Thursday, November 6, 2014

In Memory of Two Fine Gentlemen

 This month has been a difficult one for the crew of the Schooner Zodiac. We lost our friend Barney Higgins several weeks ago and on Sunday night, our cook Ian Relay passed away. Both men were larger-than-life characters, both warm, friendly "gentle bears" and they will be sorely missed by our fellow shipmates for many years to come.

My youngest daughter never had to deal with loss up until now. She basically grew up with Ian in the galley and has been reminiscing a great deal lately. Stories of Ian changing his menu and cooking chicken soup for her when she was sick during a cruise--using wagon wheel pasta because Wagon Wheel was the song she was learning to play on the guitar. Her favorite Ian memory is when she walked through the galley and heard Dire Straits playing on Ian's playlist. She told him her parents named her after their favorite Dire straits song, Romeo & Juliet. Ian thought that perhaps her parents should have named her after another Dire Strait's song, Industrial Disease...and then proceeded to call her Industrial Disease for the remainder of the cruise.

Occasionally, Ian's son Stuart joined us on cruises. He helped his dad in the galley and volunteered on deck as needed. It was especially entertaining to hear them in the galley working. I'd stand next to the main mast and could hear them below through the butterfly hatch... "Now Son, think about what you're about to do."

Everyone has their favorite Ian stories. Most of them involve one of his hilarious sayings... "Winning an argument with her is like pissing in a dark suit. It feels warm and comfy right off the bat--but nobody ever notices." Or the oft heard (screamed from below randomly), "GLUUUUUUUTEN!"

My favorite memories of Ian however, are more subtle: The tea kettle of hot water he would have ready for me as I walked out of the mate's cabin every morning--no matter how many pots were on the burners or different meals he was in the middle of making, it was always ready for my "high-maintenance" french press... The shortbread cookies and tortoni that he'd hide away for me because he knew I always went to bed before dessert was served... the night we were dismasted and all of our passengers were shuttled over to Kwaietek--Ian sat on the deckbox near the helm as I stationed myself at our rudderless wheel. He had no passengers to cook for and was exhausted (like the rest of us), from the chaotic events of the day. I remember him just sitting...sun was setting, winds were picking up and chunks of mast lay all around, a can of soda was perched on his leg as Ian watched the horizon.

Barney was a Captain and a poet. He played rugby and cribbage and brewed beer. He loved his wife and his Irish whiskey. Although he didn't crew much on the Zodiac toward the end, he was an established icon; a big part of the ship's lore. Stories abound of Barney's antics on and off the ship. His poem  "Bosun's Ghost" was about the old ship's cat--and supposed demise of said cat. It was just one of several of Barney's creations that got published. Barney always had a funny story and a kind word for everyone.

Jeff's favorite Barney story is of when the Kwaietek arrived to aid the dismasted Zodiac. Barney and our friend Rory MacLysaght were onboard Kwaietek as licensed captains. The passengers were transferred aboard to ride back to Bellingham while Zodiac waited for the Terrapin to tow her back. As the seas got rougher and the boat turned beam-to, she began to roll. With sixteen kids and three chaperones on deck, Jeffery worried that someone might go overboard. He asked Barney to make a correction so the seas would follow them. Upon turning the boat for the swells to quarter her, Barney exclaimed loudly, "She sure is ass-friendly!" (The chaperones were not extremely pleased with that comment).

There are so many more stories and countless memories of our friends and fellow shipmates. I encourage anyone who sailed with them or shared in their land-based exploits to comment below and share their tales.

Below is a link to a poem that I wrote the other day.
For Barney, Ian and all lovers of the sea.

 click here:  windline press "A Shipmate's Departure"

Fair winds and following seas, boys.

~ Chris


  1. It was well into the J&J cruise and three tired crew were hanging around the dining table during a lull. One reads off a trivia card,"What did the band of wanderers do to pass the time at Tom Bombadil's house?" just as Ian comes down the steps from the charthouse. O__l s_x he states without hesitation.

    I told him as I drove him to the airport just a couple of weeks ago that as long as any one of us was still kicking, someone would be looking down at their plate saying, "Ian doesn't make it like this!"

  2. Such a beautiful tribute. Deeply moving.