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Lots of boats come to Oriental, some tie up at the Town Dock for a night or two, others drop anchor in the harbor for a while. If you've spent any time on the water you know that every boat has a story. The Shipping News on TownDock.net brings you the stories of the boats that have visited recently.

SV Sarah G
4 humans aboard 82 salvaged feet
April 12, 2023

A
decade aboard the sister ship to the famous fishing vessel sunk by The Perfect Storm.

A cabin roof patched together with driftwood.

A hand-drawn treasure map.

It sounds like the making of a classic novel, but it’s just everyday life for the Jordan Family.

xx
The Jordans. Sailing together.

“Magic is real,” says Anna Jordan from the deck of the 82-foot, three-masted schooner Sarah G.

Sarah G’s salty lines are of Tom Colvin design. Based off the sailing cargo ships of the 1900s. The 58 foot on deck, steel vessel is both the home Anna thought they could never afford, as well the life at sea George thought they could never have.

Anna lives aboard and sails full-time with her husband George, a former New England commercial fisherman, and their two young daughters Grace, 9, and Eleanor, 5. Hailing from Cape Cod, the traveling family visited Oriental mid-February, taking up the entire length of the South Ave public dock. Their tall rig and steel hull were at home amongst the harbor’s fishing fleet.

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Sarah G, inside and out.

That’s not the only reason Oriental is a familiar place for the schooner and its crew. The town dock is the only time you’ll find the Jordans tied to shore in the over 10,000 nautical miles they’ve traveled as a family of four, since “becoming sailors” five years ago, Anna says.

“We’re not marina people,” she laughed.

That much was obvious. Their boots were well worn neoprene Xtratufs. Their clothes, fleece and corduroy, and the foul weather gear were bright oil slickers. The girls ran around the boat like it was their personal playground, and swung from the halyards like a trapeze.

The Jordans look off-grid – exactly what the original boatbuilder had in mind when he constructed Sarah G in Oriental, long before Anna, George, and their daughters found the schooner a dismasted, holed, wreck in the Bahamas.

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Three-quarters of the Jordan family sit and talk on the deck.

“We met Newell’s wife Catherine one time here in Oriental,” Anna says. “She saw we had two daughters and says, Newell spent his life building this boat, and that he built it just for us.”

Catharine told them Newell Gillenwater built the schooner with a “full-time, live-aboard family of four in mind.” Newell had been cruising with his wife Catherine and their two daughters when that family pulled into Oriental. Newell wanted to build a bigger boat and decided it was a good place to do so.

He spent over 15 years building Sarah G, named after one of his daughters. Newell did eventually finish and cruise the boat, but he never lived aboard with his family. The schooner was sold when he died.

xx
Anna and George talk about the restoration of their home, including finding three masts for her.

Now after years of boat work by the Jordans, work to pay it all off, and some inner self work—the floating family are very much at home on the sea.

“Every single thing that happened to make this life ours is magic,” Anna says. “But if I saw it all play out on a crystal ball beforehand and what it was going to take to get here, I don’t know if I would have chosen this path.”

“No one would,” George says. “I didn’t want this boat. It was a wreck.”

“I made him get it for us,” Anna says.

Night passages where it feels like being in outer space. Phosphorescence trailing in their wake and all around. Pods of dolphins playing and swimming alongside the bow. That’s what makes it all worth it in the end, George says.

“It’s just like in the cartoons where the characters look over the side of the boat and there’s all this magic in the water,” George says. “That’s real.”

The reality of what it takes to bring a boat of that size back to life, along with caring for and homeschooling two young children – and having to pay for it all – is not always as pretty as the videos Anna edits and posts online.

The username “Sailing.Together” is hand-painted on each side of the steel hull with a YouTube icon. While the Jordans in no way rely on creating content for an income, they do have a few regular donors. It also helps them connect with locals who search for them online after seeing the boat in town. And it helps serve as a creative outlet for Anna.

The Sarah G was devastated by Hurricane Dorian in 2019, along with nearly everything else in the Bahama’s Abaco Islands. When the Jordans found the steel schooner, the Bahamian boatyard workers were using it for target practice. The remnant bullet holes can still be seen in one of the tempered glass windows.

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Anna points out part of the decor: a sticker collection.

Bullet holes were the least of the Sarah G’s worries. The three-masted schooner had no masts and there was a giant hole in the deck from port to starboard; as if a meteor had landed amidships. A salvage company was going to rip out the 80-horsepower Perkins 4.236 marine diesel engine and accompanying Westerbeke generator.

That was all that was left of any value, according to the salvager. They planned to scuttle the boat after that.

As in sink it.

George and Anna also had very little money, and not much else to their names other than the 31 foot Catalina they were living and cruising aboard. It was their second time sailing to the Bahamas since they’d cast off from Cape Cod when Grace was 4, and Eleanor only 15 months.

