On Nov. 1, 1953, Richard "Dick" Blair of Riverside and a crew of 17 men and women began an 18-month sea voyage that would take them around the world.
Departing from Gloucester, Mass. aboard the 96-foot brigantine, Yankee, the crew began a 45,000-sea mile journey that would take them to exotic destinations -- from Angkor Wat to Zanzibar and from the South China Sea to the Caribbean.
The first stop on their sea adventure was Haiti. A 3,000-foot climb there brought them to Christophe's Citadel, where the crew would sleep to the sound of voodoo drums. They would then sail on through the Panama Canal, where they passed by the royal yacht of a young Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip.
Christmas and New Years were spent sailing through the Galapagos Islands, swimming with penguins and iguanas and shooting wild goats to stock their freezer before heading out for a 2,600-mile sail across the longest reach of open water in the world. That led them to Pitcairn Island, where they spent a week living with descendents of the Bounty mutineers.
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Fast forward to a recent day this June, where aboard the schooner SoundWaters sailing off the coast of Greenwich, Blair and eight other members of that crew -- now in their 70s and early 80s -- recently got together on a reunion cruise to reminiscence about the trip they took nearly 60 years ago.
Among the circumnavigators sharing their memories was Ralph Bellinger, who was wrapped in foul weather gear for the blustery Long Island Sound reunion sail. Bellinger and Blair sparred over which one had captured the extraordinary photograph of the New Hebrides land divers (bungee jumpers) taken during their journey that would end up appearing in National Geographic magazine. "It was me," declared Blair.
Lydia Edes Jewel was one of four females of the 18 crew members and was 24 years old at the start of the voyage. She later married a crew member, the late Ray Jewel. She shared her memories of Blair on that voyage. "He added spice to everything," she said.
The talk moved on to a 220-mile sail the group took up the Sepik River in New Guinea, where they ran aground and trekked for four days through the New Guinea highlands with an Australian patrol officer and witnessed a giant pig killing ceremony.
Also along for the reunion cruise was Robert Johnson, son of the late skipper of the Yankee, Irving Johnson and his wife Electa "Exy," Johnson. The young Johnson was just a teen when he sailed on the voyage with Blair and crew.
He was known for a particular quirk; he sailed barefoot then -- as he did this day. "Sailing in the tropics," Johnson said, "we never wore shoes."
Bundled up in rain gear on SoundWaters was Ken Viard, who cooked for the original crew. "I would make a birthday cake once a month for those who had birthdays," he said. Viard spoke of an old sailor's line that said, "God gave us cooks, and cooks gave us the devil." He was pleased to report, however, that by the end of their voyage they were saying to him, "God gave us the devil of a cook."
Representing the late Jay Bercaw, first mate on the original voyage, was Bercaw's son, Sean Bercaw, skipper of the reproduction schooner Amistad, based in Wood's Hole, Mass. Bercaw spoke of a rare film taken of highlights of the 1953 voyage that Blair showed earlier to the crew alum in his Riverside home. "That film was narrated by my father," Bercaw said. The film pictures the many primitive ports of call and life aboard the ship with shots of the crew quarters loaded up with spears and other exotic souvenirs, Bercaw said.
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As the SoundWaters headed back over the heaving sea to deliver the circumnavigators to the Riverside Yacht Club, the sailors talked of rounding the Cape of Good Hope to Capetown, South Africa, one of the world's stormiest harbors, and then of their big sail from Capetown to Barbados, and on to Bermuda.
On the last leg of their journey, they would sail up the East River of New York, through the Cape Cod Canal to a warm welcome in Gloucester -- arriving, according to Blair, at exactly 2 p.m. on May 1, 1955, the same hour they left 18 months earlier.
"It was," said Blair, "the trip of a lifetime."