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Ed Boden, 1927-2012
Uncle Ed, The Gruntled Circumnavigator
January 26, 2013

E
d Boden circled the globe on a 25-foot wooden sloop named “Kittiwake.” By his engineer’s precise count, he spent 14 years and 2 weeks living on board. It was no small feat. Ed circumnavigated mostly singlehandedly, and mostly without an engine.

Ed Boden, as he spent a good part of his life, on a boat.

A few years ago, in what he called his mini-autobiography, Ed wrote, “When I sailed into the harbor at Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, USVI in December 1976, I said to myself, ‘Okay, Ed, you’ve done it, you’ve lived your life, so anything good that happens to you is all gravy’ – and I’ve sure had a lot of gravy since!”

What Goes Around (The World), Comes Around

A buoyant spirit, Ed made gravy even out of the destruction of his beloved “Kittiwake.” A few years after the circumnavigation, the boat hit a reef during a race near St. Thomas. (His friends Carla and Graham Byrnes say Ed had “tried a shortcut.”) All was not lost, though. Ed kept some of the wood from his boat, and over time, he gave friends little pieces of its plank. These talismans, a few inches square, had the word “Kittiwake” engraved on them.

One of those friends who received a piece of the “Kittiwake” was Marilyn Stern. Late last year, Marilyn brought her “Kittiwake” to the hospital in New Bern where Ed was ailing. She put the piece of his old boat back in to Ed’s hand. Another friend, Beth Bucksot, says Ed was holding on it it when, at the age of 85, he died on December 1.

A Gruntled Life

In the weeks since Ed passed away, “circumnavigator” might have seemed the easy way to describe him, but another word has come up. Ed, his friends say, was “gruntled.”

Beth Bucksot says Ed loved to play with words. Gary Gresko echoes that, remembering Ed telling him, “‘Y’know how some people are disgruntled? Well, I’m gruntled.’” (It’s unknown if Ed ever worked “gruntled” in to the limericks that another friend, Tom Lathrop, says he could “rattle off on any subject.”)

Ed’s gruntled spirit for adventure got an early start. By the time he turned seven, he had already passed through the Panama Canal and crossed the Atlantic – twice. As a kid in Los Angeles, he played an extra in the film, “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.” Mr. Boden would go much further than Mr. Smith, on both terrafirma and on the oceans. And by dint of working at the Jet Propulsion Lab, his name went to the moon.

Ed had moved to the Oriental area in the mid-1980’s, lured by Carla and Graham Byrnes, friends he’d met while sailing ‘round the world. Ed lived in Florence for a quarter century. While his house was not on the water, he had a boat in his yard. For a few years he ran an engine repair shop; later he had the job of caring for all the boat motors at Camp Seagull.

Ed Boden, a few years ago in Vandemere with Graham Byrnes and Tom Lathrop. Tom says, “Ed was a remarkable guy that his many friends were privileged to know. He remained active in pursuing his interests to the end. We might wish that Ed could be placed aboard his around the world companion, Kittiwake and given a proper Viking funeral.”

Even though Ed called Pamlico County home, his wanderlust, travels and adventurous spirit didn’t end. When he was 72, Ed completed another circumnavigation — this one a comparatively shorter 3 months, on a container ship. He took off on 20 cross-country road trips and had plans for more – he wanted to cross the continent in the Model A Ford he was fixing up in recent years. He had plans for the 40-foot cutter he kept in his Florence yard. He’d bought that boat in the islands and sailed it to Pamlico County – single-handedly, of course – when he was 73.

Ed Boden and his girlfriend, Sydney Lynn at Fishermen’s Wharf, San Francisco.

His nephew, Bill Livingood, says that when Ed was in his 20’s, he was in love, but the woman wanted a career as a dancer (at which she would become successful in Las Vegas; she also appeared in the movie, “South Pacific.”) Ed, of course, went to sea; his voyage on “Kittiwake” would eventually take him to the real South Pacific.

Though he never married, Ed built up a family of friends in his travels and here in Pamlico County. Some of the younger of his friends started to call him “Uncle Ed”, and even some of the adults did the same.

Some of Ed’s friends will gather – with Ed’s nephew and grand nephew from California – for a small memorial dinner on January 26 at 6:30p at Brantley’s Restaurant. (For more info, contact Beth Bucksot at 745-3215.) Another life celebration for Ed Boden is planned for March 16 at 2p at Camp Seafarer.

Here, then, is the account of Ed Boden’s “gruntled” life in his own words. Ed wrote this in 2007. He emailed it in to TownDock.net in July of last year.

E.G. BODEN’S MINI-AUTOBIOGRAPHY

“Sometimes I’m amazed at the things I remember that just ain’t so!” – Mark Twain.

With that disclaimer, here is my mini-autobio to the best of my recall.

I was born on 27 April 1927 in Los Angeles, CA. My father was from Iowa and my mother was from Sweden.

An early adventure, in 1932, was a passage from San Francisco, CA to Gothenburg, Sweden aboard a Swedish freighter by way of Panama Canal and weathering a hurricane in the Caribbean en route. My mother and father had split up and she took my sister, a year and a half older, and me to Sweden to live.

