The Tabor Boy Project

One of my mentees once implored, "Uncle Woody tell me a story." This was not a request; it was a demand. The stories that follow are some of those stories. The names have not been changed to protect the innocent or guilty, including myself. Do you really need an emoticon to know that it's time to lol? ;-]-B->=| Okay, just one, and it's a figurehead.

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Shipmates and Schoolmates

Jamie Hutton and I are old Nantucketers, of the worst sort -- Summer People -- The Yacht Club, cocktail hour, etc. but the best sort as well, because we are sailors and not tennis people. Oddly, growing up neighbors on Nantucket -- his uncle owned the house next to mine, and Nantucket is a very small town anyway -- we never met until we got to Tabor and then we coincidently sat next to each other the first time in the auditorium for Orientation.

As Richard Wickenden called each boy's name, he got to the H's first, "Hutton, James." and Jamie stood and said something salty like, "Yo, it's Jamie."

When he sat back down I turned to him in my seat, extended my hand, and said saltily, "Yo, Woody Kennedy. Mr. Sherburne told me to look for you."

And he said, less saltily, but quite in character, "Hey buddy, glad to meet 'cha." We've been friends ever since.

Perhaps if this was fiction I would write that later I said saltily, "Yo, it's Woody." when Mr. Wickenden called, "Kennedy, Grafton S, the Third." To which he replied, "Never the less, you will be addressed by your surname from now on Mr. Kennedy." But I don't recall that happening, and the Headmaster's brother was more of a jovial buzz-cut bear than one to stand on formality. And Jamie and I would always be on a first name basis as our friendship got saltier.
White Squall

It was probably a few days before Aug. 13, 1979, the first day of the freak storm that hit the Fastnet Race in England, that I was jauntily manning the position of Quartermaster on Tabor Boy somewhere in the Gulf Stream headed north, returning to Marion from Bermuda. The weather was stiff, but not strong, roughly Force 4 and we were carrying full sail to windward, no square sails, pretty much a smart beam reach and slightly to windward under blue skies dotted with the occasional puffy cumulus. The bright sunlight glinted off the tops of waves that bent, but did not break, with the wind. Really it was quite one of the best days at sea.

When suddenly all hell broke loose. First, I saw the starboard flying jib winch go over the side like a depth charge, arcing up in the air and then down, splash, never to be seen again. My reaction was stunned astonishment as horizontal rain slashed through the tattered remains of the jibs. Cap waddled quickly out of the deckhouse barking orders, "Slack the sheets! Lower the sails!" while I went into a sort of John Cleese stupor:

"I didn't know we had depth charges."

"Who said, 'Fire!' to launch the depth charge?"

"Does one say 'Fire' or 'Launch' to fire a depth charge?"

It was at about this point in my stupor that Cap turned back to me and said, "Kennedy, start the engine."
That -- I could do. And did so.


"Slow ahead."


Later we examined the winch mount and found that the freak storm had been strong enough to rip a large winch from a mount that was a welded + -- plus sign of quarter inch thick steel extending from the gunwale out about six or eight inches to the base of the winch. The steel was bent slightly and then simply torn like paper.

Later we learned of the freak storm that hit the Fastnet race and we wondered if that was what hit us too.

I wondered if I would ever react properly in the face of danger.

And we sang Cap's praises for saving us and the boat.
Here's my take on another of Cap's phrases:

I Hate Boats!

Cap used this phrase often more in humor than anger or frustration, but always appropriate to the situation and timed to get a laugh.

For example, perhaps a couple of green freshmen were above the afterdeck, with the boat on the mooring, painting the fittings on the main boom in a bit of a breeze. Then suppose a wayward puff or two blew an odd drop of paint into Cap's coffee, or onto his khakis. He would look up; make sure both were paying attention; grin broadly and expel, "I hate boats!" into the warm, bright, breeze. He always had terrific comedic delivery. If he had been Jimmy Durante, it would have been, "I hate boats! Ah, cha, cha, cha..."

Being in data processing now, I just have to hope that people understand my background when I grin at an occasion of humor and expel, "I hate tapes!" into the cold, still, stale, air of the data center. It's part of my character that I got from him. But it's not the biggest part. Sail training is the perfect venue to teach such a combination of effort, and error, and humility as he taught, by example.
Oil Slick

Oil slicks, in Cap's Universe, were things to be feared by a lowly freshman on his first stint as chef's mate in the galley. I recall approaching Cap on the bridge with shaky hands and weak knees on a slippery, rocking deck in sleet and slickers, with his coffee mug, and being reproached loudly, "Oil slick! Why's there an oil slick?"

Being a wise sailor of probably two day-sails, I looked toward the bow to see if we could avoid the hazard. Luckily, Frank Stephanson shooed me away quietly, "Get him another mug. And this time make sure it's clean with no slick on top." I looked down and saw the subject of his reproach. There in the mug, on the surface of the wavy, frothy, coffee, was a smooth slick, of, well, SOMETHING. I learned later the usual culprit was a poor rinse strategy, rinsing the mugs after the pots and pans in the same greasy water.

