The Brigantine ROMANCE was built of Danish oak and beach in Svendborg, Denmark as the GRETHE in 1936 as an auxiliary powered two masted sailing trading vessel.
Denmark is a nation of islands surrounded by more islands (England and Scotland) and peninsulas (Sweden and Norway) and little of main land Europe in the form of Germany and a
fair amount of rough weather. Until the advent of major road systems well into the post war period much was carried from town to town by small auxiliary sailing ships.
The GRETHE made her living like so many other vessels trading along surprisingly extended routes from all around Europe out even to Greenland.
Small factories and plants up small rivers and harbours needed a steady supply of all the 200 tons that the GRETHE could load and carry.
A ship is built.
This ship was beautifully and powerfully built at the renowned wooden ship yard of J.Ring Andersen. Her deep sea routes and ports where she was occasionally asked to lay on the hard as tides ebbed and flowed demanded the stoutest of construction. The Ring Andersen yard carries on to this day. Her design, lines and construction were little if any different from the legion of stout, sturdy and seaworthy vessels that were built in northern Europe in the early 19th century to sail and trade all around the world year in year out no matter the season or weather. It was for this reason Captain Alan Villiers selected the GRETHE to be refitted as a beautiful brigantine for the upcoming production of the movie of James Michners epic tale of HAWAII.
Captain Allen Villiers.
Villiers had made a name for himself sailing in the last of the European Cape Horners and writing of his experiences giving us many of the books that today put us into the picture of what the last days of sail were about. Villiers went on to buy the little Danish fullrigger sail-training ship, the GEORG STAGE, built in 1885 but now redundant as her replacement was coming into service in 1935 and the foundation had no use for her. Now named the JOSEPH CONRAD after Alan Villiers favorite seaman/author, she sailed around the world producing the book “The Cruise of the CONRAD”. The CONRAD now lays preserved at Mystic Seaport in Connecticut; both that ship and museum return to this tale.
A young Arthur Kimberly goes to sea.
In the meantime our Captain in what would become the Brigantine ROMANCE, and known to us forever more as Skipper was young Arthur Kimberly growing up in eastern Massachusetts and apparently chafing at the bit to get to sea ever since he heard of the loss of the 4-masted bark HERZOGIN CECIELE of Devon, England in 1936. Wrecks seem to do that; instead of invoking fear and avoidance of the calling they simply increase the draw of the call. It seems that “Zeke” was anxious to get to sea under sail. He tried Sea Scouts but that held little charm; too much marching. Soon enough a chance to sail in one of the last Maine coasting schooners came his way, skipper signed on the GEORGE CRESS (sp?) for a spell. These old coasters might have been a bit leaky in those days but you don’t learn the most when everything is perfect, do you? No, we learn when something needs doing, like staying afloat. I don’t know how that story trailed off but after some ocean schooner yacht passages in a sweet schooner called NORDLYS (and still around somewhere) we soon find Skipper signed on the magnificent Swedish 4-masted Bark ABRAHAM RYDBERG as an ordinary seaman. This ship, as the ROMANCE was to so many of us, was the seminal formative seafaring experience for the young mariner. Now, that is story that needs telling. The best I could get out of Skipper was that it was much the same as Eric Newby’s “Last Grain Race” but I would still like to hear Skippers story. His interest was always much more in the ship than his own personal tale. And as we all know ships is what Skipper is about.
World War II
The United States entered World War II on December 8 1941 and so did Skipper. The Merchant Marine, which was losing thousands of tons a week (and men) to German U-boats, needed ships officers. Experienced mariners were getting the accelerated program at King Point Merchant Marine Academy. But here too Skipper found more than just modern ship technology, he found a master rigger, also Swedish and a ship for rigging; the old Barkentine rigged naval gunboat NANTUCKET. A curious vessel but nonetheless the real thing. She was rigged for studding sails too. About Skippers war-time service, I know little, he says it was no big deal but steaming around in tankers in the middle of the war might have been a big deal anyway.
The War is over.
The war came to weary end leaving everybodies world turned upside down. Skipper took a berth in the three masted schooner GUINEVERE. This steel schooner had been used in anti-sub patrol service but was put back into trade as a cargo vessel in the Mediterranean with, maybe, a little smuggling going on too. The next dozen years or so saw Skipper advancing to his Unlimited Masters License, working on the floor in Ted Hood’s Sail loft in Marblehead back when Ted had only one and worked there himself, at Graves Boat yard when they still built wooden yachts as well as sailing in tankers. In the 1950’s these large steamships were navigated no differently than sailing ships of the previous century; sextent, chronometer and a guy who knew just how to use them. All these situations would serve Skipper well in the years to come (and later us too) in the Brigantine ROMANCE. But sailing in tankers endlessly didn’t seem to sit right with Skipper. I don’t know exactly how it came about but the next thing we know is that this deepwater tanker officer, used to making pretty good dough, finds himself the Mate of the famous YANKEE. Capt Irving and Exy Johnson had converted this vessel from a German pilot vessel into a topsail schooner/brigantine just after the war and had made four successful world voyages with her. Now she was sold to Reed Whitney who hoped to carry on in the YANKEE traditions making voyages and taking young people to sea somehow. This they did in the Bahamas and elsewhere and on one of these voyages a halyard winch got away from Skipper and relieved him of an eye. This almost put an end to the story but an airlift over Cuba with Fidel’s permission resulted in the rest of the story.
