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The Two Captains



Once we are on our way, it’s our plan to make entries to this page on a sequential basis much like a real Captain’s Log. We’ll include our latitudes and longitudes etc. in case anyone wants to track our progress on a chart!  To start, please enjoy our annual Christmas Newsletter which sums up the past year.

The Captain's Log ~Christmas 1998

A Newsletter for the Family & Friends of Captains Gwen Hamlin & Don Wilson

Dear Friends,

We are approaching the end of another great year. For us, it has been tremendously busy. We did 25 charters on TacklessII in the nine months between launching her after our return from Trinidad last November and hauling her August 5! We enjoyed many repeating guests and added some great new folks to our alumni. It amazes me that after all these years here, we can still find new anchorages, but, thanks to TacklessII’s shallow draft, we did just that, adding several new hide-away anchorages to our itinerary and a few new dives.

For our Hurricane Avoidance Tour 1998, instead of sailing south again, we opted to store TacklessII on the hard and take 10 weeks in the States. Last year, 17 islands. This year, 20 states (not counting airports). Our main objective was to spend quality time with family and old friends. Living the way we live, doing what we do, these precious connections get much less attention than they deserve. Plus, it was time to share all these places and people with one another. Our secondary objective was to look at boats, to resolve once and for all the dilemma of which boat…"his", "hers", or find an "ours" that would suit us even better.

We started with a week with Don’s daughter Tiffany in her studio apartment in L.A., where she moved lock, stock and Yorkshire terrier last March to pursue her dream of acting. It took a lot of guts to make this move, and, as veteran dream chasers ourselves, we are very proud of her. We had a great visit - walked the Baywatch beach, strolled the Santa Monica street mall, saw the stars and footprints in Hollywood, ate diversely and saw several movies in real theaters. We even had time for a day trip up the coast to Santa Barbara to touch base with where Gwen’s folks lived.

We spent the next nine weeks doing the east coast, starting in Baltimore where we picked up a rental car on which we subsequently put 8000+ miles. We went to Annapolis for a first start on boat shopping and the only boat to catch our attention at all was a 55’ aluminum Kanter custom build, which sparked several weeks of lottery ticket buying in various states. Dream on kiddies.

Next stop NYC where Gwen lived for about fifteen years. We checked out Pan Aqua, the dive shop that started it all for Gwen, in its new location, and other essential NYC stops like Zabars, H&H bagel and the All State Café. We spent the night afloat on the Hudson River with charter colleagues who work summers out of the 79th St. Boat Basin!-Wow!

CT, MA, and VT (and connecting states) followed, the time and miles spent mostly visiting Gwen’s family and friends and taking care of a lot of basic shopping needs. Some highlights were dinner at and a tour of Boston’s very new Seaport Hotel (Gwen’s brother-in-law Bob built the thing!), a day at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum with cousin Patty & Doyle, a terrific 80th birthday fete for Uncle John McW, a tour (and taste) of Ben & Jerry’s and a clamber to the top of Mount Mansfield with sister Jo (okay, she drove us most of the way up!) and, oh yeah, a planning session on this very website with Gwen’s cousin David Gibson at his place of business-Propeller Media Works, right on Burlington’s waterfront!

Around Labor Day weekend we started on the Midwest which is mostly Don’s turf. Don’s family is from Morristown, a small town SE of Indianapolis. By and large, his family and his old friends are to be found somewhere between Indy and Terre Haute where Don went to I.S.U. and did much of his training and work as a pilot. It was amazing! We’d call from pay phones just off the Interstate or seek out old addresses by car, and we’d find just about everybody we looked for. This even worked for a college friend of mine, recently transplanted! A highlight in the Indy area was a day of sailing on the Eagle Creek Reservoir with "the two Toms." Eagle Creek is where it all started for Don (the sailing bug, that is) and the two Toms are the cohorts that help start it! It was a perfect crisp mid-week day, lots of sun, cold beer, brisk tacks, and yes, we even flew a spinnaker…..all on a 3 mile piece of water that we had largely to ourselves! We also made a jaunt up to Valparaiso to visit Don’s brother and family and arrived in time to partake of the annual Orville Redenbacher Popcorn Festival and Parade!

After Indiana we crossed the Mississipi into Missouri. We overnighted in St. Louis with friends, before heading to the boot-heel for a introduction for Don to Gwen’s family’s farm there. The farm grows traditional crops that vary from year to year, usually wheat and soybeans, sometimes corn, sometimes cotton. They also raise catfish, an aqua-culture operation that got to show itself off in a crack-of-dawn harvest! The industry of agriculture these days is pretty impressive; the machinery awesome. Catfish abruptly became one of our regular restaurant orders!

