I didn’t go to college after high school, so I was at work one day when Earle and George, two of my high school buddies, showed up from UConn during spring break with an audacious proposition.
George’s father owned a repair and maintenance yard for small vessels. He had an option on a 54-foot steel-hulled sailing vessel with a twin-screw diesel engine. It was for sale for $5,000, and my two friends were trying to gather together seven young men, buy the ship, and sail it around the world.
The best part? George’s father had agreed to put the ship in first class condition free of charge if they bought it. They already had three students at UConn ready to go in with them, as well as Harry, another of the old gang. All they needed was a seventh man who could come up with $720.
I didn’t have $720, which was a lot of money for me back then, but when they told me we had an eight-month deadline I told them to count me in. I was only making $32 a week, but with some serious scrimping and saving I was sure I could save $720 in eight months.
Two days later Earle, George, Harry and I spent a day inspecting the ship. It was definitely in need of work, including new sails, rigging, and paint, but it was quite a ship. It had a powerful engine, a large galley, lots of water, fuel, and other storage space, and was absolutely solid.
However, two questions cropped up. Where were we going to get the money for the supplies we’d need, and how were we going to learn to navigate a ship?
Earle, who owned a small sailboat, said he had the answers. There was a Coast Guard place right there in New London where some of us could take a navigation course. Plus which, it would take eight to 10 months for the refit because George’s father would have to squeeze it in between his other jobs. We could all keep working while the ship was being refitted, so we’d have plenty of time to save up money for supplies.
I started saving $25 a week out of my $32 weekly pay. Wow! Talk about doing without! I agonized over every nickel I spent, but I kept our seagoing beauty in mind and pinched pennies like a Scrooge
We talked once or twice, planning our route. We thought we’d spend some time sailing off the coast of Connecticut in Long Island Sound until we got comfortable with handling the ship. Then we’d sail down the East Coast, using the inland waterways wherever we could.
And then? Around the world on the adventure of a lifetime!
Seven months later I had done without a lot, but I had my $720; so I was appalled when I called Earle and he told me our great adventure was off. Two of the college kids hadn’t even tried to save up the money; so the option expired and someone else got “our” ship.
You know what? I’ve had a lot of time to think about all that, and I’ve changed my mind. That piece of “bad luck” was the best piece of good luck I ever had.
Be honest now. What are the odds against seven inexperienced 20-year-olds safely navigating a small sailboat around the world?
I’d say about a thousand to one.