On the Water: Palm Beach, Yachting, And…

It’s generally true that “champagne tastes and caviar dreams” involve a yacht somewhere. Today most of them are fibreglass creations, but as soon as he could see his way clear, my father got us into the era of “iron men and wooden ships.” Well, at least the wooden ships…

Before we got there: the course to Palm Beach (and the Bahamas for that matter) was navigated first by my grandparents, who first started to come to South Florida in the early 1930’s as part of my grandfather’s aviation activities.

Below are two shots of my grandparents’ yacht Courier, a Grebe, at the West Palm Beach Marina during the Christmas of 1948.  They eventually moved to Palm Beach in 1957, with us following seven years later. In the background of the upper photo is the Flagler (Royal Poinciana) Bridge, which is in the process of being replaced; behind it (rather washed out) is the Biltmore Hotel.

Below: our first boat, a 36′ Chris Craft, docked at Bimini in 1963.  Since we were living in Chattanooga, TN at the time, it had TN registration.  It cruised both the Tennessee River and and the waters of Florida and the Bahamas.

Bimini is the closest Bahama island to the U.S., and it’s good we chose it to start, as packing four people into a 36′ yacht (?) wasn’t fun then and now.  Note the two flags flying from the bridge: the Bahamian colonial flag and our family burgee.

Our second yacht, a 51′ classic.  Here it’s decked out for Christmas at Ocean Reef in 1965.

Cruising the Little Bahama Bank between West End and the Abacos, the summer before.  Not a visually appealing boat, and dreadfully slow (it cruised at 10 knots,) it was a good in the high seas, which was about to be tested here.   It’s practical virtues got another test when we almost sent it to the bottom off of Eleuthera, as I describe here.

After that near disaster, we felt it wise to have our boat checked out “stateside” to make sure everything was all right under the water line. This video shows the boat at drydock at Rybovich and Sons Boat Works in West Palm Beach, Florida, along with its relaunching.

Right: our cat Buff, a faithful companion on the water, acting as a welcoming committee of one for our second yacht. Domestic cats have a reputation for hating the water, but as long as he didn’t actually end up in it (and the seas weren’t too rough) Buff loved a good cruise. As long as his final destination wasn’t the vet, travel was definitely his “bag,” as they said in that day.

Our last yacht leaving the Palm Beach Inlet, with Singer Island in the background. 65′ long, attractive and comfortable, it nevertheless wasn’t the best craft for a storm, as we found out the hard way. Note that the sea just in front of the beach is a different (brown) colour from what our craft is going through. This is because Lake Worth was badly polluted at that time; when the tide went out, the foul water went with it. The line between the lake effluent and the ocean was usually very crisp, as one can see above. (Photo by Bernice Ransom Studios, Palm Beach.)

A fine crew: the larger the yacht, the larger the crew; our last one usually required two. Elmer “Bud” Curless (left) and Captain James North pose in their dress uniforms. True to form, we had khaki ones for normal duty. It’s fair to say that many people who go into yachting do so to create their own “navy” (or in our case our own coast guard.) Such a pose gives an HMS Pinafore aspect to the whole thing, with one notable exception: both the crew and their employer were not shy about using a “big, big D.” (Photo by Bernice Ransom Studios) (Click here for another view of our bridge, albeit in a “working” mode.)

A boy and his cat: that’s me holding ours as we prepare to take to sea.  Although Buff was pretty good about having “sea legs,” if the motion got rough enough, he’d either get someone to hold him or he’d throw his front paws around my mother’s neck.  In this case we were still in harbour, and the cat expressively signals that the restraint is, well, premature at least.
Slightly overloaded: on our last yacht, we had two dinghys. The smaller of the two is shown at the left. Called a “Dilly Boat,” it was an 8′ long, cathedral hull fibreglass boat, not really suitable for all of the three people occupying it in this photo, taken at the Ocean Reef Resort on Key Largo.One of the things that has changed dramatically since our years on the water is the engine horsepower that propel ships of all sizes in the water. For me, it’s still hard to believe the power that’s put into boats now, large and small, and the speeds they routinely achieve.  However, this craft took slow to a new level.  The outboard motor driving this small craft was only a 3 hp Johnson with a self-contained fuel tank.

More on the family’s yachting and nautical history is here.

Leave a Reply