By Kimball Livingston Posted March 10, 2014
In Part I, we explored the story of young men, fresh out of the Navy at the close of hostilities in 1946, pooling their WWII discharge pay to buy and rebuild a 35-foot schooner. The mission: Embark upon a voyage from Nova Scotia to California. We had some fun with the fact that, like Dave Honey, I formed a “relationship” with, but never got published in, Yachting Magazine. If you haven’t read Part 1, consider it. That’s a much better place to begin.
We open now on the east coast of Florida, where our heroes undertook the delivery to California of a finely-built, 79-foot schooner named Kelpie, pictured above. The schooner’s owner was detained at home by the demands of business, and that was exactly the sort of exigency that Dick Honey, Dave Honey and their companions were avoiding by taking control of their moment, by voyaging now, footloose and free. Free of war, first of all, and now even freer with their own rather demanding boat sold. Sold for enough to cover expenses to date, and with Kelpie’s owner covering expenses to come.
They had imagined going on in their own boat, and only through a mighty effort had they come this far. Now they chose to adjust, changing dreams in midstream.
On June 15, 1947. Kelpie cleared Miami, bound for a first stop in Nassau. Of his first encounter with the gleaming brightness of the Gulf Stream, Dave wrote, “The water changed to an indescribably beautiful shade of blue—a cross between robin’s egg and turquoise.” And there, right there, is another thing Dave and I have in common. My first experience of the Stream was a Miami-Nassau Race, and I looked at the water and wondered who turned the lights on down there.
In Nassau town, Dave observed locals balancing on their heads “everything from sewing machines to trays of nervous, clucking chickens.”
In a different generation, I missed that.
Until jet travel, the islands of the Caribbean were a world or worlds apart, remote and exotic.
Kelpie’s crew would stop at only a few of those islands, but then would take their time about exploring. “We had no schedule,” Dave wrote, “We decided to stop when, where and for how long our fancies dictated—and a schedule would have been next to impossible to keep.” Our much-later survey will move fast-forward, so I will tell you that in the Caymans the boys took aboard an additional hand (who became a story later), and in Haiti they found a languid, idyllic air lost to later generations.
In Le Mole St. Nicolas, Haiti, they traded “empty bottles, tin cans, old clothes and bits of wire for oranges, limes, mangoes, avocados and a stalk of bananas, as well as the use of horses to explore the hinterland.” Horses that might look pint-sized to some eyes. There followed in Port au Prince adventures that Dave glossed over as “interesting voodoo ceremonies.”
Under way again, Kelpie took a licking in the Windward Passage and emerged with ripped sails and a leak. I’m pretty sure that in 2014 there would be no welcome for a random schooner seeking shelter in Guantanamo, but in 1947, for these ex-Navy boys, it was no trouble at all to arrange the services of a military travel lift, etcetera.
So the narrative goes, across the Caribbean, leading to a 600-mile leg to the Canal and through to the West Coast, where Kelpie stopped over in Balboa, Panama for yet more of the never-ending refurbishing.
Farther along, Kelpie stopped in the Costa Rican banana port of Quepos. There the crew was warmly received by Americans running the United Fruit Company base, and most of the crew took a small-plane flight to the capital city, San Jose, only to find that they had arrived in the midst of a revolt. The government newspaper offices were bombed overnight, the streets teemed with troops with fixed bayonets, and mobs roamed with sticks and stones and packs of yapping dogs. As revolutions go, it could have been a lot messier. Ducking into any nearest doorway proved adequate protection, but, “interesting spectacle” though it was, two nights in San Jose was enough of that.
The return to Quepos revealed significant complications.
At this point, allow me to interject a quote from Hemingway: “Never trust a man whose story hangs together too well.”
I’ll interpret that to mean, never trust a story that hangs together too well. In his submission to Yachting Magazine, Dave related a highly-sanitized version of Kelpie’s time in Quepos. I heard a rather-different version as relayed by Dave’s son, Stan Honey. And I heard yet another version from Stan’s Uncle Dick, who lives about an hour north of the Golden Gate.
Here is Dick’s version, related while sitting at a dining table littered for the occasion with manuscripts, newspaper clippings and photos of that long-ago voyage:
“In Quepos the manager of the United Fruit plant befriended us. He let us shop at the company store, where prices were a pittance, and, well, everything was the same price.
“We found out that we could take a small plane up the mountain to the capital, San Jose, and that sounded like something we might never get a chance to do again, so Dave and I plus another American we had picked up in Panama took off for San Jose. We left our Cayman Islander, Boyce, in charge of the boat and [. . . events in the capital as described above] when we got back to Quepos, the dinghy was ashore, and Boyce was nowhere to be seen.”
