This Issue's Featured Article
Maiden Voyage of the Gracie Anne
By Tony Davis
In mid-August, 2014, I received a random call from a gentleman inquiring about the 22' Custom Wooden Catboat that we build to order. We discussed at length various designs and the shallow water advantages of catboat cruising. His questions were on target and I sensed he knew what he wanted. About a week later he called again and introduced himself as Winslow Maxwell. We discussed more details and he explained that he wanted to sail from Nova Scotia to Puerto Rico via inland routes. He also wanted to be able to sail on the open ocean single-handing for twelve to eighteen-hour voyages in the Gulf of Maine and the southern Gulfstream. He placed the order over the phone based on a contract price.
I asked him about options and he said "Tony, design and build the boat as if you were an 87-year old man and were doing this trip singlehanded." I asked for his height
and build, and he replied that he was 6' tall and 190lbs.
"Are you strong enough to raise a sail?" I asked.
"Of course but give me a winch." I could tell he was angered a bit by the question.
"Anything else?" I asked.
"Yes, one other detail: the cushions need to be green with white piping."
I prepared a contract and sent it out. Weeks went by as we were doing all of our fall chores around the yard (hauling, putting boats away and preparing the boat building shop for winter builds, which included two 16' open models and two 14s (all glass hulls). I was getting concerned that I might have to lay off some crew due to no new wooden boat orders other than the contract we sent to Mr. Maxwell. In the back of my mind, I believed the Maxwell contract was a long shot and had not put a lot of stock in this order coming in. I couldn't help but think, an 87-year-old turning a dream into reality was far from a possibility.
In October, I headed to the Annapolis Boat Show. It had been fifteen years since Arey's Pond had exhibited there. My last experience had been frustrating, having received no orders despite a lot of work trying to get one. The show went well and later in the month we confirmed an order for a 16' Open Lynx.
On the drive home, I was not feeling great about the winter ahead. We had this new shop and a great team, but we needed more work. Around noon, I pulled over in New Jersey to take a break. I got a call from our office manager to report messages and she reported we had received a signed contract from Mr. Maxwell and deposit for $80,000. As the news sank in, this wave of excitement consumed me.
When I got back on the road, it was a completely different day. We had a huge challenge ahead of us: we were to build a 22'
custom cold-molded catboat in 10 to 12 months for an 87-year-old man to sail single handedly offshore.
My first call was to the boat building shop to inform our lead builder that we had our work cut out for us. My next call was to New Wave Systems, to implement some design changes from the last 22' we had built in 2011, and to get the new offsets figured as fast as possible. We discussed a plan and their service is first class. My next call was to the shop that fabricates the molds, which would be cut on the CNC machine as soon as we had a fair set of lines. They were on board and ready to go.
The last two calls were to Forte Spars, Ledyard in Connecticut and America's Wood, Washington in Maine. We decided to do all carbon for the spars with a faux varnished look. We also decided to strip plank her with 5/8" tongue and groove cedar with red cedar veneer vacuum bagged on a fir backbone for frame strength.
By January 8th she was set up and ready to fit the keel and centerboard trunk. Our boatbuilder from Bermuda, with a long history of wooden boat building, was leading one of our young guys who was raised in western Massachusetts and had just finished his schooling at The Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding. Through the planking process we were not meeting our timeline and we were starting to fall behind. I was gettingconcerned. Our lead builder was moving at half speed due to a bad hip that was progressively getting worse. As for his apprentice, this was his first major project outside the school environment; he was still learning. So we decided to hire more help in order to get the planking done. But the shop was now busy with other new builds and repairs.
Trying to find skilled help is hard on Cape Cod but in early summer we managed to find a student from the IYRS school in Newport Rhode island. By June 10 the boat was flipped over, the bulkhead was in, the Yanmar motor was in and we were starting the cockpit framing and deck beams.
Mr. Maxwell had not been in touch and I still had not met him, but the payments continued to come in steadily. In mid-July I got a call from Winslow saying he was ready to go and he was headed to the Cape in late August. He was holding me to the original ten months build timeline, which I knew was not possible. I explained it was going to be a year. I described my issues with my boatbuilder’s hip, and explained that the other builders were essentially apprentices under Bill and my tutelage. He was not happy with the news but fortunately, he understood.
