By Susan Richards-McClain
In 1977 I embarked on my construction career in Tampa, buying old houses, remodeling them and selling them. Every year I would keep one of them vacant for the winter so Dad could come down and stay in it. It was during this time that he wrote his second book, “Tug of War”, the story of his adventures as a merchant marine captain delivering a tugboat to Pearl Harbor during WWII.
Eventually he moved Princess back to Florida again, this time to Tampa and my side yard. From there he took her to the antique boat show at Davis Island Yacht Club and created quite a stir with fans who had read the book years earlier and couldn't believe she was still around.
The years passed and after almost giving up on her himself, my father was approached by Bill Wheeler who had founded the Dunedin Maritime Museum just across the bay from us. Together they worked out a deal to move Princess over to the museum's small yard and with Bill's help have “Princess New York ” published again, this time in paperback. At last my father thought he had a permanent home for his girl, but as often happens with non-profit organizations in our busy “for profit” world the museum went belly-up a couple of years later.
In 1991 my father offered Princess to me. At the time I had an infant, a toddler, a ten year old and was living in a house on a 50' x 100' lot with side yards narrower than Princess's beam. Our construction company was in the throws of a recession, so I respectfully declined, knowing full well that I might never see the boat again.
My father scoped around and found a boatyard owner in Bradenton, just south of us, who was willing to buy her and supposedly was going to completely rebuild her. I regret to say that if my father had ever told me the man's name it went right by me. All I know is that shortly before my father became ill with pneumonia in January of 1992 he told me that the boatyard owner had died and that his wife had the boat up for sale.
My father died in the early hours of the morning on January19th 1992 in the intensive care unit at Bay Pines Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida . Moments after his death I looked out the window across the bay as a single cloud alight with moonlight drifted over the inland waterway and out to sea and I thought of a verse he had often inscribed in the front of his books, “May you have a fair wind and a following sea.” And the cloud was gone.
Thirteen years had gone by since his death, thirteen years in the life of an already decaying wooden boat may as well have been an eternity. So when Johnson finally tracked me down I stressed to him the unlikelihood of ever finding Princess. But now I had the time, the money and the internet with which to pursue a legitimate search. Property searches, calls to boatyards and marinas and driving the waterfront of Bradenton and Sarasota brought no results. Most, if not all, of the old boatyards had succumbed to the developers bulldozers.
Johnson wrote a notice which Wooden Boat magazine published, seeking any information regarding her whereabouts, but to no avail. Finally a call to the Friendship Sloop Society produced the name of one of her last owners, or at least the only one who was still alive. Apparently an awning builder in Bradenton had bought her from the boatyard owner's wife and together, with a friend, had moved her to a trailer park in Bradenton with the intention of rebuilding her. Toward that effort they finally concluded that her frames were rotten and her planking was unsalvageable and subsequently sold her to an old guy who lived out on some acreage east of town.
After tracking her that far I made up fliers with her most recent picture and circulated them all over the area. The old man's property had been sold and a new home built on the site. It was an eerie feeling driving around the area because it had an uncanny resemblance to my father's neighborhood in Delaware .
No one responded to the fliers in spite of the reward I offered, so with more than a little disappointment and a considerable amount of guilt, I finally conceded that she had either made one final trip to the Manatee County Dump or that she had merely slipped away into the earth from whence she came.
Either way, I will always love her and remember countless trips heading out of Hurricane Harbor into Biscayne Bay with my father steering until we cleared the sandbar at the harbor entrance. Then with the tiller lashed he would instruct me to wake him up when the windows on the condominiums across the bay in Coconut Grove got big enough that I could count them. There were countless hours spent trolling for blue fish with a nylon line tied to the backstay or times we just let everything luff while we went for a swim.
He had a bit of a competitive spirit also and loved to sail past one of the new fiberglass boats coming out on the market back then. Tacking across their bow and rounding up only to do it again. Usually it took two or three passes before they would realize what we were doing and would turn and run the other direction. Princess was an incredible boat, both in beauty and performance and she will be missed.
At my father's funeral, as we spread his ashes on the Gulf of Mexico, his lifelong friend, John Charlton, summed it up for us all, “Joe may have died, but he will live on, for he is in our hearts, on our bookshelves and our walls, and we will never forget him.” And his love, his Princess, is there with him.