The Remarkable Tale of the Beautiful Morning Watch

By the time I finished college at Penn State, I had become a dedicated adventurer and outdoorsman. My interests included caving, rock climbing, skiing, whitewater kayaking and I had flirted with taking up hang gliding though I never pursued it. I was a young buck with endless curiosity and a penchant for taking chances. If there was an adventure to be had, I wanted to have it and I, perhaps foolishly, seemed to have no fear. I was, for that period at least, immortal. Having grown up in the mountains of Pennsylvania, I had little knowledge or experience with the sea save for occasional family vacations to the Outer Banks of North Carolina and Cape Cod. I could imagine being out on the ocean and being at the mercy of the wind and waves far from any possibility of help. The thought of it produced in me a powerful feeling of vulnerability and the sea was one thing I was afraid of.


About that time, as I was about to graduate from college, I saw an advertisement for the Hurricane Island Outward Bound School off the coast of Maine. The ad pictured a young person about my age standing on top of a mountain peak with his back to the camera, arms outstretched and gazing toward the heavens. The picture spoke to me and the yearning I felt in my soul as I searched for spiritual relevance and meaning in my life.

Below the picture was a quote from Henry David Thoreau,


“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."


That was it. I was hooked and I was determined to accept the challenge and face my fears head on. Thus I learned to sail and planted the seed for a lifelong affinity for the sea and its mysteries.


After Outward Bound, I ended up out West for many years, living in Phoenix, Colorado, Kansas, and the mountains of New Mexico. As happy as I was to experience the great, expansive wonders of the west, my mind and heart were drawn back to the sea and I knew that one day I would return to Maine and follow my dreams as a sailor.


image of Bar Harbor ME with water boats hills and trees
Frenchman's Bay, Bar Harbor Maine with Acadia National Park and Cadillac Mountain in the background.

I got my first sailing job in Bar Harbor, Maine as First Mate aboard a day sailing schooner named Bay Lady ll. I later moved to Portland where I lived in a loft in the heart of the old waterfront District called the Old Port. By then, I had become familiar with boats and had an image in my mind of a dream boat that one day I would like to own.


small sloop at full sail
Traditionally rigged Friendship Sloop.

To me the prettiest boat on the water was a wooden, traditionally rigged Friendship Sloop. Originally built in Friendship Maine and used by lobstermen these sloops featured elegant lines with a long bowsprit, two headsails and a large gaff rigged main with its boom hanging far aft of the stern. I decided I wanted to start looking for a boat and as I searched, I held the image of the graceful Friendship Sloop foremost in my mind.


One night I was introduced to a Yacht broker and as we talked, I expressed my interest in owning a wooden boat. He said, “How about a Friendship?” I was excited at even the thought of it and when he said that he had one for sale, I could barely contain myself. I set an appointment to come to see the boat and was filled with anticipation.


The boat was everything I had dreamed of. Beautiful lines with forest green hull and bright red trim. She needed some work but I was ready for that and couldn’t wait to pour my heart and soul into her. As it turned out, the boat had been donated to the Hurricane Island Outward Bound School and was being sold by them as a fundraiser. The broker gave me the paperwork and she had quite a pedigree. The former owner had been Donald Starr, a prominent Boston attorney who kept her in Vineyard Haven harbor on Martha’s Vineyard.


I had always thought that if I ever got a boat, I would name her Morning Star.


As I perused the paperwork on the boat, I remarked to a friend who had accompanied me how great it was that the boat was named Morning Watch, pretty close to the name I had imagined and another sign that the boat was for me. She insisted that the boat was actually named Morning Star but I showed her the paperwork to the contrary. Still she insisted adamantly. I disregarded her, thinking she had to be mistaken according to the documents. I made plans to visit the boat again the next day and was astonished at what I discovered. Someone had made an elaborate carving as a nameplate for the transom and apparently had removed it as a keepsake. You could see where it had been mounted and that it had been painted around. To my astonishment, right there in front of my eyes under where the nameplate had been were the words Morning Star.


This was the beginning of a lovely ten year relationship with the sea that was a significant part of my life.


But wait.... there's more.....


photo of John Rousmaniere
John Rousmaniere

When I got the boat, the broker gave me a related batch of paperwork including a copy of an article about the vessel by John Rousmaniere that had appeared in Sail Magazine. John Rousmaniere was a famous nautical author who had written several important books including Annapolis Book of Seamanship and Fastnet Force 10. Serious sailors know the former as a basic handbook of sailing skills that is one of the Bibles of sailing. The latter chronicles the transatlantic Fastnet race in 1932 which was historic due to a Force 10 gale that occurred during the race.