In late July, Winslow called again. We discussed plans for him to live in our apartment above the boatyard until his boat was finished, he would arrive around the first week of September. By mid-July the cabin top was done and a lot of the interior had been framed in.
On September 9th I pulled into the yard to check on things and I noticed a car I did not recognize. I walked into the office and there he was. Sitting in our big comfortable office chair, Winslow had one hand on his cane. He had white hair, a scrubby beard and a large overcoat. With a huge smile on his face, he said, "Hey there, you must be Tony." We shook hands and he stayed put in the chair and we discussed the boat, which I assumed he had already visited by now. He told me about some of his background, such
as being Chief Financial Officer of Chris Craft and about boats he had owned over the
years and the many sailing trips he had been on. But he had yet to bring up any details about the boat we were currently building. This is when I realized he had not seen it yet. When I asked if he'd like to, he said, "I would love to." He could not have been nicer to the crew despite the fact that she looked far from done.
As he left the shop he said, "I hope we will be sailing before the snow flies." He stayed in a local hotel until the last of our renters were out of the apartment. In a couple of days he was settled in our apartment overlooking Arey's Pond and planning his trip. We set a test launch date of October 22nd, exactly one year from when we received the deposit. We met the date and the test run went well. Winslow kissed the hull as Gracie Anne, named after his granddaughter, slid into Areys Pond. As he admired the boat, he whispered under his breath, "Will my last sail be on Gracie Anne?"
Immediately afterward, we ran her around the pond to check the engine and trim. We then moved her back to the shop for final systems, interior details, final painting and varnishing. The crew was dedicated and put in long hours working well into the night. In the evenings I had been meeting with Winslow, working together to put a plan in place. I suggested we truck her to Virginia and start the trip there. He insisted on New Jersey. So I chose Hoffmanns yard in Brielle, New Jersey. We lined up a truck and on November 18th we shipped her south. Our sailing instructor and assistant rigger and I followed the truck with the rig.
The boat arrived at Hoffman's Boatyard Marina and the crew there was great. The owner even helped us out into the evening stepping the mast and the launch was in the dark. Winslow poured champagne on the stem head and gave her another kiss. She was now rigged in the water and on her lines for the first time. Winslow spent his 2nd night in a local hotel, I slept aboard.
We took all the next day to get her fully rigged and ready to go. The big factor was the weather, but fortunately it was on our side. Winslow spent the morning getting all his gear moved aboard. The most important item he insisted that we did not forget when loading was his guitar and music stand. We confirmed it was there in his pile of gear strewn about down below. It appeared he brought all his most important possessions including his ukulele, which often the guys heard him playing when staying in the apartment.
We left at noon from the fuel dock. The only issues were the tri-color light at the masthead and the hot water heater. We had a plan to fix them in Virginia. We encountered three drawbridges as we headed to Barnegat Bay, and a strong current in Point Pleasant Canal connecting Breille to Barnegat bay.
Soon we had the sail up and Oliver, Winslow's Lowell Boat Shop original flat bottom skiff, in tow. We were pleased with the set and function of the fully battened sail. All the halyards led back to the starboard side including the three jiffy reefing lines. So far so good, I thought to myself. We sailed to Toms River and were able to get a slip at the famous de Rouville's Boatyard where we were welcomed by the owner and a great crew.
We visited Silent Maid and Vim, which were being prepped for winter storage. Also we viewed a couple of restoration projects of A Cats. It was nice for a Cape Cod catboat and her crew to be so warmly welcomed to the heart of the New Jersey catboat community in late November.
By 10am the next day we raised sail and tacked our way back up the Toms River with plans to make Atlantic City but with strong currents and a dying breeze we ended up motor-sailing to Beach Haven arriving at sunset, just after 4pm. None of us had been to the Jersey shore since hurricane Sandy; we witnessed what a devastating event it was.
By 6pm, my assistant rigger, Trevor, and I took a cab back to Brielle, leaving Winslow for his second night alone aboard Gracie Anne. It was going to be a cold night in the 30ºs, so he stayed warm with shore power and a small cabin heater. Trevor and I found a hotel in Brielle, we picked up Winslow's car and the APBY truck at Hoffmans Marina. We left before sunrise the next morning; I headed back to Winslow and our rigger returned to the Cape.
