By Richard Crockett
In 1983 when working for Yachtsman RSA Magazine (remember it?) I was very fortunate to be invited aboard the beautiful Alden Schooner named ‘Lord Jim”. Her owner then was a guy named Holger Kreuzhager, and besides letting me simply “have a look” I also got to take photos, interview him and delve into the history of the vessel. Holger even entrusted me with the original blueprint plans to have them copied!
Sadly I have not been able to unearth the many photos I took, but they will emerge from the depths of my archives at some stage. So just these four pictures, newly scanned from slides in the ‘Lord Jim’ folder, will have to suffice!
This is what I wrote for the magazine back then in 1983:
‘Lord Jim’ – maybe not the first, but the finest example of any Alden Schooner to sail in South African waters, visited Durban recently.
One may ask why she is the best example of an Alden Schooner to visit our waters, this becoming clearer as her history and her owners minute attention to detail and general infatuation for schooners is slowly revealed.
It was while Joseph Conrad was writing his novel “Lord Jim” about youth, ambition and courage, the schooner age was slowly coming to an end. Yet, now nearly eighty years later, she is still admired and appreciated as are Conrad’s novels.
It took a near tragedy to inspire Alden’s imagination to give the world the superb Alden Schooners. Alden, his brother and four others had to hurriedly sail a fishing schooner out of Halifax, Nova Scotia after becoming involved in some infraction of Admiralty Law. The six put to sea in a fishing schooner normally crewed by 23 people. Encountering gales, blizzards and violent seas in the North Atlantic, they were eventually towed in by the Coast Guard. Half starved and glad to be ashore, John Alden began to consider the inherent seaworthiness of that vessel, his thoughts eventually stimulated to give us the present range of Alden Schooners.
The ‘fisherman’ style – deep draft, full keel, spoon bow, broad transom, all with a tall topsail rig – became an Alden hallmark.
Called ‘Meridian’, and launched in 1936 after being commissioned by two Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professors, and built at the George Lawley & Sons Shipyard in Newport, the construction was noted as:- “quite heavy with double sawn frames. The decks are of teak as is the rail and deck joiner work. A comfortable deck shelter is built at the forward end of the cockpit, similar to that used on other Alden boats …” The gaff-head rig with fiddle top mast was adapted at the owner’s (Milton Knight and his brother) request as the boat is designed for extended offshore cruising, speed being a secondary consideration.”
In 1941 she was signed over to military duties as a submarine patrol boat, her name being changed to “Blue Water’.
She was bought from the U.S. Coast guard in 1946 by Roscoe Prior and renamed ‘Shoal Water.’
Bought exclusively for cruising, Prior employed a top class prim and proper steward complete with white jacket and matching shoes. On the other extreme he hired an old Schooner Captain, complete with arm garters for his working shirts!
In 1948 he entered the Marblehead – Halifax race, not without drama, as before the start he announced that his wife would be aboard for the race. Most of the crew immediately jumped ship, those who stayed did so either because of good wages or friendship. Despite this setback, she finished second to the L. Francis Herreshoff ketch ‘Ticonderoga’.
Prior died before he could sell the vessel which lay idle until 1953 when it was donated to the New York State Maritime Academy.
In 1957 she was auctioned and bought by a professional magician who inevitably changed the name to Genie.
By 1959 she was sold to a radio producer Phillip H. Lord.
It was at this time that Ross Anderson, Commodore of The Boston Yacht Club from 1960-62 bought a schooner and named her ‘Lord Jim’. She was sunk on a reef off Fishers Island shortly after, forcing Anderson to look for a replacement as he desperately wanted a yacht that would beat his counterpart at the New York Yacht Club, Commodore De Coursey Fales, the owner of ‘Nina’.
‘Genie’ at this stage was moored in the lee of Lord’s island off the Maine Coast. Anderson heard that she was for sale, and without hesitation bought her.
Because of a fire in the galley which damaged most of the interior, she was completely rebuilt. With meticulous attention to plans and detail, she was restored in only 6 months.
In New York where ‘Nina’ was being raced, no Schooner, yawl or ketch could beat her.
Ted Hood, a friend of Andersons’, was asked to scrutinise the vessel and see what changes would be necessary to enable ‘Lord Jim’ to beat Nina. He was able to devise a scheme to improve the vessels old CCA handicap rating, one method being to step a new 82′ aluminium mast, which many critics agreed would be useful during the race, but left lots in aesthetics to be desired. Hood also cut a new suit of sails.
Her first race was in ideal Schooner weather, enabling her to fly a no. 1 Genoa that stretched from the bowsprit all the way aft to a block abeam of the wheel. With this sail she easily won.
Nina won the next three races – ‘Lord Jim’ being able to hold his own off the wind, but to windward the difference in performance was embarrassing to say the least.