Enter Gloria Cloutier
Sadly Reed Whitney passed away and the YANKEE was sold by the estate. Skipper, dedicated and principled seaman that he is, stayed with the ship and became the YANKEE’s skipper for Windjammer Cruises. The YANKEE would sail on wonderful 10 day cruises in among the Bahamas and eventually make her way around the world one more time. Actually once and a half. In the Bahamas our Skipper met one Gloria Cloutier from Detroit Michigan sailing in the YANKEE who had become entranced by sailing ships and as she as once told me, it was the loss of the PAMIR in 1957 that, in part, got her attention. Miss Cloutier was to join the YANKEE on her last complete voyage around the world which was sailing under the command of Captain Arthur M. Kimberly. So the YANKEE sailed and things warmed up between Skipper and the future “Mrs. K”. Methinks, however that there had been some sparks together in the Bahama cruises.
At any rate, the nuptials took place aboard the ship that they both loved so much in Tahiti and off they sailed again.
Time for their own ship
After the YANKEE Skipper went on to sail the big beautiful two-masted schooner MANDALAY but at some point the Kimberlys decided to set about getting a ship of their own. They started by getting the rugged 65 footer OLAD (now day-sailing out of Camden Maine) and making sweet Bahamian cruises again. Fine schooner that she is they wanted a real ship, a proper brigantine to range the wide ocean under square sail and give a new generation a chance at deep water sail. So the Kimberlys sailed the OLAD to Mystic Seaport Museum where Skipper became the Chief Rigger there looking after the 1841 whale-ship CHARLES W. MORGAN, the fishing schooner L.A.DUNTON, our old friend the JOSEPH CONRAD and the many other historic sailing craft.
The OLAD was sold and the planning for a new brigantine began. In collaboration with a naval architect Skipper with Mrs.K came up with plans for a beautiful 100’ brigantine. But how to build such a vessel? Even in the mid 1960’s this was going to cost a bundle. While working on figuring out financing the Kimberlys had been writing to yacht and ship brokers to see what was out there and for sale. You never know and at the time there were still all sorts of interesting vessels around that might do…maybe. Well, one day they hit the jack-pot.
Back to Alan Villiers
Now Captain Villiers had written his books on the last Finnish, Swedish and miscellaneous Cape Horners; had gone on to sail the CONRAD around the world, had sailed the MAYFLOWER II to Plymouth, had done a lot of work for the movies whenever they needed a period type ship. He had cooked up a PEQUOD for “Moby Dick” and had supplied many pirate movies with their ships to. Now MGM needed a superior brigantine to sail to Hawaii to be in the Movie with Julie Andrews and Max von Sydow. Budget did not seem to be a problem. Villiers knew just what to do; He went to Denmark, selected the GRETHE of all the vessels available and set out to rerig her as the Brigantine that 23 years of ROMANCE sailors would come to know and love. As I was to learn much later when I lived and worked in Denmark, the refit of the GRETHE was something of a national swan song for the old time marine artisans there. The job was spread around I learned. This ship was truly lovingly rerigged by men pulled out of retirement. The job they did was just about as perfect as could be; rigging, masting, spars, iron-work, decks, taff-rail, flax sails, hemp landyards and all the detailing one could hope for was just right. This could not be said for many movie vessels that were just cheap and dirty; not the GRETHE. Villiers gave her his all and so did the Danish riggers, shipwrights, sailmakers and blacksmiths. And after all Villiers had to sail the ship from Denmark to Hawaii, why would he short change her? Doesn’t make sense. And the square rigged fore-mast of our brigantine is an exact sister to a mast from out of the JOSEPH CONRAD, the old GEORG STAGE, done to the very last detail.
A Brigantine for the sailing
So, one damp, cold, raw New England day the mail came to the Kimberly’s temporary quarters ashore. In this batch of bills and junk mail was a listing for the saltiest brigantine anyone ever laid eyes on. The Movie filming was finished, the brigantine had been sailed to San Diego and put up for sale. The movie company had gotten the footage they wanted and knew that they did not want to get into the business of owning and maintaining 19th century wooden sailing ships so she was priced to move. The next step was to make an offer, get it accepted, quit jobs, pack and go as soon as possible. Within days Captain Arthur and Gloria Kimberly were on the decks of their Brigantine whose name was to be ROMANCE. Partly from their love of the sea and harkening back to a Clipper ship ROMANCE OF THE SEAS the Brigantine found the name she would have for the rest of her life as she gave us the time of our lives.
