush with a curious combination of native and exotic plant-
ings tropical cherry (for the birds), hotu and frangipani, ironwood,
tamanu from Panama, Barro Colorado jungle trees from Chile and
Peru, hybrid hibiscus and exotic fruits, all botanical experiments by
the owner.
  In this Lyrical scene, too, there is a disguised and soundproofed
diesel generator that makes electricity for hot water and cooking, and
stereophonic renditions of Tchaikovsky, incongruous in the evenings
as the changing colors of the setting sun outline the magic island of
Moorea some twelve miles to the west.
  On the steps of the terrace sits a man with snowy white hair and
deep-lined skin, chatting happily with his beautiful daughters, typical
Tahitian girls of mixed bloodlines, who call him "Poppy" which
never fails to arch the eyebrows of the tourists just off the Quantas jet
when he and the girls go down to Papeete to shop at the early-
morning market.
  Onlookers are apt to think that here is another wastrel or remit-

     ~ 87 ~

tance man, descended to a life of beachcombing and native wenching
on this tropical South Pacific isle now somewhat tainted by crass
commercialism and an international jet airport. But Poppy is no
ordinary South Seas derelict. He is a supremely happy man with a life
of fulfillment behind him that began in the late 1930s when he
purchased Svaap, which means "dream" in Sanskrit, for $1,000, and
sailed her around the world at that time, the smallest vessel ever to
have circumnavigated.

  He is still a handsome man, but now the stern lines of his rather
long face and thin tight lips that were outward marks of his inner
drive and great self-discipline have softened almost in repose.
  And why not? His life had almost been programmed as a living
dream. Many people have sailed around the world in small vessels.
Many have escaped to what they believe at first is a personal paradise.
Others have spent their lives doing pretty much what impulse or
whim suggested. Few of them have ever found the real happiness
they said they were seeking, for they who actually do achieve such
goals are usually the unhappiest. Oddly enough, it was this man
himself who said it is more important to have good dreams than to
attain them, the ultimate happiness being not in the accomplishment
but in the seeking.
  The man, of course, is the almost legendary William Albert Robin-
son, who, now in his seventies, is able to look back on a life that not
even Hollywood would dare suggest. He not only sailed the smallest
vessel around the world, but also wrote several best-selling books and
countless articles that made him famous and well-heeled; and he
founded a shipyard that started out to build Baltimore clippers and
other beautiful sailing ships, including his own personal dream ship,
the 70-foot brigantine Varua, but ended up building minesweepers
and patrol boats for the Navy in World War II which earned him
millions. He owned trading ships and private tropical islands. He
bought a piece of Tahiti in 1929, when it was still unspoiled (and
cheap), and built a home there for himself and the three marriages
he found time for, one to a wholesome New England girl, another to
a sophisticated and famous lady artist, and the third to a mystically
beautiful and exotic Siamese-Tahitian girl called Ah You.
  Romance, adventure, fame, fortune these should have been
enough. But Robbie, as his friends knew him, believed there was
more. He used his trained and disciplined mind and physical energies
to build lasting things, and his money and scientific curiosity to create
medical institutes and foundations for research and treatment of

