Boat Mania (Part Two)

Feature by Willard Manus

LINDOS, RHODES, GREECE -- Ian Brinkworth was an Englishman, an ex-commando, war hero and distinguished writer. Under the psuedonym of Ian Brook, he had written non-fiction and fiction, receiving the Putnam Award for his novel Jimmy Riddle, which Time Magazine called "a masterful spoof on the mess in Africa." Its successor, The Black List, was considered by one critic to be "the most biting piece of satire to be written since Swift."

When he arrived in Lindos, though, Ian wasn't simply content to start a new book. The boat bug had bitten him and he was towing behind behind him an unusual vessel. She was a beauty--a Drascombe Lugger, an 18-foot open boat with a broad beam, two masts, an outboard well and roomy side thwarts. Her hull was painted sea-blue, her decks and thwarts grey. The upper strake, inside, was white. Her sails were a deep tan.

Ian had purchased Aeolus (a minor Greek deity, custodian of the winds in the Odyssey) at a boat show in London, motored down through the canals of France to Marseilles, where she was loaded on a freighter and shipped to Piraeus.

Aeolus' arrival caused a small sensation down at the Fisherman's Beach, if only because of her anomalous, lap-rigged construction. Ian, tall and fit with a military bearing and flashing blue eyes that sometimes took on an antic air, needed help in fielding all the questions being fired at him. I volunteered to do some translating.

The boat had been designed by John Watkinson and was made of marine plywood. Her ancestry was Mediterranean, however, as Watkinson had served in the British navy during WW II and taken part in the Italian landings. He had been much impressed by the design and lines of traditional Aegean vessels.

The Lindians helped carry Aeolus across the hot sands. Before she was launched, Ian poured a glass of retsina into the sea as "a libation for the Gods." We found a temporary but safe mooring for the boat and got Ian settled up in the village. He spent the next few weeks fitting Aeolus out. John Calvert, skipper of an old trawler called Buscador, provided help. Buscador was a floating junkyard, decks heaped with spare parts, batteries, barrels of water and fuel, tools, bits and scraps of wood. John was built like a retired wrestler: thick chest and arms, big belly, bald head, broken fingers. He looked ferocious and lived alone with a mongrel bitch named Trixie, but had a soft spot for kids, dozens of whom clambered up his rope ladder every day to dive, again and again, into the sea.

John had running problems with the Greek port police, who would show up every few weeks and take him to task over trivial matters. He had left Rhodes city because of their continual harassment. The appearance of his 50-ton trawler might have been the cause of it; Buscador hadn't been painted in a decade and its diesel engine belched stinking black smoke every time he turned it over.

John was tough, though. He had spent much of WW II captaining a British navy tanker delivering high-octane aviation fuel to Malta. It meant having to snake through the German aerial and naval blockade of the island. One hit and his ship would have exploded like a bomb. Having survived that dangerous high-stakes game, there wasn't much the Greeks could do to intimidate him.

Soon Ian was ready to take his first extended voyage in Aeolus. His destination was Symi, a small jewel of an island in the Dodecanese chain. It was a northwest journey of about seventeen nautical miles. To serve as crew, Ian invited his new girlfriend, Connie. She was not only young, slim and attractive, but an experienced sailor--more experienced than he, really. Most of Ian's experience had been gained tooling around Nigerian rivers in a flatboat.

Ian was nothing if not stubborn. The locals insisted that the best way to reach Symi was to sail to Rhodes city, turn the corner, cross to the Turkish coast and catch some protection from the meltemi while tacking west. When Ian checked his chart, though, he discovered that this was the long way around. He decided to save time and miles by heading south and rounding the tip of the island at Cape Prasonisi.

The Lindians tried to dissuade him. The sea around Prasonisi was rough and nasty, and there were few safe anchorages on the windward side of Rhodes, which he would surely need if the meltemi grew in intensity.

Ian wouldn't listen. He felt the Greeks were timid in the face of unpleasant weather, always running to shore when it was safer to stay at sea. And hadn't the Norsemen of old triumphed because they dared to attack in storms nobody thought navigable? They had vanquished all of northern Europe because of their bravery and daring.

By the time Ian and Connie left Lindos, the meltemi suddenly dropped, so much so that they had to use their outboard engine to make way. The day was clear and still, but the sea beneath them was churning, for no good reason. That evening they took shelter in a small cove on the lee side of Rhodes, taking advantage of Aeolus' shallow draft to be able to wade ashore.

Two years later, Ian published a book, A Sea Blue Boat, about his sailing experiences in the Aegean. It reads like a cautionary tale aimed at disabusing the reader from the temptation of "messing about in boats." Here are just a few of the problems he and Connie encountered on that maiden voyage to Symi: rain, welters of hard-running currents, cold, sea-spits, monster waves which seemed to come at them from all sides, a fouled engine, water in the outboard well, a sleepless night spent standing guard over a risky moorning at the foot of Mt. Monolithos.

In the morning, fortified by rough Rhodian brandy and retsina, they embarked on a five-mile crossing to the island of Halki, where Connie's long blonde mane of hair caused a near-riot on arrival. Ian was also given a hard time by the Port Police who couldn't understand why he'd failed to bring Aeolus' papers along with him.

The last leg of the trip, which took them down the Turkish coast to Cape Aleppo, was anti-climactic, except for the narrow escape they had when a Russian freighter nearly ran them over.

Taking all of this into account, you'd think Ian would've given up the sea in favor of the lit game. Instead, he visited a boat-yard on Symi whose pedigree could be traced back to the days of Helen of Troy ("Niraeus three well-trimmed ships from Symi bought") and ordered the carpenters to build him a caique which he intended to sail to the far corners of the Aegean.