From 1966 to 1989 the Kimberly’s sailed their beloved, beautiful, salty and seaworthy Brigantine with mostly young men as her crew but even then quite few young women. They sailed on many trips to the Galapagos and the South Pacific, two epic voyages around the world and who knows how many 8-day trips in the Virgin Islands and the Lesser Antilles. No GPS, no Loran, no RDF, no Radar, no single side band radio, no program directors, no office ashore; just their ship, a sextant, a leadline, Skippers knowledge, Mrs. K’s dedication and a whole lot of will power.
The ROMANCE was Skipper and Mrs. K’s ship, their home, their passion, their mission in life and we, the “Wretched Romance Crew”, Skipper’s Marianeros were and remain the prime beneficiaries of their dedication and commitment to ships, the sea and their sweet Brigantine ROMANCE. John Masefield once said that “we will not see such ships again” He was right but he should have added that we will not see such seaman as well
The offshore voyages were as good as it gets for bluewater seafaring but as one who sailed in the islands and off shore in the ROMANCE I have to say that the hard work, the small crew and the ship, sail and gear handling in amongst the close islands of the Virgins taught me as much as the time off-shore deep-sea. In Virgin Islands 3-4 crew would wake up to the galley water-pump, would wash down, scarf breakfast (which Skipper made while listening to VI radio), loose sail, heave up the anchor, set sail, tack up Francis Drake Channel, sail in close hauled to the Bitter End, sail out again the next day, end up at Foxy’s, run boats all night after helping out as stand-in bartender while Foxy played his Calypso, and wash dishes, heave-in the anchor again, paint, tar, varnish, set sail again, tack and wear again, furl sail lat in the evening and do it all again in the morning. We stowed the Awful-Awful, changed out the blasted clutch, sent yards and masts up and own, bent sail and sent sail down, jib-boom in and out, learned to launch the athwartships boat on the stern davits while sailing, we hauled braces, did we ever haul braces. And that anchor windlass; clink, clink, clink. I remember on puffy faced lad fresh from our crimp at Kalamazoo when completely out of breath his first or second day onboard said “this was pretty good” the lad was clearly dying. I had no given the windlass much thought, it just was. But this new shipmate, coughing sweating, wheasing and looking kind of cardiac was appreciating this windlass that many found reason to curse; I asked to him to expand, clink, clink, clink. Then he said “can you imagine how hard this would be without this windlass?” Good point. Those were the days when we had calloused hands, sun bronzed backs and bellies you could light match on from the anchor windlass.
In the ROMANCE under Skipper and more than a little help from Mrs. K we sailed in the best trade winds in the world throughout the world; down islands in the blue Caribbean to Grenada, Cariacou, Bequia, St Vincent, St Lucia, Martinique, Dominica, Guadeloupe, Antigua, Montserrat, Nevis-St Kitts, Statia, St Barts, St Martin, Anguilla and the Virgin Islands of Tortola, Norman, Peter, Salt, Cooper, Ginger, Virgin Gorda and of course Santo Thomas and Jost van Foxy’s. One summer trip we sailed on an enchanting voyage to the “Unknown Caribbean”; Curacao, Bonaire, Cartegena, San Blas, Cozumel, Yucatan, and the Bahamas. The ROMANCE sailed to the great convocation of sailing ships in Quebec in 1985, quite a change from the Tropics!
If you made one of the world voyages you experienced long deep sea passages often under stunsls as did the explorers, whale ships and south seas traders; Grenada, San Blas, Panama, Galapagos, Pitcairn, Marqueses, Tuamotus, Tahiti – Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea, BoraBora, Rarotonga, Palmerston, Saomoa, Tokulaus, Fiji, New Hebridies, Solomons, Borneo, Singapore, Java, Bali, Cocos Keeling, Seychelles, Commoroes, Durban and Cape Town – South Africa, Rio de Janero, Fernando de Noronha and more. The places we sailed were awesome but the ship was the thing. The ship came first and that was the most valuable lesson to learn.
So now we old ROMANCE sailors convene once again on the decks of a sailing ship, one in particular that owes her very existence to that sturdy brigantine. But she is not the only one. Where would OCEAN CLASSROOM FONDATION schooners be without Bert Rogers at the con? How about the sch A.J.MEERWALD with Meghan Wren. And then we needed to get the monster Brig NIAGARA going and tasked to get a crew who could really get things done aloft in a square rigger Brian Donnelly and I rounded up every Marinero we could latch onto including the Marinero in Chief, Skipper himself. The NIAGARA is as much an enduring legacy as one could dream of for one little ship.
Sadly for us all our Brigantine ROMANCE is gone. After almost 60 years of remarkable service and well on her way to a finished rebuild in West End Tortola,
that stout Danish trader/movie star/world voyager had her back broken in a devastating hurricane in 1995, beyond repair.
There was no choice but to give her up.While being towed out to sea she got away from her tug and now she rests in the waters of the British Virgin Islands
but we do not know just where....