     ~ 88 ~

tropical diseases. While his contemporary, Alain Gerbault, wrote
about the plight of the native islander, Robinson invested his time,
money, influence, and ingenuity into positive efforts to do something
for them.
  For all this, he was a superb, courageous, and resourceful sailor,
and a gifted writer whose command of words and imagery at times
come off the pages dripping with salt spume and tropical perfumes.
Robbie, a Renaissance man in the ultimate sense rather than a
follower of Henri Rousseau or an imitator of Somerset Maugham,
would have excelled in any field he chose. To have done so in several
nonconventional ones, for a Yankee with a stern and straitlaced be-
ginning, perhaps makes him all the more unique.
  On the warm and humid evening of June 23, 1928, a 25-year-old ex-
engineer who had spent the last three years working in a textile
factory on the lower East Side while preparing for his personal
dream, left New York in the 32-foot Alden ketch Svaap as an entry in
the Bermuda Race of that year.(2) With him as crew were several
college chums, none of whom realized that Robbie had plans to
continue on from Bermuda around the world in the smallest yacht
ever to attempt it.
  Svaap had cost Robinson a thousand dollars and he had found her
in almost-new condition, only three years old, a product of the genius
of Boston's John Alden and the craftsmen of Shelbourne, Nova
Scotia. Although she was a work of art in every way, with the lines of
the famed Gloucester fishing schooners, she was not Robinson's
ideal she was just all the boat he could buy at the time. Ketch-
rigged, she was 32 feet 6 inches overall, 27 feet 6 inches on the
waterline, 9 feet 6 inches of beam, and drew 5 feet 6 inches of water.
The original sail plan was 660 square feet, which was reduced to 550
for deepwater voyaging. Moderate in all her dimensions, Svaap was
easily driven, handy on the helm, and supremely seaworthy. With
three tons of ballast outside, she could stand up to her canvas and
some passages were astonishingly fast, close to the 200-mile noon-to-
noon goal of all small boat voyagers. For ease of getting in and out of
harbors and clawing off reefs and lee shores, Svaap also had a depend-
able 10-horsepower Kermath that at times on the circumnavigation
was made to burn a wide range of exotic fuels.
  The Bermuda Race proved to be Svaap's ultimate test. It was a
stormy and at times harrowing passage, with an amateur and seasick
crew, an inexperienced skipper, and an untried boat. The little ship
stood up to the test supremely well, and instead of suffering the

  ~ 89 ~

trauma of such a desperate experience, this was just what Robbie
needed to gain confidence in himself and his vessel.
  By the time he reached Bermuda, Robbie was firmly convinced
that Svaap was his dream ship. She was also the culmination of a
boyhood enterprise. As a youth, he had sailed a 15 foot canoe on
Lake Michigan, which he parlayed into a Z8-foot sloop and now into
a world-ranging Alden ketch.
  In Bermuda, after his college friends left to return to New York,
Robbie enlisted the first of his paid hands, a Bermuda boy, Wil-
loughby Wright, who stayed with him until they reached Tahiti.
Refitted and provisioned, Svaap cruised the West Indies with stops
at Haiti and Jamaica, and, on August 12, anchored at Cristobal. A
month or more was spent exploring the San Blas Islands, where a
native cayuca was purchased for a tender.
  Robbie was one of the first to describe the ordeal of taking a small
sailing vessel through the locks, and typically he devised a way to
thwart the destructive impulses of the lock tender by rigging four
lines to hold the vessel in the middle of the lock as the water enters.(3)
At the Pacific end, he took on more provisions and obtained with
some difficulty a visa for the Galapagos Islands and a French visa for
Oceania. Here Robbie made a square sail for running down the
trades, and re-rigged the ketch to his own specifications.
  On October 25, Svaap departed Balboa with a pet honey bear
aboard as a pet. The 1,100-mile sail included squalls, calms, adverse
currents, and head winds, as usual, until they made a landfall on
Tower Island. Robbie was fascinated by the Galapagos Islands, and
after a romantic and carefree interlude that included a love affair
with Karin, the beautiful, dark-haired, half-wild daughter of a Nor-
wegian colonist, he tore himself away to pursue his greater dream.(4)
  Before leaving, Robbie stopped at Post Office Bay to drop off some
mail for home, just to test how long it would take. By coincidence,
Cornelius Crane's Illyria, on a scientific cruise, picked it up soon after
and posted it at Svaap's next port!
  Departure was made in hopes of making the next landfall, 4,000
miles away, on New Year's Day. Slowly Floreana dropped from sight
behind them. There was no turning back against the winds and
currents. They were alone on the longest, loneliest ocean passage on
the globe. Only then did Robbie suffer his first shock of realization.
"I felt a sudden panic," he wrote. "I felt as a bird might feel, starting
out to wing a lonely way to the moon."(5) Gradually he adjusted to the
long passage frame of mind he was to adopt many times. Then came