The real test would be the Halifax race which lay ahead – an exciting test.
With a new light drifter of alternating red and white stripes, ‘Lord Jim’ crossed the start line in pole position, but in light winds with the wind almost dead ahead.
In no time the fleet was to windward and ahead of her, so Anderson ordered the jib to be cracked off onto a close reach. The rest of the fleet slowly ghosted along the shore, with ‘Lord Jim’ heading out to sea. For four days she kept to herself, playing the wind for her reaching strength.
All the news reports gave the lead to ‘Nina’ as ‘Lord Jim’ had not been sighted and it was presumed that she was way back and out of contention, as the Nina was expected to finish the following morning. ‘Lord Jim’s’ ETA was also the following morning, so they knew that they were not too far behind.
At about 02h00 of the morning watch of the fourth day at sea the navigator excitedly announced “I’ve got a fix on ‘Nina’. It’s a dinghy race to the finish.”
A radio report had given ‘Nina’s’ exact position, one half-mile astern. It was a report from a ship intended for the Morning newspaper, ironically mentioning that ‘Lord Jim’ was assumed to be well back as she had not been sighted since the start.
With every man on the sheets, and the helm rotating between three helmsmen only, ‘Lord Jim’ won the race to a roar from all the spectator craft at the finish.
‘Lord Jim’s’ crew were determined to give De Coursey a bit of the “furled-sails-steward-serving-in-the-cockpit-treatment.”
By the time they arrived at the dock everything was shipshape, covers on, sheets and halyards coiled, burgees and pennants aloft, and ensign on the transom. By the time ‘Nina’ arrived the twenty crew aboard ‘Lord Jim’ lined the decks in various versions of attention to give ‘Nina’ a salute. With their cannon in the middle they gave ‘Nina’ a ten-gun salvo, not as rhythmical as a Navy effort, for the crew were weak on gun drill, but made up for this with deck hands at either end of the parade gently swinging rope ends!
By 1966 Anderson could not cope with the upkeep of a wooden boat and sold her to Jolyn Byerley of Antigua.
Seven years later she was again sold this time to Denny Warner. She was sailed onto a reef, needing a new stem and fresh frames in her repairs.
By 1975 she was almost forgotten in the Caribbean, in terrible state of disrepair until Holger Kreuzhager found her.
Holger, as he prefers to be called was born in Germany and has sailed all his life, in big yachts mainly, with nearly all his racing having been done in the Baltic.
As a teenager he went to a summer sailing school run by ex-German Naval Officers, one a former submarine Commander. He, with all the other pupils were treated like their former subordinates, hence his ability to endure difficulty and a hard life at sea.
He also completed an officers training course aboard the square-rigger ‘Ramir’, the last square rigger in the Germany Commercial Navy.
As a member of the Hamburg Yacht Club, he has always been known as a skipper with a reputation for winning, having raced intently sailing the 80′ Yawl ‘Hamburg V’.
A professional commercial photographer by trade, Holger has always had a soft spot for Schooners. not having sailed one until he bought ‘Lord Jim’ after putting down a deposit for another yacht in the Bahamas, but having his broker abscond with the money. He pursued the broker, recovered his $20.000 and headed for Antigua where he found ‘Lord Jim’.
Bets were placed that she would not last the trip back to New York where she was to be restored. Undaunted by this Holger sailed her back, slipping her immediately he arrived. In the yard he tested the wood below the waterline, pushing a screwdriver straight through the rotten planks without difficulty. This was in 1975.
By 1979 Holger had completed this awesome task and claimed that ‘Lord Jim’ was stiffer and 80% stronger than she was when built.
The galley area was the worst affected, but the whole vessel was re-planked in its entirety below the waterline. A new stem was constructed, as were many new frames and deck beams.
Over the old 1 ¼” teak deck he laid a 3/ 8″ marine ply sub-deck, which in turn was covered with a fresh layer of 1 ½” teak – giving the deck a total thickness of over 4″.
Holger worked as close to the original plans as possible, altering only the galley area and the main stateroom to suit his own personal requirements, the whole area forward of the saloon being rebuilt.
Where bronze fittings and fixtures were missing Holger personally made patterns out of wood or Styrofoam and had them cast at a local foundry out of old marine hardware he had collected.
Both masts were totally stripped and worked on, finishing them in a high gloss varnish. All the running rigging was replaced with plough steel shrouds in place of modern day stainless steel. Holger says that of the few stainless steel halyards he has, once one breaks the rest will follow. For this reason he carries a complete set of spare stainless steel rigging.
The total running rigging is 3½ miles in length, giving some indication to the dimension and size of this magnificent schooner with an overall length of 85-foot.