Sadly, our mother passed away a year and a half later so my sister and I returned to Long Beach, CA by the same ship, the Margaret Johnson, in early 1934. So, I had over 18,000 sea miles and two Panama Canal transits for my resume before I was even seven years old.

While attending a boarding school in the San Fernando Valley, a bunch of other boys and I were hired as extras by Columbia Pictures in Hollywood to appear in the movie, Mister Smith Goes to Washington starring Jimmy Stewart. It is considered to be one of the great all-time movies. Recently, I’ve even spotted myself on a DVD of the movie. Good fun.

In 1940, my father took my sister and me to the San Francisco Golden Gate Exposition on Treasure Island in SF Bay. It was such a whirl that I recall only a small part of it.

I bought my first automobile in the spring of 1944, an essentially worn-out 1928 Model A Ford Sport Coupe. I didn’t have a driver’s license yet but by driving around the block of our quiet neighborhood for a few hours, I gained enough experience so that I passed both the written and driving tests.

That same day I applied, and was hired, for a part-time job with the US Postal Service to drive a mail truck after school, picking up mail from street-corner mailboxes. The ink on my temporary license was barely dry but the war was still on (1944) and the USPS was desperate for mail truck drivers.

ed boden
Ed Boden, mid-1940’s.

I signed up with the US Coast Guard Reserve in March 1945 while the war was still quite hot and was called up on 20 April, about three weeks before Germany surrendered. LA High School awarded my diploma early. The Coast Guard was under the Navy during WW II and drew some rather nasty assignments but that is another story. After completing boot camp in Alameda, CA and radar operators’ school in San Diego, I was sent overseas to… the Hawaiian Islands? Well, that was considered “overseas” then.

ed boden, sydney lynn
Ed Boden (at 24) and Sydney Lynn in 1951

The transfer was made aboard a CVE (Carrier Vessel Escort) usually called a “baby flattop”. The Reserve was disbanded not long after the cessation of hostilities so I served in the USCG for a total of one year, one month and twenty-one days which still qualifies me as a WW II veteran.

In June 1952 I graduated from University of Southern California (USC) with a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and went to work for Northrop Aircraft in the experimental flight test division on the F89D, Scorpion.

I bought my first sailboat, a decrepit fifteen-foot sloop, in Sept 1952 and the following spring sailed it the nineteen miles across the Catalina Channel to Avalon, Catalina Island with my brother-in-law. It was my first sailing “adventure” although more like a micro-adventure.

On 4 July 1955, I was a crew member on a forty-seven-foot ketch that was entered in the 1955 TransPac Race from Long Beach, CA to Honolulu. I like to shock folks by relating that we made the passage on Benzedrine. Well, in a sense we did. You see, the man who owned the boat, Cynjo, was the research chemist who had discovered Benzedrine, along with Dexedrine, and had brewed some up to take along – just in case. I’ve never tried the stuff and don’t expect to in my 80s!

Between the end of 1955 and the end of 1958 I had a variety of interesting experiences starting with helping to sail a thirty-four-foot gaff-sloop from San Diego to Acapulco, Mexico. From Acapulco I joined a thirty-three-foot ketch to the Panama Canal followed by a flight to San Jose, Costa Rica and, after a few days, on to Miami, FL. From Miami I was crew on a thirty-six-foot yawl on a delivery to Annapolis, MD followed by a bus trip to New York City. There, I bought a bicycle and followed the coastline as far as Cape Ann, MA and back to Martha’s Vineyard.

Being just about broke by that time, I returned to NYC and landed a job with the naval architectural firm of M. Rosenblatt & Son. In February 1956, I was sent to Vallejo, CA as liaison between MR&S and Mare Island Naval Shipyard which was building our first nuclear-powered/guided-missile submarine, USGN587, Halibut. When that contract ended, I was scheduled to return to NYC but by that time I’d had my fill of large cities. Instead, I bought a Jeep and spent the better part of a month visiting several ghost towns of the Southwest. That was several years prior to their becoming tourist attractions.

In March 1958, I joined a thirty-four ketch for a passage from Los Angeles to Ft. Lauderdale, FL, once again through the Panama Canal. It was easily the worst boat I’ve ever dealt with. In Lauderdale, I swapped boats to a sixty-one foot stays’l schooner that was in the charter business and heading north to New England for the summer. The highlight of the summer was following and watching the first series of America’s Cup Races to be held since the beginning of World War II.

We departed Wickford, RI in late October, 1958 bound for Bermuda and suffered ninety-four hours hove-to in a NE full gale in the Gulf Stream. The remainder of the passage to Bermuda and then St. Thomas, VI was a pure delight by comparison!

After a couple of months in the Virgin Islands I decided to return to Southern California and get serious about earning a steady living. Because the economy was in a bit of a slump, it took a few months to find a position with Cal Tech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The group I was in was charged with testing the Ranger series of Moon landing spacecraft and seeing them through to launching at Cape Canaveral, FL. My station during the count-downs was high in the Service Tower, commonly called the “gantry”. Ranger IV was the first US spacecraft to land on the Moon though it was dead-on-arrival because of a rocket malfunction. Nevertheless, as part of the launch team, I was privileged to have had my name placed on a designated spot on the spacecraft so I can add having my name on the Moon to my resume.