Next came Florida. Don lived for five years in the Clearwater area on the West Coast before coming to the Virgins. It is where the "boating bug" he caught on Eagle Creek bloomed full-bore after he "accidentally" bought TacklessII . We stayed aboard Don’s friend Bill’s Hunter 41 in its dock-o-minium slip. Air-conditioning, cable TV, land phones, answering machines, laundry room etc. Better than most hotels! A bit spooky as the blue herons and egrets honk and flap when you startle them on the partially covered docks! We arrived in time to glue ourselves to the Weather Channel to track Hurricane Georges’ poorly-documented pass by the Virgins and were still around to help St. Pete friends strip their boats as it passed by in the Gulf! In between we ate a lot of buffalo grouper sandwiches and grouper reubens. A highlight was definitely the reunion party for old dockmates and sailing buddies of Don’s hosted by the venerable Captain Freddie. Freddie may never have gotten his boat Aldonza put back together after our hurricane strip to St. Thomas standards.!

We’d have been busy enough in Florida, even if Gwen’s good friend Diane, a yacht broker in St. Pete, hadn’t done such a good job finding us boats to look at. We traveled as far afield as Ft. Lauderdale, where we walked into the Southport Raw Bar and ran into someone Gwen knew! Unfortunately, our timing coincided with Georges’ approach to the Keys, so we saw only half the boats we’d aimed at and didn’t call any old friends! We wrapped up Florida with stops at Merritt Island and St. Augustine, the former the base of one of our best brokers and the latter the home of Adam, our young sailing friend (who joined us last summer down island) who has a sailing school there. In between we did the tourist thing at the Kennedy Space Center. To show you how out of it we were, we concentrated on the historical displays and let ourselves miss the space station area, thinking it to be some pie-eyed dream of the future! We did see John Glenn’s shuttle on the launch pad.

From Florida we drove to up to South Carolina for visits with Gwen’s nephews and nieces who have independently settled in Charleston, Florence and Columbia. It really makes you feel old to see the next generation with kids, houses and careers! Highlights were a very cosmopolitan evening in Charleston with cocktails at a busy downtown rooftop bar (with a great view of that historic harbor) followed by a delicious dinner, a fabulous fix your own homemade pizza party in Florence, and a true extended family outing to the Columbia Zoo. Gwen was much impressed with displays of the varied aquatic environments (and their critters) of the Carolinas. Don’s favorites were the ponderous Galapagos tortoises.

October 7 found us back in Annapolis for the Annapolis Boat Show, allegedly the largest in-water sailboat show in the country. We had two, somewhat mutually incompatible objectives. On the one hand we wanted to check out, compare, and negotiate great boat-show deals on equipment we’d want for TacklessII, if…… On the other hand, we wanted to be sure TacklessII was the right boat for us by checking out all the potential alternatives. Especially the boats you see featured in all the cruising magazines. So we did…check ‘em out…and you know what? There was nothing we would even consider…at any price!

You might think this solved things then and there, but,… no. Because there was one brokerage boat we saw in Florida that had stuck in our minds. We both liked it...and liked it right away, I must confess. It was a particular Vagabond 47 we saw in St. Petersburg, FL. The Vagabond is a very romantic-looking boat, clipper-bowed (like the CSYs) and ketch-rigged, (which we both think would be ideal), and spacious below. She had some negatives -- way too much teak to varnish and teak decks to boot plus a seller who thought a lot of her ($$$), but she had on board almost all the "toys" we had on our wish list. Buying a boat is not unlike choosing a puppy; there’s a connection that happens, and it happened for both of us.

So we brooded. We ran the numbers, Diane did research, and we ran more numbers. We looked at some other Vagabonds, but none came close. "Our Vagabond" was primo, well and lovingly maintained. We brooded some more and finally made an offer: low, but realistic (thanks to Diane’s research.) And then we brooded some more while we awaited his response…..

Time out for a miracle. You might think that being back in Annapolis, our travels were about over, but not so. Next stop, back down to Atlanta for LASIK eye surgery at the Emory Vision Center. From blind as a bat with astigmatism, too, Gwen now has 20/20 in the left eye and 20/30 in the right. 8.5 minutes under the machine (Don watched!) = No more contacts, no more glasses, no more prescription masks, no more excuses to sneak off to bed! It is truly a miracle, and you know what? No one notices.

Meanwhile, still brooding only now in Atlanta. We were tired. We had colds again. The MasterCard was maxed out. So, when, finally, the bid on the Vagabond was turned down, instead of playing the expected game and coming back with a counter bid, the two of us experienced a joint moment of catharsis/sanity…. It was time to go home, to our boat. And so, after all the miles, all the stressing, we closed the door on the third boat idea …and drove back to Baltimore! We are very happy with our decision…and have been ordering equipment with abandon!


