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A Sailor's Life

Sailing Yachts - Rhode Island, Warren Trafton image Life Under Sail, Warren Trafton

Like Richard Henry Dana, I was born in Cambridge on the banks of the Charles River. Richard left his studies at Harvard in 1834 hoping that a sea voyage would restore his failing eyesight. He shipped out of Boston as a common seaman on board the PILGRIM bound for the Pacific. Two years later he returned to Harvard and wrote the classic tale, Two Years Before the Mast. This story of sailing adventure, and hardship should be read and cherished by all sailors.

A family photo shows me at age two playing in the surf on Hampton Beach not far from Portsmouth, New Hampshire where my great grandfather, Alfred S. Trafton was a shipsmith in the days of the great clipper ships. His obituary in 1898 read, "The deceased was one of the famous shipsmiths of which but few now survive.” It was Trafton Brothers Shipsmiths established 1850 and in 1866 a two hundred ton schooner was launched in the Piscattaqua River named for the younger brother, the TIMOTHY JAMES TRAFTON (102’ on deck, 29’ beam, 11’draft). On December 21, 1879 she rounded Race Point carrying 300 tons of coal from New York bound for Boston. There was a winter storm and as she sought shelter in Provincetown a huge wave took down the masts and left the schooner awash. Captain Eaton and his crew of five launched the open boat and sailed down wind in heavy snow and breaking seas across Cape Cod Bay landing on the beach at Ellisville south of Plymouth.

Sailing Yachts - Rhode Island, Warren Trafton image Another great grandfather, Malcolm Adams, was born in Cape Breton and came down to Boston in 1853 where he had a long career as a mariner (common seaman). Malcolm married Bridget Fitzgerald. They had thirteen children all baptized in the Old Saint Stephen’s Church. Their eleventh child, Emma, was my grandmother who married a young shipsmith from Portsmouth, James Timothy Trafton. He was employed at the Old Boston Navy Yard now, in part, a thirty-acre National Park, home to the USS CONSTITUTION, often referred to as “Old Ironsides”- the oldest commissioned naval vessel in the world.

Sailing Yachts - Rhode Island, Warren Trafton image As a boy, I watched the endless parade of freighters carrying iron ore down the channel on Lake St. Clair heading to the steel mills in Detroit and Cleveland. Among them was the famous 729’EDMUND FITZGERALD, launched in 1958 that sank in a November storm on Lake Superior. The tragic sinking was immortalized in Gordon Lightfoot's song, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. When the St. Lawrence Seaway opened in 1959 the Great Lakes welcomed ships flying flags from around the world.

Sailing Yachts - Rhode Island, Warren Trafton image I was always building another boat from scrap lumber that would take me for an adventure out on the lake. Popular Mechanics Magazine was my source of plans and inspiration.

The first real sail was on a 28' Modern Catboat. An afternoon thunderstorm blew in and the elderly skipper calmly anchored, dropped sail, and we crawled under the fore deck where we ate our sandwiches and listened to the wind and rain. We sailed home in the sunshine.

Just for fun, I turned my Sunfish into a sloop – Wet & Wild!

Crescent Sail Yacht Club was the most active sailing club on the lake and I was invited to crew on the many racing dinghies. It is hard to recall how active small boat sailing was then. There were so many classes and so many boats: Dragons, Crescents, Interlakes, International 14s, Folkfboats, Lightnings, Penguins, Racing Scows, Ravens, Snipes, Thistles. Before long I was sailing almost every day and not just in the summer. There was frostbiting in the spring and fall, then down to St. Petersburg for mid winter regattas.

Sailing Yachts - Rhode Island, Warren Trafton image In 1960 the Traftons chartered ONWARD III a 61’ Alden Schooner built in 1931. We enjoyed an extended cruise through the Virgin Islands. It was fantastic! In many anchorages ONWARD was the only vessel. The captain, Hardy Wright, and his deck hand Sinclair were picture perfect, highly competent, and fun. I will never forget our great sail through Anagada Passage at eleven knots under full canvas. Brilliant sunshine, purple blue ocean – I was hooked. A decade later, my parents moved to St. Croix where they lived for twenty five years. Hardy Wright became the Harbor Master in Christiansted.