    ~ 90 ~

the exhilaration and exultation of sailing down the trades. It was his
first experience with the Pacific Ocean, which ever after would be
"his ocean," where he felt most at home.
  At noon, on December 31, they were ninety-four miles from
Fangahina in the Marquesas. On January 1, 1929, at dawn, little
Svaap rolled up on the crest of a swell and just ahead stood the bulge
of a mountain. The landfall had been made precisely to the minute
he had estimated at the beginning of the passage.(6)
  They sailed through the Tuamotus and on to Tahiti, entered the
pass, and tied up to a buoy along the Papeete waterfront. The air was
heavy with the scent of flowers, and filled with strange land noises a
milkman making his rounds, dogs barking. Robbie raised the yellow
Q flag and waited for the authorities.
  "I gave myself over to the ecstasy of it all a feeling of utter
relaxation and peace, and of accomplishment."(7)
  This first impression of Tahiti turned out to be a lifelong love
affair, but there were still worlds to see and conquer. Here Wright
left the ship, and Robbie engaged a Tahitian man of all trades, Etera,
and made the first contacts with people who were to influence him in
later life, such as Dr. Lambert of the Rockefeller Foundation, who
was doing medical research in the Western Pacific, and Henri Grand,
a local entrepreneur, who later became a business partner.
  For six months, Robbie stayed at Te Anuanua, making short trips
to Moorea and other islands while he was a house guest of friends. By
then, he had gotten over his yearning for Karin and found compelling
reasons for going on. He departed Wednesday, August 28, 1929, with
Etera, a character who became to Robinson a constant source of
frustration, disappointment, admiration, and comradeship. A small
craggy man, Etera was a mixture of Gilbertese, Fijian, and Tahitian,
and already had a colorful background as a blackbirder, pearl diver,
and cook on trading schooners. He was about forty-one years old with
a bushy head of coal black hair and a broad flat nose. Aside from
adventuring, Etera best liked women and wine, in that order. For the
rest of the circumnavigation, Robbie was bailing him out of jail at
every port, picking up forged markers at strange waterfront bars, and
trying to separate him from his latest harem. When Etera had
applied for a job the night before Robbie sailed, he was asked how
much time he would need to wind up his affairs before leaving on a
world cruise. "Five minutes," Etera told Robbie. This consisted only
of getting his possessions out of hock at the Chinese laundry for forty

   ~ 91 ~

  Together they sailed and explored the waters of Polynesia, Micro-
nesia, and Melanesia, poking into remote places, living off the land
and sea when they ran out of food and fuel, weathering hurricanes,
making notes on native customs and taboos, compiling a dictionary of
pidgin English, and even dining with cannibals - all in that dim
period prior to World War II, before the Southwest Pacific became a
vast wartime theater of operations. When Robbie visited the area,
much of it was not even charted, and he found countless colonial pest-
holes dating back to the eighteenth century, cesspools of World War I
intrigue, lonely missionaries, feudal planters, and Sadie Thompson
dives on sultry waterfronts.                
  They visited Hollandia, once a teeming colonial city when Muhl-
hauser was there, now almost deserted of Europeans, and later to
become a military staging base. They called at the uninhabited
Komodo Island of the giant monitor lizards, long before the tele-
vision travelogs had heard of it.
  Sailing through the exotic Java Sea, they called at Batavia, went on
through Banka Strait to Singapore, and entered the South China Sea.
  They had now sailed as far east as they could go, in spite of having
been pointed west all the time. From here on, they would be home-
ward bound.
  Like most travelers then, they received a hospitable welcome at
Singapore, and survived the Christmas festivities of 1930. Sailing on
Sunday, December 28, they cruised for three weeks in the Strait of
Malacca, stopping to go ashore frequently, with Robbie often trudg-
ing miles into the jungle while Etera stayed behind to guard the boat.
On the last day of the year, they left Malacca and went to Penang, a
most fascinating and exotic port filled with junks and sampans that
looked clumsy until Robbie tried to race them. Here Svaap was
hauled out and reconditioned. Next came a glorious sail to Sabang,
the little island off the north end of Sumatra, with the next port
Colombo, Ceylon, where they stayed a week. The wettest passage was
along the Malabar Coast xvhere the anchorages were open roadsteads.
He wanted to stop to explore the maze of canals and lagoons, the
ancient walled cities, temples, and old palaces, but for this he needed
an outboard motor and small boat, and, besides, the season was now
becoming advanced for the passage to the Red Sea.
  They left Mangalore on February 20, 1931, for Makalla, down to a
ration of six small potatoes, half a tin of sardines, an onion, and a tin
of evaporated milk for the l,000-mile passage. They found no Euro-