Hurricane season was kind to the Virgins this year. The news made it sound as though Hurricane Georges ran right over the islands. In truth, it seemed that Georges hiccuped as it went by. That, coupled with the upgraded building codes post-Marilyn, resulted in only minor damages here. The phones never went out on island, and only a fluke glitch in the overseas line was responsible for keeping us in torturous suspence. We returned to find the islands very lush and green and open for business. Everybody is ready for a super season, and the boat show was a big success, only guess what….

We weren’t there!

Yes, I said

We weren’t there!

Sabbatical: A break for rest, travel and research. How about "sea-bbatical"? I’ve seen it that way on boat transoms. However it’s spelled, it’s a terrific concept…….and we’re going to take one.

To tack less, and sail more

We’re heading west to explore.

New reefs we’ll roam, new isles we’ll greet

New seas we’ll reach, new friends we’ll meet.

Yes, the rumors are true. We’re going cruising.

We actually made the decision months ago, and, back there in the aft cabin "board meetings," we began laying plans. Surely, you all saw it coming after last summer’s down-island Hurricane Avoidance Tour. The seeds, of course, have been there much longer, planted at the time we each got the idea to buy a boat! What we each lacked then was the experience and a partner. Now we have both.….and two boats!


Whisper is for sale. You know it was not an easy decision. There were many considerations. After a year of comparison, we discovered, ironically that Whisper is better for charter! You just can’t beat that cockpit, and we truly missed her refrigeration. But TacklessII has the walk-in engine room and the walk-thru passage, and for long passages and living aboard for the two of us, these become major assets. The way the plan looks now (and there have been many variations), we will be here in the Virgins until early Spring. Initially we thought we’d head right down to Trinidad to tackle many of the projects on our list for TacklessII , but we woke up and realized that we need to be here to get Whisper sold. Whisper is back in the water, which suits her for showing much more than dry storage, we have a more realistic price on her, and we’re told the market is picking back up now that hurricane season is behind us. With luck we’ll have her sold in the next few months.

Meanwhile we are working our way down a mile-long list of projects on TacklessII that started in the boatyard and continues afloat. Our priorities are overhauling some major fundamentals –like electrical, water, and refrigeration systems, building in redundancies, and renewing worn equipment-- like the anchor and anchor chain. We are also installing things important for safe cruising like radar, autopilot, and new instruments. There are a few luxuries, too, like a new stove, sink and counter top in the galley…and bookshelves. And if all that wasn’t enough, we just got a eight-page letter from friends on Isis, another CSY 44, who have just arrived in New Zealand after leaving last March, with a detailed breakdown of what we must have! Just the spare parts lists are daunting! Don has truly come into full stride, organizing and masterminding. It is daily astounding what he gets accomplished, which is good because the list seems so endless, we wonder if we’ll ever sail, swim, or dive again!

Once the projects are done and Whisper is sold, we will truly begin our "seabbatical". Our plan is to start working our way back south down the Caribbean chain this spring and summer, taking our time with islands we either especially liked…or missed…last time. We’ll still make a visit to Trinidad during hurricane season for more projects, and then we’ll work west across the southern Caribbean—Margarita, Venezuela, Los Roches, Bonaire, & Curacao, sampling all the great diving there.


Panama in 2000? Yes, we are thinking of "going through." The South Pacific beckons. Like many people our age we have seen some "reality checks" hit some of our friends. Our families are healthy, Tiffany is on the road to her own life in California, and with the sale of Whisper, we have a cruising kitty. The time seems right. BUT….what’s the most important rule of cruising? Never have a schedule. There are many considerations to weigh. There’s a wedding in the family coming up, some school reunions, El Nino to keep an eye on. If we go, we go. If we’re not ready, we don’t. There’s plenty to see here in the Caribbean.


Holidays. Despite the turmoil of all the projects, the packing, unpacking, investing and divesting Gwen has found the Christmas decorations, bit by bit we’re getting them up. We are not coming back North for the holiday this year; after all we just got back! We do hope we can back this boat out of the slip and spend the holidays taking ourselves on charter! Sail, swim, dive and eat…that’s our agenda for Christmas and New Year’s. Chaos and clutter notwithstanding, TacklessII is our home for the future. We’re grateful she carries aboard her so many great memories (which fortunately take up almost no room!) These memories will always be with us, even as we’re making new ones.

Merry Christmas to all and here’s to fair winds for everybody in the new year.


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Published at Burlington, VT