Story about life at sea was labor of love for Anne Arundel couple

March 04, 1994|By Jody Roesler | Jody Roesler,Special to The Sun

Ellynore Seybold-Smith keeps copies of the book recalling her life at sea with her husband and two children in a baby carriage in the living room of her house in High Point because "the book was more labor than having babies," she said.

She and her husband, Delano Smith, started the book 12 years ago, but it wasn't published until January, two years after Mr. VTC Smith died. Books Unlimited, a small Baltimore company, issued its first printing.

"We talked about every conceivable story about the boat," Ms. Seybold-Smith said. "We recorded it, then I typed it and cut it and cut it. We sent out 40 copies and got 40 copies back."

She put the book away after receiving the rejection letters and didn't pull it out again until after Mr. Smith's death.

"I figured I'd read it and have a real good cry then throw it away," she said. "But I didn't cry, I knew what was wrong -- it was overwritten. I cut it and knew that this was it. I thought, 'Now, Delano can have his book.' "

"The Wooden Mistress: A Sea Story -- A Love Story" is "about a young couple as green as the hills who bought a 56-foot yawl in 1962 and wanted to live aboard it," Ms. Seybold-Smith said.

But it is "not written for boat people; it's not technical," she said.

Al Cunniff, Books Unlimited president, said: "I was very impressed with her writing and her dedication to the story. I'm convinced that the way she told the story it will have universal appeal."

The couple married in 1959 and bought the boat three years later. The boat was in Connecticut and they wanted to bring it to Annapolis.

"We went offshore, to the ocean, and within 24 hours the beautiful boat started falling apart," she said. "Then we really ran into trouble."

First, the cables that held the 75-foot mast in place broke. Then, as they motored close to the shoreline of Southampton, Long Island, to attract attention, the motor conked out.

Ms. Seybold-Smith dove into the ocean to swim to shore for help, and the boat ran aground just offshore. Before long, a northeaster blew in, washing the boat onto the beach.

She used a newspaper photograph of the boat washed up on the beach at Southampton for the cover of the book. The boat was named Cesonne then, but because the people of the town helped the young couple so much, they renamed the vessel Southampton.

The book opens with Ms. Seybold-Smith swimming to shore at Southampton, and goes on to tell the stories of minor disasters, of their perseverance and of raising their children on the water.

The couple sold the vessel in 1987. The wooden boat had become too much work, Ms. Seybold-Smith said. "It was 10 hours of work for one hour of sailing."

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