  ~ 92 ~

peans at Makalla, but an Arabian Nights atmosphere of fierce Arabs,
bearded Bedouins, religious fanatics, sultans, and exotic drums.
Ashore, Robbie was caught in a mob scene and in danger of being
killed. He was saved by a tall stranger and later given the protection
of the sultan, as well as a farewell gift of 150 rupees for "the brave
American who sailed for the first time an American boat to Makalla."
  The next stop was Aden, followed by two months of fighting their
way against hot head winds and through uncharted waters, reef
crawling most of the way. There was a brief spell in a local jail, a
melodramatic escape from captors who held him for ransom, and the
elusion of a pirate dhow. Graciously, King Ign [Ibn?] Saud himself extended
his personal protection to Robbie for the rest of his stay in Arabia.
Entering the Gulf of Suez and fighting all the way, the Svaap inched
up to Suez after three months of heat, sand wastes, hostile natives,
adverse winds, and dangerous reefs.
  After passing through the Canal, Svaap was overhauled at Port
Said with the help of the Canal Company. Course was set for the
Greek Islands, which Robinson wanted to explore. The winds and
seas were violent most of the time in the Mediterranean. They went
through the Corinth Canal, built by Nero 1,900 years before. They
visited Ithaca, sailed through Charybdis and past Scylla, paused at
Capri, weathered more gales, and then went on to the Italian Riviera.
On July 23, they rounded the cape and came upon Villefranche and
entered the small basin.
  There a man dashed out on the pier shouting, "Robinson? For
God's sake don't leave yet. I've got your grandmother in tow!"
  Months before, Robbie had made a date to meet his grandmother,
who would be traveling in Europe, on a certain day. This was the
day, and it was twelve minutes before noon, the time appointed for
the meeting.(8)
  Remembering his Bermuda Race experience, Robbie was in no
mood to cross the Atlantic between July and October. He decided to
wait until November. This would give him six weeks in France. Etera
had been in so many jams that Robinson had lost count. He had
nursed Etera back to health on one occasion. Often he had taken the
mate back after firing him or after Etera had quit numerous times.
  In Paris, Etera lived up to his old tricks. He forged checks on
"Captaine de Yak Svaap, Robinson" at bars and brothels. Finally, on
September 11, they left for Gibraltar, and sailed for home via the
southern route. Robinson wrote:

    ~ 93 ~ 

       When two people have faced death, adventure, and
       romance of all sorts together in close association for
       more than two years, the combination is not easily
       broken. At sea he (Etera) was a splendid little sailor,
       afraid of nothing. Never once did he fail to produce
       regular meals. His orginality in port brought on some
       difficult situations, and some amusing ones. The pathetic
       letters he wrote from various jails he got into were them-
       selves worth his keep.(9)

