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‘Marihona’: a ship to cross the Atlantic

Built in Risor, Norway, 1957 and fitted out in Bermuda, ‘Marihona’ has crossed the Atlantic several times and returned to Norway in 2018 for a winter fit out. Mark Emmerson, whose father, Gordon fitted out the ‘Marihona’, 1957-1962, contributed this article based on selected extracts from his family archives. Designed by William & John Atkin, built 1957, Risor, Norway ‘Marihona’ is a gaff cutter pitch pine on oak, LOD 34′. Her first owner was Englishman, Gordon Emmerson, Chief Engineer of Elbow Beach Surf Club in Paget, Bermuda. He had always dreamed of owning a ship fit to sail across the Atlantic. As his children grew up, he spent five years fitting ‘Marihona’ out in Bermudan cedar, after shipping her newly built hull from Norway.

What’s in a name?
“I sent a printed card to you the other day, it is very cold here, -10 Celsius, but the moment I put the card in the envelope, a ladybird came dashing along and landed on top of the big wave of the picture! I have not seen a single insect for a month, but there she came. I think it was so funny, I had to tell you the story. Ladybird, or in Norwegian ‘Marihona’, also called Marie Fly Fly.”

a letter to Gordon Emmerson, from Gunnar F. Klingenberg, suggesting a name for the boat as the hull nears completion in 1957

A dream come true
The crossing was a rough one. Beth pointed to a weather map which indicated force 4 winds in the area during June. “Force 4! That’s the average figure. The trouble was that the wind was either force 8 or nil!” Said Gordon: “It alternated between gales and calms. Calms, gales, calms, gales. That’s how it was after the Azores.” Beth writes that 1 June, 1962 saw us set sail from St. Georges, after multitudinous and hectic preparations. The sun was shining and with a fair S.E. wind we knocked off 100 miles in the first 36 hours. Then the wind dropped and a nasty cross sea caused Beth to suffer from mal-der-mer, so she was elected deck hand, while Gordon took over the galley for a few days. Beth stood her watch, not arduous as Gordon had the self-steering working well. Winds continued E. and S.E. and we kept sailing N. looking for the Westerlies, till we were in sweaters and duffel coats. Here tragedy overtook us; a precious bottle of rum crashed to the deck, as Marihona’s 11 tons was picked up by a wave and tossed to the next.

We thought we had found the Westerlies, but again they eluded us. Wind went S. and blew hard, so we downed sail and rolled like mad all night. The next night while Beth was keeping the Dogwatch, the wind died out. An ominous calm, then a terrific squall hit us. The emergency whistle jerked Gordon from sleep, to find the boat on her ear and Beth hanging on to the tiller, under what seemed like Niagara Falls, so much rain was streaming off the sail! 400 miles N. and still no Westerlies so we tacked and made our way S. By the 11th the long-awaited Westerlies arrived and we were off on a broad reach at last. For the next six days we had wonderful sailing; 192 miles was the record day and ‘Marihona’ steering herself. Finding ourselves further S. than our original plans, we decided to call at the Azores for a rest after 25 days at sea. After laying off Flores, because of calm, skirting Foval and Sao Jorge, the ‘Marihona’ finally put into Horta. Here friends were quickly made and from all sides help was quickly forthcoming. The normal formalities were speedily accomplished; fellow mariners in port contacted; and cafe proprietor-ship’s chandler alerted‚ he proved a really friendly soul and went far beyond the value of the goods he supplied in the helpfulness he displayed‚ and soon everything was shipshape and the ‘Marihona’ ready for sea again.

After a 10-day stay they sailed for England and immediately ran into a chain of gales. After two days of light winds and two days calms the barometer began to drop and the winds went into the east. Two days of gales followed and the ‘Marihona’ hove to. A secondary gale followed in the wake of the first gale and the Marihona rode this out under bare poles with warps astern. After 12 hours the warps were taken in and the Emmersons headed for their bunks for the next 14 hours to recoup their energy. During the next two weeks we had nothing but gales and calms. We even celebrated our wedding anniversary remaining at the helm for 23 hours, riding out a gale. The huge 30’ waves were awe-inspiring, but we had great confidence in our ship, she rode them well. On 25 July, ‘Marihona’ made perfect landfall at Fastnet, Eire, just 20 days out of Horta. Cruising west past Mizzen Head to Bantry Bay, the Marihona anchored in Castletown Harbour, the first small port in the bay. The Emmersons found the Irish very hospitable. Mackerel and plaice from fishing boats alongside made welcome additions to the menu; lots of chats with local shopkeepers, farmers, harbour types and others brought in a wealth of information about habits, cost of living, etc; a surveyor working on a new pier and waterfront project was discovered to be one who had been on the a job in Bermuda. On 5 August they left for Falmouth, spending August Bank Holiday hove-to during a gale which gave them their biggest shock of the trip. They picked up a gale warning on their portable radio, the only form of radio aboard, and flew before the gale using as much sail as they dared, in addition to the diesel engine, to find shelter south-west of Bishop Rock. “It was a very nasty situation” said Gordon. “If we hadn’t managed to beat the gale to the right spot we might have been blown on the rocks”.

Littlehampton Gazette, other newspaper cuttings and notes amongst the papers of Graham and Beth Emmerson

“We weren’t afraid, just a little apprehensive”, commented Gordon. “There is a difference. One wonders if anything might come adrift. In any case, when we were in the ocean there was really nothing to be afraid of. It was when we were near land we began to be apprehensive. After our first gale in the ‘Marihona’, our confidence in her was considerably enhanced. Only about once every three hours did the sea actually break over her, and that was only the top of the waves.” The ‘Marihona’ arrived in Littlehampton during August, 1962.

Mark Emmerson

contributed by Mark Emmerson