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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 White Seal
A cruising boat that's a family member
June 30, 2023

V
arnish shining. Brass bits with a perfect patina. A decades old Cal 36 in bristol condition. This is White Seal, the sailboat of sailor Charlie Langworthy.

Charlie’s been a regular visitor to Oriental over the last three and a half decades. When he drops in, he stops to enjoy The Bean’s coffee and customers, spends 48-hours at the town dock, does a bit of varnish maintenance, and makes time to take in the town on his way between the Bahamas and Lake Champlain. It’s become his regular run over the years.

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Charlie Langworthy.

Charlie hails from Vermont, where he spends his on-land time with his wife, Meg. He’s seen a lot of changes over the years, both on and off the water.

Flat landers, as he calls non-Vermonters, are in a sort of “car wars,” he said. He’s seen a variety of city and harbor town streets while walking to re-provision his boat along the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), or taking the occasional borrowed marina vehicle.

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White Seal under sail.

“It’s distracting,” he said of the traffic, flash of new cars. Charlie prefers his old car, which he drives back home in Vermont. “I drive a really old 1989 Volvo. The thing is kind of a beater, but it’s a great reliable, cheap car and I’m pretty cheap, you know, being a New Englander.”

Traffic on land and the waterway has increased too, he reckons. Not only since his honeymoon down the waterway 30 years ago, or his family cruise south with his wife and daughter nearly 15 years after that, but since his first cruise as a retired man in 2018. “There’s definitely more, way more development than when I first went down the waterway. Places that I anchored 50 years ago now have a marina there, or you know, something that precludes it.”

All those cruises have been aboard one boat: White Seal, Charlie’s 1966 Cal 36. He’s had her for over 30 years, and she’s taken him many times from Lake Champlain to the Bahamas. With stops in Oriental, north and southbound.

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Charlie’s past in boat maintenance show in the details of White Seal.

Charlie enjoys the big open waters of the New Jersey Coast, Chesapeake Bay, and of course the Gulf Stream crossing to the Bahamas. But he also relishes the sections of the trip along the skinny waterways on the way down to Florida: The Ditch.

He takes in the small towns and anchorages while motoring down the ICW, trusty diesel humming along at 5 knots and 2500 RPMS. Perhaps that’s why he instinctually drives at five miles per hour, a rumor (confirmed by his daughter, Mary) of an infamous cruisers’ grocery trip in Elizabeth City. Charlie was the only licensed driver of the group at the time.

It may also be why, on family visits now that Mary is 27, Charlie is preferably in the backseat. And a bit of a backseat driver.

While Mary will fly to meet Charlie at his destinations, his wife Meg is perfectly happy with her routine at home in Vermont and with her bustling new therapy practice. She loves sailing, but full-time cruising is not currently something she desires. Meg prefers to sail seasonally, near their home on Lake Champlain.

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Charlie in the Dismal Swamp Canal, helping a fellow cruiser make it through.

“I did have this cruise planned,” he said of a cruise to the Bahamas back in October, “but I’m homesick and miss both Mary and Meg something terrible.”

Meg encourages Charlie to go South as much as he can since he retired. And while Charlie has friends and crew aboard to help out for most of the journey, he can’t help but single-hand some legs of his trips.

White Seal was built in Costa Mesa, CA in 1966 by the since defunct Cal Yachts (when the company was still owned by the founding boatbuilder Jensen Marine). She was one of 48 boats of her model. Cal Yachts produced approximately eighteen thousand yachts between 1957 and 1989. White Seal is a Cal 36, or Cal 35.5 technically (as Charlie likes to point out), and not to be confused with the Cal 35.

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A framed newspaper clipping of White Seal’s past triumphs.

The 36/35.5 is a salty, deep keeled ocean racing yacht designed by Bill Lapworth. It’s more or less a scaled down version of the famed Cal 40, a vessel that has reliably crossed many an ocean, including in races like the TransPacific Yacht Race from San Pedro to Hawaii.

White Seal has a starring role in Charlie’s recollections. He says his best memory is the year he and Meg took Mary out of school and did a year long trip south as a family. During their epic cruise, Meg went to visit her sister in Boston during the crossing of the Gulf Stream, leaving young Mary and her dad to cross alone.

Charlie said his life took on the most meaning when he became a father. His daughter Mary is the, “greatest thing to ever happen to me,” he said.

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Charlie sits on the deck, chatting with the photographer.

The best part of his retirement cruises are also when Mary comes to visit, he says. She caught the sailing bug when she was young, “advocating for us to go” sailing, and prompting the year-long adventure. Even now, she flies to visit Charlie in teh Bahamas, and sail with him.

