Chip Ford's 1974 Catalina 22 Restoration Project
Sail #3282  l  Marblehead, Massachusetts

My Introduction to Boat Restoration and Sailing:
The Even Song (1975-76)

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Eleven hours after our departure from Cuttyhunk Island and out of sight of land, we found Newport late that night in the dark, by luck following a crossing freighter's lights in. When we lost sight of its lights, land began to appear, lighted buoys which I determined were off Brenton's Point at the entrance to Narragansett Bay and Newport beyond.  Brad at the wheel veered Even Song right for the rocky peninsula with Jim and I racing back from the bow yelling for him change course before we ran the boat up on the rocks.

Celebrating our survival in Newport, RI the next day.     Exhausted, we dropped the anchor and collapsed for the night.  (L to R) -- Jeff Lawton, Karen Kirby, and Chip Ford -- Photo by Monica Pelletier. Note Jeff's cast from a broken wrist.  (Oct. 23, 1976)

-- Read more of this adventure --

After doing all our laundry (everything was bilgewater-soaked), cleaning up and making some repairs to the boat, Monica, Jeff, Karen and I took time off for a little sightseeing in Newport and to discuss our situation.   I talked them into staying aboard.  We soon realized that apparently no lessons had been learned by Brad or Jim, so when they were ready to head out again with repairs still necessary, the four of us decided to abandon ship.  We rented a car, moved our belongings off, and drove home.  That decision was extremely difficult for us after all we'd invested in the boat and cruise  -- but we agreed, never again would we let that happen to us and it would if we remained.

Back home a few days later, we all piled into my old '63 Valiant and drove down to Key West, where we visited our friend Warren, a long-time "conch" since leaving Massachusetts behind.  In front of Warren's house, (L to R) is Karen, yours truly, Monica, and Jeff sitting on the ground behind the table (photo of the former-crew taken by Warren).  Our silly motto during the drive down was, "One if by land, two if by sea."

We spent two euphoric weeks in tropical Key West coming down from our collective survival highs.

While we mutineers were having fun in the sun, the Even Song had moved on from Newport with Brad and Jim as its crew, we later learned.  They had picked up a couple more guys along the way and kept sailing south -- until they reached Wachapreague, VA.  Late one night, believing they were further off the black shoreline with a windward breeze gusting, moving the boat closer to the coast with each puff.  Running an uncorrected compass course they ran into a sandbar extending a mile or two offshore and grounded the boat at high tide.

Unable to get any assistance whatsoever in the disgusting wrecker's community of Wachapreague, Virginia, which thrives on scavenging the detritus of unfortunate yachts unexpectedly finding its sandbar, the Even Song ultimately died, eventually was abandoned, and was quickly cannibalized by a legion of local scum parasites.

The Saga of the Even Song

These photos were taken aboard the Even Song, a 48' ketch built in 1928 for which years of restoration had recently been completed. In late October there was ice on the dock the morning we departed for the long-planned year's cruise to the Caribbean. The first day out we were warned by NOAA radio of a suddenly approaching nor'easter.  We immediately located and headed for shelter. We then sat out the worst of the storm in a sheltered harbor on Cuttyhunk Island off Martha's Vineyard. We were pretty good boat builders, but none of us had any real sailing experience:  Our plan was to take it real slow and easy, duck bad weather, and learn as we went along.

We should have listened to our own advice, but Monica and I were out-voted that morning by a determined Brad and Jim; Jeff and Karen just sort of went along.  Despite Monica's and my report of our observations, we were going to leave Cuttyhunk Island and venture out too soon. Even the local fishermen came down to the boat and warned us against departure. They weren't going out and I'll never forget the words of one: "Every year we get a couple fool boaters in here who won't listen to advice and wind up in big trouble or are never heard from again."  But Brad and Jim insisted that we could handle it, that'd it'd be a good training experience for more to come along the cruise ahead.

Prophetic words indeed from the local fishermen, for as we sailed out into the open waters of Buzzard's Bay the seas increased, reaching 20 feet as day turned into night with the wind blowing strong (as the photos will attest!) and increasing. The plan was to just sail across the bay to New Bedford.

Eleven harrowing hours later and lost, in the middle of the night we stumbled into Narragansett Bay, Newport, Rhode Island -- having spotted the lights of a large freighter in the distance crossing our course and following it in -- battered and badly damaged, lucky just to be alive.

Not long after the storm photos were taken, conditions continued to worsen:  The cameras got stowed away below, thoughts of photos vaporized. It got so bad that we were resigned to sinking and death. Three of the crew just gave up, went below and prayed. I had a transcendental experience that changed my life forever: Accepting that death was inevitable, I decided to go out fighting. The only way I can describe it is, a physical and mental dead-cold calm came over me displacing the fear and near-panic. Ever since, death has not intimidated me, for I confronted and accepted it long ago. I've been there and done that.

By nightfall, sails started ripping before we could react, the sail track tore off the mizzen boom; the boat filled up with oily bilge water covering the cabin sole by a good five or six inches (we thought we were sinking but later learned the big fresh water tank had burst); with water sloshing all around it, the 4-cylinder diesel would run on only three cylinders, skipping and popping. (We later learned that paper wrappers from all the canned goods we'd stowed below had fallen off from the soaking and had clogged the bilge pump!) When we finally tried to call out a Mayday, the VHF wouldn't transmit.

