Get our newsletters

Happy to Be Here: A passion for sailing

Posted

Books by local authors have piled up on my desk for years, some skimmed, others unread, some set aside for another day. Art Ross wrote one of those books. I always meant to write about it, but every week, something else demanded attention.

“Sixty Years of Sport: Sailing from the Age of Gatsby to the Grenadine Islands” was inspired by Art’s passion before his sailing endurance ran out as he coped with COPD. The text consists mostly of the logs created by J. Linton Rigg, a writer and playboy who dined and played polo with royalty, raced in international regattas, designed, built and sold boats and eventually operated an inn in Carriacou, near Granada.

A series of unexpected events that started when he visited a friend on that island after Hurricane Emily, put Rigg’s autobiography in Art’s hands. On his friend’s boat, the Phantom, he heard a distress call from the skipper of Mermaid of Carriacou. “She had no motor, he could not retrieve her anchor, steer, and haul up the canvas alone,” Art wrote. And his shipmate helped steer the boat out of mangroves to open water.

When he saw the Mermaid, Art realized it was not an ordinary boat but an unusual locally built wooden craft. Seeing it, he said, “was just another moment in the strange days that were to come.” He revisited the island many times.

During one visit, the island was celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Carriacou Regatta, which Rigg had founded. “A part of the festivities,” he wrote, “was a special dinner party at what had been Linton’s home ... in the boat-building town of Windward.” At the dinner, a women asked Art if he was “Captain Art.”

She was Betty Anne Rigg, of Doylestown. “She was the honored guest of the evening, along with her husband, John Rigg, the son of Bunny, Linton’s younger brother.”

Back in Doylestown, Art gave the Riggs photos and they gave him an unpublished autobiography by John Linton Rigg.

“I felt I was steering by stars in motion,” Art wrote. “In Carriacou I had sailed on Linton Rigg’s boat, if only for a few hundred yards at the helm, met his family, become instant friends with the Mermaid’s builder, and had even seen the creek where Caliste’s vision of the mermaid appeared, having had him tell me the story himself — all in the span of 48 hours. And now, back home, his words were in my hands.” Artist Canute Caliste had had a vision of a mermaid that inspired the name for Rigg’s boat.

Born in Jamaica, where his family had settled in 1795, Rigg was a son of a clergyman, the Rev. John Rigg, who took the family to America when he was appointed rector of Immanuel Church in Newcastle, Del. Linton built his first rowboat in the attic of the rectory using money he earned fishing for shad — “she leaked like a sieve.” Later, his father bought him a trustworthy boat that he rowed all the way down Delaware Bay.

The Rev. Rigg was called to the Episcopal Church of Riverton, N.J., on the Delaware River. “I hated the place but I loved the river,” Rigg wrote. And he was close to Philadelphia, where he studied marine engineering at Drexel Institute of Technology

In Riverton, Rigg “learned a great deal about the winds, the use of currents and the proper handling of small boats.” He became secretary of the Riverton Yacht Club and organized a racing class around a sloop designed by a local enthusiast.

“With my small brothers as crew, we won 36 races in Little Haste (Rigg’s boat) and we were never beaten,” he wrote.

Thus began a sailing career that would take Rigg around the world, racing in the America’s Cup and other international regattas and hobnobbing with elite and wealthy sportsmen.

He told a story of accidentally setting fire to his room at the New York Yacht Club, putting it out with his hands and making it to a train minutes before its departure. In 1928, he married a woman who decided Rigg loved the sea more than he loved her. She had a child he never saw.

Like Rigg, Art Ross, who grew up on Long Island, loved the sea, but he married Carol and raised two children with her. She is a photographer for the Herald and was for the New Hope Gazette before that. Her photos appear in Art’s book along with archival images of boats and people from Rigg’s life.

It is with some guilt that I write now about “60 Year of Sport” — I waited too long. Art died June 3, a lover of the outdoors until the end.

“Art was a community activist always,” his obituary says. “He spent a decade of service on the Solebury Township Parks and Recreation Board. His love of the outdoors was a driving factor in building and extending the township’s extensive open space program. Art also worked with the school board to advocate for a pro-student agenda.”

He taught sailing, held a master’s license with the Coast Guard, and was a staff officer with the Coast Guard Auxiliary, which honored him at a memorial service at Solebury Friends Meeting House.

“60 Years of Sport: Sailing from the Age of Gatsby to the Grenadine Islands” is available at Amazon.com and possibly at local book stores.


X