On deck one is immediately struck by the sparseness of modern day fittings, with only two fairly new bronze winches to help the crew, bar the original bronze winches. What is even more impressive is the state of the rigging. Any shackle or bottle-screw that is in permanent use is neatly seized, whilst the rigging is parcelled and tarred, coated finally in a layer of varnish to stop the tar from being sticky.
All sheets are neatly coiled as are all the halyards, with all the blocks having wooden cheeks with a high gloss varnish finish.
On deck his pride and joy is his steering cockpit, especially his binnacle which is regularly polished with much loving care, as is his magnificent wooden wheel. Holger does not hesitate to tell all his guests these are his pride and joy.
Below decks one is immediately struck by the amount of air and room available.
To starboard of the companionway are two cabins, one the owners stateroom, the other double cabin for the crew. The stateroom is one of the few areas where Holger deviated from the builders original plans.
To port is the other double cabin for the crew, with a ‘bathroom’ consisting of head, shower and basin. The basin is bronze, designed, moulded and cast by Holger himself, with a magnificent old fashioned bronze hand pump to pump water into the basin. Opposite this to starboard is another head.
Going forward, is the saloon which is breath-taking, looking more like the living room in and old fashioned railway carriage. On the port side is the navigation table, with many instruments, including radar and weather facsimile machine, to mention just a few.
The rest of the port side is a bench seat, beautifully covered in black leather with studs. Above this is a bookcase for the many books carried.
On the starboard side is the saloon table, also surrounded by a bench seat matching the opposite side. Above the table an antique lamp hangs, providing a subtle amount of light at night. The whole saloon area is beautifully panelled in a light coloured wood, adding to the well lit, airy impression the area gives one. The panels are tastefully decorated, one in particular with an original ‘blueprint’ of Lord Jim.
The cabin top is painted white, with no smoking allowed below decks to keep it that colour. Two enormous skylights let a lot of air in as well as light during the day. These are operated with an old fashioned crank handle.
The galley is another impressive area, large and spacious, and beautifully appointed.
All the stowage lockers have a high gloss finish, giving the impression of a high classed home kitchen rather than a galley. Again an old fashioned bronze pump is used to pump water in to the galley.
Aboard ‘Jim’ everyone does the cooking, and washing, even though there is a lady aboard. Pamela, Holgers girlfriend coordinates the catering, helping where necessary.
Forward of the galley are spare crew quarters, although at present this area is used as a storage area for sails and other equipment.
Naturally the upkeep on a yacht of this size is almost a full time occupation, but the four crew, Pamela and Holger somehow manage. Two work lists are constantly kept, one for the period at sea, and the other for their stay in port. The port list in Durban was distressingly long, but in a matter of six weeks the whole vessel had virtually been overhauled, including all the varnish work being redone.
Repairs at sea include sail repairs and rope-work, both of which Holger is extremely good at. Wire splices and wire-to-rope splices are a simple matter to him and all in a days work.
Whilst at sea they do a lot of fishing and eat fish almost every day. They carry very little meat as there is always fresh fish available, leaving meat eating to their ports of call.
Before leaving they perfected the art of vacuum packed food, still having various vacuum packed items available after two years.
One recipe they have perfected is “Tuna Jerkies”. This is the equivalent of biltong, but fish and is made as follows:-
(Tuna seems to be the best as it does not smell and dries in two days.)
• Cut into strips 5cms long and 2cms thick.
• Fill a bag with table salt, rub it into the fish and then shake it around in the bag to ensure that it is well covered. Once this is done it must be laid out on cheese-cloth to dry or be hung up to dry. The strips must have air and must dry in the sun.
• After two days it is ready to eat, making a good snack being full of protein. It also stores very well.
This recipe was given to them by an old lady who lives on Fanning Island in the Gilbertese Chain (in the Christmas Islands) area.
Another thing they do is grow a lot of sprouts, so that they do not have to carry too many fresh vegetables.
With 16 sails aboard, Holger always sails the vessel with as much canvas as possible.
For Holger, he is happiest on a beam reach, and describes this point of sailing, which is the fastest point of sailing for schooners, as “Schooning”. When Lord Jim is “Schooning” you will find a very elated, smiling and generally happy Holger.
Whether Conrad’s novel “Lord Jim” was ever read by Holger, the youth, ambition and courage he wrote about has somehow rubbed off on Holger, whose friendly attitude has given many people a lot of pleasure after being invited aboard, and whose ambition and courage can only be admired considering the mammoth task he set himself, and eventually succeeded in, in such grand style.
Raymon Carlin, owner of ‘Sayula II’ and winner of the first Whitbread Round the World Race once offered Holger $750 000 in brand new $100 dollar bills. Holger replied that this did not even cover the deposit!