1960 Abandoned at Sea

A collection of stories about Curlew's history!

1960 Abandoned at Sea

On November 7th, 1960, in a Sealed Bid Process, Curlew was purchased from the USCG by Mr. Robert Gervasoni of Trenton, N.J. and Mr. Sam Fiorello of Yardley PA for the grand total of $3,000.00. According to Bob Gervasoni, Curlew was in sad shape. Having broken loose from her mooring in a hurricane that reached Cape May, she had lost her bowsprit and foremast. In addition the Coast Guard had stripped her, including her diesel engine. The new owners had her towed to the Stowman Shipyard on the Maurice River, Delaware Bay. When they arrived they found they had been taking on water, and further found an open seacock. Fortunately the seacock was fouled with sea grass, or Curlew would have been lost.

A collar was made to repair the foremast, and between the yard and efforts by Bob Gervasoni over the course of a year, she was put back into ship shape condition, including installation of a Ford diesel. Bob also remembers that he replaced the linoleum sole with teak that he was able to salvage from one of Hitler’s Yachts, confiscated during the war, and apparently being dismantled locally.

Eventually they moved her to the Essex Yacht club in Essex CT, where Sam met a fellow sailor who had chartering experience in the Caribbean. This sparked a desire in Sam but not Bob. Sam’s will prevailed however and on November 5th, 1962, they embarked on a south bound journey with stops in Newport RI, and in Mystic CT, partly due to a storm. This delay resulted in Bob Gervasoni abandoning the trip, as he had only limited time off from his job, leaving Sam and the hired crew to continue the journey south. As reported in the Trenton Evening News, Trenton NJ, Thursday November 15th 1962 the five crew members aboard included; Samuel Fiorello 28 of Fairway Lane, Yardley; William Colby 26 of Bordentown; and John “Spider” Slim 25, also of Bordentown. David Skillion, the captain, of London England; James O’ Neill of New Britton Conn; and Ed Moore of Maine. The schooner carried a raft, and 10’ dingy equipped with flares and emergency provisions. There are several accounts of what actually happened that day; two are available through the following links;

The Saga of The Curlew

Adler Cole & The Saga of the Curlew

Bob Gervasoni as it turns out did charter the tug Bermudian, and they towed the half sunken Curlew in to Hamilton Bay to be pumped out and then on to St Georges harbor to make what repairs they could, with the limited funds they had left. Apparently there was no insurance policy to help them out.

From an article in the Royal Gazette, provided by Frank L. Sherman, we learned that Curlew was detained in St. Georges harbor for six months pending a settlement regarding her salvage. Bob Gervasoni recalled that the Tug operator that towed her in wanted some $35k in salvage fee’s but the settled on $3,000 after realizing all they would get by enforcing that would be the title to Curlew. Frank Sherman signed on as crew to help take her to San Juan Puerto Rico, and then on to Yacht Haven Grande a marine facility in St. Thomas , Virgin Islands. Curlew had been repaired when Frank arrived from Canada. In what appears to be her plight at this period in her life, Curlew encountered another storm, this one off the Carolina’s, and one that took seven boats. Frank recounts that Curlew was rolling so bad at one point that Sam wanted to cut down the main mast, fortunately Frank convinced him to use the fore staysail to steady the boat instead. For more insight into Franks tale as a crewman click here. Franks Tale

When they eventually got to the St Thomas, Sam found that there was a long list of boats waiting to join the charter trade, which seemingly soured him on the idea of chartering. Sam eventually took off for parts even farther south, the first stop being Martinique, and after some time ending up in what we believe to be Tobago where she encountered yet another hurricane, presumably Flora, September of 1963. Bob Gervasoni recalls that she broke loose from a mooring which led to her grounding on some soft Coral. Once again Bob came to the rescue and with local help, dynamite was used to help with a path to deeper waters, and her salvage. Sam had hurt his back and by then was about done with chartering so headed back stateside. Bob hired a skipper to bring her back, but having ignored advice to do some work on the horn timber only made it to St Croix, with Curlew taking on water once again. With a friend baby sitting Curlew for a few months in St Croix, Bob eventually made his way back down and made repairs on the horn timber, and bowsprit, and began a return voyage to Trenton NJ. To help crew Bob invited Frank Lise, a young man just one year out of college. Frank recalls arriving in time to see the marina in St Croix, construct a new bowsprit, having discoverd rot in the the one installed after the storm, by laminating several 2 x 12’s together then cutting them to shape. Frank also wrote,”Our shake down voyage was from St Croix to St. Thomas where we stayed a couple of days. Then it was off to Atlantic City. The entire trip was made without the diesel engine which could not be used due to a failed main shaft coupling. This required docking the vessel at the A.C. State Marina under sail. Fortunately, the wind was in the perfect direction”. Once back in New Jersey, there Bob embarked on yet another years refurbishing mission including refastening the deck which had been fastened with brass instead of bronze screws, and replacing the paying with polysulfide. In the fall of the same year, he took her to the Wildwood Yacht Basin near Cape May, where he replaced the chain plates, refastened the hull planking with galvanized nails, replaced the keel bolts with bronze bolts, a decision he later realized was wrong due to galvanic action, even some hull ceiling up in the foc’sl where previously there had been none. Ironically during a lightening storm, while sitting next to the three masted Victoria, Curlew’s main mast was struck by lightning, and crumbled. Bob reported that replacing the main mast made a huge improvement in her windward ability. After a decade of sailing her, Bob finally sold her to Louis G & Mildred Holcomb of Saratoga CA. Curlew was moved to the San Francisco Bay area by way of the Panama Canal.

The Trentonian

The Old Sea Dog Wouldn’t Die

Captain David Skellon