Hundreds of cadets, 10 to 12 at a time, cruised and raced her sturdy blue hull while practicing command and control at sea. Built in 1965, she was one of twelve fiberglass training vessels for the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, replacing a nearly identical but engineless mahogany yawl of the same name. In 1987, the Luders 44 yawl Frolic, NA-5, was transferred to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, painted white and renamed Kittiwake.
The government of the Virgin Islands bought her in 1994 for a sailing school on St. Croix which never opened. The government had no resources to restore her after Hurricane Lenny washed her ashore in 1999, so she sat in Salt River until the V.I. government auction in July 2006.
Her hull was covered by oysters, her keel was a living reef, her decks were soft, and her interior was a termite banquet. A line on her bulkhead clearly marked where the waters of Salt River lay for almost seven years. Who knew in what condition her rigging, sails, engine and cushions would be? There were no bidders for her, and it seemed as though she would end her life in pieces, a hurricane victim.
Joe McCants grew up in St. Simons Island, Georgia, and served as a mechanic in the Air Force. He has rebuilt several wooden and fiberglass boats: Aleria, a John Alden sloop later damaged by Hurricane Lenny; Hobo, a 44’ John Hammond sloop; Ghost Dancer, a Hunter 30, among others. “Yawls are still new to me,” he says.
After sailing Vigilant, NA-12, on the Chesapeake Bay in 1982, Joe knew he’d like to have a Navy yawl someday. Vigilant and Alert, NA-2, were retired from Academy duty and in use at the Patuxent, MD, Navy Sailing club. (Resolute, NA-3, renamed Osprey when transferred to the Coast Guard Academy, is now privately owned in St. John and has visited St. Croix often.)
After the government’s bidder-less July auction, Joe saw Frolic/Kittiwake at a Department of Planning and Natural Resources mooring and could tell that 1) the Luders lines were as beautiful as he’d remembered, and 2) immediate action was needed or his dream would sink before the October auction. A rented pump kept her afloat until Joe submitted the only bid.
Joe introduced the widow of his good friend artist Gabby Hayes to sailing. Diane Given Hayes had lived and worked within sight of the harbor since 1987 and remembered pleasant childhood camping vacations in her native California. She came to St. Croix on a 10-day vacation trip from which she never returned, and worked as a commercial artist, designer and waitress. After Gabby’s death in 2003, Diane helped Joe restore Ghost Dancer and moved aboard. Living aboard a 30-foot sloop was not too different from camping.
They sailed Ghost Dancer to Venezuela in 2005, exploring islands and inland, including a rare visit with southern Venezuela’s Yanomami Indians. Eager to see more of the Caribbean and its people, they knew they could restore the graceful 44-foot yawl. Having a tiny mizzen would keep the boat head to wind at their mooring and would make balancing the sail plan easy downwind.
Kittiwake’s restoration began in October 2006 with scraping off the oysters. She was towed to the Christiansted boardwalk, where multiple layers of paint were power-washed into buckets. The engine and shaft were replaced during a month hauled out at St. Croix Marine. At her mooring in the harbor, Joe and Diane continued the work and moved aboard as soon as they could after selling Ghost Dancer.
While Joe did most of the heavy lifting, Diane worked as coatings specialist and go-fer. She continued to waitress and to paint watercolors and murals, but living on a boat limited the size of her paintings. When a suitable space became available, she opened Watch Your Step Studio, named for its ancient stairway, on Queen Cross Street.
Joe and Diane were pleased to find the hull and spars sound. The lights work, the bronze portlights are watertight, and the seacocks have grease fittings and work like new. Seventeen sails, an awning and cushions for nine bunks had been stored ashore and are in good condition. The yawl now has new non-skid on new decks, new rigging and a new electrical panel.
New wood, including a native mahogany table, replaced termite-damaged furnishings. Joe has serviced and reinstalled seven of the 15 winches. Still on the list, roller furling and topsides paint. Eventually, the bunks amidships will be converted to a dinette and settee. When the hull is painted, the name on the blue transom will return to Frolic. Joe and Diane plan to cruise the Caribbean for two to three years, before looking for their next projects.
Ellen Sanpere has lived aboard Cayenne III, a refurbished Idylle 15.5, since 1998. She and her husband Tony started from Annapolis and have cruised from Maine to Venezuela. St. Croix is their home port.
I was skipper of FROLIC for three years while at USNA. I had my first date with the woman who was to become my wife aboard FROLIC.
2016 is Debbie and Dave’s thirty-ninth year of marriage, which leads naturally to the question of how Dave did actually manage, long ago, to hook so snappy number as Debbie in the first place. We expect that most folks merely figure she had a weak moment.
But no, again NO! That is like concluding that the entire Big Bang merely happened in a moment’s accidental inattention from The Omnipotent. No, in this case, as in the case of the Big Bang, the emergence of Debbie and Dave as a couple required at a minimum, complete suspension of all natural laws of probability. Here’s how it happened.