After two years as a family of four on the Catalina, they’d begun musing about a bigger boat. But it was more fantasy than reality until a dear friend and fellow cruiser Beth Browne saw Sarah G get wrecked in hurricane Dorian. Beth convinced Anna and George to sail down and at least have a look.

Beth drew them a map of the harbor on the other side of the island, directing them to the schooner’s location between the different wrecks and ongoing clean up efforts, now well into 2020.

xx
Grace rests below decks.

It was also the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. Luckily the Jordans checked into the Bahamas just a few days before travel restrictions hit. The family already faced challenges getting materials for a holed, mastless schooner in the Bahamas. The pandemic made it even worse.

“It was completely unseaworthy,” George says.

Back in Oriental and it’s a few days before Grace’s ninth birthday. Roller blades and skateboards are strewn about on deck with the boat in port a few days. Grace is the spitting image of her father and mimics her mom’s practicality. She micromanages her little sister as they wander for ice cream cones. Grace’s tiny stature and occasional r’s that sound like w’s are more indicative of her age than her advanced skillset.

But that’s to be expected when you’re basically in The Swiss Family Robinson.

“It was actually actually the keel of another boat that landed on top of ours [before it was ours],” Grace she says about the hole in the Sarah G when they first got it. “But none of it touched the aft cabin, so we would be able to live in the aft cabin while restoring it and bringing it back home. The main cabin had no roof. Bunch of leaks everywhere. The whole boat. Really wet. Leaks dripping on your head. We collected driftwood from the beaches to patch the roof. We were pulling nails out of whatever wood we could find.”

xxxxxx
Life below decks: a mix of workboat and home-based luxury.

Like his daughters, George also grew up at sea. “On the shoals” of the Nantucket Sound, he says. His father captained a 68 foot commercial fishing vessel and George learned the trade alongside him. Together, they ran a surf clam operation, towing a hydraulic dredge for the large clams that lived in the ever shifting, dangerous shoals between Cape Cod, Nantucket, and Martha’s Vineyard.

George went on to captain a boat named Lauren, out of Gloucester, MA, for ten years. Lauren was the sister ship to the infamous Andrea Gail, one of several offshore fishing boats that went down in a non-named New England storm in 1991. The event was later turned into the book and movie The Perfect Storm.

Lauren was purchased by Warner Bros. Entertainment to make the hit film.

Despite his dark tanned skin and beard, fisherman boots and LL Bean pullover—it was actually George Clooney at the helm in the movie and not George Jordan. That was all before George’s time as captain. He ran the boat when it had already been bought back by a fishing company, and once again dredged for surf clams.

He described the accommodations at sea as “comfy, like a house,” on boats that ran in any and all conditions. And while George has felt at home on the sea since an early age, he says his childhood was ‘traumatic,’ due to his father’s alcoholism. It’s an issue that haunts many generations of families living year-round in the summertime paradise of Cape Cod.

By the peak of his career, George was working 120 hours—which mostly only covered living expenses on the Cape for the family of four.

xx
Eleanor and Grace play on deck.

Early into his stint on Lauren, George met Anna. The two are well matched. Both quick witted and affectionate. Any contrary remark by George is met with sarcasm from Anna, with Grace usually following suit. The pair have been together for 12 years, married for ten.

George’s career at sea certainly influenced his and Anna’s decision to pursue cruising sailboats as a way of life;,and has contributed to their success. His experience certified him to do a proper survey of the wrecked Sarah G and make all the necessary repairs.

“That’s the only only thing I really got out of the whole fishing thing,” he says. “Being able to do all this.”

He pointed to everything on the boat that had to be completely repaired – which was nearly everything. Repairs that he was able to do much faster and cheaper than the average cruiser, mechanic, marine tech, boatbuilder, rigger, or shipwright. The schooner is a beautiful vessel with a workboat finish often seen on commercial vessels.

xx
Anna finds mushrooms growing out of a split in the rail.

It does the job but may not always be the prettiest.

If it was George’s skills that turned them into sailors, it was Anna’s determination.

Born and raised on the Cape, the ocean had always been a big part of Anna’s life. It was her idea for George to step away from commercial fishing and move onto a very small sailboat with their two young daughters, when neither of them actually knew how to sail. Their only recreational boating experience consisted of small power boats, including a vintage Chris Craft they went out on as weekend boaters when George wasn’t at sea working.

When they first left Cape Cod, their respective parents were not enthused. George’s father was disappointed to see him leave commercial fishing. Anna’s parents wanted her to raise their kids in a house and for George to be working full-time.

Instead the family fixed up a Catalina 31, gave away their chickens, and sailed to the Bahamas. They began working seasonal odd jobs to pay for cruising, returning to the Cape every summer. Anna took on the fishing role, collecting horseshoe crabs for biomedical research. Horseshoe crabbing is a throw-it-back style, sustainable fisheries sector of Cape Cod.

xxxxxx
Many of the pieces aboard are salvaged from other boats, or restored from what was left.

