October 2017 – Max Liberson – “The Boat they laughed at!”

Max Liberson CNN picMax was introduced as being “one of a kind” whatever that means. He said he felt very much at home here with us, whatever that meant.

Max soon had us laughing. His talk was indeed a hoot. But here was a man who clearly knew exactly what he was doing, and what he and his boat were capable of. So although the account was hilarious (and thanks Max for that quick and assured answer as to why we could see a sink plunger, in pride of place, in the cockpit) this was an admirable and inspiring story of good planning, courage and competence. Max’d been a trawler skipper, knew his way round boats and the sea, and nothing seemed to have fazed him.

Max crossed the big pond by accident. He needed somewhere to live and, short of funds, acquired, for the princely sum of £1500, a heavyweight 42 ft ferro-cement schooner as a houseboat. “Gloria” really didn’t look like she was ever going anywhere, and if she did the rust-streaked hull and air of dilapidation might prejudice much of a welcome anywhere in the civilised world. But events, dear boy, events….

Fellow members of the Thurrock Yacht Club, of which Max was a member, laughed when they saw Gloria, prompting Max to defend her with a throwaway riposte to the effect that one day he’d sail her across the Atlantic. Ah well, we’ve all said something thoughtlessly at some point, that proved prophetic..

Max looses his job and Gloria’s berth became unaffordable. He has a friend who has done the Atlantic a few times but only in fast boats (“spinnaker runs”) and is keen to tackle it in something slower, and you don’t get much slower than Gloria. The friend, once RYA’s deputy secretary general, is time short, and challenges Max to get the boat to the Canaries in Nov., where he’ll join. Gauntlet stuff.

The boat leaked (20 minutes pumping an hour and worsening as the Essex mud was rinsed out of the hole it had plugged at the outset), the oil pressure was on the floor (and higher viscosity oil did nothing helpful, and lack of funds precluded repair, let alone replacement).

Max had the usual problems with immigration officialdom on some Caribbean islands, seemingly in trouble for not having his own biro, and alerting suspicion by not carrying a gun. Asked later about guns, Max thoughtfully suggested that there’s not a lot of point in pointing a gun at someone unless one is prepared to use it, which requires a level of ruthlessness he doesn’t posses. A member of the audience suggested, in extremely diplomatic language, that perhaps Gloria did not obviously present as the most tempting a target for piracy?

The return Max did solo – having planned the passage and watched the weather extremely carefully to ensure the engine-less Gloria would get enough Easting to escape the Caribbean and not end up in New York. It took 53 lonely days…

One of the most humorous, entertaining and inspirational talks we’ve heard. For the full story of the crossing read  “The Boat They Laughed At“. Perhaps Max could be persuaded to return one day to tell us about his subsequent crossing, in a Trapper 500?