Maiden Voyage of Gracie Anne (Part 3)
Some time has passed since we published the story about Winslow Maxwell. His final wish in life was to have a custom boat built to sail from Nova Scotia to Cuba. I have had many requests to finish the story. To be honest, the reason I haven’t is it’s a sad ending for me, and I found it hard to put into words — until now.
The story left off when Winslow asked me to come back to Virginia. He wanted me to continue the trip to Florida with him. In early December of 2015, I flew in to meet him. I rented a car and drove to the marina in Redbrook where the Coast Guard had tied him up. His family had recently left after a visit.
I parked the car and headed down a rickety pier. The marina had character, like something from the 1960s or 70s. As I walked, I spotted the mast of Gracie. She was tied starboard side to the end of the pier. When I got to the edge, I looked down. It was low tide, and there was about a four-foot drop down to the boat and no ladder or ramp to get on board. I did a quick visual assessment. She looked OK — not too bad. But I wondered how he got himself from the boat to the dock.
I called out Winslow’s name. There was no answer. The hatch was closed but not locked. I climbed down the planks of the pier and got onboard. I knocked, but still no response. I slid the hatch open. No sign of Winslow.
There was enough of a mess below that I knew he had been aboard recently. His gear was everywhere, and the sink was full of dirty dishes. The gin bottle was out, but his ukulele was nowhere to be found. It was usually the first thing you’d see — always on top of the pile of clothes, pushed as far forward on the bunk as possible.
It was a cold and grey day but not so cold that the thought of heading south was out of the question. Upon further assessment, I concluded all was well with the boat. I adjusted the fenders to protect the hull from the pilings and decided to head back to the car for my phone. As I climbed up the pier, I sensed I wasn’t alone. Two men were peering down at me. At first glance, they did not look friendly. I needed to explain quickly what I was doing on Winslow’s boat.
After I explained myself, I learned one of the guys was the owner of the Marina. The other gentleman lived on his boat a few down from Winslow. They told me he left in a car that morning and said he was headed to Florida.
The gentleman who lived on his boat handed me a cane he had made for Winslow out of driftwood. It had an authentic marline twine whipping at the head. “When you see him, please give him this cane,” he said. The owner of the marina was very nice as well but understandably, wanted to be paid for the boat’s stay and know the plan. I explained I was here to sail her to Florida with Winslow, but now that plan had changed.
I told the owner I would call Winslow and get things settled soon. They continued to tell me stories about all the people at the marina who were taken by Winslow’s approachable personality, warm heart and sense of humor. They loved hearing him singing and playing his ukulele aboard his Gracie Anne, belting out his tunes for all to hear.
I went back to the car and called Winslow from my cell phone. So many decisions, so many narrow escapes came from our cell phone calls. I paced back and forth, not expecting him to answer. If he did, I braced myself for a story. He didn’t. I left him a message explaining I was with the boat.
I wondered what was next for Gracie Anne. I went back to her and spent a couple of hours cleaning her up, preparing her for travel — somewhere. The phone rang. Winslow did not sound like himself. He had rented a car and drove to Orlando, Florida where his daughter-in-law picked him up and took him to the hospital. He was not well; he had a bad cold.
My orders were to ship the boat to Daytona Beach, not sail it. He gave me access to some funds so I could settle his debts. I moved the boat to a boat yard across the river and de-rigged her for transport. I finally finished cleaning her and stayed aboard while waiting for the truck to arrive. I thought to myself, is this where the story ends?
Winslow, being the optimist and dreamer that he was, had plans to continue the trip from Daytona with family. He got a late start out of New England, so his trip down the Chesapeake was done in near-winter conditions. Transporting the boat to warmer weather was the right thing to do. I could only hope it would work out.
In a matter of a few days since I arrived in Virginia, she was packed up on a truck and trailer. The interior was spotless, all his clothes and gear were set up for a cruise, and I left the handmade cane, with a heartfelt note from his friends at the marina, out for him to easily see. The boat headed south, and I headed north.
The boat arrived in Daytona safely. We sent her to a marina I had heard about through my friend, Leon, who lived on his boat nearby. I asked him to check on her for me, and he reported back the boat looked great. I asked him to put a tarp over her to protect her from the sun, which he did.
I talked to Winslow a few times by phone, trying to help with a plan if I could. He was out of the hospital and in an assisted living community where he was diagnosed as having dementia. His family had intervened after the doctors reported he was not well enough to continue his trip. He had battled pneumonia, and his body had weakened to a degree that the trip would be impossible.
In the spring of 2016, the family asked me to trailer Gracie Anne back north and sell her.
Shortly after, Gracie Anne arrived back to the boatbuilding shop where she was built. She was in good shape. I peeled the wrap off her and slid the hatch forward. The smell was familiar. Those who have spent a lot of time at sea sailing a small craft, day and night, know the feeling when you are reconnected to your home. It is a special spirit that engulfs your senses. I hesitated but soaked it in — along with the memories, good and bad. I noticed the cane with the note was right where I left it.
Winslow died January 10, 2017 from complications with pneumonia. The last time I saw him was when I left him in late November of 2015 in Summit, NJ — when he told me he did not want my help, that he could do it on his own.
He never made it to Cuba aboard Gracie Anne, but I believe he did in spirit. I imagine him with a margarita in one hand and a señorita in the other. Late in his life, he had a dream, and it motivated him to make the most of every day. Though it may not have been the destination he had in mind, he sailed there with grit and grace.
Gracie Anne was sold, repainted and renamed. Mañana now sails off a mooring in Downeast Maine.
UPDATE: Make sure to read Part 4, Maiden Voyage for a New Owner.