Regina Maris remembered & Merry Christmas to all


“The crew was pretty grumpy as we headed north out of the Panama Canal. Hopes of spending a wild reggae Christmas in Kingston, Jamaica had recently been dashed (rumor was that there was a lien on Regina in Kingston), so on the morning of 24 Dec 1979, we found ourselves dropping anchor in Bahia du Mole…” Thus begins a sweet Christmas story written and mapped by my old mate Steve Nelson on The Friends and Crew of Regina Maris Facebook page. I’m sure that many far flung cruisers will enjoy Steve’s true tale, but I can practically smell the scenes ashore and on board…

Just a week or so after the 144-foot barkentine Regina Maris spent Christmas in impoverished rural Haiti, I flew from Maine to Santa Domingo, took a bus across the Dominican Republic (in winter cloths because the airline lost my duffle bag), and met some of that ‘grumpy’ crew just before they headed home, probably to more normal lives. Then, thanks to a few remaining old hands like Steve, I managed to pull off six weeks as acting First Mate while the ship’s twenty or so students and crew studied the humpback whales who gather annually on the large and somewhat dangerous — as in uncharted breaking reefs — Silver Bank. After a layover in San Juan which began with Regina almost having her bow torn off at the dock, I took over as relief skipper while we did some odd mammal research in remote parts of the Bahamas and then sailed to Bermuda and finally to Boston for Operation Sail 1980. The job’s real “relief” was what I felt when the regular captain Dr. George Nichols took over and I got to watch him adroitly maneuver the ungainly Regina around the tall ship and spectator fleets…


Unfortunately, I took few pictures during that period, or the next winter when I again joined Regina for trips on the Silver Bank and a passage to Bermuda that was particularly memorable because the port side foremast chainplates started breaking off one after another!  But I did find a few old prints like the yard arm scene above taken off Bermuda, I think. My memory for Regina names and chronology is poor but I sure can recall the dangly feel of those foot ropes, especially when five or six people were using them simultaneously while trying to tight furl the canvas square sail. And the sheer joy of all being up in that jungle gym on a quiet tropical night with whales blowing all around.
  So how the heck did I get to skipper a square rigger when my largest previous command was occasional deliveries on a 65-foot schooner? One part of the answer is that I had hit it off with George Nichols when we met on the north shore of Haiti in 1974 while we were each “adventure cruising” regular size sloops with our girl friends. Another is that Regina typically leaked about 2,000 gallons of water per day, which may have caused some better-qualified crew to look for work elsewhere. The boat also didn’t sail very well except — as we used to joke — when she got near a pier…


But Regina had an amazing quality. It didn’t seem to matter how poorly she sailed or how much she leaked (onto almost all the bunks too), people fell in love with this boat and stayed in love. And because she sailed a great deal between her 1908 launch and her slow sad demise on Long Island in the late 80’s, there are lots of alumni out there. When I was aboard it was not uncommon to pull into some port like Nassau and have a bright-eyeed someone come along who still had a Regina photo in his wallet.
  So I thought of the risks we took on Regina when the HMS Bounty went down during hurricane Sandy (well covered at Soundings and WaveTrain) but I was also delighted to learn that there will be a Regina Maris Reunion next September 6-8 in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and I hope to attend. And besides the Regina Facebook page, there’s also a Regina Flickr group because that boat was just the sort of intense shared experience that can be recollected years later by crew scattered all over the planet, thanks to the Web. At any rate, eventually I’ll detail some Regina stories in the comments below but for now I’m hoping you’ll check out Steve’s Christmas tale and spread word of the reunion. And of course I am wishing you all a fine Christmas day.


Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher from 4/2005 until 8/2018, and now pleased to have Ben Stein as a very able publisher, webmaster, and editing colleague. Please don't regard him as an "expert"; he's getting quite old and thinks that "fadiddling fumble-putz" is a more accurate description.

