“Calypso, Rhyme of the Modern Mariner”
Forty years after the fact, longtime Port Townsend residents Dennis and Pat McGuire are finally telling their story, and what a tale it is.
Earlier this year they published their book, “Calypso, the Rhyme of the Modern Mariner.” In a collection of prose, poetry and pictures, this colorful duo of raconteurs tell the tale of their two-year odyssey travelling the western hemisphere in their 26-foot wooden boat.
In the spring of 1979, flush with cash after a successful season diving for herring roe on kelp in Alaska’s Prince William Sound, newlyweds Dennis and Pat head east in search of a new adventure. After a cross country train journey, the young couple find themselves at the Newport, RI used boat show. Among the boats for sale, they discover Calypso, a 26-foot wooden gaff-rigged ketch built in 1952. Plunking down all their cash except $100, they quickly move aboard their new to them pocket cruiser.
After spending the summer preparing, the McGuires set off on what becomes, indeed, their new adventure. Without a definite itinerary, they point Calypso south along the Atlantic coast to begin a two-year journey, a trek filled not only with adventures, but also enough misadventures to make even Captain Ron fans jealous.
Stops along the way include New York City, where the engine dies as they enter the harbor and the wash from a low flying helicopter blows them off course, almost causing a collision with a freighter. The Blue Jacket Twin engine continues to misbehave transiting the Chesapeake Bay and the Intercoastal Waterway.
In Florida, the “crew” decides to jettison the cranky knuckle buster and continue under sail alone. Without the constant effort required to coax life from the engine, they can concentrate on the remaining problem on board-constant leaks. Manning the hand-crank bilge pump is an almost nonstop chore and the sailors devise a simple night-time bilge alarm. Throwing a potato into the bilge and hearing a resulting splash means someone needs to react!
The voyage continues with both wonderful and bizarre episodes in Cuba, Mexico, Belize, Honduras, and Nicaragua before passing through the Panama Canal. Without her engine, Calypso has to be towed through The Big Ditch!
Once in the Pacific, Dennis and Pat steer north, heading home to Port Townsend. With both wind and current working against them, the crew decides to change course, fall off west in search of the trade winds and aim for Hawaii. After 97 days navigating with a $20 plastic sextant, incessant bilge pumping and fighting off an invasion of blue footed boobies, Calypso finally makes landfall in Hilo.
After a haul out to rebuild damage caused by teredo worms (the reason for all that bilge pumping), Calypso and her crew finally head for home. Calamities abound on the final passage, but I have not included them here, so as not to spoil the ending for future readers.
Work on the book didn’t start until 2018 when Dennis, nostalgic, dusted off the ship’s log and the memories poured out. Writing in the third person, he details the story of their travels in the main text of the self-published book. The McGuires admit there is a certain edge to the writing, a grammatical error or two and that they won’t win any literary awards. In a recent interview, Pat said, “We like to say that we are 80-grit kind of people.” Dennis then quipped: “And misadventure was just always a part of our lifestyle.”
Early mornings with hot coffee and the log in hand, Dennis started writing. Soon after, Pat would join and start drawing. “We really helped each other, and we would bounce memories off each other. Dennis would read what he wrote, and I would get the pictures in my head,” Pat said. After four years, they finally finished. The result: over 80 illustrations from Pat and 445 quatrains from Dennis. With Pat’s artwork and 1,780 lines of poetry, Dennis said, “It’s really a ballad that stands alone.”
The final entry from the log of Calypso, Saturday, October 10, 1981: “Calypso glides into Port Townsend Bay with a light wind and flood tide. A quiet sail from Seiku, a spectacular rainbow, killer whales frolicking in the fall sunrise welcome her home.”
The poetry and the illustrations are truly the book’s highlights, and the following excerpts describe the exciting arrival in New York City and the attack of the booby birds.
New York City
Distant thunder can be heard rollin’, New York City bells’re tollin’, Long Island Sound this windless night, There’s skyscrapers comin’ into sight.
Approachin’ Hell Gate the fair wind dies, engine starts, sputters and sighs, Crankin’ on that “Blue Jacket Twin,” Got bloody knuckles agin’.
Jump to the halyards’ n raise full sail, Broke down now with an engine fail, Under Hell Gate Bridge caught in whirlpools, Calypso’s lookin’ like a ship of fools!
Helicopter takin’ off on her right, Blows poor Calypso right outa sight, At this point I could give a hill’a beans, Calypso crashes into Jamaica Queens!
A blue footed booby bird lands on deck, Calypso’s crew says, “what the heck!” Thinkin’ this poor bird’s needin’ a rest, Never occurred it’s lookin’ for a nest.
A friendly sort as big as a turkey, Has no interest in tuna fish jerky, An’ this Booby’s not a lonesome bird’ ‘cause here comes a second an’ a third!
All day long boobies’re circlin’ ‘n landin’, On both rails ‘n out the bowsprit their standin’, At the top ‘a the mast an’ on the gaff boom, For another bird there’s just no room.
For several days Calypso carries her flock, Like a mid-ocean floatin’ rock, Buckets of salt water are required, When in guano we are mired.
With a bamboo pole they’re chased away at dark, Not allowin’ another bird to park, When mornin’ comes no more scrapin’ ‘n scoopin’, ‘cause blue footed booby birds ain’t a poopin’!
Calypso beats her way north into the ultramarine, The crew returns to the daily routine, Celestial navigation ‘n fishin’ take precedence, Now that our bird friends ‘re no longer in residence.
All drawings by Pat McGuire, poetry by Dennis McGuire
For more information visit: Adventure Sailing Ballad | Calypso, Rhyme of the Modern Mariner (balladofcalypso.com)