To this day I wonder if that was "training". And, really, it was, even if it was just experience with eccentic characters in life. Of course, I've never served anyone an oil slick since, which is rather good etiquette for a sailor, no?
That's a great recount!!! Man I miss Mr. Sherburne and sailing aboard KAREN. Thanks for posting this. Hey, only 15 months till the next reunion!
Best regards,
Thanks Jamie. I keep thinking of more stories, just don't have time to write them all. As for KAREN, my primary recollection, since she's a wooden boat, was all the pumping I had to do while Mr. Sherburne and an older kid did the real racing. It always seemed there was more water coming in than I could pump out!

Anyway, here's another story, more "waterfront" than Tabor Boy, but oh well.

Ski Bunker Hill

Of this small truth, the stuff of legends might be born. Sometime between the last day of class and graduation at Tabor in 1979 somebody from the waterfront found out that I had a slalom water ski in my dorm room. They paid me a visit with a suggestion for giving one of the "boats" on the waterfront a bit of a "workout". I was game. So, with me, my ski, and a ski rope I happened to have as well, he proceeded to scrounge a ratty wet suit from another interested party on campus and a couple other friends just interested in doing a little skiing. It was pretty exciting.

We all arrived at the waterfront to find another friend ready in Bunker Hill, the tried-and-true workhorse of an old launch that served for so long and so well at Tabor.

He said, "Quick, let's get out of here."

We piled in, and that was it. We went out the little entrance of the harbor and right there we stopped, payed out the rope slow ahead, and somehow decided who would go first. It wasn't me!

The first guy in, even in the wet suit we would all eventually use, yelled, "Man, it's cold!" but in more colorful language.

Everybody who tried did get up, some doing better than others, and all of us fought the cold and a 1 to 2 foot chop with a little breeze.

When I got my turn, I loved it. I had skied on Nantucket in water just as cold for at least five years. But it was Bunker Hill's wake that I really dug. A modern wakeboarder would have loved it, because I remember it being about 3 feet, no good for slalom skiing but lots of fun for just playing around.

We ripped that wet suit to shreds, we skied so long.

And I never inquired as to whether anyone got in trouble for what was obviously a clandestine operation.

If you were part of Operation Ski Bunker Hill, maybe you could elaborate on, or correct, my recollections?
Man, the BUNKER HILL was such a great boat. I bet we could just about have a complete site filled with BUNKER HILL stories!

There are times in everyone's life where they feel that, upon reflection, they took a giant leap toward adulthood from childhood. One such moment for me was my initiation onto the crew of the Tabor Boy. Mind you, it was not a formal initiation process, like initiation into a secret society, but it was filled with tradition if only by virtue of the necessity of repeating the process every year and paring the number of interested peons back to the available slots.

My initiation involved several tests of character and sailing aptitude, but the one I remember most vividly involved furling the coarser in about five foot seas in Cape Cod Bay as we returned to Marion from Boston. It was just getting dark as I and another boy were sent up the ratlines to furl the squares'ls. The coarser was the larger, lower squares'l on the foremast. The yards and mast were moving with what they call in the flight simulation field, "six degrees of freedom", meaning up, down, left, right, forward, and back! And if you've been on a yard arm, you know all you have are your balance, the yard at your waist, and a single, thick, arc of rubber-coated wire for your feet, maybe an inch in diameter. I had furled the coarser before, but never in such conditions. But it is what we practice at ease that we do so well under pressure. Isn't that one of the best sail training lessons?

I finished furling and returned to the deck, only to be met by Frank Stephansson, Peter Mello, and some others of the crew. "Nice work, Kennedy," Frank said. "Show me your hands."

"Thanks," I said, and held out my forearms and hands, palms down. Frank took both of my wrists in his hands and held my arms steady to see how shaky I was, in the dim light coming from the deck house. There were tremors, but nothing dramatic.

"You'll do," Frank said, looking me straight in the eye, and my heart soared. Then he said, "Get me a tongue depressor," to one of the crew, and my heart sank.

I had heard of fraternity initiation rituals involving paddles, but tongue depressors? That seemed really odd. And funny now, of course.

Frank simply took a pen, and started to engrave my name on the small piece of wood. "That's two 'N's in Kennedy, right?"

"Yes, sir." I replied, grinning and nodding broadly.

"Welcome to the crew of Tabor Boy."

"Thank you sir."

Of course, a few years before someone had asked him, "That's two 'S's in Stephansson, right?" And the tradition lives on. You can see the crew board where the names were engraved on pieces of wood and posted, in the picture "Cap Removes Stitches" that I uploaded recently.
Man Woody,

That's a great recall of a huge piece of what it was and is all about. I forgot about the doubt in myself that I had during my first year aboard the ship. Gradually through the four years, that left me and I was well on my way to becoming a man.

I remember the first time that Peter taught me how to serve the rigging far above the deck. I thought that was so cool and felt that I really had learned a special skill that few others had.

Memories like yours are what I love so much about this site. It helps me bring back so many of my own memories.





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