Captain's Blog

Seeing The World, With The Help Of Strangers

New York Yacht Club - Harbor Court launch dock
I always looked forward to a Maine cruise; the coast is certainly among the finest in the world. Although not in our original plan, arriving in Block Island in mid August and with Brooke off to a dude ranch with her grandparents, my wife suggested we plan a month’s sail from Block in order to savor the delights of autumnal cruising in Maine. Apart from a couple of overnights on the way south, it was to be a leisurely sail, with anchorages every night including a first for me at Isle of Shoals.
Our trip back to the Cape Cod Canal, we took a mooring ball at Parker Brothers, Cataumet, MA in order to put in a few days attending to repairs. Our next port of call would be Hadley Harbor, Nashon Island.

Many who sail weekends often think they either want to be fully independent or they are sailing in company with other yachting friends and want little or no new company. What makes cruising so much fun is even if you don’t know the yachtsmen in the anchorage or in a new marina, we all have the ability to become a source of support, all it takes is getting in your dinghy and cruising the anchorage. Everyone looks for a boat name; sometimes you’ll see the same name more than once (Windsong, Serenity, Island Time, Aquaholic, Second Wind).
Over the 26 years there’s not been a cruise in which while lying at anchor, someone knocks on the hull saying we were anchored with you in xxxx back in ’92 or two seasons ago. Siskiwit, which is Ojibwa for “trout” turned out to consistently offer social connections because dinghy riders wanted to know what Siskiwit means.

Cruising is filled with tales of trying to hitchhike and a driver who picked us up and wouldn’t let us pay to Doug & Fran Shryver who first asked about the name while taking the launch service into Parkers and later that evening at Cataumet’s famous “Chart Room” long known for a hours wait for a table. We saw them again 9/14-15/ 1992 on a mooring ball in Hadley’s Harbor. Since we had met a few days earlier at Parkers, he rowed by for a gam, and to tell us where we could and couldn’t land on this famous Forbes family estate. We invited them for sunset cocktails and the next morning rowed over offering us their members’ guest pass to the New York Yacht Club in Newport including a meal.
This was indeed special as the New York Yacht Club acquired Harbour Court following the death of Anne Brown in 1985. John Nicholas Brown had passed in 1979.
NY Yacht Club exterior NY Yacht Club Exterior
Standing on eight acres overlooking Brenton’s Cove, the Renaissance Norman-style mansion was completed in 1906 for the John Nicholas Brown family and in 1974 I called on Mr. and Mrs. Brown to present my findings on a Feasibility and Use Study of the old Providence Theater, then an aging movie palace renamed Ocean State Theater. They had been one of a consortium of old family members who wanted to know if the theater would be viable as a Performing Arts Center.
So here was an opportunity for a free mooring ball, a new chance to gain access to the famous and see what had been done to Harbour Court in the eighteen years since I had called on the Browns. This was a very generous response to sunset cocktails. The bottom line of that year aboard was discovering people who have very little were as generous as those who had much.

During my work in New York City I had been to the small alcove known as Palm Court at the New York Yacht Club’s headquarters on West 44th Street which may be the loneliest space in Manhattan. For decades it was graced by the America’s Cup, yachting’s grandest prize. But for the last 33 years, the tiny room has harbored only memories. When working for the NY City Center Joffrey Ballet, I met Emil Mosbacher at the Palm Court as he was serving on the Gala Ticket Committee for a performance of Lena Horne, Gene Kelly and the Joffrey. Emil Mosbacher was a two time America’s Cup victor, Sports Illustrated said of him, “the finest helmsman of our time.” During the US Bicentennial he led Operation Sail and repeated in even grander scale the Cinquecentennial of Columbus Voyage to the New World. Funny I was so nervous meeting him but he opened with asking me about my Naval Service as he served during WW II aboard a Minesweeper in the Pacific.
Before 1983, in the 132 years of New York stewardship, the cup was an enduring West Side fixture. But that year, a renegade Australian crew stormed the figurative gates and swooshed the cup Down Under. In 1987 — Dennis Conner’s comeback year — a deeply flawed New York campaign bent on retribution received a resounding defeat. On 44th Street, thoughts of the vanished silverware were best left unspoken.