  In Tenerife, Robbie had to shanghai Etera away after more shore
trouble, just ahead of the police, slipping out of port at dawn. Boiling
down the trades, they made the long passage skirting a hurricane cell.
On November 1, staggering before an easterly gale, with a falling
glass, they crossed Robbie's outbound track and thus completed the
circumnavigation in an elapsed time of three years and nine days to
the hour.
  There were eight hundred miles to go. They entered smoke from a
forest fire. Looking for Frying Pan Lightship, they thought the
chronometer was off and later learned that the ship had been moved.
Soundings showed them the shoal. For ninety miles, they groped
northward in the gray blanket of smoke. When they were where
Robbie thought they would hear the surf on Cape Lookout Shoals,
he started the engine and said to Etera, "In a half hour we will stop
the engine and listen again. I think we will hear the bell buoy that
marks the entrance to Morehead City." Within minutes after stop-
ping the engine, they heard the harsh clang of the bell. Once again,
Robinson's uncanny sense of timing had proved accurate.
  "Capitainel Capitainel It's the belll C'est fini la guerre!" Etera
 Svaap had come home.                       
  They continued on up to New York and tied to the mooring at the
Battery. Robinson was given a hero's welcome. He wrote a best-
selling book of adventure and escape with the same exquisite timing
he showed in his navigation. He wrote magazine articles and went on
a lecture tour. He got married. He was famous.
  Two years later, with his bride, Florence, a New England girl who
had learned to sail in dinghies, and a cousin, Daniel T. West, Robbie
sailed again in Svaap. After more adventures in the West Indies, and
a grounding in a river on the Central American coast, they went
through the canal again and headed for the Galapagos Islands. The
  ~ 94 ~

purpose of this voyage was mainly to do some scientific research, and
to make a movie of penguins on one of the islands. For props, they
had brought doll-house furniture, purchased at Macy's, and on the
island they built a small "penguin city" of lava rock.
  Just as they began filming, Robbie, who had never been sick a day
in his life, came down with appendicitis, which ruptured on the
second day and peritonitis set in. A thousand miles from help, on a
lonely island, and with a maximum of three days estimated time be-
fore death would come, there appeared miraculously in the cove an
American tuna clipper, the Santa Cruz, with a long-range radio.
  Next followed a race with death in which the U.S. Navy at
Panama dispatched a destroyer with complete operating facilities and
a flight of Army planes to assist in the rescue. The dramatic, almost
melodramatic episode caught the attention of the world at a time
when the public needed something to shake the routine boredom.
Newspapers and radio stations all over the world followed the rescue
effort minute by minute as the dispatches came in. If Robbie had
been famous before, now he was a superstar.
  His luck still holding, he was taken aboard the destroyer for an
emergency operation, then taken to Gorgas Hospital in Balboa for
further treatment and two more operations by Dr. Troy W. Earhart,
one of the world's finest surgeons. While he was recuperating, Presi-
dent Franklin Delano Roosevelt passed through the Canal Zone
bound for Hawaii. Robinson was invited to meet with the President
and had an opportunity to thank him for the assistance of the Army
and Navy.
  Robbie then decided to give Svaap to the Naval Academy at
Annapolis. Before salvage operations could be organized, it was
learned that the local military commander at Wreck Bay had com-
mandeered Svaap for his own use and wrecked it on a reef.(10)
  He and Florence later sailed to Tahiti on a steamship and built
their home there. In 1937, restless, his New England conscience
telling him that he should not be living such an idyllic life, they
returned to Ipswich, on the Connecticut River, where Robbie in-
dulged his second great love, after Tahiti that of designing and
building sailing ships. In his small yard, which he founded, he
rounded up old-time New England craftsmen and they began turning
out beautiful vessels such as Baltimore clippers, as well as trawlers for
the fishing fleet.
  Then came World War II, and his yard was taken over and
expanded for Navy vessels. At the peak, more than six hundred men

    ~ 95 ~

were employed and some two hundred ships were built. Just prior to
the defense effort, Robbie had purchased in Ceylon a beautiful full-
rigged ship and had it brought to Gloucester as a model for designing
and restoring classic old vessels. Later he sent this vessel to Tahiti to
be operated in partnership with Henri Grand. During the same
period, he designed and built with W. Starling Burgess and L. Francis
Herreshoff his idea of an ultimate yacht, the 70-foot Varua.

