Regina Maris remembered & Merry Christmas to all
“The crew was pretty grumpy as we headed north out of the Panama Canal. Hopes of spending a wild reggae Christmas in Kingston, Jamaica had recently been dashed (rumor was that there was a lien on Regina in Kingston), so on the morning of 24 Dec 1979, we found ourselves dropping anchor in Bahia du Mole…” Thus begins a sweet Christmas story written and mapped by my old mate Steve Nelson on The Friends and Crew of Regina Maris Facebook page. I’m sure that many far flung cruisers will enjoy Steve’s true tale, but I can practically smell the scenes ashore and on board…
Just a week or so after the 144-foot barkentine Regina Maris spent Christmas in impoverished rural Haiti, I flew from Maine to Santa Domingo, took a bus across the Dominican Republic (in winter cloths because the airline lost my duffle bag), and met some of that ‘grumpy’ crew just before they headed home, probably to more normal lives. Then, thanks to a few remaining old hands like Steve, I managed to pull off six weeks as acting First Mate while the ship’s twenty or so students and crew studied the humpback whales who gather annually on the large and somewhat dangerous — as in uncharted breaking reefs — Silver Bank. After a layover in San Juan which began with Regina almost having her bow torn off at the dock, I took over as relief skipper while we did some odd mammal research in remote parts of the Bahamas and then sailed to Bermuda and finally to Boston for Operation Sail 1980. The job’s real “relief” was what I felt when the regular captain Dr. George Nichols took over and I got to watch him adroitly maneuver the ungainly Regina around the tall ship and spectator fleets…
Unfortunately, I took few pictures during that period, or the next winter when I again joined Regina for trips on the Silver Bank and a passage to Bermuda that was particularly memorable because the port side foremast chainplates started breaking off one after another! But I did find a few old prints like the yard arm scene above taken off Bermuda, I think. My memory for Regina names and chronology is poor but I sure can recall the dangly feel of those foot ropes, especially when five or six people were using them simultaneously while trying to tight furl the canvas square sail. And the sheer joy of all being up in that jungle gym on a quiet tropical night with whales blowing all around.
So how the heck did I get to skipper a square rigger when my largest previous command was occasional deliveries on a 65-foot schooner? One part of the answer is that I had hit it off with George Nichols when we met on the north shore of Haiti in 1974 while we were each “adventure cruising” regular size sloops with our girl friends. Another is that Regina typically leaked about 2,000 gallons of water per day, which may have caused some better-qualified crew to look for work elsewhere. The boat also didn’t sail very well except — as we used to joke — when she got near a pier…
But Regina had an amazing quality. It didn’t seem to matter how poorly she sailed or how much she leaked (onto almost all the bunks too), people fell in love with this boat and stayed in love. And because she sailed a great deal between her 1908 launch and her slow sad demise on Long Island in the late 80’s, there are lots of alumni out there. When I was aboard it was not uncommon to pull into some port like Nassau and have a bright-eyeed someone come along who still had a Regina photo in his wallet.
So I thought of the risks we took on Regina when the HMS Bounty went down during hurricane Sandy (well covered at Soundings and WaveTrain) but I was also delighted to learn that there will be a Regina Maris Reunion next September 6-8 in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and I hope to attend. And besides the Regina Facebook page, there’s also a Regina Flickr group because that boat was just the sort of intense shared experience that can be recollected years later by crew scattered all over the planet, thanks to the Web. At any rate, eventually I’ll detail some Regina stories in the comments below but for now I’m hoping you’ll check out Steve’s Christmas tale and spread word of the reunion. And of course I am wishing you all a fine Christmas day.
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