sailing, sort of…


By sailing emmet

When the gigantic (644 feet) The World dominated the Rockland harbor last week, I could not help but think back to my exciting, but brief, sailing career. The World is considered one of the largest passenger vessels afloat.
The Sea Cloud, when I first saw her at a Miami dock, was the largest private sailing vessel afloat. Even in her shabby state she was still beautiful, 312 feet of style. It was the mid 1960’s and I had forsaken my terrible career in Boston insurance, then my career in waiting on tables in Vermont and Hollywood Beach. I was looking for “new opportunities.”
With exactly no experience, I was hired aboard the Sea Cloud for, I think $20 a week plus room and board. The plan was to sail to Hong Kong for new teaking on the deck. That sounded adventurous, right?
But before we set sail, the crew was ordered to take down those huge masts. As I understood it the hiring process focused more on character (and lack of a police record) than seamanship skills. I found myself under a huge mast being lowered by a block and tackle by crew member s who knew little more than I did. Emmet-alarm bells rang.
This was not the place for me. I decided to complete my tour of the country by visiting old friend Bob Marino in San Francisco, where the whole “hippie” thing was starting, unbeknownst to me. I picked up a repossessed Cadillac and headed west at very high speed.
Maybe I should have stayed. As far as I know, no one on the crew was crushed to death. And I was blissfully unaware of the Sea Cloud’s illustrious (sort of) past. Diplomats and dictators partied under her elaborate chandeliers.
She was launched as the Hussar in 1930 from the Krupp Shipyard in Kiel. The four-masted barque was commissioned by E. F Hutton and his wife Marjorie Merriweather Post, both almost as rich as Mitt Romney. The purpose of the Hussar was to take the Huttons in total style to their favorite haunts, the Galapagos, Hawaii and of course the Mediterranean.
But even the magnificent Hussar could not save this marriage which ended in 1935. Marge got the boat in the divorce, changed the name to Sea Cloud to erase those terrible memories, then sold it told friend Joseph E. Davies, advisor to President Wilson. Davies liked the Sea Cloud and Marge, so he married her a few years later when he became ambassador to Russia. The Sea Cloud was called to Leningrad as a diplomatic station. Say what you will about Marge, she knew how to party. So did the Sea Cloud. By 1938 the danger from submarines became too great and those Leningrad trips were canceled.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the navy was looking for any ship available for weather and anti-submarine patrols. The luxurious Sea Cloud was drafted. She was demasted, painted gray, loaded with guns and anti-submarine weapons and patrolled the Azores and south Greenland as ship IX-99.
After the war, the ship was rescued, repainted a gleaming white during a four year restoration in Florida. The Sea Cloud returned to her post as party central. One of the party-goers was “El Jefe,” Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, also known as the dictator of Dominican Republic. When her marriage was going down the tubes, Marge looked to sell the very expensive yacht with 72 –person-crew. In 1955, Trujillo jumped at the chance.
He didn’t enjoy it long. They say changing the name of a ship is always bad luck. Trujillo renamed the ship as Angelita. He was assassinated in May of 1961. I told you it was bad luck. The family tried to escape aboard the Angelita with Trujillo’s body and oodles of cash, but was forced to return.
She was renamed the Patria and put up for sale…again. She was tied up in Panama for eight years, rotting in the tropical sun. But some men never forgot a beautiful woman or a beautiful ship. One of them who remembered the ship was German Hartmut Paschburg, who had rescued many fading vessels. He renamed her Sea Cloud and got her to Miami, where I met her.
Eventually, without me, she sailed into Hamburg Harbor and was completely restored.
While I am falling to pieces in chilly Camden, she is now sailing the South Seas as a cruise vessel and has been termed “The most romantic sailing ship afloat” by the Berlitz Complete Guide to Sailing and Cruise Ships.
And to think I abandoned her 45 years ago on the Miami docks. Think of the parties I missed.