- 14 -
The Yankees Go Around and Around
Each new sailor has to make his own terms with the sea. He will inevitably learn to ac- commodate to the motion, he will learn to box the compass and steer a course, he will learn to sleep when watch is over regardless of the clock, he will learn the lines, the sails and what they do.(l) ELECTA SEARCH HAD BEEN A COLLEGE CHUM OF GWEN Tompkins of the famous bluewater sailing family, and after a week- end aboard Wander Bird, a converted German pilot schooner, she took the train back to Rochester to explain to her family why she was quitting her job to go cruising in European waters. The scene shifts next to a rough autumn day in 1931 off Le Havre in the English Channel. Electa had purchased a Siamese kitten in Paris because she had always wanted one and there they were cheap; but the kitten, unlike Electa, did not take to the sea and died. To console herself, Electa decided she needed a haircut especially since there was a young crewman aboard from Boston who liked to cut girls' hair, if it were the right girl. While young Irving Johnson wielded the clippers, taking what seemed like an unusually long time about it, Electa studied him ~ 140 ~ surreptitiously in the mirror. They talked of many things, and became better acquainted. At twenty-six, Irving McClure Johnson was what we would call today a dropout, but he had already acquired an astonishing back- ground in seamanship and bluewater sailing. Born July 4, 1905, to Clifton and Anna Johnson, farmers, he was graduated from Hopkins Academy in 1923. He and his brother owned a sloop when he was eighteen, and he crewed on local yachts frequently. To gain more experience, however, he went to sea for ten years in as many types of craft as he could. In 1929 and 1930, he signed on for a 93-day voyage around Cape Horn to Chile in the German four-masted bark Peking, bound from Hamburg to Talcahuana for nitrate. On this voyage, he took some remarkable 16mm motion pictures for later lecture tours, and also wrote Round the Horn in a Square-Rigger. The following year, Johnson signed on as mate aboard Shamrock V, Sir Thomas Lipton's America's Cup contender, for the return trip to England. The voyage included a severe encounter with a hurri- cane, during which the racing craft proved to be not intended for such voyaging.(2) In 1931, Johnson sailed as mate with Captain Warwick Tompkins on the Wander Bird, sailing from Newport on European excursions, returning via the West Indies. The same year he also sailed on George Roosevelt's Mistress in the Fastnet Race. In 1932, he was skipper and navigator aboard the 43-foot schooner Twilight in the Bermuda Race, coming in second in Class B. On September 15, 1932, Irving and Electa were married and thus began one of the most remarkable family enterprises one that was to culminate in seven virtually flawless and accident-free circum- navigations. During the winter following their honeymoon, they spent days with charts spread out on the living-room floor, in correspondence with yacht brokers, and in planning the ship they wanted, the ports they wished to visit. They had this idea: to sail around the world with a crew of young people selected for skills and compatibility, with Irving as skipper-owner, and a paid hand or two but everyone else would be amateurs sharing expenses. Everyone would have regular duties aboard and would stand regular watches. The first and second mates would always be experienced men, but aside from that, sailing experience would not be a prerequisite. The plan was an adaptation from Tompkins and the Wander Bird, and they both agreed that the ~ 141 ~ ship would have to be one of those superbly seaworthy and comfort- able North Sea pilot boats. Most of these pilot boats were in the 90- to 100-foot overall class, built heavily to last, with 7 by 7 oak frames, and 3-inch-thick oak planks. The pilot boats had to spend two weeks at sea in all kinds of weather on station, and their crews had to be smart sailors, for the competition for jobs on incoming ships was fierce. With the passing of the tall clipper ships, the old pilot boats were replaced by steam and motor launches. A few wound up as yachts, such as Wander Bird and the former Dutch Loodschooner 4, which was owned by Captain Claude Monson of Ipswich, England. The Johnsons went to Germany as a result of negotiations with a broker named Erdmann, who claimed to be sole agent for the Gluckauf. This proved to be a long and frustrating experience, during which Erdmann flipped his lid and accused Johnson of trying to kill him; and the lady dentist who owned the vessel, with her lawyer, gave the Johnsons an expensive runaround. Regarding the young Americans as a couple of patsies, they baited the Johnsons on, and then tried to double the price. But the Johnsons were not that naive. They had already sent an inquiry to Captain Monson, who was rumored to be in a mood for selling his pet, the Loodschooner 4, now named the Texel. During the low point in the negotiations with the conniving lady dentist and her lawyer, the Johnsons received a cable from Monson accepting their offer. Within minutes, they had tickets and were off for England. Captain