Saturday, May 13, 2017


Well the old Spring Cleaning bug just got ahold of my bride of 23 years and, girding her loins, she plunged into the attic in a wild de-cluttering frenzy.  My job was to huddle by the small attic door and haul away the numerous Rubbermaid tubs full of long discarded children's clothes, toys and miscellany as she passed them out. Some containers were destined to return to the attic in a more orderly system after a thorough cleaning but most were consigned directly to the dump.

Years of experience have taught me that it's always best to resist the temptation to travel down memory lane, digging through the "dump" pile examining the detritus of the decades and waxing sentimental.  Just keep the lids on and take it straight out.  I was managing this quite admirably when she suddenly shoved out a stainless steel marine barbecue grill and said, "And FINALLY we can get THIS damn thing out of our lives!  You've never once used it as long as I've known you."

"What?!" I cried, "Are you crazy?  That grill belonged to Jimmy Buffett!"

It's true.  It's also true that it has never been fired up since sometime before the end of my second marriage way back in the early 90s.  But there's a story there and I'm loath to let it go.

Back in the summer of 1990, my second ex-wife (a.k.a., the Plaintiff) and I spent a relaxing summer aboard my original schooner Windfall on a mooring in "American Harbor" on Man-O-War Cay, Abaco, Bahamas.  Upon arrival, we found ourselves surrounded by a motley assortment of fellow sailors and it didn't take long before a strong bond formed among us that carried over through our return for the following summer after an intervening winter of charter work in Florida.  Most days were spent spearfishing the reefs on the ocean side of the island.  Most evenings saw the entire population of the anchorage assembled on the deck of our schooner, grilling fish, drinking rum and playing guitars, banjos, bongos, what have you.  At 10 p.m. the island generator shut down and it got dark.  Then we'd all stretch out on the deck as a single-handed schoonerman named John, a former university planetarium director, would take us on a flashlight-guided tour of the heavens. After an inoffensively scholarly discussion of astronomy, the conversation would usually devolve into a discussion of "what's beyond beyond? Where did we come from?  Why are we here?"  Fun!

The senior member of our crowd was a 61-year-old single-hander by the name of H.J. Merrihue.  He was living aboard the 47' Cheoy Lee Luders yawl he'd recently purchased from Jimmy Buffett and was totally refitting for a planned world circumnavigation.  H.J. is among the most interesting people
I've ever known.  He was not only a self-made man but a self-educated one who had amassed a fortune in commercial diving.  H.J. wasn't exactly what's known as a "parrothead."  In fact, as he might have put it, he wouldn't have known Jimmy Buffett if he'd bitten him in the ass.  H.J. had simply found the boat, which Buffet thad named Euphoria III, through a yacht broker and had purchased her.  Although H.J.'s company did major commercial diving jobs all over the world, his headquarters was in New Orleans and his bread and butter had been the maintenance of submarine cables crossing the Mississippi River.  Thus the name he chose for his new purchase: Cable's Length.
I don't know how the boat looked when Buffett owned her but H.J. spared no expense.  He once told me that, when discussing a brightwork job with a potential contractor, if the the latter mentioned sandpaper courser than 400 grit "that was the end of the conversation and I'd find someone else for the job."

I do remember a framed photograph on the saloon bulkhead of Jimmy Buffet tshaking hands with (then President) Jimmy Carter.  Other than that, H.J., like my wife Sundae, was ready to clean house.

I happened to be having a beer in H.J.'s cockpit with H.J. and John the astronomer one day when he suddenly announced:  "I've got a lot of crap on here I need to get rid of.  You guys want any of this stuff?"  The Force 10 stainless gas grill was slightly tarnished and wouldn't do at all.  I agreed to take it off his hands to save him a trip to the dump.  John agreed to remove Buffett's old stereo system.  I guess he can still use the radio but I don't know where he'll find 8-track cassettes!

One man's trash is another man's treasure.  Since I'm thinking of taking my little schooner south this fall, I'm tempted to pack that old grill aboard.  Just might have me a cheeseburger in paradise!


It was late April, 2010 in a boat yard in Bayville, NJ.  I was rolling bottom paint on my newly-purchased Hermann Lazy Jack schooner in preparation for sailing her home to the North Carolina Outer Banks when a car pulled up next to the boat and a friendly, grey-bearded gentleman hopped out and introduced himself with a warm smile.

“Don Launer,” he said. “I live right down the bay and I have a sister ship.  I heard this boat had finally been sold and wanted to come meet the new owner.”

Actually, I knew exactly who he was as soon as he stated his name.  I’d seen plenty of photographs of his Lazy Jack Delphinus  inside and out in the numerous magazine articles he’d published.  It was a real honor to meet him.  We could easily have talked all day, but he was reluctant to keep me standing there with the paint drying on my roller so after giving me a copy of his latest Cruising Guide to New Jersey Waters, he gave me his card, invited me to email him any time I had questions, and drove away.

Although I never saw him again, I had a number of reasons to seek his advice and opinions by the time I docked up in Ocracoke a week later. Our correspondence continued over the next few years.  Every time I’d consult him with a question, I’d get a nearly immediate reply, usually containing photographs and/or an attached article he’d written about the issue at hand. Of all these consultations, one stands out vividly in my memory.

My Lazy Jack, which was built in 1979, has an Edson worm gear steering system. After I’d owned the boat for a couple of years, a strange groaning sound came out from the steering shaft whenever I turned the wheel.  I’d always kept the gear well lubricated, but this sounded like friction somewhere in the system. When liberal applications of WD-40 to every part of the system failed resolve the issue, I decided to consult the manufacturer.
I sat down and wrote an email to the customer service department at Edson.

And then it suddenly occurred to me: WWDLD? (What Would Don Launer Do?)

So I sent a copy of my Edson email to Don.

Later that day I received an email from Edson telling me that, being as old as it was, my steering gear was probably in need of a factory rebuild and if I would provide them with the serial number of my unit, they’d tell me how much it would cost to ship it to them for an overhaul.  Ouch!  Expensive as I knew that would be, it was nothing compared to income loss in the middle of my summer charter season.

But a half-hour later I got the following message from Don:


On the aft side of the steering system just above where the rudder shaft enters it, there’s a square-head screw.  If you tighten that up a bit with a 7/16” wrench, I believe it will take care of your problem.


Needless to say, I hurried down to the boat, opened the hatch over the steering gear and reached in.  I had to work by feel since only a double-jointed dwarf would be able to see the back of the unit.  But sure enough, I immediately located the screw and found that it was loose enough to rotate with my fingers. After tightening it up I’ve had several more years of trouble-free steering.

It’s been over a year now since Captain Don Launer finally “slipped his cable” and sailed on.  As a grey-bearded schoonerman myself in this age of “discard and replace” I recognize in his passing the loss of one of the last of a breed of independent sailors who took pleasure and pride in meeting the day to day challenges of boat ownership.

Fair winds, old friend!