I arrived at the yard at 8am. Winslow had made his coffee and was ready to roll. It was cold and overcast, we could see the casinos of Atlantic City on the horizon. It was windy and rainy, a chill of 20º swept against our faces. We motored all day, dressed in heavy gloves, light hats, and long underwear, only to be uplifted by our beautiful surroundings. We went under a few bridges with only 2’ of clearance. At sunset we found a marina just south of Ocean City. It was closed for the season but shore power still worked so we had heat. Ever since leaving Hoffmans I was worried about Winslow and how he would do this singlehanded, my main concern was that his balance was not great.
Winslow’s plan was to get to Miami on his own. He could do it easily I thought, with competent help, but alone it was looking more like a dream than a reality. All the while, I had been informing his family of our progress and my concerns.
The next morning in Ocean City we got a cab, took care of some business for Winslow and picked up some supplies. We were back on the waterway by 11am. It was another cold gray day. The sun was out at times but the wind was still 15 knots. We were hoping to make Cape May by sunset. We were very glad to only be drawing 2' because a few times we rubbed bottom in the Waterway. Had we been outside of the channel we could have easily gone aground.
Through the long straight sections we were able to use the autopilot and duck under the dodger. There was no boat traffic to worry about. In fact, we had only seen one sail in Barnegat bay and maybe six other boats underway during the entire week. It was the off-season and everything was shut down. We hoped it would be different when we got to Cape May.
The catboat is perfect for this trip, I kept thinking, as we found our way around the buoys, through the towns, under the bridges and through the marshes. Winslow spent the most part of the last two days below reading though he was great about coming up and giving me a break. The systems aboard were running well: GPS, radar overlay, depth sounder alarm, and the paper chart in a plastic liner spread out on the engine box. Winslow was very pleased with the layout and ease of reaching everything. Even the kettle on the propane stove was not a chore to reach for some hot tea.
We arrived in Cape May as a beautiful cold November sunset was setting over the town. We tied up to the inner harbor at South Jersey Marina where I had been in the past and I knew they had all we needed: shower, fuel and some necessary charts. I was surprised there was only one other transient in the marina, a large ketch from Canada. Otherwise just local fishing boats in the slips. We washed the boat down and cleaned her, fueled up and headed to dinner.
We found a nice seafood restaurant only 100 yards from our slip. Winslow ordered a lobster dinner, I ordered crab and we talked about many things, one of which was my concern of his single handing. He became a bit annoyed with my obvious worry and said it would be fine. "I got this," he said, before striking up a conversation with the waitress in Spanish. She stopped me on our way out to say, "If he is a bother, I would happily take him home."
Winslow was an active army GI in World War II. He was deployed to the South Pacific theater as an occupier. He told me how his military experience changed his life's direction. Before joining the military he had been doing poorly in school and after the military duty he went back to school and learned to become an accountant. I learned about his business, accounting skills and his second wife's experience in the newspaper business. They and others worked together to start New York Magazine in 1968.
With their connections to the media they were invited as tourists to camp on King George's Island in tents. There was a plan underway to open the Antarctic up to tourism. They had a great experience camping on the beach but the wind was so strong that their tents barely stood and one was lost.
Throughout the trip, Winslow told me stories of hikes he took all over the world. Including one in Ireland, when he was alone and misjudged a mud pit and slipped in. He immediately sank to his waist and was paralyzed by the thick mud. He struggled for a while before thinking to himself: this is it. Eventually he discovered he could use his backpack to pull himself free. He hiked to a shelter where a woman washed his clothes and fed him. The mud smell was so bad that he thought she would tell him to go away.
Winslow had a particular charm that seemed to bring positive energy wherever he went. I think it reflects from his mindset. Although his body was acting as it should for a healthy man turning 90, his mind was still acting with a can-do, positive attitude. As we walked back to Gracie Anne after dinner, he needed my shoulder to lean on to walk the hundred yards, I was not sure if it was the gin or if he was tired.
I slept in a local hotel that night as I had on most nights, Winslow wanted the boat to himself. I arrived by 6am in the morning of November 22nd and we headed out on a beautiful day with a picturesque sunrise. The air was still cold, frost layered the dock. We were expecting light winds from the south. We motored down the canal to the entrance of Delaware Bay. We were feeling the warmth of the sun. We were met by very disorganized sea conditions due to current and wind direction, wind was 15 knots gusting to 20 knots.
