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Jol Byerley’s Jan 08 Letter from Antigua

I think it was in the winter of 1966 that, having made an accepted offer for the beautiful 73ft Alden schooner Lord Jim, myself and a group of friends sailed her down from Long Island Sound to Antigua. We didn’t have much time before the first charter so, at first, we were pleased to have a substantial northerly breeze meet us outside of New York.  But little did we know that this 25 knot wind would become a screaming winter demon of 60 knots plus! It would stay with us for four to five days.

Now, the yacht herself was in fine shape. She was a complete lady but we had never, ever sailed her before, and in those days it was rather hard to find a radio weather forecast. Anyway, the wind speed increased until it was blowing a full gale! The big old-fashioned schooner was hurtling down the breaking waves as if she was being pursued by all the sea demons of the North Atlantic. There was, of course, a huge electric bilge pump amidships but, try as we might, the darn thing showed no sign of life. Only after the storm did we find out that this new-looking pump was actually a 110 volt piece of machinery, not a 24 volt.

Anyway, we were being fully swept by colossal waves from our stern to the bow. Luckily we had Campbell McConnachie aboard and, being a qualified merchant navy engineer, he was able to rig up an emergency bilge pump running through the main engine exhaust! By this time we only had a reefed down storm fore staysail up (to help stop her broaching) but soon it tore to shreds and we were forced to claw it down!

Soon after that, with the help of Campbell’s sextant, we were to find that in one 24 hour period Lord Jim had averaged 250 miles running under bare poles and with every spare warp we could find on board dragging over the stern! But what a lovely ship she was!

Then one day many years after I sold her, I was written to by the editor or publisher of Latitude 38 magazine in California.  As briefly as possible, he explained that my old schooner had struck an unmarked rock somewhere off the Brazilian coast and had sunk in 50 foot of water. Even now, I can’t stop a tear or two just writing about this. But then we heard that my old ship had been raised, repaired, and was sailing again!
Go, Go, Go Lord Jim, perhaps I might even see you again.

This piece was written by Don McNamara Jr. in his book “White Sails, Black Clouds”:

“The westerly breeze came on strong in the darkness. In my years on boats, I have never heard, seen, or felt anything to match the passage of Lord Jim across Massachusetts Bay that night. She was a thundering avalanche crashing down on the purpling darkness. A mile and a half off the buoy we caught and left Legend.  A day later her crew were still speechless.”

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