In 1939, General George Patton had a 63-foot schooner built for a specific purpose. “When the war is over, and if I live through it, Bea and I are going to sail her around the world,” he said. With Patton’s untimely death in 1945, the boat never made the trip. The When and If’s current Captain reflects on a historic piece of Americana and his attempt to honor its mission.
Captain of the When and If
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General Patton had a soft spot for sailing.
People don’t know about Patton’s personal life, that he had a schooner and wanted to sail around the world. She’s a part of American history, be it untold.
The boat is overconstructed. It’s built like a tank. I imagine Patton kept asking for it to be stronger and heavier and bigger. Nothing was spared. She’s built with all the best materials. There wasn’t one bit of penny-saving. She’s double-planked, oak frames, alaskan red cedar inner planking. Outer planking is mahogany. Bronze strapping. Bronze fastening.
I’m not the same type of person Patton was, but I imagine we’d have some things in common. I can’t relate to him being a warrior, a soldier. Sailing’s the only way I can attempt to relate. I’ve done plenty of things. I raced the first legal race to Cuba. I’ve done transatlantic races. I’ve done some noteworthy things. But I haven’t led an army into battle.
I’ve read a lot about him and I’ve tried to decide how much I like him or not and I go back and forth. He led a lot of men and lost a lot of men. He had to make decisions. I respect that. I also have to decide if I should send a crew member aloft in the middle of the night to fix something that could wait till morning, but if it waits we’re gonna lose thirty miles against our competitor.
I have lost a crew member that way. It wasn’t offshore, but it was a mistake at the dock and the guy died. I lost one person. Patton lost hundreds of thousands.
In his will, Patton had three things for the boat. He said, “When I die, I want one of three things to happen to the boat. I either want it to stay in the family or two, get donated for educational purposes, or three, be scuttled.”
What I look at as my responsibility right now? My job is to maintain the boat and make sure that everything on the boat is better and functions better when and if I have to move on.
Damn thing lives up to its name every freaking day. We have ideas and we try to accomplish things. It might be be blessed and cursed by its name. It definitely is a boat that needs to do what it was meant to do.
Should there be ghosts, I’d think Patton would be following us. He would enjoy the sailing that we’re doing. He’d be rooting for our mission here.
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