We had breakfast in Harbour Court and while Brooke was marveling at the size of the bathroom and shower, I was staring out of the windows thinking of the number of times I entered Newport Harbor on the bridge of the USS Samuel B Roberts (DD 823) and USS Detroit (AOE 4) as navigator. There were also musings of Fox Island Thorofare and lunch at Moores Harbor, Isle au Haut, and crab cakes at the Castine Inn. But it was late September and winter was coming so we were off to Montauk, LI, Sag Harbor and Essex, CT and the Chesapeake Bay.

Emma C Berry

Emma C Berry at Mystic Emma C Berry 2When the Emma C. Berry sailed into Noank, CT July 4, 1966 she was celebrating her 100th. birthday. I believe it was the first time in history that a boat sailed back to the port-yard where she was built and cosmetically in “finest kind” condition. In most cases either the yard had long been out of business or the vessel had sunk. Three years later she was donated to the Mystic Seaport. F. Slade Dale owner of a small yacht basin and Yachting magazine author found her in Jonesport, ME in 1931 following the completion of the Manasquan Inlet jetties. My father had kept a cabin cruiser at Dale’s yard for a period in the 1940’s prior to our moving to California. My family later moved to New York City. During a summer vacation in 1954, we stopped by the “old yard.” That’s when I met Dale. Seeing the Emma C Berry out on the N dock, I can remember Dale telling me he had listened to sea stories of Captain Joe Tilton and the Emma C ‘round a hot stove in Hulse’s General Store and he couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw the name on the old schooner in Jonesport. He said, genuine or not, this was the boat he would buy. And he did so by candlelight, not daring to allow himself too close an inspection.

Dale Yacht basin woodie days Dale Feb 10.1931 when the waters of the Atlantic and Manaquan River after jettiesDale gave the “Emma C” her first major restoration in 1933-1934. Her original dimensions were unchanged. Rigged as a schooner she was 39’2” on deck and with her bowsprint LOA 47’. She was 14’6” on the beam and drew 6’. Dale restored it in 1933 and 1934 following a Nov 10, 1932 storm in which Barnegat Bay rose 6’ and flooded much of Bayhead. He registered the ship in Philadelphia. Dale retained ownership until it was donated to the Mystic Seaport in 1969.

Emma C at Dale Yacht Basin 1935Dayton O NewtonEmma C near AlbanyMy band master, music teacher and mentor was Captain Dayton O. Newton. In the summers Newt was the owner/Captain of the Schooner Adventure out of Camden, Me. I can’t recall when I mentioned the existence of the Emma C to Newt but one day following a private clarinet lesson in the winter/spring of 1962 (my last year at Farragut) Captain Newton said that he would have to arrange for another day for my next lesson as he and the head of the Naval Science department Captain Crosby would be going up to the Morton Johnson Yard in Bayhead to look over the Academy’s boats. At which point I interjected “have you ever seen the Emma C. Berry up there?” From that simple exchange over ensuing months, Captain Newton made inquiries and introduced the idea to the Administration of the Academy. The following academic year the boat was brought to the Toms River where proud Cadets went to work on her. No attempt was made to rebuild her but they made her beautiful and seaworthy. Her hull fashioned in pine planks on birch frames had been hauled, caulked and painted. She got new rigging and sails and her bowsprint refinished.

Emma C cabin interior Emma C Berry on the hardBy 1965 she was taken on a shakedown cruise up the Hudson to Troy, NY. I was able to get off away for a few days to join the crew I think in Nyack, NY. She carried a cargo of historical documents to the Albany Historical Society. During that cruise Pete Seeger came aboard for a song fest. He was raising attention to the state of the Hudson River and his desire to build a Hudson River Sloop Clearwater. Such an iconic folk-singer/songwriter using his influence to defend the most precious natural resource the planet has to offer. A year later the Emma C Berry sailed back to the Deacon-Palmer boatyard in Noank on her Centennial cruise. Three years later Dale contributed the Emma C Berry to Mystic where she later received a total restoration. I was able to sail with Newt one more time in 1969 on a cruise out of Annapolis aboard a beautiful contemporary sloop but I can’t remember any of the details just the pleasure of long conversations with one of my father figures.

I would visit the Academy in subsequent years and quietly smiled seeing the Emma C Berry getting a great deal of attention. I started to write this story because Captain Newton was born 11 December 1908 which would make him 107 if he were alive today.

A recent book has been published Celebrating the Emma C. Berry by Lawrence Jacobson who passed on just after finishing his book, his gift to the community in saving and sharing the Berry’s story just in time for her 150th birthday June 2016.

Mr. Jacobson’s book can be found on Amazon.