With Reckless Abandon|
Memoirs of a Boat-Obsessed Life
Captain Jim Sharp
Devereux Books, 272pp. $18.95
Captain Jim Sharp has a roving eye and has enjoyed an embarrassing number of serial love affairs but it's not what you think. His conquests, if you will, are boats not women. The appendix of his book With Reckless Abandon lists 34 boats which he has owned and loved in the course of a lifetime. The final entry on the list adds "a parcel of other stuff including: two ice boats, a kit-built pontoon sea plane, canoes, kayaks, skiffs, dories and a handful of nondescript sailing and rowing dinghies...That's nuff." But I wouldn't bet on it. The man was only 73 when he wrote the book and compiled the list.
Early chapters of With Reckless Abandon give hints of the direction of Sharp's remarkable life (so far). He was the son of a college educated trombonist with Fred Waring's orchestra who toured the world with the "Pennsylvanians." His father was eventually persuaded to give up the glamour life for the sake of his family but not from traveling. The author recalls, "[H]e and mom dragged us all over the United States, three times to Europe and to many other foreign countries, seriously infecting us with his own wanderlust."
Sharp's father also passed on his love of boats. The younger Sharp took his first solo sail in his father's commandeered row boat with the classic aid of broom handles and bed sheets when he was about eleven. But the most influential experience of Captain Sharp's youth was dealing with the ravages of polio which he contracted when he was twelve. "I developed a kind of stubbornness, and a seeming recklessness that refused to acknowledge the damn leg handicap." Later in his life, the permanent limp did add swash to his buckle when Sharp's careening career led him to captain a series of passenger-carrying windjammers.
At twenty he and a friend bought a little plywood knockabout which provided several predicable adventures including a swamping and a rescue and a tow to "beach and bail." That winter he built a sunfish in his basement. Then he acquired a fiberglass racing dinghy and raced summers on the Jersey shore and sailed frostbite regattas in Schuylkill winters. Sharp finally bought his first real cruising yacht, Malabar XI, a John Alden designed yawl in which he cruised the Chesapeake and sailed south for chartering in Bahamian and Florida waters. He was 26.
He was in Fort Myers, Florida doing odd job boat repairs between charters when he was approached by a crusty old salt from downcast who hired him on as first mate of the Mattie, then the Mercantile sailing out of Camden. A year later, (1964) Sharp bought the Stephen Tabor, a 68-foot by 22-foot wooden ex-coasting gaff schooner, the oldest in continuous service, built in 1871 in Glen Cove, New York. She carried 22 passengers.
The Tabor was the first of a long line of commercial acquisitions. Sharp bought the Adventure (122-foot, ex-Grand Banks fishing schooner) in 1965, the Bowdoin (88-foot arctic explorer gaff schooner) in 1968 and the Roseway (112-foot gaff-topsail ex-fishing schooner) in 1975. Although old wooden sailing ships had been taking passengers on recreational sails since 1935, Sharp put tourist-schooner cruising on the map and the bulls eye of the business was his home-port of Camden, Maine. His accounts of those heady days are both frank and humorous.
He worked like a demon, repairing the old boats, building boat-houses, developing commercial waterfront property, running the schooner business, sailing his boats but his eye continued to rove. He fell in love with tugs and built a toney restaurant out of the famous SS John Wanamaker, cruised the 1926 New York Harbor tug, Wrestler, built in 1926 down the ICW, cruised the canals system of Holland, Belgium and France in Resi, a wooden, ex-German WWII police patrol boat powered by a Mercedes engine. He escaped Maine winters on a 50-foot steel cruising house-boat. His various craft are too numerous to mention (or explain) here. To quote the author, "that's nuff" of a tease from this reviewer. You've gotta' read this watery whirlwind biography for your own self!