George has also worked construction jobs specific to Cape Cod architecture, but has focused on repairing their floating home while Anna (and Grace—who says it’s her favorite activity), works horseshoe crabbing to float them through the cruising season.

“I always said we were going to sail to our ‘forever’ boat,” Anna says. “But never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined how that would happen.”

When the Jordans went to look at the wrecked schooner, they only had $2,500. The salvager wanted ten times that. Their cruising friend Beth was on the other side of the island anxiously waiting for their return. When they got back and told her what happened, she wrote them a check for $20,000 on the spot.

“She says ‘pay me back before I die,’” Anna says. “She just really believed in us and this boat for our family.”

Since then, Anna and George paid back the debt completely, and returned Sarah G to a fully functioning, three-masted schooner.

xx
Ship’s wheel, one of several salvaged pieces of Sarah G.

George salvaged the masts, booms, and sails all from other wrecked boats between Puerto Rico and Cape Cod. He used his own industrial welding gear to repair the deck and bulwarks. Fiberglass and plywood make up the new cabin rooftop. He rebuilt and reinstalled the 7 foot daggerboard. He hand-stitched sails together so they would fit. They upgraded navigation, solar, and more. If George didn’t get the piece of rigging off another vessel, he made it himself, such as the DIY mast sleeves and goosenecks.

The boat’s rig wasn’t completed until their second year aboard. George says he finally figured out how to balance the rig all the way in while Puerto Rico. He sewed together two full-on cruising boat headsails to get the right shape. Until then they had motored, motor-sailed, and sailed the incomplete rig when they could—in order to cruise and move about.

After that they were unstoppable. The Jordans did their longest passage to date, 9 days from Puerto Rico back to Cape Cod with no engine. Up to that point they operated Sarah G throughout the different levels of the rebuild. From strictly under power, to motor-sailing and sailing coastal—to offshore passages with no land in sight. The sails moving the boat along at up to ten knots, with the auto pilot doing most of the work, and a satellite device for weather reports from and communications to shore.

“That’s when we really became sailors,” George says.

xx
George below decks with the diesel motor. Salvagers were going to take the motor and scuttle the boat.

His mini-me agrees. Grace says her favorite place to be is out on the open water with the autopilot going. Where if you make a turn, you aren’t going to hit anything for days.

Leading up to that has been no easy feat. Like using the Catalina 31 to tow a vintage motorboat of nearly the same size, under sail at 1.5 knots, for 200 NM, because the person they sold the motor boat to also paid them to deliver it. That extra money funded their first trip to the Bahamas. From there, they dropped off the boat and just kept going.

Sarah G later had a towing experience of her own when they trailed the 31 footer behind them, from the Bahamas back to the states. The tow line snapped in a squall in the middle of the gulf stream. The Jordans were able to recover the sailboat, then sell it before heading back north to Massachusetts aboard their new home.

Throw that in with running out of diesel, collecting rain water from tarps, and sailing around with a drift wood cabin roof.

“All of that experience is how I went from being a person on a boat, to being a sailor,” Anna says.

And while Anna’s experience at sea might never equate to George’s,, the two are very much co-captains. In fact every member of the family has equal sailing experience, and outside of emergencies they call family meetings to make the ship’s decisions.

“I never thought we’d ever be able to own a boat like this,” Anna says gesturing to the massive deck.

xx
Anna posts updates about the family and their travels online. Their site is on their boat, and it’s how they often connect with people in port.

The diesel engine, generator, solar combination means more than enough hot water and tankage for the claw-foot bathtub down below, a washing machine and dish washer, and the radial floor heating pumps throughout every cabin. The pilot-house (despite the bullet holes) and auto-pilot makes for dry, comfortable watches. Anna and George share the watch rotations and responsibilities on deck raising and lowering sail, navigating, etc.

Whether it’s a 100 or 1000 nautical mile passage, they try to keep to a normal sleep schedule with the kids. Except when there’s something especially magical to see.

Despite the good fortune surrounding Sarah G, George worries sometimes his upbringing at sea is negatively affecting his children.

“It takes an incredible amount of mind control to put those projects into place,” George says.

xx
Eleanor carries an empty water jug to town.

“To figure out where is the dysfunction we are living with onboard the boat. Where is the dysfunction we are living with as a family. And where is the line in the sand. How do you do the work on yourself and work on the boat, so you don’t pass on any of the traumas you’re carrying from generation to generation?”

Luckily, Anna is there to reel him in.

“When you’re a kid you think your parents are superheroes,” she says. “I know I’ve made mistakes parenting because I’m human, but no one is going to be able to convince me that this isn’t the right life for our family.”


Story, photos, and video by Emily Greenberg.

Posted Wednesday April 12, 2023 by Allison DeWeese


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