Sailing Yachts - Rhode Island, Warren Trafton image

At the wheel of ONWARD III sailing in the British Virgin Islands under the watchful eye of Sinclair on my 16th birthday.

Below, I say goodbye to Carlos and Roberto who are returning home to Rio after the Penguin Championship.

Sailing Yachts - Rhode Island, Warren Trafton image In August, 1961, Crescent Sail YC hosted the Penguin International Championship. Penguins were a popular 11’ racing dinghy designed by Phil Rhodes. I was building a Penguin but it was not finished in time for the regatta. So, I crewed for Jerry Jenkins. Jerry was the keenest sailor I’ve ever known. We managed to finish second losing to the local favorites Otto Scherer and his bride to be carol Kibiger. They had both graduated from the University of Michigan engineering school that spring. Defending champion Gardner Cox of Philadelphia came in third.

A tall eighteen-year old from San Diego, Dennis Conner, finished fourth. Dennis became the world famous skipper of 12 meter yachts racing in defense of the America’s Cup. He and his crew had driven out from California with the dinghy lashed on the roof of there old car which they slept in declining offers of hospitality in Grosse Pointe mansions.

Two young sailors from Rio Dejanero, Carlos Henrique Belchoir, and Roberto Marquis Nunes, were our houseguests. It was a wonderful regatta – a wonderful year. Ah, to be seventeen again, sailing, and driving my mother’s Porsche.

Sailing Yachts - Rhode Island, Warren Trafton image Eventually, I was happy to graduate to the keelboats such as Dragons and Folkboats, and then I was invited to crew on the big boats - offshore racers. My first race on a big boat was aboard the famous New York 32 GENTIAN. Designed by Sparkman & Stephens, 45’ on deck, she was magnificent. As the youngest member of the crew, my job was to operate the 5’ levers on the running backstays. These were real knuckle crunchers. I was never so embarrassed as when I failed to engage the weather running backstay fast enough in a tacking duel and the tack had to be aborted. Forty years later, I saw a lovely old boat in disrepair on the hard at New England Boatworks in Portsmouth, RI. I climbed up to take a look and at the top of the ladder I saw the name in weathered gold leaf on the side of the cabin trunk, GENTIAN! She was then trucked to York, Maine where she was restored to her former glory in time for the 75th anniversary of Sparkman & Stephens. My ancestor, Thomas Trafton, was a fisherman who arrived from Cornwall in 1642 and settled in York, Maine where he established the first ferry across the York River.

Thomas K. Fisher, of the Fisher Body clan, was given a New York 32 on his eighteenth birthday, which he named APACHE. In the 1930’s sailing was reported on the society page not the sports page and after turning twenty one Tom decided to shoulder family responsibilities and perhaps return to sailing later in life which he did in the early 1960’s aboard a new Cal 40, CONQUEST. The Cal 40 was an exciting new design and I was fortunate to join the crew. My specialty was flying the spinnaker. We raced to Mackinaw Island and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves for two halcyon summers sailing with Captain Fisher and his son Tom. We were tanned and yachty with a sailing uniform and a going ashore to the yacht club uniform.

Sailing Yachts - Rhode Island, Warren Trafton image Sailing is not all about racing. Cruising is another world of adventure, discovery, and camaraderie. John Carter, my boyhood friend, refused to have anything to do with racing, although he was the sailing instructor at the Grosse Pointe YC, and Bayview YC. He taught the kids to have fun, and we just loved to go sailing. Our parents never objected when we disappeared for a week or two on a camp-sailing adventure.

John Carter motoring his beloved Folkboat, built in Denmark in 1952. He has owned her for twenty-five years. Now retired, John sails KLEINE BEAR on Lake St. Clair almost every day in the summer.