We slammed around for a while until we were clear of the breakwater and then set sail with two reefs. We set our course to sail down the Jersey side, we had a place in mind to spend the night but found no information about what would be available for service. With Oliver in tow and 3’ seas beneath us, we settled into our first real open water sail. We were only doing 4 knots over the bottom. The forecast was for the winds to become lighter, we were fighting a strong outgoing current so we opted to motor-sail to keep us at 6 knots. Soon the winds lightened and we went to full sail. The auto-helm was a huge help as my hands were frozen still even inside gloves.
The hours passed as we routinely checked systems and depth. There was no sign of land, even though at times we were only in 11’ of water. Winslow would come up for a watch and then head below to read. We discussed a plan to get me home for Thanksgiving. Thus would begin the start of his solo adventure.
We witnessed another spectacular sunset as we motored up a tight channel into a sleepy town called Fortescue located a little over halfway between Cape May and the C and D Canal. There was a family on the water pulling crab traps but otherwise we did not see a single soul. We picked a floating dock with a ramp to tie up to in 2’ of water. The sun was on the horizon as we tied up to the rickety float with no shore power.
As I was securing the boat Winslow was on the phone with his grandson. About an hour later a car pulled up and a man in limo driver outfit got out. Winslow was not going to sleep on the boat in the freezing temperatures that were forecast so we drove 30 minutes to Millville and found a room at a Holiday Inn express. We had dinner at an Italian restaurant and I learned about the New York mafia and Winslow's love for movies. His favorite actor is Al Pacino and his favorite modern movie is titled, The Scent of a Woman. He told me I had to see it sometime. As he sipped on his usual (double gin on the rocks), we told stories.
After our meal we called a cab back to our room. Winslow sang his way down the hallway as we went to our separate rooms. I reminded him I would be knocking at 6am. Our driver was going to meet us and get us back to Gracie Anne by 6:30. We had a big day planned. Winslow was up at 6am and off we went right on schedule. By now Winslow and the driver were the best of friends sharing all kinds of stories. There was the one the driver shared about transporting a quiet Michael Jordan to the race track in town and how well he tipped.
I held Winslow securely as we went down the icy boat ramp and back aboard. The engine fired right up, we headed out into a beautiful brisk sunrise dressed for the 20º temperature. We set full sail with a fair current and had a glorious sail to the canal, arriving two hours earlier then we expected. All day there was not a cloud in the sky. As the sun got higher, so did the warmth of the day. We lowered sail, and started motoring down the canal.
Around 2pm we shed our jackets. People were running and biking on the canal trail. Winslow announced in a big yelp "We are getting south! Ya-hoo!" Soon after Winslow went below, took out his uke and started singing.
We tied up at Summit Marina about a third of the way down the canal. Winslow made arrangements for me to have someone drive me back to Long Beach, New Jersey and from there I would take his rental car back to the Cape. I went over all the details with the boat and systems before leaving, we topped off the fuel tanks. We discussed a daily plan for his solo trip. We discussed that 30 miles a day would be a good goal.
I pushed him to reconsider going alone and waiting for me to come back after Thanksgiving. He said, "No. At some point this had to be my boat, not yours." He continued, "I am better off trying this than sitting alone in an assisted living home. This boat is now my home until I can no longer manage." I agreed, and wondered out loud if perhaps his grandson or someone else could come as crew. He insisted that he was all set.
We shook hands. He was ready for me to leave, this was about him and his adventure not me or someone else taking him on one. After letting go of my hand, he immediately turned around as if he was going below. I walked down the dock, resisting the urge to turn and look back at my friend. Maybe he would be looking back at me, with a face that was reconsidering the plan.
When I got to the top of the ramp, a large black SUV pulled into the marina 10 minutes ahead of schedule. A very nice guy, originally from Pakistan, gave me a ride from Delaware to Long Beach, New Jersey. I tried to sleep but too many thoughts about Winslow and the trip kept me awake. We pulled into the marina after a four hour drive and I got in Winslow's car and went back to the Cape. I didn't stop, arriving at 1am Thanksgiving morning.