In February, 1960, I was invited to become a member of the Adventurers’ Club of Los Angeles. Two requirements that must be met are to be recommended by two sponsors who are already members and to have established that he has had a genuine adventure off the beaten track. I consider it to be a singular honor to be so invited and then accepted. Some members of note are/were: Will Rogers; General Jimmy Doolittle (who led the B-25 raid on Tokyo in April, 1942); “Wrong Way” Corrigan (Lindberg wannabe); Cecil B DeMille (noted film director); Buddy Ebsen (Beverly Hillbillies and sailor); John Booth (world-famous magician); John Goddard (adventurer extraordinaire and still at it); and many other luminaries.

By 1962, the office-political atmosphere at JPL was deteriorating to the point that I decided it was time to get back to some serious adventuring. So, along with another engineer, I left JPL and went to Europe by freighter from NYC.

After a fair bit of searching, I found and bought a twenty-five foot wooden sloop in England. Rather than risking crossing the Bay of Biscay in November, my shipmate and I decided to cross France to the Mediterranean by river and canal with the mast on deck. We got caught in a deep freeze in Dijon, France that lasted for two months and put a real kink into our plan.

As a consequence, my shipmate decided to join a third refugee engineer from JPL on a larger boat while I carried on as a single-hander from Dijon. Mind, I was required by law to have a pilot aboard for the run down the Rhone River in France and again when transiting the Panama Canal some years later. Other than those two, I sailed alone on all my passages around the world.

vertue 25
Line drawing of a Vertue 25, the boat Ed sailed around the world

My odyssey was more or less as follows: Began at Old Bursledon, UK (near Southampton); Paris and Dijon, France; Spain; Gibraltar; Madeira Is.; Canary Is.; Barbados; British and French West Indies; St. Thomas, US Virgin Is.; Aruba; Panama Canal; Galapagos Is.; Marquesas Is.; Tahiti; Austral Is.; Society Is.; Cook Is.; Tonga Is.; New Zealand; Australia; Bougainville Is., New Britain Is. and Manus Is., TPNG (Territory Papua-New Guinea); Gilbert Is. (now Kiribati); Marshall Is.; Eastern Caroline Is.; New Ireland (TPNG); Madang (New Guinea Is.); Solomon Is.; New Hebrides Is. (now Vanuatu); Australia; Singapore; Malaysia; Sri Lanka; Seychelles Is.; South Africa; St. Helena Is.; Barbados. I closed the loop at Barbados taking thirteen years, five days.

sailing vessel kittiwake
Ed Boden’s Kittiwake moored at Minorca Island off the coast of Spain in the Mediterranean (Ed Boden photo)

From the time I departed UK in late November 1962 until early December 1976 my odyssey took fourteen years, two weeks and was done mostly on a shoestring. All of this was prior to the advent of GPS and sophisticated communications and done with time-honored celestial navigation using a sextant, windup timepiece and sight reduction tables. I had used the auxiliary engine to transit France – with the mast on deck to get under bridges – and also to transit the Panama Canal but, other than that, it was not called upon being more troublesome than it was worth. So, after transiting Panama I removed the engine and gave it away.

When I sailed into the harbor at Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, USVI in December 1976, I said to myself, “Okay, Ed, you’ve done it, you’ve lived your life so anything good that happens to you is all gravy” – and I’ve sure had a lot of gravy since! However, I must include a misadventure in a boating accident in which I landed in the intensive care unit in St. Thomas hospital in 1985. In a perverse sort of way, that was an adventure in itself!

ed boden, graham byrnes, jim brown
Circumnavigators Three: Ed Boden, Graham Byrnes, Jim Brown at a 2010 dinner in Graham’s honor at Pamlico Community College.

I left the Virgin Islands in August 1986 and moved to Eastern North Carolina, settling down a few miles north of the town of Oriental. Since then, I’ve had several sorts of mini-adventures: I made a twelve week, round-the-world passage aboard a nine-hundred-foot container ship that rounded Cape Horn, SA in July 1999 – UK to UK; I bought a forty foot cutter in St. Thomas, USVI and made a single-handed passage to home in NC in June, 2000; I’ve made a total of twenty driving trips of the USA from coast to coast one of which followed Route 66; I’m currently working at restoring a 1930 Model A Ford which I hope to drive across the country to CA. Meanwhile, the boat is languishing under a sturdy shelter.

Of the jobs that I’ve had – aircraft, submarine, spacecraft, land surveying, outboard motor repair business – the most rewarding was with a pair of large YMCA summer camps for six years matching wits with sixty outboard motors and kibitzing with several hundred college girls and boys (counselors) for the summers.

My life’s guiding principle? Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first! And, if I’ve a song with which I feel comfortable, it must be “My Way!”

Ed Boden, 2007

Posted Saturday January 26, 2013 by Melinda Penkava