13 Responses

  1. Brian says:

    Thanks Ben – a nice story. Have a very Merry Christmas. Brian

  2. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Thanks, Brian! I’m trying to recall the electronics on Regina in 1980 but it wasn’t much. There was definitely a paper roll recording depth sounder and also a Loran A that could usually only get a single LoP when we were off the DR, but I don’t think that the old radar seen in some pictures was still on the boat.
    The chart table did have built-in cases for three chronometers, which we wound and logged in a methodical fashion…but by then a cheap Timex was just as good. And we did do a lot of celestial navigation, including teaching it and using it to improve Regina’s charts of the offshore banks. Times have changed!

  3. robie says:

    The radar was still working great in 1978.
    A large open array ratheon as I remember.
    I loved that radar.
    We used to get what we called radar nose, cause the rubber hood was so old and rotten that it rubbed off on your nose and turned it black.

  4. Ronbo says:

    Regina Maris is ignominiously beached in Glen Cove, NY, next to a new ferry terminal which will serve NYC. It no longer suggests a seagoing ship but an assemblage of planks which was once seagoing. It deserves better. Perhaps scuttling would have been more merciful.

  5. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Robie, Steve Nelson sent me a Regina brochure from 1979 and it lists both Kelvin Hughes Model 17 and Seascan Seafarer radars. I don’t remember either. I do recall the nice Sailor RT142 VHF and there apparently there was also a Modar 3002 VHF, as well as two Raytheon SSB radios. Funny that I can’t remember using the High Seas Operator when we were offshore, but memory is an odd thing. The fathometer, incidentally, was a Simrad 512-1PN good to 200 fathoms according to the brochure.
    Ronbo, I’m not sure Regina’s hull is still in Glen Cove, but apparently they planted her battered masts in concrete and built a funky “deck” around them. 2008 photos here:
    And a site with more history and a 2000 sunk-in-Glen-Cove photo here:

  6. One of my favorite sailing books is “Tuning the rig” by Harvey Oxenhorn, a story of his cruise on Regina Maris in the 1980s as a journalist/crew member. It is a fabulous book. After I finished reading it, I immediately went see what other great tales Harvey had written since then, only to find that he died in a car accident about the same time as the book was published, and it was his first book. Then I read that Regina Maris had sank at the dock. It was a sad ending to both a great author and a great vessel.

  7. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Thanks, Chris. I somehow managed to never read that book but will soon. Amazon seems to have ample supply:
    Amazon: Tuning the Rig
    George asked me a couple of times to help with those trips to Greenland but I was too busy or — more likely — too nervous about the possibilities. But I think he pulled off at least two round trips in the early 80’s without incident. George Nichols was a phenomenal sailor.

  8. Manuel Santana Castañeda, Las Palmeras nº 5-2º C Puerto Real Cádiz (España) says:

    Estimado Sr.
    Desearía información del mascaron de pro (Figureheads o Testaferro of Bowsprit) en el cual se ve una mujer y un perro, ¿Desearía saber que es lo que representa? Le quedaría muy agradecido por la atención tenida a mi escrito. Muchas gracias.

  9. Henk Ahrens says:

    So glad I found this.I sailed from Dec.1970 till Jan.1972’tose were glorious times.

  10. Manuel Santana Castañeda, Las Palmeras nº 5-2º C Puerto Real Cádiz (España) says:

    Dear Mr. i am collector of the history of the figureheads (Figureheads Bowsprit or strawman) of the large sailing ships of the world and would like to know the meaning of the story or legend of your sailing ship “REGINA MARIS” in which it is a woman and a dog, and many thanks for the care taken to harvest the hormo

  11. Luis Baroco says:

    I crewed in 72 from ensanada Mexico to Tahiti and then to hilo Hawaii

    • Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

      Hi Luis. I’m happy to report that Steve Nelson still puts out excellent Regina Maris newsletters and you can subscribe at the email address “reginamaris1908 {at}” or by regular mail:

      Regina Maris Society
      3151 Troy Ave
      Cincinnati, Oh 45213

      Also, the Friends and Crew of Regina Maris web site is very much alive:

      And, finally, I went skiing last week with two guys I sailed with on Regina 40 years ago — MMA Navigation Professor Andy Chase and recently retired Greenpeace Captain Peter Willcox. Of course we talked about those somewhat crazy days.

      The old boat may be long gone, but not the memories.

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