Daily Archives: March 30, 2009

Nancy Dawson

The boat that is pictured in my first post was MY boat…Nancy Dawson, a Kaiser26, hull #24 of only 26 built.

I had always dreamed of owning a sailboat and making a single-handed journey of some sort. I never wanted to circle the globe. I don’t know why, but it just wasn’t one of the things I wanted to do in my life. I had more modest goals. One of them was to circumnavigate the eastern half of the U.S. and I accomplished that in 1974 and ’75.

In ’74 I got my first captain’s job on a Hatteras tri cabin berthed at Burnham Harbor in Chicago. A slug of a motor yacht with a pair of GM 853s. The damned thing couldn’t have done more than 15 knots unless it went over Niagra Falls. This is a photo of what one looks like.


In September we left Burnham Harbor and went the lengths of lakes Michigan, Huron and Erie, down the Hudson River. I dropped the owners of in Stamford, Conn., and then, in Norfolk, VA., my deckhand had to go home. I took the boat all the way down to Bahia Mar Marina inFort Lauderdale by myself. My first single-handed adventure even if it was just “day sailing.”

The next fall I helped a young couple take their Out Island 51 (called by those who know an Out House 51 due to, once again it’s sluggish performance) like this oneĀ oi-51 to Fort Lauderdale via the Chicago River, the Illinois and the Mississippi, then across the Gulf of Mexico and eventually to Bahia Mar, and since both voyages started in Burnham Harbor and ended at Bahia Mar I closed that dream out.

At the end of 1988 I was offered the job of caring for and supervising the changing of the keel on an 85′ motor sailer located on the French Riviera in Antibes…

jolie-aire-shogunThe 85 footer is the SMALL sailboat in the picture. Nobody paid any attention to it over there whereas they’d walk to the end of the dock in Fort Lauderdale the “Yachting Capitol of the World.”

While I was over in France, nearly three years as it turned out, for a job that was presented to me as, “how’d you like to go live in France for six months or so?” I met two people who would indirectly lead me to owning that boat.

The first was a young French girl I dated for a few months named Estelle who was the chef on one of the mega-yachts in Antibes. Besides being a fantastic cook she had also been a model and a dive instructor who had spent quite a bit of time in Belize. In addition to things we won’t go into here she showed me all her photos and videos of Belize and said I should go there sometime.

The other was a Howard Hessman impersonator disguised as Bill King who was there in France supervising the building of a 60 foot catamaran for his boss, a wealthy oil billionaire from Texas who had extensive business interests in Belize. Bill showed me all his photos and videos and said I needed to go there some time.

So, I said to myself that when I eventually returned to the States I would take what ever money I had and buy a boat and actually go visit Belize. The only criteria that were essential to do this were: 1) the boat had to be within a very cheap budget that would leave me a cruising kitty, 2) it had to be a sailboat 3) it had to be big enough that I could lie down in it comfortably in order to stay dry when it rained.

Back in the States I went on a search in which I discovered there were a LOT of boats I didn’t want to own. I travelled as far south from Fort Lauderdale as Marathon in the Keys on my search. I went to Tampa and Clearwater on the west coast of the state and as far north as Vero Beach without finding anything that really interested me. And, bright and early every Friday morning, I would be at the local 7/11 to buy the Sailboat Trader the moment it hit the stands.

One day I went to a tiny marina on the Miami River to check out an Herreshoff 28, a fine classic wooden sailboat. I liked the boat, but it needed some repairs to make her capable of making the voyage I had in mind. It wasn’t that I couldn’t do the work. I’d had plenty enough boat yard experience to do what needed to be done but I didn’t want to take the time or spend the money necessary to get the boat in shape.

I then took a walk down each of the three piers at the marina and at the end of the last dock I spotted a small, pretty red sailboat. It had a beautiful wine-glass transom on which was mounted an outboard motor bracket and a wind vane self-steering system. It was love at first sight. I sat on the dock for about an hour envying whoever owned this lovely little craft. She had a dodger over the main hatch to protect the cabin from rain and spray when the hatch was open. There was a lovely, substantial teak bowsprit with stainless steel railing. There was an anchor windlass up on the bow. The outboard bracket indicated that the inboard motor had probably been removed and, though there was no For Sale sign on the boat the fact that there was no inboard would lower the selling price. I also noted that there were six opening port holes which would be essential for ventilation in a tropical climate. It was exactly the kind of boat I’d been searching in vain for.

Several weeks later the newest edition of Sailboat Trader had an item I was interested in. It was a 26 foot boat and it was for sale at “$6,500…bring a check.” The photo was smudgy and didn’t help as a sales tool. I called the number on the ad and spoke to a broker who told me that where the boat was located wasn’t accessable during the weekend. I told her that I was very interested and that if I found the boat acceptable I didn’t need to find financing. I had the cash available. We agreed that I would follow the rush hour traffic to Miami where I’d meet her at Coconut Grove Marina Monday morning.

When I met her she asked me if I knew such and such a marina on the Miami River. I did, I told her since I’d visited it recently to look at the Herreshoff. We met at the marina, walked to the end of the last small dock and she pointed at that lovely red sloop and said the magic three words…”There She Is.” I hope I was successful in keeping a huge grin off my face when she said that.

I went aboard and found two VHF radios, a single sideband receiver and lots of other things including a set of navigational gear and pencils. The only bad point to the boat was that all the cushions below would need to be replaced. In addition to all the things that I saw a brand new 8 hp oil-injected outboard motor and a brand new 10′ hard-bottom Avon inflatable dinghy were included in the deal. Best of all I was able to seal the deal for an even $6,000!

The boat was a Kaiser26 built in Wilmington, Delaware by John Kaiser. I spoke to Mr. Kaiser for an hour after buying the boat and he told me that he knew of three that had made round-trip transAtlantic passages and one that had made six round trips from New York to Bermuda. In reading the old logs on the boat I discovered that the previous owner, a girl, had double-handed the boat in a round trip from Tampa, Florida to St. Croix in the U. S. Virgin Islands.

The boat was named Little Dipper, but that was about to change. Back when I was living in New Orleans I came across the Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea in a musty old book store on Royal Street. One of the entries was the term Nancy Dawson which was the name of the song to which the rum ration was piped in the British Navy for over 200 years. I told myself that if I ever owned a boat worthy of having a name that is what it would be.

So, Little Dipper became Nancy Dawson and I didn’t go through any of that name change BS they talk about to keep bad luck at bay. And from the single-handed trip I made to Mexico, Belize and Guatemala showed that she was happy with the change.

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