“Well, it turned out that Boyce was an alcoholic. We didn’t know it. He had come with good references. Physically, he was strong, and he had never touched a drop since coming aboard in the Caymans. But when we left Haiti, the priest there had given us a few bottles of, umm, sacramental wine, and when Boyce found himself alone on the boat, he lost his cool. And once he got going, the wine wasn’t enough. We also had a small arsenal that Mace had brought aboard, a German Luger with a big clip and a couple of 22s and a 32 automatic pistol, maybe more guns too, and when Boyce ran dry on the boat, he took the guns ashore and traded them for more liquor. But ‘smuggling’ guns into Costa Rica in the middle of a revolution was, you might imagine, a real big no-no. When we found Boyce, we found him in jail. Sobered up by that time. All he could do was hang his head in shame.
“And they weren’t going to let him out.”
What to do?
“Our friend at United Fruit made a persuasive suggestion: ‘You boys better get out of here before they confiscate the boat.’
“Later, when we got to California, Dave tried to determine what had come of Boyce, but that was all those years ago, and we never did find out.”
Kelpie’s crew left Quepos aiming for Acapulco, some 1000 miles. First, however, they had to cross the Gulf of Tehuantepec, notorious for light airs interspersed with the fierce “Tehuantepecker” winds that blow from land to sea, funneling across the narrowest neck of the Mexican mainland. “Those are high-pressure winds,” Dick relates. “The pilot books are full of red flags, and they warn you to hug the beach and hug the lee.” The urge to keep moving in the light stuff, however, gradually lured Kelpie’s crew farther out to sea. Powering for mileage was not an option. Kelpie’s prop was mounted off center and shallow. Pitching in a seaway, it would air out with the risk over-revving the motor. “We never motored at sea,” Dick recalls, “except in a dire emergency.” That would come later. First came the storm.
Twenty days and 600 slow miles beyond Quepos, Dick wrote, “It came with a roar and no warning.”
“It” being a four-day Tehuantepecker that vacillated between Force 8 and Force 9, with gusts to Force 10. In Dick’s description, “We were down to a storm trysail and a reefed main. The skies stayed brilliant and clear day and night. The spray never stopped flying, never stopped accumulating salt and never stopped blowing the salt off. When it was over, all the varnish had been stripped.
“I wonder, do they still call it a Tehuantepecker?”
A month amid the comforts of the Acapulco Yacht Club resolved the varnish problems, one square inch at a time, and allowed for repairing other wear and tear before departing for San Diego, that welcoming sailor’s refuge under the lee of Point Loma.
By way of a stop in the Socorro Islands, about 250 miles southwest of Cabo san Lucas.
By way of breaking a fitting and losing the mainmast just a few hours after getting under way from the Socorros.
By way of limping back to the islands under power—now we’re talking emergency—and then taking a tow to San Diego behind a tuna boat that, by all odds, should have been nowhere near the Socorros when Kelpie came limping in. Far from the mainland. On a remote island. With no radio capability.
And so it goes. Navigationis interruptus. And the source of many a tale to be told and retold and polished and repolished over the years. So Dick’s account of getting out of Quepos is a trifle (actually, more than a trifle) different from Dave’s unwritten tale, as told to Stan, of mysterious powders and strange sleep? The sands of time are forever shifting. Stan Honey says now, “I’m sure that listening to those stories as a kid had a lot to do with sparking my own interest in ocean sailing.” In which Stan Honey’s history is more than average.
And just to prove that the more things change, the more they stay the same, let me remind you that I opened with an account of Dave Honey’s years of correspondence with then-editor of Yachting Magazine Critchell Rimington, who never got around to running Dave’s story. To be precise, eleven years of correspondence.
It’s been a few months since I stumbled, again, across the box of letters, manuscripts and photographs that Stan placed in my hands when he first brought this up—the voyages of Utopia II and Kelpie—to see if there might be a story there for me. The package sat for . . . a while . . . waiting for me to find a way into the story, a way to tell it for the here and now.
As I aim to squeeze the Publish trigger in my software, the date is—
March 10, 2014.
Stan’s original note to me, along with that stuffed cardboard box, was dated—
December 19, 2004.
And Dick Honey turns 90 today.
Happy birthday, Dick. Hey there, JoAnne.
Kelpie was designed in 1928 by Francis Sweisguth, still celebrated for his most famous creation, the 22-foot Star. Kelpie had a long and storied sojourn on the West Coast of the Americas, including time in the charter trade out of Newport Harbor.
Kelpie was sold a few years ago into the capable hands of Charlie Wroe, well known as the captain of another classic schooner, Mariette, a boat kept like a prize jewel, which ought to give you a fix on this boat’s bright future. Wroe is giving Kelpie a deep-down restoration at the Gweek Quay Boatyard in Cornwall, U.K. under an updated name, Kelpie of Falmouth. Progress is easily followed through an open group on Facebook.
Wroe aims to have his “new” boat on the starting line for the fourth edition of the Pendennis Cup starting May 27. Meanwhile, the team is going deep. As of June, 2013, this was the look . . .
By February of 2014, it was more like this . . .
Insert Kelpie of Falmouth into this 2012 frame, and you have the look of the Pendennis Cup 2014. The future is looking good.
This article was syndicated from BLUE PLANET TIMES