Charlie hopes to give Mary White Seal, when he retires from sailing—or sooner if she’d like. Though he admits he’s been a Nervous Nelly every time Mary took her out without Charlie.

He was, quite literally, born to be a yachter – it shaped his life tremendously. His family was instrumental in making Lake Champlain the yachting center it is today, and his father was consulted when the Burlington waterfront was commissioned.

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Depth sounder from another era, and still working.

His parents founded a charter business on the lake in the 60s beginning with just a small daysailer. It was named after his father: Garfield Langworthy Sail Charters. Eventually they added a ketch, schooner, and more to the fleet, chartering the boats in the Caribbean during the height of the fiberglass boat building boom.

Charlie worked for his father, pressed into service as the children of business owners often are. He learned to take care of the boats, gave sailing lessons, and eventually earned his captain’s license and delivered the family boats south. His father never taught Charlie’s two sisters the ropes, something Charlie corrected with Mary.

He made sure to teach her everything he had to offer about boats and tools.

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White Seal stays in fine condition, thanks to Charlie’s years of maintenance experience.

Charlie bought the Cal 36 in 1984 as a young man, spending his early years house sitting, going south, living aboard in summers, and doing yacht jobs like sailmaking and restoration. Eventually he was hired by IBM in receiving, a blue-collar job that offered stock options. He bought IBM stock, and cashed it in to buy White Seal.

Soon after, he was back to his boat bum ways making whatever living he could on yachts, and squirreling away his humble earnings into the stock market. After their wedding, Charlie and Meg spent the next nine months sailing south and cruising the Bahamas for their honeymoon. When they returned to Vermont, they were ready to buy a house.

Charlie almost sold White Seal to put a down payment on said house, which were of near equal value at the time. Luckily, a family member stepped in to help the then young newlyweds.

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White Seal bringing another vessel out of the Dismal Swamp Canal.

He’s spent his life on land, and for the last 20 years of his working career he did classic yacht restoration for Darling’s Boatworks, a small, successful company that maintains, repairs, and restores classic yachts that have their own trust funds.

“Backwater,” is the word Charlie used to describe the operation. In that literally, it’s on the backwaters of Lake Champlain, away from the ocean. Yachts are trucked from seasonal dockage in places like Boston, Maine, sometimes on the lake, to the yard and boat shop where Charlie worked maintaining them. While the extremity of wealth sometimes disgusted him, Charlie said he enjoyed the work and has a nearly a lifetime of knowledge that can now fix or restore anything on just about any boat.

On White Seal, it shows; the varnish is perfect. Heavy protection needed against the salt and rays on classic blocks, coamings, and the wooden whisker pole. A perfect green bronze patina is on the hardware. New non-skid, even new gel goat in the cockpit, is the norm aboard his boat. She shines despite being past the age of most retirees.

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Below decks.

A newspaper clipping of the Dali Llama hangs above the galley, “for when I need a little peace,” he says. There is also a framed yachting magazine ad for a Cal 36, which was White Seal from her boat show days, straight out of the factory.

Also in that magazine is a classified ad from the 1960s for Charlie’s parents’ yacht chartering business on Lake Champlain.

White Seal has no refrigeration, no roller furling, and two old school self-locking winches with wire-to-rope halyards. The depth sounder is so old, it looks to be only for show – but is fully functioning. Ever the traditionalist, Charlie has sailed the boat for several seasons with no engine—before repowering it with a new diesel. He recently also installed a top-of-the-line Pelagic Autopilot by Scanmar International, an upgrade very much encouraged by his daughter. “If only she could get him to add refrigeration,” he said.

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Tiller brass bits showing a perfect patina.

“I am realizing this year with this trip, I won’t be able to do this forever,” says Charlie, which also convinced him to install the autopilot.

But the man may be kidding himself. He has more energy than he knows what to do with—he actually likes beating to windward. His grandmother lived to be 100, he said, and aside from the stress of the future for all of man kind that occasionally keeps him up at night, Charlie says he generally lives and sleeps well everyday.

The leg up Charlie has had in carving out his own tiny place in the world, is a privilege he does not take lightly—and he has made as much space in it as possible for others as a result.

Whether aboard White Seal, or at Charlie and Meg’s home in Vermont, Charlie says “there’s always room at the table.”

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Charlie and his Cal 36 White Seal.

Story by Emily Greenberg. Photos by Emily Greenberg and Keith Smith.

Posted Friday June 30, 2023 by Allison DeWeese


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