Monson, it turned out, who had met Irving before, liked the Johnsons and felt his ship would be well taken care of and sailed as she should be. It was spring in England and beautiful. The Johnsons went directly to Ipswich and got ready to sail. Included in the first crew was a German professional sailor named Franzen, who had worked for the movies in Hollywood and who knew how to rig a ship. Also coming aboard were some crew members from home Arthur Murphy, Bill Yeomans, and Douglas Hancock. After changing the name of the ship to Yankee, and the registry from British to American, they then sailed for Hamburg and the small yard of Herr Porath on the Elbe at Finkenwarder for the final rigging and outfitting. The sail plan was changed somewhat, and a new foretopmast was obtained from the Bremen, which was being dismantled nearby. Other crew members began to show up, until the little inn at Finkenwarder began to look like a college dormitory. Here the ~ 142 ~ Johnsons acquired one of their greatest assets, a German cook named Fritz, who was a confirmed Nazi, but otherwise a loyal and depend- able hand. On July 5, they were ready to sail. Yankee had a new rig, a new coat of white paint, and a rearranged interior. The owner's cabin was aft, with two small cabins to starboard, one double and one single cabin, engine room, and bathroom to port. Forward of these were the main cabin with an upper and lower tier of bunks, six to port and eight to starboard. There were benches and boxes for provisions under the bunks. Along one side of the cabin was what would become a Johnson trademark on all their vessels an enormous swinging teakwood table that always remained level no matter how the ship heeled. Forward of the main cabin was the galley, then a companionway to the teak deckhouse, with bunks, chart table, and storage for several thousand charts. As outfitted, the Yankee was 92 feet overall, 76 feet on the water- line, 21 feet wide, and drew 11 feet of water. She had four water tanks holding 2,000 gallons, and oil tanks with a capacity of 350 gallons. First they sailed back to England, anchoring at Cowes at the Isle of Wight for the Fastnet Races and then went to Falmouth, in Corn- wall, looking for the Wander Bird. There she was, just as the Johnsons had arranged with the Tompkinses on a cold March day in Boston, when they had said good-bye; and nearby was the old Cutty Sark, the last clipper afloat, tied up across the harbor, a symbol of an era that was not yet dead, not while there were Johnsons and Tompkinses to sail the seas. From Falmouth, they sailed to Ireland, then across the North Atlantic in the steamer lanes to Newfoundland, St. Pierre, the Bras d'Or Lakes, and finally to the home port of Gloucester. Yankee's maiden voyage had been a boisterous but delightful one. The next two months were spent collecting a ship's company for an eighteen-month cruise around the world. Times were tough. It was the early years of the Depression. Millions were out of work. Breadlines and riots characterized the streets of the large cities. Never had the compulsion to escape been stronger, and from a mountain of mail, much of which bordered on the crackpot, they settled upon a crew of seventeen. The first mate was Frederick Jackson of Provi- dence, a Dartmouth grad who had been second mate on the Atlantic voyage; Douglas Hancock, as second mate, had also been with them during the summer; Arthur Murphy of West Newton, and Theodore ~ 143 ~ Hixon of Springfield, two other veterans of the maiden voyage. Unfortunately, six days before sailing, Arthur was involved in a bad auto accident, but he arranged to meet them later in Tahiti. Robert Murray of Waban, a friend of Arthur's, signed on as "engineer." Dr. Rufus Southworth of Cincinnati became ship's surgeon he was the oldest member of the crew, at fifty, but had a hardy constitution and much experience in foreign places. He was signed on in spite of Irving's conviction that men more than forty had no place aboard a sailing vessel, unless they had done a lot of sailing in the past. Southworth also brought along the youngest member of the crew, Edward Danson of Cincinnati. Others included Peer Johnson of Beverly, Massachusetts, Charles Tifft of Boston, Dr. Walter Garrey of Massachusetts General Hospi- tal who was going as far as Panama, and Roland Wentzel, a young German-American commercial artist from New York, as cook's helper. Most welcome aboard were two girls, Betty Schuler of Rochester, New York, and Dorothy Brandon of Toronto. Dorothy planned to leave at Singapore. Peer Johnson's sister was to meet them in Tahiti. All of the girls were between twenty-four and thirty, including Electa, and had the same general interests. Betty was signed on as black- smith, Dorothy as lamptrimmer two old windjammer jobs Deborah and Electa as stewardess and hairdresser. None planned to be overworked in their official capacities, the titles of which caused considerable confusion among petty and often ignorant port officials around the world. On November 5, 1933, the new-born Yankee sailed from Glouces- ter on its first circumnavigation. As soon as the harbor was cleared and the crowds gone, the sails were hauled