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Jim Donovan at 23 Has the World to Sail

In our modern world it is rare to meet a young man who has
built his own 30’ boat and taken to the sea early in adulthood. Because I
greatly respect such industriousness, it was a real pleasure for me to meet Jim
Donovan – a focused young man of 23 who spent the last five years of his
life building a 30’ Bristol Channel Cutter on Cape Cod and then sailing
it to St. John this past winter – just the first stop on his world sail.

Jim has
boat building and the sea in his genes. His great grandfather, Fred Bennett
Jr., was a wooden boat builder at Crosby Yacht Yard in
Osterville, MA,
which was a famous Cape Cod Boat yard. Jim’s grandfather, Fred Bennett
III, was a commercial fisherman and it was he who first taught Jim how to build
wooden skiffs when he was 13. As a result, proving his diligence the following
winter, Jim built ten skiffs, in an 8’ X 12’ garden shed with only
a wood burning stove.

“My
father loved power boats; my mother grew up on fishing boats, so neither of
them were sailors. My love for sailing began when I was around nine in a
community sailing program. I am in the middle of two brothers; we all joined
Chatham Yacht Club where we started sailing Beetlecats,
a gaff rigged wooden boat that is for kids. We raced in pairs and I really got
into racing – on occasion I even won a few. I ended up buying one of
those boats, which I named Miss Molly,
when I was 11 on money that I made from my paper route.” My Mom also
learned how to sail at CYC and sometimes she crewed for me.

His first
job was at Arey’s Pond Boat Yard where he
started, at 15, as an apprentice boat-builder working with Tony Davis and Dan
Gould, well-known builders in the area.

“I
was lucky – I just walked in and asked if I could work for them. I
learned just from watching these shipwrights and then copied their ways. After
I had done something a few times I knew I could figure a better way. I
didn’t like school so I home-schooled until graduation and worked full
time for Arey’s. When I was seventeen, I
decided that I was going to build my own boat Carina,
named after a constellation. She is a wooden 30’
cutter, 1979 Lyle Hess design, based on a 19th century harbor pilot
boat. As I was still working, I built it during the weekends and at nights,
which didn’t leave much time for a social life. I was working alone so it
took five years to complete. My plan was always to live on it and sail. I
didn’t know anyone living or sailing in the Caribbean
but as the winter of 2005 approached I thought about warmer weather. As you
can’t cross the Atlantic in November I decided to try the Virgin Islands.”

Jim
sailed out into the Atlantic in November of
’05 with $500 in his pocket. With only a self steering wind-vane, a
propane stove, oil lights (even the running lights) and four cases of tinned
food and Heineken; he reached Bermuda within
six days. Then using a GPS (ah, the modern world comes into play) he sailed
directly to Jost Van Dyke.

“I
couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. I pulled in at 6 am, after 10 days
at sea – seeing that island was pretty nice. I soon sailed to St.
John (Coral Bay) looking for work and had the good fortune to
meet Robin Claire, the owner of Liberty, a 70’ Alden schooner that needed
some work. Robin also runs the KATS program so I am helping rebuild a boat for
them plus doing some work on Liberty.”

In the
late spring, Jim is planning on sailing to Ireland,
stopping in the Azores and then just sailing
around – “I don’t have a schedule and I don’t want one.
We’ll just see what happens.” I really enjoyed meeting this
productive young man. Through his vision I re-experienced the thrill of
starting out on your own with a vision in mind. I salute Jim and only wish that
there were more young sailors like him.

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