Honoree Leaves Big Deeds In His Wake


March 18, 1992|By Nancy Noyes

The Gibson Island Yacht Squadron played host to a very special rite on Saturday.

The Arthur B. Hanson/US SAILING Rescue Medal was dedicated to the memory of one of the island's more colorful sailors, andawarded to Christopher Beckwith of LaPorte, Ind.

The medal is awarded to skippers of pleasure sailboats who handlerescues in U.S. waters or during offshore races originating or terminating in U.S. ports.

It is meant not only to recognize the significant accomplishment in seamanship of having saved a life, but also to collect further case studies in rescues for analysis by the US SAILING Safety At Sea Committee. These studies eventually will be incorporated into the association's extensive educational programs.

Beckwith and his crew were sailing his family's J/24 one night last June when they heard a call for help on VHF Channel 16.

Sailing to the location of the troubled vessel, Beckwith spotted an overturned and sinking boat, brought its two crew members aboard his J/24, contacted the Coast Guard at Station Michigan City and waited at the site for the Coast Guard to arrive.

The Coast Guard officer in charge of the station commended Beckwith and said that if not for his help, "The vessel would have sunk before being located, making any rescue attempt extremely difficult."

Beckwith, a recent high school graduate, nowis serving in the Coast Guard himself and hopes for an appointment to the Coast Guard Academy or Naval Academy.

The medal has been endowed in memory of the late Arthur B. "Tim" Hanson, noted Washington attorney, brigadier general in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, and longtime member of GIYS.

Among his other accomplishments, he was a veteran of four trans-Atlantic Races, a dozen Newport-to-Bermuda Races, an equal number of Annapolis-to-Newport voyages, and numerous other offshore passage-making races, including several Marblehead-to-Halifaxoutings and others.

"When US SAILING decided to create this program, it was looking for a sponsor to endow the medal," said event co-chairman Arthur McKey, who served as one of Hanson's most loyal crew members for many years.

"It seemed like a natural way to commemorate him, since he was so involved in offshore racing. And, in terms of safety, he was really regimented."

Hanson's yacht -- the Foolscap,a 48-foot Sparkman & Stevens-designed, double-planked mahogany yawl -- has been a graceful feature of the Gibson Island harbor for some 17 years. The Foolscap was a successful ocean racer when Hanson purchased her in 1962, having already won at least two trans-Atlantic racesunder her previous owner, William Snathe.

Hanson loved offshore racing, and he loved his Foolscap even more -- like a living member ofhis family. He was devastated when she was wrecked in a hurricane onthe coast of Morocco in 1979, but with typical style and humor, paidfitting tribute to her with a full-blown wake, for which people camefrom all over the world.

Hanson had a diminutive physical stature. But what he lacked in height, he made up in stature and presence. It was tough to miss him, no matter how crowded the room.

When I first met him nearly 30 years ago, I found his boisterous, blustery public style a bit intimidating. As I came to know him better over the years, however, I realized that along with the noise, bluster and constant raucous joking came a man with high ideals and a generous spirit, an open-hearted gentleman for all of the loud and often-bawdy humor.

Standard eating fare aboard Foolscap included two traditional and unique Hanson specialty items: the peanut butter and Bermuda onion sandwich (surprisingly tasty, in fact), and a kind of stew made from the contents of three or four different sized, unlabeled and somewhatrusty cans in the lower locker over the bilge, mixed together and cooked with a healthy ration of Gosling's Black Bermuda Rum. The resulting mishmash, which might contain beef stew, cling peaches and corn, for example, actually wasn't half bad, even though the thought of it was pretty awful.

For all of the fun he had sailing, he was serious about it, too. On his boat his word was absolute law.

Among the safety measures he enforced with military efficiency, two things he insisted upon offshore -- no excuses, no exceptions -- were the constant use of harnesses above decks and that each crewman carry a knife at all times.

In 1976, those hard-and-fast rules saved Foolscap andthe lives of her crew when a sudden microburst in the open ocean between Bermuda and the mouth of the Chesapeake laid the home-bound yawlon her ear.

When the boat finally arrived in the Chesapeake, the deck watch at the time of the incident described a serene night at sea when, without warning, the regular patterns of the waves shifted into something resembling over-scaled stucco, and the wind direction gauge began spinning wildly while the velocity meter pegged out at its upper limit.

"It was remarkable. The boat was on its side in an instant," McKey recalled.

Hanson and McKey scrambled up the companionway to find that the deck watch had been forced to cut halyards to free the sails as quickly as possible and right the boat.

Disaster was averted because of the crew's harnesses and knives, damage to theboat was minimal, nobody fell overboard, and Foolscap and her crew arrived home safely.

The Hanson medal is a fitting tribute to a truly memorable and unique person, his love of sailing, and his unflagging commitment to safety at sea.

Anybody want a peanut butter and onion sandwich?

Nancy Noyes is a member of the Chesapeake Bay YachtRacing Association and has been racing on the bay for about five years. Her Sailing column appears every Wednesday and Sunday in The AnneArundel County Sun.

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