Sailing Yachts - Rhode Island, Warren Trafton image
The North Channel region of Lake Huron is to the Great Lakes what Maine is to New England. Of course, a New Englander will not believe that the North Channel can rival Penobscot Bay but it does. This is all Canadian waters, all Indian reservation, and only accessible by boat or seaplane – remote and wild. Hundreds of islands arrayed in fresh clean water you can drink right out of the lake. Impressive shoulders of land rise six to seven hundred feet above the Bay of Fin, a glacial fiord. The high ground is topped with white granite that looks like snow in the middle of summer. The water is cold and don’t be alarmed by the water snakes. The Canadian charts only showed dotted lines to indicate the rough outline of the islands. We were always either lost or relatively unsure of our location. This was all part of the adventure and when you are camp- sailing in a seventeen-foot centerboard sloop it did not matter anyway because you had the option to pull in almost anywhere and fold out your cot for the night.

Sailing Yachts - Rhode Island, Warren Trafton image Following college, and two years as a schoolteacher, it was time for me to prioritize my young family and a business career. I left sailing and Michigan behind for an opportunity in Kansas. Yes, Kansas. Well, I soon found that Kansans are an interesting bunch and they do sail there. Kansas is not well endowed with water but they do have wind, an average wind speed of 14 knots the same as San Francisco Bay. At that time the Snipe Class was the largest in the world. To win the International Championship once you had to be a sailing wiz and lucky. A banker from Wichita, Ted A. Wells, won the International Championship three times! They now call it the Wells Trophy. He wrote one of the best books ever on sailboat racing, Scientific Sailboat Racing.

Sailing Yachts - Rhode Island, Warren Trafton image After two years in Kansas, an opportunity lured me to St. Louis one state to the east, and on the Big Muddy. In 1974 I bought a Wind Surfer. There were only two other Wind Surfing aficionados in the state: Tom Porter, and Bill Kieffer, who lived a block away. The Wind Surfing venue for the threesome was Carlyle Lake which that year hosted the Yachting Magazine One Design Regatta. Whom did we meet at the Regatta but Robbie Nash, the thirteen year old from Hawaii who was the International Wind Surfing Champion. We were thrilled to be Wind Surfing with that youthful guru.

Sailing Yachts - Rhode Island, Warren Trafton image The Hobie16 Catamarans were very active sailing off the beach at Carlyle Lake. They enjoyed a six-month season averaging twelve boats for two races every Sunday. I bought a Hobie16 for some really fun racing. At 12 knots you hardly have time to think. Unlike monohulls, you can readily pass competitors on each leg of the course. The second season we had half as many points as our nearest competitor winning the fleet championship and coming in second in the Great Lakes Regionals. Awesome!

Fleet Champion 1978 The races had been cancelled due to high winds and a fast approaching thunder storm. We went for a quick sail anyway, and just after this photo was taken both pontoons submerged launching me and my crew forward off the Hobie in a spectacular capsize.

Sailing Yachts - Rhode Island, Warren Trafton image At last, in 1979 I returned to big water living on the shore of Lake Erie. We joined the Vermilion Boat club and I became the proud owner of an Alberg 23. It was a cross between a Sea Sprite and an Ensign. I liked this little yacht so much that in 1981 I sailed her to Buffalo, then through the NY Barge Canal, down the Hudson, through the Harlem River, out Long Island Sound to the Thames Yacht Club in New London. My son and I took an April vacation cruising to our new home in Connecticut. We holed up for two days in the lee of Sturgeon Point waiting for a 35-knot westerly blow to subside. Finally, in the afternoon we set the spinnaker and blasted down to Buffalo in the largest seas I lave ever seen and that includes two trans Atlantic crossings. There are forty-nine bridges and locks to navigate on the Old Erie Canal as it winds between the Catskills and the Adirondacks, and then the mast goes up to sail down the Hudson.

Sailing Yachts - Rhode Island, Warren Trafton image I was thrilled to be sailing in New England! This is the best overall sailing venue in the world: So many historic / seafaring destinations, charming islands, fast flowing tidal currents, great summer winds, and legendary yachting events.

Sailing out of the Thames Y C through Fishers Island sound for eleven years gave me many fond memories. At the right is the schooner BRILLIANT reefed down on her way home to Mystic Seaport after winning the Opera Cup Race in Nantucket Sound. She was designed by Olin Stephens for Walter Barnum (P. T. Barnum's cousin), and launched in 1932. In 1933 she made a trans Atlantic crossing in 15 days!

