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Jol Byerley’s May 07 Letter from Antigua

Just the other day Judy, my wife, had a phone call from my daughter Cary. It seemed as if she was in floods of tears. “Have you heard,” she gasped, “Lord Jim has sunk!” Now Cary had spent much of her early life aboard our beautiful 73 foot Alden designed schooner, and she was probably more proud of her than any one else!

At first I found the news hard to believe. This fabulous yacht built by George Lawley of Boston, Massachusetts in 1938 was quite probably Queen of the Nicholson charter fleet when I was lucky enough to own her. She glistened and glowed and if yachts have hearts and souls, she almost certainly had one. When my then wife Jenny and I (urged on by the entire Nicholson Family) went up to Boston to meet Mr. E. Ross Anderson (Lord Jim’s then very attentive owner) to see if there was any way that we could afford her, not only were our hearts in our mouths, but we had no real hope that he would agree to any of our plans.

Well, in Mr. Anderson’s huge oak paneled office which seemed as big as Buckingham Palace we shuffled in and could hardly see him for the clouds of expensive cigar smoke. “So what’s on your mind young man?” said he. “Err…well Sir, we wonder if you might…err…somehow consider selling us Lord Jim so that we could take her back to Antigua and run her as…a…charter boat with the Nicholson Company.” There was a moment’s silence while he lit another cigar.

“Take her to the West Indies, eh? So when would you like to leave?” was his smiling reply. And so began one of the happiest periods of my life! We never had a problem finding super crew and generally, to a man (and a woman), were admired and envied by the sailing community in Antigua. Nearly all of them went on to become skippers in their own right. We averaged 26 weeks a year of charters and I paid her back in four years instead of the five years that Mr. Anderson had graciously given me.

I was honestly sorry that Mr. Anderson and his family were unable to make a trip to Antigua and cruise the islands with us on the schooner on which he had won the Newport to Halifax Race, beating DeCoursey Fale’s Nina in the process. When Don McNamara wrote about that race he had said the following: “the westerly breeze came on strong in the darkness. In my years on boats I had never heard or seen anything to match the passage of Lord Jim across the Massachusetts bay that night. She was a thundering avalanche, crashing down on the purpling darkness. A mile and a half off the buoy we had caught and left Ledgend, a day later, her crew were still speechless. It took two of us to steer, her head was so strong.”

She was probably not the easiest boat to sail, for she was kept in the very same state (full gaff rig, for example, as when she was launched and when Mr. Anderson used to race her.) Anyway, since I sold her many years ago Lord Jim has nearly completed three round the world voyages until this disaster somewhere off the lonely coast of Brazil and on her way to Antigua.

I will never forget our first trip in our new schooner from New York to Antigua. It was November and winter gales swept the entire north Atlantic except for the last 300 miles or so. At one stage we averaged 220 miles in 24 hours under bare poles and towing every warp we had. Lord Jim had a huge electric bilge pump situated on deck but we had never been told that we had to start the generator to run this pump!

We arrived in Antigua only a couple of days before our first charter and it was all rather touch-and-go. We also painted her royal blue with white cove stripe and boot top. I don’t suppose that there has ever been a prouder man than myself when we left English Harbour for the first time out on charter.

I have just heard that my old schooner has at this stage been raised but what will happen now, no one knows. Anyway, I fervently hope that this wonderful ship may not yet have seen the last of her days. Maybe Mr. Anderson will look down from his palatial office up above the clouds and give her the same sort of help that he gave me!  So good luck, my lovely old ship, you deserve it.

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