The year was 1968. I was a grad student wrestling with a thesis, teaching a class, and getting by somehow on $225 per month. The Vietnam war was raging (the Tet Offensive had just occurred), and the job market was non-existent. It was a time with little hope. In this dark era I was struggling to make life decisions.
And then I read an article in the October, 1968 library copy of the National Geographic about a 16-year old kid who had chucked it all and was sailing around the world in a Lapworth 24 (that is not a misprint: the boat was 24 feet long - one step above a day sailor). His name was Robin Lee Graham.
I was literally mesmerized. My gosh, the freedom!! The only responsibilities he had were to himself. He could go wherever he wanted, whenever he wanted, with no cost except food. The tales of mile after mile of turquoise water passing, the motion of the boat, the sun glinting off the waves... The landfalls on exotic shores with white sand beaches and palm trees were something this Midwestern boy could barely imagine. I pored over the pictures, trying to glean every scrap of information that would help me to recreate in my mind the feel of living on a boat at sea.
Throughout that cold, dark Indiana winter, as the war news worsened and while rewriting my thesis yet again, I haunted the library, waiting for the next copy of National Geographic, and then the next - hoping for the promised next installment in Robin's story. Finally in April, 1969, there it was! Even more of the same, but now romance had been stirred in too.
It was an impressionable time for me - a seed was planted. I joined the Purdue Sailing club to get an understanding of how one moves with such freedom, using the wind as propulsion. I even built a boat of my own design to try out the principles I thought I had acquired (it was a dismal failure).
The final installment of Robin's story was delivered in the October, 1970 issue of National Geographic. He left a boy and returned a man, with more practical knowledge and experience than most people will ever attain. With the conclusion of Robin's story, I turned to looking at Yachting, and that new-fangled Sail magazine. With no experience at all, I found myself evaluating boats and soaking up salt water lore just like you might expect a dry-land Midwestern boy would do.
Then (condensing the story slightly) I met Jane and we married, and I signed on with ALCOA in the Saint Louis area. We moved to Belleville Illinois - still an awfully long way from salt water.
But the seed was quietly growing, out of sight. One hot summer day, Jane and I loaded up our ratty 1961 Ford van and headed over to Carlyle Lake, a large reservoir an hour or so east of us. We camped out on the lake, and walked the docks, oogling the boats (something we still do at every opportunity). And we sort of got to talking to a broker, who just happened to have a brand new Cal 21 for
The seed had blossomed.
I still have those three issues of National Geographic, here onboard Eolian.
And that guy at the top of the page? That's the modern-day Robin Graham, in a photo from an article in, yep, Yachting magazine.