FAMILY SAILING, CRUISING & What-Not on the high seas!
It’s August again on the coast of Maine. Pat and I have returned to our South Bristol house and although I’m boat less this summer (2017), I’ve been thinking of family sailing, cruising and what-not on the sea I’ve done in the past.
I've spent lots of days on the sea in the last 83 years, starting by crewing for our father on his Nova Scotia scorner at age 6 in 1938. Although my initial interest for cruising and sailing lacked enthusiasm, I went along with dad as he loved cruising and was good fun on board his boats. I would cruise with my father along the New England coast and off the waters of Hilton Head, South Carolina—but that comes later.
Barnstable was the village on the North Shore of Cape Cod where our grandfather, Rev. Alfred R. Hussey Jr. and his wife, Mary Lincoln Warren, built an impressive house in 1907 on Scudder Lane. Funds were apparently provided by the Warren family—a family full of successful lawyers. The Hussey house, called ‘Windyways’ was built up on a hill overlooking Barnstable Harbor —a tidal harbor with marshes that extended west to the town of West Barnstable and waters that extended east to the town of Dennis, Massachusetts. I cruised those marshes spending many hours puttering my skiff much as the legendary ‘Kip’ in Charles Dickens novel Great Expectations had done. There wasn't much to see in those Barnstable great marshes but I enjoyed being alone and getting away from my ever active twin sister, Mercy. Mercy was a social animal with energy, leader ship, and joie de vivre that enabled her to be surrounded by friends. I was a bit of a loner who spent many days from ages ten to thirteen being content spending time by myself. It was during those years that I had some health challenges following a tonsillectomy that Mercy sailed through with no problems. I acquired yellow jaundice followed by infectious mononucleosis, which required bed-rest. Fortunately, my illnesses occurred summers so I didn’t miss much school.
As Mercy and I grew up we became active at the Barnstable Yacht Club and took up sailing in a serious way. The BYC fleet of boats included Beetle Cats and Rhodes 19s. We rented a dark blue Beetle Cat named Ann C from John (Bunny) Howard and started racing. For two or three years ‘the Haskell Twins’ came in last in almost every race we entered. We studied the winners, many of whom were Harvard students also spending the summer in Barnstable, and we began to notice some of the keys to successful racing – and adopted them.
At ages sixteen and seventeen the twins won every series at the BYC plus the long distance race. At the special Labor Day Awards Ceremony the yacht club awarded a special prize– to twin Mercy Haskell for ‘sportsmanship in putting up with her twin brother Hank all summer long as her skipper.’ Mercy, Bats, Pat, and I recently revisited the BYC with friends and saw our names on the club leaders for years 1949 and 1950 for persons who contributed most to the BYC. We were both proud of our achievements in Barnstable. Perhaps I was a ‘Captain Blythe from Mutiny On the Bounty at times but we sure did win many races those summers and also made life-long friends.
While we were learning how to race on Barnstable Harbor, I was attending Tabor Academy in Marion Massachusetts, and Mercy attended Roger’s Hall School in Lowell, Massachusetts. Tabor was an ‘honor naval school’ which, like Annapolis, taught small and large boat sailing, large boat and many nautical courses. My favorite Tabor class of boats was the Mercury's and I won some trophies there in addition to representing Tabor at the New England interscholastic sailing championship. A fellow student, Charles Ives, and I raced on the Seekonk River off Providence, Rhode Island. Both of us were very small for ages but we did well in the first part of the day and started the final race in first place out of 15 schools. All we had to do was finish the race to win the championship but unfortunately the wind freshened and those two lightweights swamped the boat and were not able to finish the race. We came in second.
Another water sport that I participated in at Tabor was crew. Since I was small for my age and definitely not strong enough to row in an eight man crew, I was the coxswain for the junior varsity crew in my junior and senior years. In my senior year I was also elected Captain of the JV crew and we had an outstanding season, marred only by losing to Kent school at the interscholastic championships on Worcester's Lake Quinsigamond. That loss was my fault as I misjudged the area I was supposed to step up stroke to sprint for the finish and wore my man out before we crossed the finish line. I'll never forget watching the Kent school slip by us and win first place that disappointing day.
From Tabor I went to Maine to Bowdoin College. Although Bowden did have an informal sailing team that I was a member of it is only recently taken sailing as an important sport. My late friend Charlie Leighton, gave money to Bowdoin specifically for a sailing center and I noticed there is much more attention given to the sport nowadays.