At the time I read the article for the first time, it was my first exposure to John Rousmaniere and his work. The article was an analysis of the change in the rigging of Morning Watch. She was built in Beals Island, Maine by a man named Bernard Backman who was famous for building wooden lobster boats. One of the reasons I always loved the Friendship (named for the design's origins in the tiny village of Friendship, Maine) was due to the dramatic look of the traditional rig. With her low freeboard and beautiful lines, she cut a striking figure on the horizon and always drew attention. In the article, Rousmaniere analyzed the change of the rig to a yawl configuration which featured a smaller main and the addition of a small mizzen aft of the helm. This was a controversial move as it disturbed the lines of the traditional rig and likely would lead to scorn among purists. Rousmaniere argued that the change was a good one, eliminating the heavy weather helm typical of the class and providing more stability and control under various conditions. He found the new rig to be quite workable and even suggested that if the old fisherman who famously used this type of boat for lobstering would have thought of it first, they would have adopted it instantly as more favorable to the single handling of a working fishing boat.


image of downtown Portland ME
I lived in the 3rd floor loft above the tree on the left in the very heart of Portland's Old Port.

At the time when all this was happening with the boat, I was living in Portland Maine in a loft in the very heart of the old waterfront district called the Old Port. The area was just being discovered by developers who later would begin the process of gentrification making it unaffordable to most. In those days it was still a little gritty and raw. I was working as a carpenter and every day we would gather at the bosses house and get our assignments for the day. I had admired many times the beautiful mural he had on his wall depicting a beautiful white schooner docked in a very picturesque setting. I gazed many times at the mural, fantasizing about the long awaited adventures I would be having on my boat. Later I found out that the beautiful schooner I had been gazing at was none other than the Brilliant, the very boat I would be working on as mate only months later.


image of the vessel Brilliant with half a dozen people on deck
Schooner Brilliant with Captain George Moffett instructing a newly minted teenage crew.

Brilliant was used as a sail training vessel at the Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut and, remarkably for a wooden boat built in 1932, was being actively sailed. We used to go out for 7-10 days at a time in southern New England waters with a crew of 10 mostly inexperienced sailors, some rank novices. The Captain and I depended on the crew to help sail the boat and all hands were actively engaged. Many of our voyages were made with an all teenage crew as part of the Seaport's sail education program.


Being at sea together is the perfect venue for storytelling. Our captain, George Moffett, described the experience as long hours of boredom punctuated with moments of sheer terror. Thus, we had many hours to fill and were often joined by characters who rose to the challenge and helped to make our trips interesting and entertaining.


image of the Harvard Sailing Team including JFK and Jim Rousmaniere
Jim Rousmaniere, bottom center, pictured with John F. Kennedy and the Harvard Sailing Team.

On one voyage, we were accompanied by a very distinguished gentleman named Jim Rousmaniere, by chance, the father of the aforementioned John Rousmaniere. Jim was a fascinating man who worked in the development department at Harvard University at the time and who regaled us with many anecdotes from his life. My favorite was his tale about how President John F. Kennedy had been his roommate in college at Harvard. He told us about being a guest at the wedding of John Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier at her family's beautiful mansion overlooking Narragansett Bay in Newport and about taking his family to visit the White house by special invitation on many occasions. I marveled at his recollections of his interesting experiences and listened eagerly.


I had been telling Jim stories about my boat and the connection with his son John, the article and so forth, but had not put all the pieces together. He made me promise that as we motored up the Mystic River at the end of the week that I would point out my boat at its mooring at the mouth of the river. As we approached the mooring field, I was excited that the time had come to proudly point out the beautiful Morning Watch. As the boat came into view I saw Jim’s face light up.


He said, ”That’s your boat? That’s YOUR boat?" I replied delightedly that yes, that was my beloved boat that I had been telling him about all week. He kept saying, shaking his head, ”I can’t believe that’s your boat. I can't believe THAT'S your boat”. I kept telling him yes, yes. Finally, he revealed why he had been so incredulous at this marvelous convergence of events.


He said, "My favorite picture in the whole world which is hanging on the wall of my living room at home is of MY SON SAILING ON YOUR BOAT!"


As I listened in amazement, he related the story of how his son, John Rousmaniere, the famous author of the Annapolis Book of Seamanship and many other esteemed nautical resources, had learned how to sail on MY boat. The Rousmanieres were friends with a prominent lawyer from Boston named Donald Starr who bought a wooden friendship sloop and named it Morning Starr. The boat was moored in Vineyard Haven on the Island of Martha’s Vineyard and Donald Starr taught young John Rousmaniere how to sail on the boat that he eventually donated to the Hurricane Island Outward Bound School who changed the name to Morning Watch and later sold it to me as a fundraiser!!


Later that year, I was out sailing on a beautiful day on Fishers Island Sound and another boat sailing by hailed us. I wasn’t surprised as my boat under full sail was a real eye-catcher and frequently got waves and compliments. Someone from the other boat yelled over, “What happened to the staysail club?”. The staysail club was a small wooden boom attached to one of the forward sails which enabled the sail to move unattended from one side of the boat to the other during a tack which made the boat easier to sail single handed. I liked the challenge and action of handling all the sails manually so had removed it early on. But how would this guy have known about that?


He yelled over one more time, “It’s John Rousmaniere. I used to sail on her when I was young!”

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