The Last Voyage
The Story of Schooner Third Sea
|Video “How to Build a Boat”|
INTRODUCTION, by Robert Stedman
I must have been about twelve years old when news reached our family that my uncle Harold Stephens was building a sailing boat. We were at the dinner table — my mother, father, brother and two sisters — when my grandmother phoned. They were all disturbed, especially my grandmother. My uncle had been roaming around the world, from Tahiti to Bangkok, for a good number of years and all my family thought it was about time he settled down and gave up his wandering ways. He was always up to something. If it wasn’t driving a jeep across Russia or floating on a raft down the Amazon it was building an adobe ranch house in the mountains overlooking the Mojave Desert to living in a grass hut on a beach in Tahiti. I should say everyone was against him, except me. Uncle Harold was my hero. But I couldn’t admit it.
The books my uncle wrote about these distant places, and the adventures, could not match seeing him in person, and letting him tell his tales. It seems we all have admiration for travelers and adventurers, and we admire them when we see them on TV or in the movies, but when they are members of our family, well that’s something altogether different. “What good did a college education do him?,” I remember my father asking. My mother didn’t have an answer.
I remember when the boat was under construction in Singapore (what a romantic sounding name) Uncle Harold came home for a short visit. He was on his way to Vancouver in Canada to confer with his boat designer and he invited me to join him. My mother refused to let me go. I guess she thought he might be a bad influence. But no amount of scoffing would discourage my uncle. “There’s a magnificent world out there for anyone who wants it,” he would whisper to me and go on doing what he set out to do. He was enthusiastic, and didn’t care what others thought. He seemed to have some secret about the world that no one else knew. But he was under criticism constantly. “What do you know about boat building?” “Do you know how to sail?” “What about navigation?” There were all kinds of questions. His answers were to the point: “I’ll learn!”
And when they asked him, “What about money? Where are you going to get all the money?” He merely replied, “I’ll find a way!” And he did.
Once when he was visiting home, Uncle Harold asked me to accompany him to buy boat parts. He was looking for electronic equipment. “Can’t get everything in Singapore,” he said. I was thrilled. I had won an award in my science class in school and this was now my chance to show him what I could do.
We bought a depth sounder, and to test that it worked, my uncle suggested we use the toilet. We did, and blew it up. Everyone laughed, but my uncle thought it was the funniest thing he could have done. He returned to that mysterious far off place. “You know where Singapore is, don’t you,” he said to me before he left. “You want to go? I’ll take you there one day.”
The boat was launched. Letters kept coming, with strange stamps and markings. They became more exciting as time went on. They came from distant places, Hong Kong, Borneo, Bali, New Guinea, the Solomons, Tahiti. Tahiti, my uncle was in Tahiti aboard his boat. No one ever goes to Tahiti. You only read about the place in books and magazines. My uncle was there. How exciting.
Years passed. Schooner Third Sea was sailing the high seas, making news and a name for itself, and everyone forgot what they had said, that it couldn’t be done. Now they looked for other faults. “He’s crazy. You can’t sail a schooner up the Sepic River in New Guinea. That’s impossible!” When he did it they would find something else to criticize. I never really thought I would see the schooner. But then, no one back home ever thought they would see it either. To most people she was a myth and no more.
Then a telegram arrived. My mother had passed away and my uncle asked if I wanted to join him on a writing assignment in Southeast Asia, and then would I like to help sail Third Sea from Samoa to Hawaii. I accepted. We toured Asia and then I flew ahead to Samoa. I signed aboard as a deck hand. My uncle, the captain now, showed me no favoritism. The voyage over, I returned home, knowing now that he had been right. There was another world out there.
A year later another telegram arrived. Would I accept a position as First Mate aboard Third Sea? Would I! I sold everything I owned and flew to Hawaii where the schooner was waiting. One thing I learned aboard Third Sea is there’s no such word as can’t. Nor is there a task that’s impossible. My uncle learned it from his father, my grandfather, and he passed it on to me. “You can do anything you set your mind to,” he would say, “except, maybe, if you want to be a ballet dancer.”
Today, when I hear someone say they would like to go to sea in their own boat, if they only had the money, I tell them about Third Sea. The schooner was the greatest influence in my life. It had an effect upon everyone, me and the many hundreds of others who sailed about her. Third Sea taught us all about this wonderful world we live in. All one needs do is go out and find it. And there is nothing except yourself to hold you back.
About the Book
Thousands have come to know about the voyages of Schooner Third Sea through the many magazine stories and newspaper articles written by Harold Stephens.
In “The Last Voyage, the Story of Schooner Third Sea,” you can read how the schooner was built and outfitted and how for eighteen years went on to sail the South Pacific and the waters and rivers of Asia. You will read about the famous and not-so-famous people who have sailed aboard her, about her adventures and landfalls, and about pirates, renegades and typhoons she encountered. And you will read about her loss in a devastating hurricane that ravaged the Hawaiian Islands.
This is more than a yachting tale or a story about a schooner; it is an inspiration for those who have ever dreamed about going to sea aboard a sailing ship.