I was a member of the Wretched Crew from October through December 1974. Dan Moreland was the mate, and I overlapped with Mike Graff and Robie Price (and another Beloit student whose name I can't remember and a Grenadian whose first name was Clary).
At the time, I was a student at Antioch College, which has a work-study program. I had read about the Romance in a travel magazine, Relax, that I happened to see in a friend's house. An article featured several "tall ships." I wrote to Capt. Kimberly and received a long, handwritten letter in reply inviting me to join the ship in Grenada and offering the usual $90 per month plus room and board.
I joined the ship at the Grenada Yacht Club in St. George's, where she was waiting out the hurricane season and undergoing repairs in preparation for eight-day cruises in the Virgin Islands. I came to the ship at night and met Capt. Kimberly and Gloria. The next morning, when I went out on deck, I couldn't believe my luck. The Romance was more beautiful and traditional than I had hoped! I had worked on other ships, but never anything like this.
I sailed with the ship from Grenada to St. Thomas. The voyage was broken into several eight-day trips for passengers. We stopped in at Carriacou, Bequia, St. Vincent, St. Lucia, Martinique, Dominica, Guadeloupe, Montserrat, Antigua, St. Kitts and St. Martin on the way.
I have many vivid memories of my time aboard:
"If God is dead, then who's that living in my soul?" (The Skipper walking around on deck, singing that song, while we were waking up in the galley.)
The manual-pump head. The salt-water smell of the toilet. The passengers' shock at being introduced to the manual-pump head and the salt-water smell of the toilet.
The smell of the galley. The cockroaches in the galley. The cockroaches running all over our bodies as we slept in our cots in the galley. The pots and pans flying around when the wind blew. The dampness of our thin little mattresses. My feet touching the feet of one of the other crew as we slept.
The smell of the diesel engine. The jaunty tilt of the exhaust stack.
The smell of the linsead oil with which we oiled the masts.
The dizzying height of the masts at first. The challenge of getting over the futtock shrouds.
No harnesses! No safety belts! No helmets! No life jackets! No protective eyewear!
The vast market in St. George's.
The nascent New Jewel political movement in Grenada, which later came to power and was ousted in the U.S. invasion.
Meeting American medical students who were studying in Grenada. (Their safety was later one of the issues in the U.S. invasion.)
Sleeping on deck during hot nights in Grenada, hearing a distant radio from shore playing, over and over, "I'm Not Going to Be Your Standby Love." Sudden squalls soaking everyone on deck. We'd jump up and dive below with our bedding, which always got wet anyway.
The Skipper's annoyance the shoddy sewing of the Grenadian sail maker who had made a sail for the Romance.
In Grenada (I think), watching the Skipper and Robie Price crawling around on all fours in some large building, laying out and cutting canvas for new sails.
Watching a steel band practice near the Careenage in St. George's. It was night and the band members were under a tin roof, and Mike Graff and I were watching from a nearby slope. For illumination, there were lanterns made of burning wicks sticking out of the necks of beer bottles that had been filled with kerosene.When the lights burned low, the players would quickly turn the bottles over to wet the wicks and then right them again, and the wicks would burn brightly. The music was otherworldly.
Crossing the Careenage in the skiff, sometimes giving local people rides.
The the local carpenters in Grenada who brought their antique hand tools in an overloaded skiff every day and worked on the ship, caulking and drilling and shaping and fixing things.
Drinking Cokes at the GYC. Calling my girlfriend, Virginia, on the GYC pay phone.
The Lilly was at the GYC also - another Ring Andersen vessel, a yacht owned by the head of the Eli Lilly company, I believe.
There was another Ring Andersen vessel there, appropriately named the Ring Andersen.
The Skipper returning from yet another miserable visit to the dentist in Grenada and telling us that the dentist had asked him for a job on the Romance! Doesn't give you a lot of confidence in the dentist.
Nutmeg ice cream at Best Lait (?) on the waterfront in St. George's. It was delicious, but it was only rarely available. We would order it, the waitress would take the order, the waitress would disappear, the waitress would reappear, the waitress would say, "No nutmeg." So we would order chocolate, the waitress would take the order, the waitress would disappear, the waitress would reappear, the waitress would say, "No chocolate." And so on for what seemed like hours.
The Skipper chided us crew members for going out for ice cream on our nights off instead of going to a bar.
