Saturday, September 19, 2020

Adventure on the high seas

| August 10, 2020 9:08 AM

Last week I found a curious email in my inbox at work with my brother’s name in the subject line followed by the words “Brigantine Romance.”

When I opened it and began reading my heart jumped. It was from a man who was an alumnus of the same college as my brother. He’d read Chris’ obituary in the college’s quarterly newsletter (Chris died last November) and saw that Chris had spent a summer crewing a brigantine sailing ship in the Caribbean.

As it turns out, so had this man the following year, so, although he’d never met Chris, in the early ’70s they’d lived somewhat parallel lives.

Chris and this gentleman would have both been about 21 or 22 when they crewed onboard the Brigantine Romance — probably not for much in wages, but for the chance of a lifetime — priceless.

I quote from his email, “The ship, Brigantine Romance is famous in the world of tall ships, and is considered the gold standard in sail training. The Captain that we all trained under is even more famous. As many ex-Romance crew were so inspired by the experience, that the sea never left their life. We all think of the experience often, if not daily.”

Captain Arthur Kimberly and his wife Gloria purchased the Romance in 1966. In the course of the next 23 years, the couple circumnavigated the world twice and also traveled with guests onboard heading for the Galapagos, South Pacific, Caribbean and beyond. Those who were hired to crew learned the art of marlinspike seamanship under the guidance of one of the best skippers of the day. They’d climb the masts and rigging, paint and varnish, tack and furl and sew sail day after day. Between watches crew studied celestial navigation and meteorology.

An exacting re-creation of a 19th century ship, the square-rigged Danish oak and beech Romance was built in 1936 to be a trading vessel in Europe and Greenland. In 1964 she was re-rigged into a beautiful brigantine and used in the epic film version of James Michener’s “Hawaii.”

I must have been in junior high school the year Chris sailed the Caribbean onboard the Romance. I remember when he came home at the end of the summer, he looked wild around the edges; his hair was long and sun bleached, he was lean and tan, and he had plenty of really dirty clothes in his possession. Mom did his wash for him and there was one pair of cut-offs that had endured so much saltwater they were stiff as a starched collar; she tossed them out. When Chris found out she had, it was as if someone had made off with his college track medals.

I guess our age difference kept him from sharing much with me about his experience, so I never realized how extraordinary his summer of sailing was. But as the man who emailed me out of the blue pointed out after reading my brother’s obituary, Chris went on to become a lawyer and practiced maritime law in New Orleans for many years. He became a sailor in his own right, having bought a sailboat he kept moored at Pass Christian on the Mississippi coast. He sailed yachts large and small and made voyages from the Gulf coast to Jamaica, Cuba and the Yucatan.

I’m forever grateful to the man who took the time to reach out to me. His email included several links to information about the Brigantine Romance, its exceptional skipper and the amazing story behind one of the greatest square-rigged sailing vessels of all time. Reading about and researching it has brought me closer to my brother.

Sadly, the Romance was damaged beyond repair while anchored during 1995’s Hurricane Luis in the Atlantic and was later scuttled. Yet, her legacy is kept alive by those lucky enough to have sailed with her.

Community and Entertainment editor Carol Marino may be reached at 758-4440 or by email at