up and the shipboard routine began. That night it snowed. Through the bitter winter night, they pressed out to sea toward the Gulf Stream. Those who had never been on a sailing ship before were obliged to go aloft and work sails and they learned quickly. South of Hatteras, they en- countered a proper gale, but soon passed out of the bad weather and the days became sunny and warm with moderate winds. By this time, the new crew was thoroughly initiated and began to enjoy the voyage. At Colon, the crew went ashore for the first of many celebrations. They then passed through the locks, where Yankee was given a thorough threshing and crashed into one wall. With power and sail, they went through Gatun Lake, and late in the afternoon tied up at the dock in Balboa. ~ 144 ~ Here they stayed a while and the crew scattered on various adven- tures, shopping and exploring. Electa bought a Thanksgiving turkey in a local market. Charlie and Doug went into the hospital with an infected ear and an appendectomy respectively.(3) The crew was joined by Frank Longshore of New Orleans, who had signed on for Tahiti. The fourth day at sea, Charlie's appendix began acting up. The skipper and Dr. Southworth decided to go on. The next day, Charlie had another attack, so Irving changed course for Buenaventura, Colombia, which had air service to Panama. Using the diesel engine, Irving made port the day before the scheduled flight. The town was eight miles upriver, and the channel was filled with unmarked shoals. When almost to the town, they went aground in the mud the rainy season had started. Charlie's appendix was worse, and now the Yankee buzzed with angry officials who had not been informed of their coming, and who were insulted because the Yankee did not fly the Colombian flag. After a series of misadventures during which they nearly lost the ship, they got Charlie ashore and to his airplane. The next day they got a telegram from Gorgas Hospital saying that the appendix had been duly removed and that Charlie was doing well. At last, the Yankee escaped from the miseries of squalid Buenaven- tura and its officials, and headed for the Galapagos Islands. The next day they crossed the equator with appropriate ceremonies. Their stay in the Galapagos was delightful. Christmas was cele- brated at Chatham. They visited the colony which included the beautiful Norwegian girl of Robinson's voyage, Karin, now married to Senor Cobos.(4) They left letters at Post Office Bay. Electa and the others also made the acquaintance of the Ritters, the Baroness and her lovers, and most of the other eccentrics on Floreana.(5) Electa's account of the settlers and what happened to them was probably the last reliable one to be published. One day at San Salvador, a shore party came upon a tin box con- taining a message from William Robinson who had been there in Svaap in 1928. The original, which was still in good condition, was replaced with a copy of their own. Just before leaving, a ship hove into sight. It was the Blue Dolphin of Gloucester, which had been fitting out near them, and which was now under charter to Alfred Chandler and family of Wilmington, Delaware. Then the Yankee's bowsprit was pointed toward Pitcairn, more than three thousand miles away. Pitcairn was seldom visited by any ships, much less yachts, which ~ 145 ~ was typical of the pattern the Johnsons followed in all their voyages. They had no idea of what they would find there, but it turned out to be the first of many visits with the descendants of the Bounty muti- neers, and the beginning of a close relationship.(6) It was hard to break away from the Pitcairn hospitality, but as it turned out, they would return sooner than they thought. At Manga- reva, they found seven Pitcairn islanders who had been stranded for five months after their trading schooner from Tahiti, the Patria, piled up on a reef,(7) and who had managed to get to Mangareva in the lifeboat Now they were homesick and wanted the Yankee to take them back to Pitcairn, which the Johnsons reluctantly did.8 On the way, Captain Jollnson married one of the islanders to a sixteen-year- old Mangareva girl who came along. At Pitcairn, their arrival caused no surprise. The Johnsons were told that they had been expected. In 1934, Tahiti was far different than the island today, with its jet airport and booming tourism. The Yankee's crew thoroughly enjoyed this tropical paradise. When the steamer from San Francisco arrived, aboard was Arthur Murphy, recovered from his accident. Charlie appeared in a native dugout. He had been waiting in Tahiti for two weeks. Newspapers from the States carried strange stories about the New Deal and something called "N.R.A.," bank holidays, and social and economic experiments. But life in Tahiti was one round of parties. The only link with home was that most of the merchandise and furnishings of the villagers outside Papeete came from the Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward catalogs. They visited Moorea, across the way, then Bora Bora, the Cook Islands, Tonga, Fiji, the New Hebrides, the Solomons, Borneo, poking into out-of-the-way places. Captain Johnson did not realize it, but he was covering water