While we were laid up in Grenada, scraping and sanding and painting the blocks and hanging them on lines to dry.
Worming, parceling, serving and tarring the standing rigging (and tarring myself in the process).
Mike Graff painting the spars, and the fresh paint blistering in the Caribbean sun, and the Skipper becoming enraged about the blisters. (We should have put a canopy over the newly painted wood.)
Jabbing soda cans with my knife so that they would sink when we threw them overboard. Missing the can one time and slicing open my left thumb. It healed (eventually).
Getting a skin ulcer on my shin from a rope burn. The ulcer festered for weeks. I knew I needed antiobiotics, so in St. Thomas I found a doctor, but I took one look at the dirty office and said thank you very much and never went back. The ulcer eventually healed after I went back to Connecticut.
The awesome Dan Moreland, the mate. He could do anything.
An elderly passenger, in socks and sandals, jogging around the deck every day.
Sitting in the fore top with a passenger, looking out over the expanse of Atlantic Ocean between Caribbean islands, knowing that he envied me my job as a member of the Wretched Crew.
The endless search for water. Catching rain water in the tarp. Going ashore in the skiff at Martinique or Guadeloupe with dozens of empty plastic jugs, looking for a source of drinking water, and being taken by a local islander to a stream where women were washing their clothes. Fortunately, we later found a faucet.
Taking a cab into the hills in Martinique and buying a pineapple from a woman on the side of the road and watching her cut it with an ordinary kitchen knife that had been honed to a razor edge.
The blond-haired African-descended people living on Carriacou.
The whaling station at Bequia.
Meeting and visiting the gorgeous Boston schooner Pilot somewhere in the Caribbean.
Catching lobsters by hand somewhere near Grenada.
Catching dolphin fish and watching their rainbow colors fade to gray as they lay dying on the deck.
Dolphins playing in the bow wave during a night voyage. They churned up the bioluminescent microbes in the water and so were outlined in ghostly green beneath the surface.
Coming up on deck from sleep after a nighttime squall and trying to figure out which rope was which and where everything belonged.
Watching for fish traps from the bowsprit - my all-time favorite job (except helmsman).
Vomiting endlessly when the weather was heavy. Nothing stopped the vomit. I carried a bucket with me at all times.
The Skipper's "clogs" - cutoff rubber boots.
Throwing the lead from the chains. Calling out the depths.
Dropping anchor somewhere in the Virgin Islands and looking down and seeing the anchor lying on the bottom, perfectly clear, in about 30 feet of water, as though it were in glass.
Soaping up and shampooing and jumping into the Caribbean to wash.
Clary, the Grenadian who had joined the crew in Grenada, had never set a table before and put out the forks and knives and spoons upside down at the place settings. He greatly annoyed the Skipper by calling him "Skip." He left the ship in Tortola.
The anchor winch, or, as the Skipper called it, "Clink clink."
Lashing a bush to the masthead for Christmas.
Furling the royal all alone, way up there. What a view!
One of my occasional duties was standing on the hot engine taking it in and out of forward and reverse gear. I think there was something wrong with the engine, and the only way to put it in forward, neutral or reverse was to stand on the engine and spin a big horizontal steel wheel. One day, as we approached an unfamiliar anchorage on a lee shore, I was standing on the engine watching the Skipper, who, in his cutoff rubber boots and shorts, stood in the rigging where I could see him through the skylight, giving me hand signals. He was nervous about the anchorage and the lee shore, and with his hand signals, he kept directing me to put the engine in gear, take it out of gear, etc., to slow the ship down. The problem was, it was getting to be evening, and he was getting harder and harder to see through the grimy, sooty glass of the skylight. Then suddenly, before I knew it, I couldn't see him at all. The next thing I knew, he came thundering out of the rigging and along the deck and into the engine room, where he jumped up on the engine, literally knocked me off into the bilge, and took the engine out of gear. He had evidently been signaling to me, but I hadn't seen the signals because of the darkness and the dirty glass.
The day I left the ship in St. Thomas, after Christmas, the Skipper took me ashore in the skiff and gave me what I considered to be the greatest compliment. He said, "You were a good crew, Andrew."
I sat in the Orange Julius near the water in Charlotte Amalie looking at the anchored ship and realizing what a great experience the past three months had been.