Newbold's Dock Walk
Departure for Norway
May 1976 - Newport, RI
Reindeer's Transatlantic Voyage
Blog Entry #2
At a restaurant on the docks not too far from the Newport Yacht Club, I joined Newbold, his family and some of the crew for a "departure" dinner. The excitement and anticipation were palpable as our departure was the next morning. Smiles all around as most of us were giddy with anticipation. The day had finally arrived and the next day we set sail for Newfoundland. As the Smith family, friends and crew members well-wished and toasted to our good fortunes, Newbold reminded us that there would be no drinking aboard until we set foot on dry land. No one really knew when that was so all freely imbibed in celebratory libation, even our skipper!
While I had a peripheral awareness surrounding Newbold's "riding accident" years ago, I knew little about what actually happened and Newbold's amazing recovery. He had fallen off a horse on his country estate in Paoli, PA and broken his back. Apparently, no one had known he had gone riding. No one knew where he was when he fell and no one discovered his whereabouts until after dark. He was finally located in a far-off field immobile behind a hedge where his horse and he had attempted to jump it seven hours earlier.
His accident had paralyzed him from the waist down, and so severely his surgeons had notified him that they didn't expect him ever to walk again. His almost complete recovery became legendary. As I later discovered, his athletic prowess as a Naval Academy national heavyweight wrestling champion during his college days coupled with his tremendous willpower overcame his doctor's prognosis. So this night before our voyage, I witnessed some of his limitations. During our sail I became awed by his strength and determination. Sometimes it led us out of trouble; sometimes into it.
Other than possibly a slow, somewhat plodding gait, slightly favoring to right side, I had barely noticed anything unusual about his walking. But after our delicious dinner when we all left the restaurant together, it became obvious that our celebration had taken its toll on our skipper. As he and my crew members strolled back to Reindeer with a little bit of a buzz (for me as much from anticipation as alcohol), Newbold could barely walk. He swayed, staggered, limped and struggled along the docks. His sons helped him along. As the only one of us with any noticeable coordination issues, he did not appear fit and able for a sea voyage. I could not help but imagine our voyage was already in jeopardy. We hadn't even raised a sail or left the docks. He was our supposedly steadfast, fearless (?) leader. And I suddenly became quite apprehensive.
I had never sailed with him before, but his reputation as an extraordinary sailor and explorer was legendary. So I was not overly concerned yet. I remember wondering if he possessed some of Jim Brown's recuperative traits. Brown became famous on football and lacrosse fields in the 1950's and 60's. Whenever he was gang-tackled or injured, he would slowly emerge from the human pile-up of tacklers, appear injured, then supposedly bruised and battered would almost stagger back to the huddle or sidelines and then miraculously recover. Newbold certainly was replicating Jim Brown's bedraggled, injured bit, but he was not misleading all onlookers or saving his energy. One could not help, but be amazed at Jim Brown's super recuperative abilities.
To some degree, I would be putting my life in this man's hands and health. His decisions and his abilities would, after all, determine the success or failure of our adventure. This scenario did not bode well for what we were were about to undertake.
But it wasn't until a few days later that I had learned more from two of his sons, Lewis and Hank, who were on board for the first leg of our voyage. When Newbold drank alcohol, he had very little bladder control. So after getting that info, somehow I convinced myself that he was going to be fine. Thank god he wasn't an alcoholic! Of course, he had been a sailor all his life and probably knew his limitations. (I think he was around 63 years old at the time; my age now as I write this account.)
Little did I know at the time how really strong, tough and determined Newbold was. He could have been Jim Brown. It was the beginning of numerous surprises for me about his physical strength, strength of character and seamanship.