The Merry Maiden  

World Cruises
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July 11, 1975 The Salem Evening News.

By David Swanson

"6-year world voyage ends happily"

Salem - A hazy, summer sunset was settling over Salem Harbor. Small waves were slapping against the dock of Dion's Yacht Yard where owner Leo Dion awaited the arrival of the Merry Maiden and her 6- member crew.

Dion hadn't seen the handsome, 52-foot ketch in 6 years, since she embarked on a voyage around the world.

Her skipper was Ranulf, a 58-year-old spacerocket engineer from Lincoln, Mass. who apparently believes stongly in the benefits of pursuing "new frontiers."

After a long needed rest and the "no-so-needed" monotony of customs clearance Monday, Ranulf and his family related some of the highlights of a 37,000 mile voyage which answered their needs for escape as well as adventure.

A former M.I.T. engineer involved with the Apollo Space program, Ranulf decided in 1969 to forego "moon shots" for a trip around the equator.

Far from a seasoned ocean-sailor, Ranulf's sailing experience was essentially limited to the Charles River, where he was an instructor for M.I.T. boating.

But if Ranulf's sailing credentials were suspect his crews' were worse.

Between his 49-year-old wife Annette and their 2 sons (Adrian, 21, and Seaton, 19,), Ranulf and his crew had one seaworthy expedition under their belts - a cruise from Scituate to Cohasset. They also returned successfully.

For another crewmember, 26 year-old daughter Robn, the 6-year voyage ended prematurely, with a marriage to a German sailor in Pago Pago.

After 3 months of preparing themselves and the Merry Maiden, the family set forth on their 2190-day journey through the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans; the Caribbean and around the Cape of Good Hope and through the Panama Canal.

Aside from a 2-year stay in Hawaii, where both sons continued their high school educations and where a damaged engine was finally repaired, the voyage moved smoothly, with only minor mishaps and with the ketch traveling an average of 160-170 miles per day maintaining a course roughly within 25 degrees of the equator.

The itinerary is virtually endless, featuring obscure spots like Celebes, Surabaja, Rotuma and Tutiula. Other destinations sounded even more exotic, even more difficult to spell.

Without the luxury of any self-steering mechanisms, the crew adhered to a strict rotating watch system. But aside from the navigational imperatives, the element of time was utterly incidental.

"My wife and I missed our 30th anniversary," remarked Ranulf, "but we somehow managed to catch Christmas every year: Panama the first year; Hawaii the second and third; Tahiti the fourth; and an island north of Madagascar (Africa) for the fifth."

The entire family agreed in interviews with THE NEWS Thursday that spending six years together on a sailboat can pose serious privacy problems, but in this case familiarity didn't breed contempt.

"As the so-called 'breadwinner', I never got to know my family at all," said Ranulf, a thin agile man who seemed very pleased with his white, ruddy beard.

"Between the '9-5 routine', schools, projects and telephones, not to mention television, I shared very little with my children," he continued.

"So it was nice to be free of any outside pressures, where you could do whatever you liked, subject to the weather.

"Of course, in such close quarters, little things tend to get blown up. But my kids criticized me very early for bottling things up; so I learned to spit it up when something bothered me," said Ranulf.

"Lots of spitting went on around here at times," he said.

In addition to "tightening" family's, 6 years at sea also serves as an educational experience.

"I've never really thought of the sea as a hostile threat," said Ranulf. I've rather thought of it as something to be wary of; something to respect.

You see the sea is a consequence of wind more than anything else," he added. "The wind itself can't hurt you, but the sea can because it accumulates the energy of the wind.

"It's a beautiful, impressive sight to see those gales blowing, and one respects the sea for that. In fact, that's why I never really got bored," he said.

"I was absolutely captivated by those waves and swells. I could look at them until my eyes couldn't stay open."

The respect with which the family learned to regarded their living element was clearly heightened by crisis. Between 50-foot sea swells; 5 days of gale winds while rounding the Cape of Good Hope; and mixed, violent weather patterns in Tahiti, where sails were changed every 5 minutes during an 11 hour trip; the family came to know the sea as a fickle, if not ruthless element.

But when they speak about the lasting memories, when they are asked about the enduring qualities of the experience, the family speaks about people, the "port people," who taught them that desirable living standards are defined by more than comfort and the accumulation of wealth.

"The Indonesians live in a way which really upsets American thinking in terms of what's right for people," said Annette, a cheerful, athletic-looking woman who appears to enjoy a good laugh.

"They are proud, industrious and happy people, who live without the comforts so valued in American culture. In seeing other people in their own milieu, one gets a feeling of understanding that can't be obtained elsewhere," she said.

"It seemed that everywhere we went people really liked Americans, probably because American ethnic attitudes are proselytized around the world.

"But the prevailing attitude among the Indonesians, despite their poverty, was not to see how much we could do for them, but what they could do for us,"

Now that they have returned and must confront such unfamiliar problems as time, jobs and school, the family is optimistic but uncertain.

While Ranulf says he has "some irons in the fire" in the realm of employment possibilities, and his two sons seem ready to return to school, a "wait and see attitude" seemed to be the prevailing sentiment.

But regardless of their future, the family is confident about coming to terms with it, feeling a unique enrichment from their recent past.

"I figured three years would have been enough to accomplish a trip around the world," said Ranulf

"But one thing we've learned is 10 life-times aren't enough to do the job right.

"Nature's colorations blend together; there is no clash between sunset, sunrise and the horizon," he said.

"This is an awfully beautiful planet, and I am looking forward to staying."

East coast sailing