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Orion – An Old Sweetheart Today

There is something truly wonderful about older schooners; they represent rich history and sea adventures, telling stories that most of us only dream of living.  Because I love older yachts, of any type, I am always on the “lookout” for ships with stories.  When I saw Orion, a double-masted, riveted steel schooner, in Puerto la Cruz, Venezuela, I knew that I just had to meet her owners.

Bill and Mary Herbert love their gorgeous schooner, which measures some 73 feet on deck (88 feet overall), has an 8-foot draft, and weighs in at some 90 tons.  Her booms are wooden, her masts steel, and—as you would surmise—are very heavy. Motored by a single six-cylinder Scania engine, a large, slow-turning 150 hp Swedish diesel, Orion is massive—just like her prop shaft. 

Bill Herbert tells me the history of Orion.  “She was built as a steam tugboat in 1920 and was used as a commercial vessel through the 1960s when she was retired from service.  In the late 1980s Orion was purchased by a sailor from Holland who made the conversions to her present shape, including new decks and masts.  She was used for running charters in Holland and Denmark for over a decade. A Dutch Canadian woman then bought her, taking the vessel to Vancouver to also charter; however, running into problems with banks and governments, Orion was eventually turned over to a Dutch bank.  Mary and I purchased her through a Canadian court sale in Vancouver in 2001.

“When we bought Orion she had four staterooms with 15 bunks so we had to de-bunk her before we even began re-building the interior.  My profession is construction so I knew what we wanted to achieve.  We gutted the entire hull—everything was ripped out—ceilings, floors, walls—the entire interior.  We then took the forward two cabins and converted them into a single master stateroom.  A third was changed into a roomy head.  We rebuilt the crew’s quarters, which are aft, into a large single room with three comfortable beds.  All of the work was done in Richmond, Vancouver at Shelter Island Boat Yard over the winter of 2001 and 2002.  Mary was teaching first grade in Napa, California, where we lived, so I would work on the boat, coming home periodically.” 

Mary Herbert adds, “We fitted almost the entire interior with furnishings from Ikea so we call her the Ikea boat.”  The interior resembles a 1930s country cottage although the appliances, electrical, cabinets, bedding, chairs etc. are modern.  Bill even has a 42” plasma TV hidden behind a partition in the wall.  The galley includes lots of space and even a dishwasher. 

“We sold our home and left Vancouver in 2004, sailing north about 500 miles; we then returned to Vancouver and voyaged down to San Francisco, San Diego, and the western coast of Central America, stopping in each country.  We went through the Panama Canal and on to the San Blas Islands where we spent several months before venturing on to Cartagena, the ABC Islands, down to Venezuela and then up the island chain to the Virgins.  Our three adult children have all managed to spend time with us throughout our travels.

“We then returned to Venezuela for the hurricane season of 2006 and now plan to return up the island chain once again.   We hope to enjoy the Sweethearts Regatta, the only all-schooner regatta in the Caribbean, on the weekend of February 16th to 18th in Tortola, BVI.   From there we will go to Antigua for the Classics Regatta, because we missed it last year, and plan on crossing the Atlantic to the Med.”

I join with all sea gypsies at heart in wishing Bill and Mary fair winds—Orion is a true sweetheart if there ever was one. 

Nancy Terrell has lived in the Caribbean for 20 years, is an international free lance writer, and holds an MA Degree in Literature.

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