A rite of passage for Passages
Passages, a bluewater ketch that has provided safe transport on distant voyages, has been a long-term liveaboard home for 65-year-old Harold Erickson. This 41- foot cruiser took control of his life in 1980 when new, then sent him on another direction in life in 1991 when he met Peg Egan and they sailed off together.
Now their long and happy sea voyaging together appears to be coming to an end in Annapolis, Md., and the vessel is for sale. It is a bittersweet time for the married couple.
Passages, a one-owner yacht, is a classic full-keel Sea Wolf design of William Garden’s. She was built in 1979 by C.T. Chen of Ta Chiao Yachts in Taiwan when the labor rate was 60 cents an hour. Erickson took delivery of his new floating home in Brooklyn, N.Y., with an aim of setting up a daysailing business in Manhattan. But he eventually fell in love with long distances.
When Passages arrived in Annapolis in early August at a public mooring with a “For Sale” sign and cell phone number hanging from her lifelines, it seemed there might be a story to pursue, and Erickson and I soon began communicating.
There is nothing unusual about cruising yachts coming into Annapolis bearing such signage, especially during October’s famed sailboat show at the City Dock. The drill for cruisers is to grab a mooring within sight of those attending the show in hopes of making a sale.
Erickson is passionate about his boat, which is his passion, and he faces a turning point of saying goodbye to a beloved object that has served him well for many years. When he thinks about this parting, a profound sadness comes over his already sad face, and his eyes and mouth droop in despair.
“My goodness,” he says in a soft, gentle voice, “there is so much to say about this boat I hardly know where to begin. This is my home and my escape to adventure. Contrary to that old saying about the two happiest times in a boater’s life, this is definitely not the happiest time in my life. This boat has been my whole reason for existence for almost 25 years.”
I told him if she was just another boat for sale, there wouldn’t be a story for me to write. But this is the end of a man’s wayward way of life, and he’s selling that life, having listed Passages for $149,750.
The boat shows Erickson’s compulsive urge toward meticulous boatwork. There isn’t a corner that he hasn’t visited in his pursuit of maintenance. “Our lives depend upon maintaining the seaworthy condition of this boat, so we don’t take that work lightly,” he says.
Passages also got him his second wife when he met Egan in her Charleston, S.C., coffee shop and awakened in her an old, frustrated interest in long-distance cruising. They married, she sold the shop, and they sailed away to Maine. By 1996 they were in Bermuda.
They have done two trans-Atlantics and cruised the Canadian Maritimes, the Caribbean, Europe, the North Atlantic islands, and along the coast of sub- Saharan Africa.
After a six-year circumnavigation of the Atlantic, they came in to Palm Beach, Fla., from Aruba last December with the intention of becoming dirt dwellers.
“We had reached a mutual agreement to put the boat up for sale in Aruba, and we met someone there who decided to buy her,” Erickson recalls. “When we left to deliver the boat in Florida to her new owner we thought it would be our last voyage together. We cried a lot during that final ocean passage.”
Once they arrived in Florida, however, they learned that the prospective owner had had a heart attack, and the deal was off.
This gave them another chance to evaluate their decision to sell. “I was not at all sure I wanted to go through with this and change my life so drastically,” says Erickson. “But facts are facts. Maintaining the boat to my standards has been an expensive proposition, and I no longer feel quite as confident going up the spruce masts [the mainmast is 52 feet] to varnish as I did when I was younger.”
But an even bigger pull away from voyaging is an urge to be near children from previous marriages and grandchildren. So they bought 2 acres of undeveloped land on a creek in New Bern, N.C., where they may — or may not — build a small bungalow. It all depends upon the sale of Passages.
“We are sad about losing Passages because she is irreplaceable and we know we will never have a boat like her again, although we intend to buy a much smaller sailboat,” says Egan, who is 55. “But we are also excited about our new adventure — enjoying our children and grandchildren, some of whom hardly know us because we’ve been off cruising.”
They have friends in Charleston who own and operate the 15 Church Street Bed and Breakfast in a historic 1842 house. “Maybe we’ll stay with them for a while and help out while we decide what to do on land, which is different from determining where you’re going and what you’re going to do on your next sea voyage,” says Egan. “They call us their homeless friends.”
Under way at sea for long periods on a boat of this size, there is always something to do. The boat has no refrigeration, “but we can sustain ourselves for three months at sea,” she says.
There is an impressive Web site for Passages at www.passagesclassicketch.com that lists the complete inventory of a 13-ton vessel ready for sea. In addition to 12 sails, the ground tackle alone includes a 65-pound Yachtsman, a 60-pound CQR, a 45-pound Bruce, a 35-pound HT Danforth, a 32-pound Fortress, and a 20-pound folding grappling hook.
Pieces of equipment are numerous, including a spare prop, prop puller, flexible drive coupling, and parts and filters for a Yanmar 3QM30 72-hp engine and other parts. The list goes on and on.
A teak deck glued over fiberglass was added in Trinidad in 2002, where labor costs were lower. All standing rigging was replaced in 1994 with hightech low-stretch Dyform stainless wire said to be 30 percent stronger than other rigging. A Lloyds survey was done just last year.
One item they won’t part with is their 9-foot sailing/ rowing Sumnercraft with three rowing stations that also doubles as a lifeboat. “I bought this Arthur Sumner-designed dinghy in 1975 at the New York Boat Show,” says Erickson. “It has a keel but no centerboard and is unsinkable. In fact, even when filled with water it can be bailed out from inside.”
Erickson operated Passages as a six-passenger charter yacht out of the 79th Street Boat Basin in Manhattan during most of the 1980s, when he decided to head south. A native New Yorker whose family was involved in maritime work on Sheepshead Bay, he was an account executive with Consolidated Edison when he retired at the age of 47 to become a liveaboard, Coast Guard-certified charter captain.
Eventually, he turned up in Charleston en route (so he thought) to the Bahamas. “I never did go south to the Bahamas on that leg because I met Peg, and instead we eventually sailed north to Maine.”
An accomplished sailor, Egan took to the cruising life completely, and they began voyaging together. But age creeps up on us all, says Erickson, referring to a recent article in The Atlantic Monthly by the aging William F. Buckley Jr., founder of the politically conservative National Review, in which he writes of his reasons for selling his 36-foot sloop, Patito:
“For some, boating is incomplete without the foreplay of sanding and painting and lubricating and all that. The satisfaction gotten from doing such things yourself, if ever you had it, diminishes as you get older. … And you have risked asking yourself that mortal question: Is the ratio of pleasure to effort holding its own? Or is effort creeping up, pleasure down?”
In conclusion, he decided, “The time has come to sell Patito and forfeit all that is not lightly done, and it brings to mind the next step yet ahead, which is giving up life itself.”
Erickson and Egan can be reached at (843) 693-5328.
Jack Sherwood is a senior writer for Soundings and is based in Annapolis, Md