Sailing Yachts - Rhode Island, Warren Trafton image At the left is my son Warren III on the beach at TYC where he learned to sail, and made many friends. He bought a Blue Jay from Peter Johnstone for club racing. The Blue Jay is the smallest boat designed by Sparkman Stephens, and Peter is the nephew of Rodney Johnstone designer of the popular
J-Boats.

Sailing Yachts - Rhode Island, Warren Trafton image In 1986 I became the proud new owner of a Tartan 30, WINDHOVER, hull #116 also designed by Sparkman Stephens. This boat has never disappointed me in any way. She is strong, seaworthy, and a delight to sail. Here she is ready for the holiday festivities in Essex, CT.

The annual torch light, Holiday Parade in Essex passing the Griswold Inn then down to Steamboat Dock to see the decorated boats on the Connecticut River is not to be missed.

In the summer of '92 WINDHOVER cruised to Maine. I have a vivid memory of the Humpback Whale that breached right next to the boat south of Isle Au Haut. Then I cruised to the Bahamas for the winter.

Sailing Yachts - Rhode Island, Warren Trafton image At left is WINDHOVER on Christmas Day 1992 anchored off the Thunderball Cave at Staniel Cay in the Exumas where we enjoyed the hospitality of the Staniel Cay Yacht Club. I went ashore early to stroll through the small village of pastel houses with doors and shutters but no windows or screens. The faithful were filing out of the small church in their Sunday best and then lining up to visit at each of their neighbors’ houses for holiday cheer. The young boys ran about lighting fire crackers.
The church overlooks the harbor, and after services, Reverend Kelley usually visited the yacht club for a cold beer. Snorkeling in the Thunderball Cave was spectacular! It was easy to see how this had been chosen for the James Bond movie from which the name Thunderball was derived.

Sailing Yachts - Rhode Island, Warren Trafton image The Bahamas is the only country in the world that has declared sailing to be the national sport. Everyone is encouraged to participate. Here are two of the "Island Sloops" on the beach at Staniel Cay being fitted out for the annual New Years Day Race. LADY MURIEL is one of the fastest of the 28' waterline class. These sloops are very fast with sliding seats to get the crew well out to weather in order to fly a large sail plan. The visiting cruising yachts are invited to race the locals. Dennis Posey from Essex, CT was the winner in his New York 40, FIREBRAND but only by a narrow margin due to a wind shift. WINDHOVER finished sixth out of 26 contenders and won third place under PHRF. Great dinner and awards ceremony at the Club. What fun!

Sailing Yachts - Rhode Island, Warren Trafton image After the summer cruise to Maine, and the winter in the Bahamas, I returned to a consulting assignment in Providence. The Village of Wickford became my new home. This quiet sailor's enclave of historic houses clustered around a well protected harbor with easy access to Narragansett Bay is just about perfect.

Then in the summer of '94 I became the Senior Instructor in Newport for the Offshore Sailing School. We taught "learn to sail" in engine-less Solings - Great people and great sailing in a harbor that is the scenic Sailing Capitol of the World.

Above is a photo, taken by a student, of me teaching in the cockpit of the Hunter 40 that we used in the summer of '95 to teach "Live Aboard Cruising". A surprising number of the graduating students bought their own yacht.
So, I decided to seguway from teaching sailing to brokering sailing yachts.

Sailing Yachts - Rhode Island, Warren Trafton image Here is an aerial view of Wickford and the harbor entrance from Narragansett Bay. The red arrow points to my island retreat where I keep a sailing dinghy, hammock, and lounge chairs to enjoy the summer sea breeze. From the island I can see WINDHOVER swinging at her mooring in Mill Cove.

Sailing Yachts - Rhode Island, Warren Trafton image Here is the Dyer 12.5' landing at the Island after a sail around Wickford. I replaced the original rig with one from an Escape. The sail rolls around the mast and has a Garry Hoyt boom. No rig could be simpler. Simple is best!

Sailing Yachts - Rhode Island, Warren Trafton image
The most recent photo of WINDHOVER was taken in October '08 by my friend and fellow yacht broker, Jeff Rice.

Sailing Yachts - Rhode Island, Warren Trafton

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