  He lived on Varua, tied up in the river, during those hectic war-
time years, dreaming of returning to Tahiti some day. Meanwhile, he
had been divorced and married again, this time to Sarah Lancashire,
an artist whose professional name was Sallie White.
  At last, on July 7, 1945, after winning the Navy E, completing the
ship contracts, and disbanding the business, he departed on the
unfinished Varua. In his papers was a letter of authorization from
Admiral Chester Nimitz himself to enter the South Pacific war
zone. On board were Sarah, or SLR, as he called her, and two of his
closest wartime assistants. They made a stormy passage via the old
sailing route to Port of Spain and Panama, where the two old friends
left the ship.
  With a hired Haitian as crew, and SLR as mate, he sailed to the
Galapagos for a visit, calling upon his old romance, Karin, now
burdened with children and living in semi-poverty. Then Varua
sailed down the long passage to the Tuamotus and Tahiti and home
for Robbie.
  Life in Tahiti was not one of idleness. Robbie kept busy with a
project of building a native community on an atoll he had purchased
at auction from the government with Henri Grand as partner and
there engaged in medical research. He sailed Varua on exploring
missions among the islands, and even up to Hawaii. He wrote books
and articles. He lived his dream at last.
  Ultimately, SLR could not take the island life any more, and
yearning for the world of art, patrons, and more intellectual outlets,
she left for Italy. They parted on good terms and with mutual re-
spect. In Italy, Sarah reached full development as an artist and
achieved worldwide acclaim.
  Next we find Robbie married to Ah You, an exquisitely beautiful
half-caste. On Varua, with Ah You and a native crew, Robbie sailed
on a year-long voyage along the clipper route in the forties and fifties,
during which he encountered the ultimate storm, described in great
detail in a later book.(11) They visited Chile and Peru, pausing for

    ~ 96 ~

long periods for inland excursions, went up past the Guano Islands to
the Galapagos for his fourth visit to the Enchanted Islands, and put
in at Balboa where Ah You gave birth to their first child, a girl.
  When the baby was only two months old, they departed again for
home on Tahiti. More voyages followed, usually combined with
scientific research, more intense work on his favorite project finding
a cure for elephantiasis and trying to trace the migrations of the
Polynesians. More children also followed. As they prepared for a long
cruise to Southeast Asia and Siam, Ah You became ill. She stayed
behind, planning to join Robbie and the children later by air. But that
was the last they saw of her, for she died soon after.
  Back in Tahiti again, Robinson now found his roots deeper than
ever in his beloved Ofaipapa, and his long years of work to bring
about Franco-American cooperation in medical research reaching a
point where it no longer needed his drive, ability, and financing.
  What else would a man want?

        The sea is strange and alien to man. It is cruel. It is beau-
        tiful. I could never understand the recent vogue for
        drifting on rafts, trailing barnacles and seaweed while
        growing biblical beards. The sea is for action: cresting
        white foam at the bow, racing wake astern. You long for
        port, although at the very end you are never quite sure
        whether it is the delight of the landfall or regret that the
        voyage is done . . . but underneath it all you know that
        what is troubling you is that your goal has been achieved
        and is gone.(l2)

  Gone are that sturdy little ketch, Svaap, and Etera and a thousand
strange and exotic islands. Gone are Karin and those wild moonlight
rides over the ridges of San Cristobal. Gone the shipyard and six
hundred loyal workers. Gone are Florence and the full-rigged Mala-
bar ship he named for her. Gone the exhilaration and exultation of
riding the foaming crests of a storm on a long Pacific passage. Gone is
SLR, whose mind and artistic talent were keen enough to collide
with his own. Gone is Ah You, the half-caste girl of mystical beauty,
almost too unreal to be mortal, but who lives on in their daughters.
Gone are the Arabian Nights adventures, the stimulation of goals and
projects, the heady essence of fame and success. He has had them all.
  Yet, he still has the memories, and on a cool evening from the

    ~ 97 ~

veranda at Ofaipapa he can see Varua in the harbor, resting sleekly at
her moorings, her unique foremast yard harbor-braced and cocked,
eager and able to take her owner anywhere in the world. There, with
the sunset colors playing in the last light, he can see the fairy island
of Moorea some twelve miles away to the west.
 All is peace at last.(18)

   ~ 98 ~

 - end Chapter 9 -

To Chapter 10.


