Two Schooners

“Two Schooners”

 

As a young lad growing up in the West Indies I was lucky to have a father who was in the yacht Charter business. In fact dad was a pioneer in the industry and he, along with men like Greg Nico, Lou Kennedy, and Irving Johnson really started the whole thing after the Great War. They were able to buy large sailing yachts for a few thousand dollars and there seemed to be an endless supply of folks willing to pay to sail the unspoiled Caribbean on them.

At one time in the late sixties and early seventies we owned two remarkable sailing vessels, Ramona and Le Voyageur. Both were steel Hereshoff schooners built in 1918 and 1921 respectively. Lovely 138 ft schooners with 24 beam and about 15ft draft, they each had an outside lead ballast keel of more than 50 tons. As well as being extremely luxurious they were very fast. They had superb sailing qualities befitting their pedigree both being Weatherly and excellent in light airs. With a good deck gang they handled very well and were not prone to “Loggy” tacking as some of their cousins were.

The Ramona made a record in the transpac some years prior to our ownership and logged some 367 nautical miles in 24 hrs. The Le Voyageur, under her previous name Mariette was the only schooner other than the famed Bluenose to beat the great American challenger Gertrude L Thebaud.

The two schooners although 100% alike in hull shape, tonnage, rudder and ballast, had different rigs. The Ramona was gaff rigged and the Le Voyageur Marconi. Ramona’s gaff rig was slightly larger in total square footage and her main in particular was bigger. The Voyageur’s fisherman topsail which flew above the main staysail was much larger than the Ramona’s. The voyageur’s larger balloon jib was bigger as well than the Ramona’s traditional jib topsail.

Every year before the start of the winter charter season the two schooners would be anchored at their home port of Marigot Bay St. Lucia and my Father and Capt. Dressel would be selecting and training up their crews for the upcoming season. This involved a number of training days up and down the coast and what better way to put a shine on a new gang than let them race, and that we did.

Dawn saw us up and getting ready for sea. Laying out the running rigging and hoisting boats. Ties out of topsails and putting twine stops in the fisherman. Close all portholes and then the two skippers would give the order to heave anchor with a small circular motion of their fingers.

The Ramona and Le Voyageur would heave anchor early in the morning and round up to set sail in the lee of the island. They were an awesome sight, these tall sparred ocean valkyries sailing close hauled under full sail to the north and then running downwind to the west of the island. I was lucky enough to sail on both schooners over the training periods and the thrill of those balmy island days with two of the finest schooners ever to grace the water doing battle before the brisk trade winds is indelibly etched in my mind.

We raced the two schooners a number of times to the west of St Lucia and into the Martinique channel. We compared them on all points as well, running off reaching and close hauled. Although the results were slightly in the Ramona’s favor, the schooners were a close match indeed with neither the Ramona nor the Voyageur ever taking a big lead. The gaff rigged Ramona clearly did better on any point reaching or off the wind while the Marconi rigged Voyageur seemed to point a bit higher and was able to hold her speed a little closer to the wind. My recollection is that the gaff rigged Ramona was slightly ahead more of the time.

The surprise came when the skippers changed ships one day. My father who had been sailing the Ramona took the Voyageur and gave Ramona to the younger Joel Dressel who had been sailing the Voyageur. The Voyageur did better on that day. It was clear that the performance of two closely matched schooners depended on the skill and experience of the skipper.

Although I could not have realized it back then, it was the only time that these two lovely Nathaniel Greene Hereshoff sisters would ever test each other in the warm waters of the West Indies. I was truly a fortunate young fellow to have been part of it.

Mariette II

JaneenChapt 3 Ramona shows her speed on a close reach

 

 

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