with which, as a wartime captain of a navy survey ship, he would become intimately acquainted. Arriving at the mouth of the Bangkok River in Indochina, they went up that chocolate waterway to Bangkok to become the first American yacht to visit that city. Here the Johnsons celebrated their second wedding anniversary, and reflected on all that had happened during those two years. A train trip was made inland to the Angkor Wat, the ruins of the ancient city in the jungle, built by a vanished race of Khmers and lost to the world for centuries. Next came Singapore, crossroads of the Pacific. Here, where labor and teak was cheap, the Yankee acquired new floors and other improvements. Then they were off for Sumatra, Bali, Java, passing by ~ 146 ~ Krakatoa, which had erupted in 1883, killing 36,000 people and send- ing tidal waves around the world. Then came the Indian Ocean, Keeling-Cocos Islands, and Mauri- tius. On Cocos, Electa found members of the Clunies-Ross family who remembered Captain Slocum's visit nearly a half century before. Christmas was spent at sea. On December 31, they sighted Africa, then came into the harbor of Durban and tied up to a berth only ten minutes' walk from the center of town. They appeared on a South African radio broadcast and then departed for Cape Town. Expecting the worse, they had a pleasant run around the Cape, logging one record noon-to-noon passage of 234 miles. They enjoyed a visit to Cape Town, then pushed on to St. Helena, Ascension, Fernando de Noronha, and Devil's Island. Coming to anchor off the French prison colony, they were refused permission to land. But it was well that they hurried on, for near Georgetown, Ned's appendix flared up, and he was taken to a tropical hospital ashore for an emergency operation the third appendectomy of the voyage. Here they encountered Art Williams, an American bush pilot, who flew Johnson and several others on a spectacular run into the jungle where one waterfall, 840 feet high, was discovered and named Yankee Falls. Next came the West Indies, which they had missed on the out- bound trip. They stopped at Trinidad, Antigua, Saba, and the Virgin Islands. On May 5, they sailed into Gloucester harbor, accompanied by a fleet of boats sent out to meet them with flags flying and whistles blowing. Their first circumnavigation had been completed. During the pre-World War II days, Yankee made two more voyages around the world with amateur crews. The Johnsons' two sons were born and learned to walk on heaving decks. In the spring of 1941, they sailed Yankee back for the last time. Two months later, Irving was an officer in the Navy, and the family was on its way to Honolulu. Yankee was sold to the Admiral Billard Academy. Irving was assigned to the War Plans Office because of his intimate knowl- edge of the Pacific islands. Then came the Pearl Harbor sneak attack. Irving went to sea on the survey ship, U.S.S. Sumner, charting the islands and passages where the fighting became hot and desperate Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Kwajalein, and Iwo Jima. In early 1942, he was with the marines in ~ 147 ~ the landing on Wallis Island, where he had once taken Yankee. Ultimately, he became skipper of the Sumner, on which he served three years. During the Iwo Jima operation, the Sumner was under continuous attack by air and shore batteries for eleven days. Johnson retired with the rank of Captain, U.S.N.R., after the war. Coming home to Gloucester, he sailed in the 1946 Bermuda Race on the Brilliant. Meanwhile, he and Electa searched for another Yankee. They found her, with the help of a friend, the movie actor Sterling Hayden, who had been mate on the second world cruise, in the Duhnen, the last schooner the Germans built before steam took over. During the war, the schooner had been a Luftwaffe recreation ship. The British took her over as a prize, and she ended up as an RAF recreation ship. After some convincing, the Air Marshall agreed to sell. The ship was refitted and renamed Yankee at the Brixham yards. The new Yankee was 96 feet overall, with a waterline of 81 feet, a maximum draft of 11 feet. She was a smart sailor with a top speed of 12 knots, had a pair of diesels with plenty of tankage, and electric power for lights, refrigeration, and hot water. She even carried an electric welder, a handy thing to have on a steel ship. The rig was changed to that of a brigantine with 7,775 square feet of canvas. The first crew included the wife of General William (Wild Bill) Donovan of OSS fame, who had sailed around in the old Yankee. The Johnsons' two sons, Arthur and Robert, eleven and eight, also came aboard as veterans. Arthur had been given the middle name of "Cook" and Robert that of "Parkin," in honor of the great English explorer and of Parkin Christian, one of the Pitcairn islanders. The first voyage of the new Yankee included Irving's nephew, Stephen, a merchant marine veteran; Jack Braidwood, a former Canadian navy commander; Frank Power of Santa Monica, Cali- fornia; a North Hollywood doctor, Charles T. Bothamley, forty-five; Peter Sutton and Hazard Campbell of Buffalo, New York; Alan Pierce of Fairhaven (where Slocum's Spray was born in a