Just before I started Bowdoin, my father's interests changed from flying to cruising. He bought a 37-foot Stonington motor-sailor built specifically for him in Stonington Connecticut. On my vacations home from Tabor I joined dad and watched this wooden boat being built and launched the summer of 1950. It took us a couple of summers of shakedown cruises fairly close to home for dad and I to get used to that boat. The wind had to be blowing more than 25 mph for it to sail well enough to come about and sail off on another tact. By the time I went to Bowdoin dad was eager to explore the Maine coast where he was born. I remember the summer of 1954 in particular. I had driven with a group of fraternity brothers to the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity convention at the University of Washington in Seattle and ended up that summer driving a truck for a small contractor based in West Covina, California – a suburb west of Los Angeles. This contractor dug swimming pools all over the city of Los Angeles but we never saw a finished pool—except in my boss’ back yard. We dug a pool for the famous actress Elizabeth Taylor but unfortunately Elizabeth didn't walk down to watch her pool being dug.
When my boss tried to talk me into quitting college and joining him in the business, I left Los Angeles and drove practically nonstop to Moosup Connecticut. I remember being in my parents’ driveway so tired when I arrived I just leaned over and fell asleep on the front seat.
Dad was an early riser and when he walked out to get the morning newspaper and saw my car he came over to check. He’d expected me to arrive and invited me in for breakfast. Over breakfast he suggested a cruise that had probably been on his mind all summer.
It was late August 1954. Since I didn't start Bowdoin until September I had plenty of time and a cruise to Maine sounded great to me. I called my friend Malcolm Brown, who was more of a football and baseball player than a sailor, but jumped at the chance to go cruising with us before returning to Dartmouth. We also called my first cousin John Wilson who loved the water and was always ready for a new adventure on a comfortable boat powered by a diesel engine.
We joined forces and left Stonington Harbor and cruised on a beautiful summer day along the Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts shoreline, and on through the Cape Cod Canal where we spent the night at the Eastern Harbor of the canal. From there we sailed up the East Coast of New England and into Scituate Harbor where a good friend of dad’s, Fred Gilley owned a boat yard. Fred joined us for part of the cruise to Maine and was a delight to have aboard—a great story teller.
We crossed the large bay outside of Boston Harbor and headed to the Anasquam Canal, which prevented our rounding Cape Ann. We headed for the Maine coast by way of Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
I remember one incident, probably fairly typical of a father and son and close quarters aboard a boat. We had an argument about something and I asked my Malcolm and John to pull me in a boatswain's chair to the top of the mast as I just couldn't stand being there with my father any longer. We cruised along close to the Isle of Shoals when I looked down and saw Dad look up at me sitting at the top of the mast. He asked how many lobsters I wanted that night as he had hailed a lobster boat and was buying lobsters for all of us. How could a son remain mad at his father under such circumstances? I asked Mal and John to lower me down and we all had a wonderful lobster meal on board in Kennebunkport Harbor.
After a night in that busy place, we cruised as far as Casco Bay and Boothbay Harbor. Although in those days there were not the cell phones and navigational instruments we use these days, we mostly navigated by what was known as “dead reckoning.” We watched out for buoys and listened for bells and whistles, even in the thick fog that one often runs into in Maine.
We listened to the radio and heard that hurricane ‘Carol’ was coming up the East Coast. By this time my brother Peter had joined dad and myself with the rest of the crew returning home. We decided to moor in the inner Harbor at Boothbay and ride out the hurricane aboard our ship.
I remembered the unnamed hurricane of 1938, when my twin sister and I were five years old. That terrible storm tore through Connecticut and Rhode Island with almost no warning with more than 600 lives lost and untold damage. By 1954, weather service was getting much better predicting where hurricanes might land and this particular one, Carol, I believe, was definitely headed for the Maine coast and due to hit the Boothbay Harbor area in the early evening. The wind freshened in the afternoon and I watched the radar reflector at the top of the mast spinning wildly and finally blow away. The wind was already so strong that aluminum radar detector did not drop but flew parallel to the water. I knew we were in for one hell of a storm.
At about the same time, dad said we were dragging our mooring as the strong wind began pushing us out of the harbor. Dad said, “Let’s go on out to sea as that is usually the safest place to be in a storm—no rocks out there.”
I said, “No way!” and heard a Coast Guard officer yell over to us that they’d be glad to have us tie up alongside their 85 foot boat for the storm’s duration. Dad started the engine and we did just that. We rode the storm out all night long with no damage.
Dad returned to Connecticut to run his textile mill and trusted me to return his boat to Connecticut. I remember sailing down the New England coast and seeing the huge amount of damage the storm brought to those shores.
I continued sailing and cruising on board dad’s Emily Morgan motor sailor for quite a few years after that terrible storm. We were most fortunate in being asked to tie along side the Coast Guard Cutter. I will write more later about other cruises.