With just three of us still working topside, Brad at the wheel, Jim and I low-crawled up to the bow using our safety harnesses to get down the jib. I happened to look up as we were wrestling it down and couldn't believe my eyes. Way off in the distance ahead of us was a bigger mountain of jello (best way I've ever been able to describe those huge swells that just kept rolling at us), much bigger, probably a 20-footer. I yelled through the wind to Jim laying next to me to hang on -- we took what felt like a fast elevator ride up from the deep trough of the last swell before the rogue wave to its crest -- the bow kept going up and over (I looked down over the bow into the trough ... waaaaaay down there) -- suddenly we plunged -- Jim and I floated about two feet above the deck in thin air, dropping -- the bow dug into the base of the next huge wave and we crashed into the deck, knocking the wind out of me -- I wrapped my arms around the downed jib and clawed the sail in a death grip -- the monster crashed over us -- I felt my fingernails dragged down the dacron, zzzzzz -- boom! I was violently jerked to a stop underwater as the safety harness halted me. We lifted out of the wave as Jim and I gasped for air in utter shock. We tied down the jib and crawled back to the cockpit to deal with the next emergencies.

Even all these years later, when I relate this story I'm right back there again like it's happening, seeing and feeling it all over. It was exciting, especially for my first week of real sailing experience. Nobody but me had any idea how to navigate, and my knowledge was rudimentary coastal piloting back then. Lost at sea for 11 hours and limping along, finally we spotted the lights of a freighter far ahead in the dark crossing our course and heading toward land. We followed it in and found ourselves in Newport, Rhode Island.

On the way in, we'd lost sight of the freighter, but for the first time since departing Cuttyhunk Island we spotted land.  Jim and I were up on the bow when Brad inexplicably cut the wheel and pointed Even Song straight at Brenton's Point, a rocky peninsular off the tip of Newport Neck.  I'd determined our position before crawling out to the bow to give Jim a hand.  Both Jim and I began yelling at Brad in the cockpit to head back out before he put the boat up on the rocks.  We raced back to the cockpit screaming for him to change course now, before we all ended up as ground hamburger on the rocks.  Even Song went back out, got on a decent course, and we found our way safely into Newport.

We were so exhausted, mentally drained, and relieved at having survived that we simply dropped anchor, crawled below into clutter chaos and bilgewater-soaked bunks, and collapsed for the night in our foul-weather gear: tomorrow would be another day but tonight we were utterly wrung out. For about three days afterward we were on some kind of natural high, euphoria that I'd never experienced, and I've been looking for again ever since. I believe it's got to do with fear:  Confronting it, controlling it, defeating it. Still, I'd never intentionally put myself in that kind of situation again if I can possibly avoid it. Nope, not if I can help it, I learned a lot from this ordeal.

The following morning we docked Even Song in Newport.  While the girls hauled all the bilgewater-soaked clothing off to a laundromat and Brad and Jim went out looking for parts, Jeff and I began much needed repairs to the boat.  Jeff stitched the torn mizzen sail while I refastened the sail track to its boom where it had torn out.  There was much to do before we could get underway again.  When Monica and Karen returned with the crew's clean laundry, the four of us walked up to a local restaurant for a late lunch.  There the discussion began:  Whether to stay the course or to abandon ship.

My position was that we should continue on with our dream -- we had too much invested into it now to just walk away.  None of us wanted to ever again go through an experience like that which we just had.  I assured them that we never would, that "accidents are known to happen at sea" and if we were ever pressured into a situation like that again, another one would.  With that assurance, I finally was able to talk them into giving it another shot.

Shortly after, Brad and Jim declared that we were ready for departure -- though much of the needed repairs still were incomplete or untouched.  "We'll tend to them underway," they insisted.  We still didn't have even a working VHF radio, but regardless they wanted to head off.  It was the Cuttyhunk Decision all over again.  They had learned nothing.  I saw the writing on the wall -- an "accident at sea" was clearly in the future if we left so unprepared again.  That evening Jeff, Karen, Monica and I walked, abandoned ship.

We rented a car, loaded up all our belongings, then spent the night in adjoining rooms at The Tugboat Inn on Goat Island across from Newport where we heartily celebrated our wisdom for making the right, the only, decision.  The next day we drove home.  After a few days, we got together again and drove down to Key West in my old '63 Valiant to visit our friend Warren; spent the next two weeks decompressing in the tropics.

About three weeks after departing Newport, we later learned, the Even Song was lost after running aground on a sand bar a mile or two off the coast of Wachapreague, Virginia, late one November night.  Wachapreague, we now know, is a small community of depraved wreckers who thrive on the hard luck and misfortunes of passing sailors who come too close to its protruding sandbar.  I'm sorry to say, but that ending was in all probability inevitable, there or somewhere else, which is why we abandoned ship when we did.

Read Monica's contemporaneous account,
written in our room at the Tugboat Inn after abandoning ship
in Newport, RI

A PDF file

Where are the crew now?

I'm still sailing and own Chip Ahoy.

Brad's still building and restoring things; old cars and boats, hotrods.  He gives me a hand now and then with Chip Ahoy when I need to use his workshop or pick his brain.


Monica married, has a daughter, moved up to downeast Maine, divorced and found a new love, Rich.  I sailed up and visited them in 2005.


Karen Kirby married, has a son, and became divorced.  I haven't seen her in a few years.

Jeff Lawton eventually returned from Key West and moved onto our next project boat, the "Idle Hours II."  He mysteriously drowned overboard one night in April, 1978, along with Billy Salazar.

Jim was never heard from again.

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