AUTHOR's NOTES Chapter Nine 1. Deep Water and Shoal by William A. Robinson (London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1957). One of the many editions which includes the original 10,000 Leagues Over the Sea was published by Harcourt, Brace & Co., Inc., New York;, 1932. 2. Robinson came in a poor third in his class and was out-sailed by none other than Captain Harry Pidgeon in Islander. Svaap took twelve days; Islander, seven days. 3. Robbie's experiences in the locks can be contrasted with Gerbault's. By official order from Washington, on request of Paris, the locktender gently raised Firecrest. 4. Karin was the daughter of a Norwegian family, the last remnants of an ill-fated colony begun in 1926. She married the Paris-educated Manuel Augusto Cobos, whose father had been in charge of a penal colony on San Cristobal, where the prisoners provided free labor for a coffee plantation. When the elder Cobos was murdered by the convicts, the Ecuadorean government gave the island to Manuel and his sister as compensation. At the time Robinson visited them in 1945, Karin had six children, and a brand-new eleven-day-old baby. The family was down to living on bare essentials, their backs to the wall-all of which depressed Robinson so much that he cut short his visit. 5. 10,000 Leagues Over the Sea, by William A. Robinson (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., Inc., 193Z). 6. On New Year's Eve, while Svaap was making a landfall after crossing the Pacific Robinson's contemporary, Alain Gerbault, was celebrating the incoming of 1919 at a big party in the Cape Verdes, on the last leg of his circumnavigation. Both adventurers were lucky enough to escape the Great De- pression in the most idyllic way; and, of course, Robinson's star guided him into making a fortune in a wartime shipyard, instead of adventuring in exotic places as a member of the armed forces. 7. 10,000 Leagues Over the Sea. 8. Robinson's sense of timing seldom failed him. During his voyages, he kept many a rendezvous, often arranged months in advance and subject to many unpredictable factors such as weather, navigation errors, and man-made circumstances. 9. 10,000 Leagues Over the Sea. 10. It was not until Robinson's third visit to the Galapagos, in 1945, that he learned the details from an eyewitness of what happened to Svaap. When he did learn, he was so incensed and outraged at the behavior of the corrupt and greedy officials at Wreck Bay during the 1930s that he picked up his informant and threw him off the ship. 11. To the Great Southern Sea (Tuckahoe, N.Y.: John de Graff, Inc., 1966; first published by Harcourt, Brace & Co., Inc., 1956) . Varua, which means "spirit" or "soul" in Tahitian, is considered by many aficionados to be the most beautiful and functionally perfect sailing yacht ever built. Based on his years of experience sailing the oceans of the world, the lines were worked up to Robinson's specifications by W. Starling Burgess, famous designer of the America's cup defender, Ranger, and numerous other fine ships. The model was tested and refined by tank tests at the Stevens Institute, and the hull was constructed of the (then) advanced composite steel frame and wood- planking technique. She was launched March 19, 1942, just after the U.S. was plunged into war with Japan and Germany. During the war, Robbie and his wife lived aboard and made plans for the future. One weekend in 1943 they had as a guest aboard, the famed circumnavigator Conor O'Brien, whom Robbie found to be exceptionally charming and entertaining. Varua's dimensions are: 66.2 feet overall, 60 feet on the waterline, 16.2 feet in beam, with a draft of 6.6 feet, a net tonnage of 37, and a gross tonnage of 43. Her A.B.S. rating is *A I Y S. The rig was designed with the assistance of Robbie's friend, the late L. Francis Herreshoff, whose Ticonderoga is in the same class and closely resembles Varua It is a unique brigantine rig with a foremast and a mainmast, square courses and fore and aft mainsails, staysails, and flying jibs. The total sail area is 2,700 square feet. Herreshofl originally designed his fine 44-foot Ocean Cruiser