By Suzy Beal
This is the 13th episode of a travel memoir that is unfolding, one chapter each month, here on True Stories Well Told. Stay tuned for more of the adventure as teenage Suzy’s family moves to Europe, builds a sailboat, and takes up life on the high seas circa 1961. Click here to read the earlier episodes.
She was to become our home, sleek and fast.
“I’ve got it, I’ve got the perfect name for our boat,” Dad announced one afternoon. “Circe” he said. We looked at each other in question. Who or what was a Circe? Dad explained he’d just learned from the guys at the local café, Circe was a siren from the Homer’s “Odyssey.” She sang to the sailors passing her island and enchanted them to come closer and closer until they went aground on the rocks. Folks in Mallorca believed that Mallorca was her island. Dad and Mom knew this was the perfect name for our boat. We’d been trying for weeks to find a name. Everyone had offered up suggestions, but none stuck. “Circe” did.
Dad had purchased the plans for our boat before leaving the States. Frances L. Herrshoff designed our 58-foot ketch with center board instead of a deep keel. With the center board we could sail into shallow waters if we wanted to or we could raise the center board if we found ourselves in trouble in shoal waters.
Dad commanded the respect of the maestros at the boat yard by his knowledge of boat building and willingness to commit folly with his pidgin Spanish.
Señor Bernardo managed the boat yard, the workers, and the work flow as they were working on our boat and another at the same time. Señor Pepe was the master craftsman who over saw the quality of the work and supervised the actual building. Dad worked directly with him.
Dad ordered the metal parts such as screws, nails, and fittings from England. Once he told the maestro, “We need 5,000 putas” instead of puntas. He’d ordered 5,000 prostitutes! The hysterical laughter from the men in the shop told Dad he’d blundered. Two and one-half years later when they launched Circe, the maestros were still teasing Dad about it.
Work on Circe moved forward, with Dad and the boys going daily to the shop. Hank at the age of fifteen and sixteen took on the job of all the wire rigging, which meant he cut and spliced it to the correct lengths. Carl at age thirteen did odd jobs around the shop including scraping glue, a job he hated. He worked with Dad making the fiberglass tanks to hold water and gasoline. Brother Tom spent time at the shop, but his interests were elsewhere. He started an English book exchange with the English-speaking community in Puerto.
Mom, Jan, and I didn’t go to the boat yard often, because we were busy at home knitting sweaters for the men, teaching Conrad and Frank, and planning the linens we would need on the boat.
I didn’t have the same experience of our boat as my brothers who worked on Circe. They started to talk about her as if she was a person. They developed a love for the boat that I didn’t. At sixteen, my life was elsewhere.
Built mostly by hand, Circe had 40,000 man-hours (hours not using machines) in her by the time she launched. The woodwork was elegant, with over twenty kinds of wood used. Hand carvings on each of the bunks stood watch over us as we slept. The craftsman also carved a figurehead for the bow. She was the siren, “Circe.”
Our boat would sleep nine of us with Carl in the engine room, Mom and Dad in the salon, Conrad and Frank in bunks on one side, Jan and I in bunks on the other side, and Tom and Hank in the fo’c’s’le.
From Mom’s letter to her sister.
Our boat is coming along quite nicely now but will not really be ready to go before about the first of May, so we will probably be here till the first of June. Wish I could get the beautiful carpentry work in a house that is being done on the boat. The fellow who is doing the finishing work inside is a furniture maker, and the work is really exquisite. Everyone who sees the boat tells me how lucky we are, but stupid me—all I can think of is nine of us living in an area somewhere around 36 feet long and about 6 to 8 feet wide. The boat is 58 feet long overall, but engine room, etc, make up the difference. Well, we shall see. Won’t be too bad during the summer when we’re on the move all the time, then when winter comes, we can always find a house if it gets too bad. At this point we are planning to be up on the south coast of France next winter so that the children can learn French and go to school there… you better plan to make us a visit.
Three photos of the Circe under construction at MYABCA….
© 2019 Suzy Beal
Suzy Beal, an occasional contributor to True Stories Well Told, has been writing her life story and personal essays for years. In 2016 Suzy began studying with Sheila Bender at writingitreal.com. Watch for new chapters of her travel memoir to be posted! Please leave comments for Suzy on this post.
Thanks Suzy, I can’t wait to hear more about your life aboard ship and – whether you learned enough French to enjoy school!
The part about confusing ‘puta’ with ‘punta’ cracked me up. What a beautiful ship. Thanks for the photos!
Thank you for your response. My French was sufficient to survive living with a family au pair. The children were so nice and patient with me, I learned fast, but school was a challenge. More to come…
Thanks, SoyBend. We all made mistakes learning a new language, but Dad’s mistake was the