Grand County Biography: Ted Parker
Many have dreamed of sailing around the world; Ted Parker, of Winter Park Highlands, has only to remember.
Life often hinges on who you know and what in retrospect seem like rather minor events. In Ted’s case, that event was a poster at the University of Michigan in 1955 announcing a lecture in Ann Arbor, by renowned captain and round-the-world sailor Irving Johnson. Years before, Ted had met Captain Johnson in Honolulu, being as his parents knew the famous captain. At the time of the lecture Johnson was planning his seventh circumnavigation of the planet. Ted thought; “What the heck, if I ask to go along, the worst that can happen is he says no.” Ted waited to speak with the captain after the presentation. A mother and her son were also inquiring as to getting him on the trip. The captain explained that all the pretty pictures they had seen were only taken when the weather was nice. He told them,” Things could get quite rough at times and that no one has their camera out then!” When it was Ted’s turn, he introduced himself to Johnson who remembered him and his parents. He told Ted that the crew roster was full but to keep in touch. After writing back and forth a few times, Captain Johnson wrote and informed him that he was on the trip!
The “Brigantine Yankee” was ninety-six feet long with over twenty feet of bowsprit and carried 7,775 square feet of canvas. It left from Gloucester, Mass. on its seventh world cruise on Nov. 4, 1956 with an amateur crew of 23. Four of the crew were women who had to be flown to Bermuda to join them, due to some silly union gripe at the port in Gloucester. One of the women was the ship’s doctor.
Ted was twenty-one years old at the time and after two years of engineering school was ready for an adventure. He had a gift for figuring things out and school hadn’t impressed him with its penchant for making small improvements to existing designs. Life on the Yankee gave him hands-on opportunities to use and fix a myriad of critical items present on a sailing vessel. Outboard motors, electronics, the ships two diesel engines, rigging, navigational aides, pumps and structural issues all face an ocean-going sailor at times.
Ted got to climb rigging and set sails as well. Setting sail high up in the rigging in a heavy sea is not for the faint of heart. The Yankee’s masts topped out at 96 feet, which at times must have felt like riding an upside down and out of control pendulum. Ted’s photos show lithe young men scampering around in the rigging while setting, furling and adjusting hundreds of square feet of sail. He also did his time at the wheel. Only a week into the voyage, approaching Bermuda in a hurricane, he describes green water coming over the bow challenging a green crew. He makes light of it, of course. Following the diversity of the Galapagos, Yankee sailed on to Pitcairn Island with its mutinous history. One hundred seventy-three years before the ‘Yankee’ made landfall there with Ted on board, a fella by the name of Fletcher Christian also landed there with a ship called the ‘Bounty’ he’d stolen from the Royal Navy. He and his fellow mutineers knew that a noose awaited them, compliments of the King of England and his worldwide network, if they were caught. They had brought with them some Tahitians, a number of them women, and sailed the ‘Bounty’ into a small cove with no intention of letting it be found. They off-loaded everything of value and then burned and sank the ship. They were now marooned on an island that measured approximately one mile by a mile and a half with their motley crew and a few native islanders.
When the ‘Yankee’ stopped at Pitcairn Island in 1957, the location of the ‘Bounty’ was known. The theory was that in order for it to have been unloaded while the bow was tied to shore, they must have set a stern anchor. After Captain Johnson dynamited an improved entrance to Pitcairn’s only landing, Bounty Bay, two Yankee crew with newly developed scuba gear dove into 50 ft of water and found something sticking straight out of the sandy bottom. Knowing that nature never creates anything in a straight line, they convinced Cpt. Johnson to attempt to raise their find. On his sixth attempt much to their surprise they realized they had discovered the Bounty’s long missing stern anchor. The Island’s magistrate, Parkin Christian, direct ancestor to the Mutineer, yelled in a rather bizarre accent, “Hey Cap’n Johnson, whatcha doing’ with my great grandaddy’s anca!? It would seem that Fletcher Christian had been successfully procreating and avoiding the noose. The stern anchor was set in concrete on the island and is there to this day! (See National Geo. article of Dec. 1957 called “I Found the Bones to the Bounty”).
The ‘Yankee” continued west through the French Society Islands, the Solomons, the Cook and the Tongan Islands, Fiji, the New Hebrides, then sailed below the Philippines and on to Hong Kong where Ted successfully bought a few items his parents wanted and shipped them home. This in a day before FEDEX, DHL, or UPS; no small feat in 1957. In the Tonga’s a crew member by the name of Don Alchin came down with polio. He was quarantined in the bow of the ship which is known as the forecastle. The ‘Yankee’ then motored for a week and a half to Suva, Fiji so Don could be flown out and treated in a proper hospital. He later rejoined the ship in Barbados; only with a cane and lifetime repercussions. So your polio shots in school were worth it after all! In the South Pacific Islands a dozen years after WWII, there was ample evidence of that conflict. In 1940 Captain Johnson had been approached by ‘Wild Bill Donovan’, the founder of the CIA because of his knowledge of the area. As a naval officer during the war, Johnson had sent men out at night with lead lines to do soundings and make charts for the U.S. Navy. That area was Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, in an area known as the ‘Slot’. It was to be the sight of the largest naval battle in history; with the U.S. Navy using Johnson’s charts. Ted was with an unusually experienced captain! The voyage continued across the Indian Ocean to Africa where Ted and his buddy got a bright idea, “Let’s jump ship and hitchhike about 2,600 miles through Western Africa to Durban.” Ah, to be 21 again! Captain Johnson gave them permission saying they should meet the ship in Durban, or at the latest,Cape Town. So as the ‘Yankee’ made its way down the coast between Africa and Madagascar, Ted and his buddy caught the “cockroach ferry” to Dar Es Salaam and proceeded south. The ‘Yankee’ fought its way through a hurricane while the two young men fought rain and and rides that needed pushing out of the mud. Passport headaches at one border further slowed them down. They arrived in Durban just five hours after the ‘Yankee’ made port. But Ted wasn’t feeling well, so he wasn’t allowed topside or on watch. He ended up in a hospital in Cape Town for a few days where they diagnosed that a microscopic fresh water snail had been the cause.
The ‘Yankee’ ended its voyage May 4, 1958 in heavy fog in Gloucester harbor with Ted at the helm. It was exactly a year and a half after they had left, to the minute!
Ted and his wife Lynda live in Winter Park Highlands above Tabernash. Ted is tall and lean and not young anymore. You might ask him what all happened hitchhiking through Africa in the late ‘50’s’, there just isn’t enough time to cover it all here!
“I must go down to the seas again,
for the call of the running tide
is a wild call and a clear call
that may not be denied.”
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