Thursday, April 17, 2008


A man's affair with a boat
Joe Richards
Susan Richards, Pub.

Years ago, my friend Johnson, the man with two last names, lent me an old yellowed hardback book called "Princess, New York." He told me that I had to read it and that it was a great story of an artist, who had bought a 60 year old Friendship sloop at the tail end of the great depression and sailed away in it, looking for an island. Johnson is a lover of old crankity wooden boats. He has one of his own that is just turning 44 this year, which keeps him gainfully employed in order to pay the repair bills.

Eventually Johnson got the idea to find the boat "Princess" and have it restored and put in a museum somewhere. He made a lot of telephone calls and even traveled to Florida, the last known location of the boat, to no avail. He did meet Joe Richards' daughter Susan, though, and his obsessive behavior regarding "Princess" gave her the idea that a new edition of the book was in order.

Johnson was right about one thing. "Princess" is one heck of a good read. Joe Richards was an artist, living in New York who discovered, on Long Island, the ruins of an old sloop, built in the 1870s in Friendship Maine. He bought the thing and then found himself learning the craft of wooden boat repair. Eventually Richards set off down the inter-coastal waterway, headed for Florida and an as yet to be discovered island, where he would live happily ever after- or something.

The book is a well written memoir of an impractical quest for an undefined goal, interrupted by the Second World War. There are many asides, stories of adventures in the merchant marine during the war, as Richards tell the tale of his journey down the inter-coastal to Florida.

In book II, when Richards has acquired a wife and two children, he decides to escape New York for Key Biscayne, bringing his family and sailboat along with him. In this book the mysterious island, or at least an island, is finally discovered.

There are several small color prints of Joe Richards' paintings in the book as well. The book cover illustration above is a fair example. Take a peek at the website for more examples.