HOW DAVID MET DEBBIE (Army/Navy competition reduced to its essence)
One evening back in 1975, Dave was attending an oversized group Bible study in his Annapolis barracks (Bancroft Hall). An intoxicatingly flaming redheaded acquaintance of his (“Dee” Chandler) also attended that night, shuttling in from Washington DC, and she brought along her roommate, a raven maned beauty from the Walter Reed Army Institute of Nursing where they matriculated together. This black haired bomb shell was one Debbie Tipton. Dee, aware that Debbie and Dave shared similarly bull-headed and opinionated mind sets, foresaw significant entertainment possibilities in their introduction.
Her assessment was accurate.
“From the git-go,” Debbie Tipton was, or at least acted toward Dave like, QUOTE “a stuck up little twerp who already KNEW she was a knockout, thank you very much,” UNQUOTE. Immediately upon introduction, Debbie’s opening line was, “Why should I talk to YOU?”
The room was full of good looking guys amongst whom David was hardly a shining star. Yet being an Annapolis man, generally a sought after commodity, he was not pre-armed to deal with this sort of instantly hostile reception. While he was mentally frantically flailing about for a conversational grip or toe hold, his mouth took charge and responded before his brain had a chance to get involved. He said “Because you were born on my birthday.”
(NOTE: Folks, I have no idea why I said it. I had never heard of nor seen Debbie Tipton before that night. I realized my grave tactical error the moment it came out of my mouth. This game appeared doomed even before coin toss was complete. Yet I was irrevocably committed to playing it out to its quick, bitter and bloody end. We know what the next deadly question had to be.)
Debbie haughtily sniffed and promptly inquired, “Oh really and what date was that?”
Well bless her proverbial little heart.
Bluff called, and doggedly exercising his previously mentioned bull-headedness, our sailor mentally grabbed the dice cup, rattled them bones, and slammed it inverted on the bar, going for all or nothing.
Radiating the bravado that can be afforded only by the hopelessly damned, he looked Debbie dead in the eye and truthfully proclaimed his own birth date, “February tenth.” A resounding silence instantly engulfed them. Debbie’s already mentally loaded response of derision evaporated like vapor from a dying steam whistle. Her mouth fell open. Witnessing this, Dave’s jaw also dropped, but he quickly snapped it back shut to mask his dizzying astonishment.
Still taken aback, Debbie, no doubt feeling stalked, sputtered, “How did YOU know THAT?” (For the incurably incredulous, the tenth of February was indeed Debbie’s birth date.) History does not record David’s response. Any reply would have been sufficient, for no reply would have been believed, least of all the truth. So from there it was smooth sailing. David had an insurmountable advantage. Having recklessly wagered all on a chance of only one in a few hundred, he had emerged victorious. He could, with impunity, devise or claim any story or justification that he might chose.
In this at least, Luck was a lady that night even if Debbie was suspicious and grumpy. By the end of the evening Debbie had agreed to go sailing with the bold gambler she had just met, if for no other reason than to further investigate his apparently excessive knowledge of her personal details. They sailed to the eastern shore in the appointed weekend with a full crew aboard the Navy yawl Frolic, of which Dave had long been skipper. For the next thirty-six hours, this darlin’ little ship, her gentlemanly crew, the soft waves, cool breezes and moonlit night worked their magic.
What a bunch of pirates.
Before mooring back in home port, Dave had informed Debbie that he would be marrying her in due course. It is completely understandable that given his now solidly established record of clairvoyant insight, she had little choice but to accept this information as received truth. They were wed at Fort Leonard Wood in a remote little Army chapel a year and some months later. Yet Debbie to this day does not believe the truth of this tale. Who can blame her, really? After all, what are the odds?
When I became a midshipman
in nineteen seventy two
adventure was the treasure
my heart sought to pursue.
To fly and dive and sail
were the bootee that I sought.
And I learned my master sailing skills
as skipper of a yacht.
Her given name was FROLIC
and she berthed a crew of eight.
Four and forty feet in length
a dozen tons in weight,
She drew a good six feet of draft
two masts, four sails, and lines
that were, I knew, old fashioned,
but, for three years she was mine.
Now a sailor with a lick of sense
prefers a sunny day,
gentle breeze, and warm sunlight
and just a touch of spray.
But when a storm was coming in
we’d sally to the bay
abandoning all shelter
to let nature have her say.
But her words were always gentle
when compared against the force
we know she should have showed us
in the open sea, of course.
Yet we knew we might be foolish
seeking discourse with her gods
with no priest nor intercessor
to increase survival odds.
Yet she always was indulgent
and she let us hear her song
and she sent us scuttling home again
where she knew we belonged.
And we’d resume what seemed to be
our next expedition.
For in sailing, as in living
classroom lessons can give gain.
And there are things the wise can learn
without experiencing pain.
Book learning was important.
That we all did understand.
But many lessons of the sea
cannot be learned on land.
For in sailing, as in living,
not all lessons can be found
in textbooks brightly illustrated
neatly leather bound.
And the lessons we most treasured
were those we so dearly bought
gained by straining, striving, daring all
aboard that darlin’ yacht.
Where is FROLIC now?
Hi, David. We are doing some research to see if we can provide a proper answer to your question. It may come in the form of a new article.