When I woke up Thanksgiving morning, my first thoughts were about Winslow: was he going to move on or take a day off? Would he possibly wait for his grandson, Steve, to help him? Our contact at Dempsey Marine Service did all the systems aboard the boat and we put AIS tracking on his GPS and VHF so we could always keep an eye on his progress.
Around noon, I thought it would be a good idea to check on him. Using vessel finder, I was able to see that he was underway, I was very impressed. His line was straight and right on course. I had to admit I was amazed, I was worried about him just getting all his lines aboard and shore power cord. I was clearly wrong, he did have it in him. I checked on him around 3pm and he was closing in on a harbor on the western shore. Must have been a long day, I thought.
An hour or so later I checked on him again to make sure he arrived in the harbor safely. I was greeted by bright tracks, zig-zagging all over the place. He seemed to be going back and forth outside of Pleasure Island off the town of Edgemere. I called Winslow to check on him. He had run aground entering the harbor, so he had set the anchor. I pinpointed his exact location and we talked through a plan. He was able to raise the anchor and reverse out of the shoals. He found his way into the marina and tied up for the night.
The next day was a tough one. As I watched him on the tracker, I noticed he was
having trouble getting on a proper course. I was thinking he must be tired; I called him and gave him a proper bearing and soon he was headed down the bay. No sailing, just motoring, he made it to Tilghman Island by dark and tied up at the first marina he saw.
The marina had an inn so he checked into a room and called me. He told me how difficult the day was, he could not get the auto pilot plug in properly, so he had to hand steer all the way. It was hard to get positions from the GPS while also managing the tiller, let alone go below for food and try to stay warm. He asked me if I could find someone to help him get to Norfolk. I said I would try.
I decided to go. Our contact at Dempsey Marine, Tom, was driving to Florida for a job the next day and we still had issues with the hot water heater. He could work on that on his way down, leaving me to sail with Winslow. So we left the Cape at 4:30 am on November 30th. We arrived on Tilghman around 3pm with enough daylight to work on the water heater and the masthead light. Gracie Anne was looking good and Winslow was in good spirits and ready to get going again. He took Tom and I out to dinner and put us up in rooms at the Inn. Despite the offseason, everyone was very nice and helpful as we made our way around for some supplies.
In the morning Tom was off to Florida and Winslow and I fueled up and got organized. We took off into a wet 38º. Fog floated above the bay. Wind was head on about 8 knots so we motored. Winslow spent most of the day below due to the weather. We passed many fisherman in their traditional deadrise boats, we saw one working skipjack heading into Tilghman Island.
I had the radar on with the GPS overlay. As we got out into the middle of the bay the visibility became less than a mile. We had to cross the main channel to get to our destination, Solomon Island. And just as we were planning the crossing, two large vessels over 100' came up on the radar. One headed west and one headed east, we would end up between them on our current course. We slowed down and let one pass. We spotted a barge and tug less than a half mile off, we then proceeded across the Bay. As we started our approach into the Rappahannock River the fog lifted and we could see our markers. We were tied up in a marina on Solomon Island by 3pm.
The weather forecast for the next day was not good. We woke up to clear skies, cold fall weather and winds gusting over 30 knots, so we cleaned up the boat, dried out out gear and changed the oil with the help from a local boatyard. I walked around visiting what I could, but most of the tourist attractions were closed, including the Calvert Maritime Museum. I was able to walk around the grounds and see many of the different Chesapeake Bay boat designs. Winslow spent most of the day below reading.
On November 31, we awoke to a clear day and a fresh frost on the dock. Winds were still brisk from the northwest. We left at sunrise, motoring out past the harbor entrance shallows. Once clear, still in the river, we set sail. We had a broad reach for Sandy Point. Since we lost a day we were not going to make it to Norfolk together, I had a business commitment I had to get back to.
We had a great sail. Two to three foot following seas, two reefs to start then one reef as the wind lightened. As we approached the mouth of the Potomac we were doing close to 7 knots. It was frigid cold, the sun sat behind the sail depriving us of its warmth.
Around 2pm we made our turn into a narrow channel called little Wicomico River at Smith Point right on the Virginia, Maryland line. We noticed the tidal rip, took the sail down and motored in. We both commented on what a beautiful spot: Cape Cod-like white sand everywhere, lots of open space with homes tucked back inside the river landscape and plenty of shallow water.
