WG 2802

For part of my growing up years, I lived in Florida. My parents taught themselves how to sail. Ultimately, they bought an old sail boat before it was scrapped for salvage.

They called their boat the “Wayward Wind” after a song made popular by Gogi Grant.

It was an appropriate title on many levels. With my mother’s love of drink and my father’s uncanny ability to emulate Willy Loman, the Wayward Wind was emblematic of life in the fifties for a certain segment of the American population following the horrors of WW II.

I remember sailing, particularly with my mother. She claimed to be the first woman in Florida to be commercially licensed to take up to six passengers for hire on jaunts in the Gulf. Whether the Coast Guard really gave her that license is suspect, but I like to think it was true. Like all truly dedicated alcoholics, she was strong-willed, persistent and perfectly capable of daring do. She was hard too. She didn’t give a damn when I got badly rope burned hands playing out the big sail called a spinnaker.

Only 28 feet long, the boat had been used as sponge boat in and around Tarpon Springs. Free divers would find sponges on the bottom, and pile them in the boat. The sponge market, at least for real sponges, was and is pretty strong. But even the frugal Greeks who sought the sponges knew when a boat had reached the end for commercial purposes.

For those who know anything about sailing, the boat was a gaff rigged ketch. Here’s a sketch of the type I mean:


Here is a photo of a boat of the same type and roughly the same size, although far grander than the Wayward Wind:




I learned a lot on the Wayward Wind. I could set the sails by myself. I became adept at sailing the little boat using the antiquated single tiller rather than the customary wheel most people envision as the steering device. I loved standing on the bowsprit (the wooden peace that extended out over the water in the front of the boat) and feeling the rush of wind. I learned about radio direction finders. I loved sailing with a stiff wind as this ponderous little craft, designed for stability rather than speed, plowed through the seas causing water to come over the side of the boat like a rushing river.

Best of all, I learned how to call the Tampa Marine operator. I would pick up the radio, press a button and declare: “This is WG 2802, the yacht Wayward Wind calling the Tampa Marine Operator.” Asking for a time check or a weather report from the operator was my first step into manhood.

All of this was very long ago. Perhaps it is all a dream. It seems like that now.


14 responses

  1. For the era it would have been made of hardwoods including teak. If they expected you to cauk it you would have learned a work ethic. Did they? Didn’t you have brothers and sisters to share the joys and miseries of sailing and sailboat maintenance?

  2. Sailing is one of the joys of existence on this blue marble we call home. It’s been years since I’ve been, too many life times ago. I always loved it for it’s freedom. Sailing mostly has nothing to do with speed but everything to do with existence and being.

  3. Casey,

    Yes, in dry dock, I scraped barnacles and calked and painted the wooden hull. I got particularly tired of using the hand bilge pump when the electric one failed–a frequent event. We knew something needed fixing when the floor boards were awash virtually every day.
    I also pulled the iron ballast (in heavy foot long pieces) from the keel and hull below the water line and cleaned them from years of accumulated bilge slim and gunk. It was hard and nasty work.

    All the best.


  4. Calk. That’s right. We take the bad with the good how true. Electric bilge pumps are among the top ten inventions in world history.

    Your earlier post reminds me of how mystified I was as a child at the phrase “Casey at the Bat.” Kids and teachers occasionally pitched it at me. ; ] Mystified until I ran across the poem as a teen. It had not seemed to be a putdown. Not a good ending, though.

  5. My mom had a little Sunfish sailboat she took us out in at Woodcliff. My older sister loved yelling Hard Alee!! And the boom would fly across and we had to duck fast or be tossed into the lake. Nothing like your big boat but a thrill. I bet you miss the water and that feeling zipping along in the water.

  6. Judge, you and I are, I am confident, among the few who recall Gogi Grant. I still know all the words to that song. And I’m a sailor, although mostly a boatworker (I can’t call myself a shipwright), because I spend a lot more time under and in the boat working on her than I do sailing. That’s largely because I own a wooden boat. Actually, I own two, and if anyone out there is interested in a true classic wooden sailboat, I have one available.

    You did sail a long time ago–when there were still marine operators and either there was no marine VHF band or it was not universal as it is today. And just to clarify, what you did was probably to pay the seams, not caulk them. Unless you were driving cotton or oakum in between the seams with a caulking iron and a mallet. Some years ago, when I got my first wood boat, I felt physical fear when some seam compound (what landsmen call caulking–just look at Home Depot for what’s on tubes of sticky stuff for kitchen and bath) fell out and I saw the cotton underneath. It was like viewing inside the body of a family member. Today, I think nothing of driving in caulking down a seam. Indeed, it’s kind of fun.

    You are one of the last survivors of the days of wooden ships and iron men. Well, almost.

  7. Jon,

    Now that you speak of calking, you are right. It was not “calk” as in a Home Depot product. Thanks for the correction!

    All the best.


  8. I hope all you had to do was pay the seams with what we would now think of as old-fashioned seam compound. For normal people, caulking with cotton is at best a nuisance. (As you can tell, I’m not normal.)

  9. Judge,

    Every child should learn how to sail. Sailing teaches self-reliance and humility. In the middle of a squall, you learn both.

    My dad built a lightning-rigged 18-foot sloop, sailing it on Crystal Lake in northern Michigan. He taught us the man-overboard drill by rolling lee-side into the water, forcing us to come about twice and into irons to pick him up. It was my annual springtime job to re-caulk, varnish, launch, and fit out that boat.

    I now sail a Laser on Crystal Lake. The joy of a Laser is your two-second attention span to wind, waves, and rigging. Ignore those and you’re swimming. But they displace all the stress of job and the rest of the world.

    All the best.

  10. You’ve led an interesting life, Judge. This post brings back nice memories of sailing with my Uncle Jack on his two catboats, Happy Jack. Single tiller, riding the bowsprit, catching the mooring line with the boat hook, etc. And a wonderful two or three weeks spent helping him scrape and re-fiberglass the hull one summer long ago.

  11. Rich, again, I invite you back. If we set aside just a little reality, we can make it just like it was.

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