pasture); Jack Trevett of Evanston, Illinois; Eric Wolman, the youngest member at sixteen; Larry Bard; Neil Chase from Deerfield; John Wright of Sharon, Massachusetts; Ray Moeller, an engineer; Ed Douglas, an actor who had toured in Kiss and Tell; Jim Wells; and Don Crawford, a professional cook. This time, the girls included Louise Stewart of Philadelphia, Wellesley grad and columnist for Ladies' Home Journal, and a former captain in the Marines; Mary Booth of Larchmont,(9) who had sailed ~ 148 ~ with the Johnsons one summer, a Smith grad and aeronautical engi- neer; Terry Glenn of Chicago, also an aeronautical engineer and a pilot; and Meg Young of Muskegon, Michigan, a former secretary and saleslady. Between 1947 and 1958, the Johnsons made four circumnaviga- tions with amateur crews. On one trip, Irving discovered and raised the anchor of the Bounty at Pitcairn. Between voyages, the Johnsons published several books and lectured extensively. They also chartered on short trips up and down the coast, one summer carrying 2,200 Girl Scout mariners from New York to the Bras d'Or Lakes. Irving was a member of the prestigious Cruising Club of America and always flew the CCA pennant. Surprisingly, the Johnsons were never cited with the Blue Water Medal, although they had the respect and admiration of the club members. In the CCA book, Nowhere Is Too Far, the late John Parkinson, Jr., wrote: "It is almost appalling when we consider that Irving Johnson skippered the two Yankees seven times around the world. Certainly he is worthy to take his place in history with Magellan and Sir Francis Drake as one of the world's greatest sailors in sail." Then, at last, after a quarter century of voyaging around the world, the Johnsons sold the brigantine Yankee. The old North Sea pilot boat was soon after wrecked on a reef in the South Pacific by the new owner. Irving and Electa had Sparkman and Stephens design for them a third Yankee, this one a 50-foot steel centerboard ketch with shallow draft, masts stepped in tabernacles so they could be folded for passage under low bridges, and began a retirement period cruising the vast canals of Europe. On one trip up the Nile, Irving suffered a bad fall while climbing on the ruins, but recovered. The Johnsons were among the most unusual and competent of all the voyagers who have undertaken a circumnavigation, and certainly hold the record for the number of times around. More important, all these voyages have been made with consummate skill, with unending attention to detail and vigilance, and good old-fashioned judgment. Because of the Johnsons, hundreds of amateurs from all walks of life who had dreamed of the sea were able to make a voyage of a lifetime in complete safety and without the burden of yacht ownership and years of preparation necessary to make it on their own. There was always unfailing discipline aboard the Yankees, but this never intruded on the easy comradeship and the informal life the Johnsons tried to maintain. With few exceptions, those amateurs who signed on were able to adjust easily to shipboard life and the ~ 149 ~ inevitable togetherness on long passages. Perhaps the secret of the success of these voyages was the fact that the Johnsons themselves never lost that feeling of excitement and curiosity that comes with visiting exotic places and meeting different peoples. They were essen- tially inveterate tourists, with insatiable enthusiasm and curiosity. For those hundreds of amateurs, no matter how humdrum or frustrating was the rest of their lives, they would always be able to look back on the great adventure, when for one brief period the world and its romance spread out before them on a magic carpet called the Yankee. ~ 150 ~ - end Chapter 14 -
To Chapter 15.
=================================================================== AUTHOR's NOTES Chapter Fourteen 1. Yankee's Wander-World by Irving and Electa Johnson (New York. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1949) 2. Shamrock V's Wild Voyuge Home by Irving Johnson (Springfield, Mass.: Milton Bradley Co., 1933). 3. For other episodes of appendectomies in this part of the world, see the voyages of William Robinson and the Cap Pilar. 4. See other accounts, including Robinson, the Cap Pilar, Kauffman and Mefferd, the Strouts, and others. Practically every voyager who visited the Galapagos mentioned Senora Cobos and her life story. 5. Of all the accounts of the eccentric colonists in the Galapagos, that of Electa's in Westward Bound in the Schooner Yankee is the most sym- pathetic and accurate. 6. One of the Johnsons' sons was named after a Pitcairn leader, Parkin Christian. 7. Mangareva, in the Gambiers, will be remembered as the scene of the tragic and sinister story of the mad priest Pere Laval, who destroyed most of the native population with his grandiose schemes of a feudal Popian empire. 8. Aboard the Patria when it was wrecked was none other than James Norman Hall, co-author of Mutiny on the Bounty. 9. Among the many shipboard romances that flowered on Yankee voyages was that of Steve Johnson and Mary Booth, who were married subsequently.
To Chapter 15.
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