We wound our way above 20" of water to the Smith Point Marina. The sun felt good in this protected hurricane hole on the river. We were greeted by the owner who lived at the boatyard, a retired navy officer. He could not have been more helpful and understanding of Winslow's adventure. The owner arranged a ride for me to a car rental company that was about an hour away and I was off to the airport in DC, leaving Winslow alone once again. He was in good spirits.
He was only a day or two from the Intracoastal Waterway and his grandson was only a couple of hours away, he felt ready to try again. The next day was a workday at Arey's Pond and I was at the yard early to catch up on end of the season protocols. Around 10am I checked the AIS tracker to see how Winslow was doing. He was on the move, but his path was not straightforward getting down the river to the inlet. I assumed he must have run aground a couple of times. As the day went on, I checked on his progress and it was okay, he was following the shoreline pretty well. I was hoping he would make Norfolk by sunset but he didn't.
We talked at the end of the day, and he was tied up to someone's private dock on the southern end of Mobjack Bay. He had no shore power, therefore no heater but it was not too cold. His voice was slow and nervous, he sounded a bit defeated. He had hoped to make it to Norfolk.
The next day, December 5th, I had Winslow on the tracker and he was headed toward Norfolk. I figured he would be going under/over the tunnel bridge around 1pm. I was worried about his fuel level but if he visited the downtown marina in Norfolk he should be fine.
I checked around 2pm and I did not like what I saw. He had missed the turn into Norfolk completely and was headed out to sea. I called him at 2:30. He answered his phone and seemed in great spirits. I asked him if he knew where he was. He said, "Yes, headed into Norfolk." I explained, "No, you are headed out to sea." He told me everything was fine, that he knew where he was. He commented that the sea swells were getting bigger. I explained that is a North Atlantic ocean swell. He said, no I am fine and hung up on me. I called him back and asked him what he saw to port. There should be land within a half mile. He said there was.
That's impossible, I thought, he must be very tired. I asked about Oliver, the skiff, how was it doing?
"I cut it loose,” he said, “it was in my way." I then had the horrible thought of the comments Winslow made throughout the construction of Gracie Anne, “this will be my coffin.” Was he headed to sea to never return? I wondered. His voice was anxious and spirited but he was definitely confused.
So in a plea, I called him back after he had hung up on me for the third time. Before he could tell me he was fine, I spoke with a stern voice, "Winslow you are headed out to sea. You have missed the turn to Norfolk by miles and you will be out of fuel soon. It will be dark in two hours."
He responded, "I am fine," before hanging up for the fourth time. I paced around the boatyard, I guess this was the plan. This is why he was so insistent that I get off the boat.
About fifteen minutes went by before my phone rang. It was Winslow, his voice was different, there was a scared, anxious tone to it. "Am I in trouble?" He asked, "The seas are getting big."
"Yes," I said. He asked me what he should do, I told him, turn around and motor on the reciprocal course. He asked if he should call the Coast Guard. I replied, "Yes, give them your position in case you run out of fuel." He ended up calling Sea Tow and the Coast Guard picked up the call. They were on patrol and had Gracie Anne in their sights. The luck of Winslow Maxwell was still with him. The AIS tracker was the best thing we put on the boat, it was hooked up to his VHF as well, so when he called from the VHF they had him. Winslow had come to the edge of the cliff, and just when he was ready to jump he realized it was not his time.
The Coast Guard towed Winslow back to a Marina in Little Creek. They secured Gracie Anne to the dock and helped him get settled with shore power and his heater. They made him coffee. After the Coast Guard left I imagined him in the ship's cabin playing his uke and singing at the top of his lungs, sipping some gin, then falling soundly to sleep in his down sleeping bag, fully dressed.
The next day Winslow’s grandson and his family, including his daughter and son, Gracie Anne and Oliver, came down to the boat and visited with Winslow and helped clean up the boat, fuel her and do some shopping. After their day together, Winslow called me and asked me to come down and help him get the boat to Florida.
All of us at Areys Pond dedicate this story to our friend Winslow Maxwell and his family, Winslow peacefully passed away on January 10, 2017 in Gainesville Florida. We will miss his smile and positive attitude. Gracie Anne will sail on