for Robinson, but Robbie finally chose Varua. The auxiliary is a 47-horsepower Deutz, swinging a two-bladed feathering prop off center and giving a speed of about 7 knots She carries 625 gallons of water and 800 gallons of diesel fuel. The counterclockwise trip made around the South Pacific in the 1950s, into the Roaring Forties and up the west coast of South America, then back to Tahiti, proved Varua to be a superb vessel in every respect, easily handled by two men, and roomy enough for a large family to live aboard in comfort. Robinson's account of his encounter with the ultimate survival storm is a classic of seamanship. Richard Maury, who also visited Tagus Cove aboard Cimba in July and Au- gust, was probably the last person to see Svaap before Robinson's famous vessel was confiscated and wrecked by Ecuadorian officials. Tagus Cove resembled a Norwegian fjord, Maury wrote, with sheer rock cliffs on which were painted the calling cards of many famous vessels the schooner Zaca, Yankee, Pilgrim, White Shadow, and others, some of which were dated as early as 1833. Entering the old crater and anchoring in ten fathoms, they found Svaap "rolling abandoned amid the silences of Tagus Cove." Assembling their folding dinghy, Maury and his companion rowed over and boarded the ketch. "Leaving Dombey in the cabin, I went on deck and eased myself into the steer- ing well. What sights can be seen from the helm of a single craft guided by resourceful hands!" Maury wrote in The Saga of Cimba (Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1939). In the cabin, by the light of matches, they found signs of hurried leave-taking emptied sail lockers and chart racks, remnants of clothing, rusted tins of food scattered on the floorboards. During their stay in Tagus Cove, they borrowed Svaap's cuyucka to replace their dinghy. Before they left, they overhauled the ground tackle, pumped out the bilges, tied up the rigging, paid out more chain scope, made sure the cabin was ventilated to prevent dry rot They then helped themselves to some of the rusty cans of food and pumped over some of Svaap's remaining fresh water for their use. "For a moment we stood upon the dry deck, feeling the air of faithfulness, of loyalty pervading all good and hard-tried ships." They then departed for the Marquesas and the Pacific islands, where Cimba, herself a jinxed ship, was lost. 11. Return to the Sea (New York: John de Graff, Inc., 1972). 12. Return to the Sea. 13. In a wartime edition of Ten Thousand Leagues Over the sea, published by Harcourt, Brace thirteen years after the original edition, Robinson told in the foreword what had happened to Etera. Now building landing ships, he noted patriotically that some of these would be storming South Pacific beaches he had visited in Svaap. One of Robinson's little-known adventures involved the purchase in Colombo Ceylon, of the Annupoorunyamal, an Indian copy of a full-rigged New Eng- land clipper in miniature, which he had first seen on his circumnavigation in Svaap. Returning to India later, he found the vessel, bought her, outfitted her at Colombo, and with an all-Indian crew, he and his first wife, Florence, sailed her back to Gloucester. There, the Florence C. Robinson, as the Annapooranyamal had been renamed, startled the natives when the Hindu crew flew kites from the deck to celebrate the safe passage. The clipper was used as a rigging model for the sailing ships Robinson's firm was then building, along with working fishing boats. The unique qualities of the square rig, including that of being able to sail backward while maneuvering in crowded waters, were noted by Robbie and some of them were incorporated in Varua. In a personal letter from Mr. Robinson in March 1974, he said most of his time has been spent on a research project on his island, Tairo, now a scientific reserve "The three older girls have become practically international characters, what with dance tours, modeling, etc. Formerly they were known and introduced as the daughters of Robbie Robinson. Now I am introduced as the father of the Robinson Sisters."

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